The tower of "Babble"

Most of Parashat Noach is about Noah, the Flood, the Ark the Rainbow. But there is also a bried gem  of a story,"The Tower of Babble."

Keep in mind that some at least of these early stories are rooted in the culture and life-experience of the Abrahamic clan. Who were Avram/ Sarai who became Abraham and Sarah?  Frontier-folk on the edges of the Babylonian Empire who chose to leave even the semi-settled frontier lands and go off to where "civilized" folk would think, "Here Be Dragons."

The Babylonians, says the Torah, decided to build the Migdal (evidently a ziggurat) in order to make a Name (Shem) for themselves.  In the first line of Torah after the story of Babel ends, we read, “This is the line of Shem (Name)” and there follows his whole genealogy down to Avram and Sarai. I think this is intended to mean, “There IS a way to make a name for yourselves: It is the practice of us Shemites, and ultimately our rejection of the Empire that you-all thought would make a name for you.”

Finally, notice that the Torah sneers that “Bavel” means “Balul,”  Baffle or Babble. (Amazingly, the puns are even better in English than in Hebrew.) But they knew that in Sumeria, “Bav-El” meant “Gateway to God.” They were deliberately punning on the word to poke fun at the Empire. ROTFLOL.

So I read the story as a frontier Mark Twain poking fun at London or another imperial capital.


Torah Portions: