WHAT REALLY HAPPENED ON THE PLAIN OF SHINAR? CLEARING UP THE CONFUSION

The Book of Jasher provides almost all the details about the Tower of Babel that believers in the Bible hold to be true. And it only gets 10.7% right. Consequently, most of what we believe about Babel is without biblical support. The reader should therefore ask, “So what does the Bible really teach?”

THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS DRAWN FROM REBOOTING THE BIBLE, PART 2, AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM AND FAITH-HAPPENS.COM/STORE (PARTS 1 & 2 BUNDLE IS AVAILABLE at a $10.00 discount).

ENDORSEMENT

Besides the book of Revelation, Genesis is arguably the most controversial book on planet Earth. If true, God indeed created the world and the
universe and final judgment awaits those who reject His gift of eternal life through His son Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. But is Genesis true? Are the dramatic stories of Adam and Eve, the Watchers, Noah’s Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the subsequent “division of the nations” historically true? In his most compelling book yet, popular Bible scholar S. Douglas Woodward examines the evidence, recasting the stories because of a corrected chronological timeline from the Septuagint, answering humanity’s most frequent questions about the truth of the Bible.”

Troy Anderson

Troy Anderson, co-author of The Babylon Code And Trumpocalypse,
Senior editor at
GODSPEED Magazine, founder and editor, Prophecy Investigators, and former executive editor of Charisma Magazine

 

What Really Happened on the Plain of Shinar?

A man’s reach should exceed his grasp – or what’s a heaven for?”
(Robert Browning)

When probing the meaning of the Tower of Babel, we are beset with many opinions that express widely divergent points of view. Everyone has an opinion. And most theologians have at least two views in an academic ploy to hedge one’s bet.

Even some conservative theologians have come to disparage the simple, traditional understanding of Babel.[1] The result: The conventional view is not widely held today among those who study Scripture from a theological perspective; that is, asking critical questions about Bible history and specifically, how this extraordinary event educates us.

Few Evangelicals are aware of just how far the conventional view has drifted away from what scholars hold to be true. But take note: I am not talking about Babel and Nimrod, only Babel. The previous three articles on this website, disassociated them entirely.

This conventional view, which we have touched on already in the previous chapter by exposing the fact that Nimrod was not necessarily the culprit at the center of this famous post-Flood rebellion, contends that all of humanity – every last soul – was living on the plain of Shinar (somewhere in Sumeria). Then someone got the brilliant idea to build a tower to reach the heavens, and everyone threw in with him. Thus, all humanity acted in one accord. It wasn’t the case that one man’s charismatic influence charmed the mass of humanity into a single rebellious act.  Neither Nimrod nor Cush did that.

At first, everyone appeared to be pretty smart – understanding that bricks baked in an oven get a lot harder and last a lot longer than mudbricks dried out just by laying in the sun. But before too long (and after they had put in place too many bricks to go back on their plan), God chose to expose their folly by coming down from heaven to inspect the edifice even while those creating it sought to rise to His level. (Obviously, the Tower’s builders were never going to reach heaven by innumerable layers of brick, no matter how high they stacked them). Once humanity chose to repeat history (the rebellion in the days of Noah), God confused their language. How did he create confusion?

An Artist Conception of the Ruins of the Tower of Babel

In contrast to how most people recall the account, God didn’t knock down their tower with a mighty wind, nor burn up their city like he would Sodom and Gomorrah. Here the Book of Jasher adds to the confusion by stating that, “And as to the tower which the sons of men built, the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up one-third part thereof, and a fire also descended from heaven and burned another third, and the other third is left to this day, and it is of that part which was aloft, and its circumference is three days’ walk.” (Jasher 9:38-39)

Confusion at Babel When God Descends to Confuse Their Language

However, the Bible does not indicate that God, nor the heavenly host with Him, did any such thing. Just confusing human language was enough to send everyone in different directions. Moses (whom I believe wrote the account perhaps in part from oral traditions of the Hebrews and the rest from the revelation given him by God directly), states this event led to dispersion from the land, scattering humanity all over the globe. And the Tower of Babel was abandoned (probably only for a time) along with the city that was ‘round about it.

When assessing why God chose to break up the party, based upon my research, various sources assert five explanations for Babel:

(1) Humanity was prideful and wished to demonstrate its power in defiance of God’s;

(2) Humanity was unwilling to obey the command of God to replenish the earth – they wanted to stay put, but not necessarily slowing population growth;

(3) Violence was already escalating post-Flood again and some portion of humanity (not all) built the Tower as a means to fortify themselves against others not among their kin. Plus, there are two explanations proposed from a more progressive point of view:

(4) God wished to separate humanity to encourage cultural diversity;

(5) God wanted to divide humans to promote religious pluralism.[2]

When we take a step back and look at the story, it’s hard to see support for any of the last three rationales. A lot gets read into the story, as we shall see. But first, let’s consider what the Bible says. Make note that it presents a “minimalist” account with limited explanation:

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.  And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.  Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”  And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.  And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  So, the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.  Therefore, its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)

However, when we compare this straightforward account, the Book of Jasher does its best to assert many things that go well beyond the reach of any hint the Bible gave regarding the suppositions from this non-canonical account. Let’s recount them, one-by-one.

  1. The incident occurred in 1988 AM – that is, approximately 2000 years after Adam was created (circa 2016-2012 B.C.). (LXX contradicts this chronology.)
  2. The event occurred after Abraham had lived with Noah for 39 years (Jasher 9:6). (LXX contradicts this chronology.)
  3. Humanity was already caught up in idolatry, worshipping the sun and moon and made stones and wood their gods.
  4. Nimrod reigned securely, and all the earth was under his control, using one tongue and “words of union.” (9:20)
  5. It was not all of humanity, however, that rebelled against YHWH. It was the princes of Nimrod and Phut, Mitzaim, and Canaan – the Hamites – along with Nimrod being a “special son” of Cush, his father. (9:23)
  6. Then the rationale: “Come let us build ourselves a city and in it a strong tower, and its top reaching heaven, and we will make ourselves famed, so that we may reign upon the whole world, in order that the evil of our enemies may cease from us, that we may reign mightily over them, and that we may not become scattered over the earth on account of their wars.” (9:21) (Only partially explicit in Scripture.)
  7. Six hundred thousand men gathered together to build a city, and the tower (9:23).
  8. And then even more fantastic details are supplied – which is where many erroneous beliefs arise about the Tower, the men who built it, and the God who created humankind:

27 And when they were building they built themselves a great city and a very high and strong tower; and on account of its height the mortar and bricks did not reach the builders in their ascent to it, until those who went up had completed a full year [day], and after that, they reached to the builders and gave them the mortar and the bricks; thus was it done daily. 28 And behold these ascended and others descended the whole day; and if a brick should fall from their hands and get broken, they would all weep over it, and if a man fell and died, none of them would look at him. 29 And the Lord knew their thoughts, and it came to pass when they were building they cast the arrows toward the heavens, and all the arrows fell upon them filled with blood, and when they saw them they said to each other, ’Surely we have slain all those that are in heaven.’ (Jasher 9:27-29) [3]

  1. God descended with seventy angels (from which the seventy nations are distinguished and assigned) and confused their tongue.
  2. This mass of humanity began to fight one another, and many died. (9:34)
  3. Then God judged the “three divisions” of rebels – the first that asserted they would ascend to the heavens becoming like apes and elephants; the second that pledged to shoot arrows and kill God; and the third that proclaimed they would ascend to heaven to fight against Him. (9:35)
  4. The Lord God scattered most, but not all, for “those who (remained) amongst them, when they knew and understood the evil which was coming upon them, they forsook the building, and they also became scattered upon the face of the whole earth. (9:36)
  5. They ceased building the city and the tower. Thus, the Lord confounded the “Language of the whole earth.” (9:37)
  6. Then more astounding details are provided that adds to the mythical quality of the story of the Book of Jasher:

“And as to the tower which the sons of men built, the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up one third part thereof, and a fire also descended from heaven and burned another third, and the other third is left to this day, and it is of that part which was aloft, and its circumference is three days’ walk. And many of the sons of men died in that tower, a people without number.”

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Finally, two years later, we read that Peleg dies when he is, according to the Masoretic Text and Jasher, 239 years old (Recall: The LXX states Peleg was 339 years old). Unfortunately, many sincere believers today talk as if these details are what the Bible teaches. Not so. We have in Jasher no less than 14 distinct facts about the Tower of Babel.  How many of these does the Bible echo?  Only one and one-half (1½ – 10.7%) Number 6 and part of 13. That’s it.

Consequently, after misleading many of us, we now must wash away Jasher’s mythic imaginings while holding fast to the truths explicit in Scripture. We should trust what secular history and archeology seem to confirm that’s in the Bible, once we examine all the evidence. And this we do in subsequent posts.

NOTES

[1] How should the name Babel be pronounced? Bodie Hodge opens his book, The Tower of Babel: The Cultural History of Our Ancestors, with an intelligent discussion on pronunciation. While the Oxford pronunciation is bay-bell, the Hebrew pronunciation is the proper method to pronounce it, bah-bel, with the emphasis on the second syllable.

[2] M. Alroy Mascrenghe provides a study (from a conventional perspective for the most part), “The City, the Ship, and the Tower: Reading the Babel Story Theologically and As a Narrative in its Context” that recaps these respective points of view and their origin.  This article was published in the Journal of the Colombo Theological Seminary 10 (2014), p. 240-244. One of the keen insights in the article was that the purpose of the Tower of Babel was to provide security in the same way that Cain sought security by building a city (rather than trusting that God’s “mark” would protect him). A Tower reaching to the Heavens was to safeguard humanity from destruction again by flood,

[3] Johnson, Ken. Ancient Book of Jasher, p. 36-37, n.d., Kindle Edition.