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Reading the Genesis 11 account sounds without this background makes God sound selfish and peevish. "Hey, they're trying to make themselves better! How dare they! I'm gonna go down and mix them up."

However, with this particular perspective comes a different view. Two things jump out at me.

First, "so we can make a name for ourselves" almost seems like they are doing it for self-worship. The ziggurat is being built, perhaps not for bringing God near, but for allowing the people to become like God's themselves. There's a sense of pride, that humans by themselves can come close to God and even demand God to come to them.

Secondly, related to the first, is that they seem to think that they can control God. "If we build this, God will HAVE to come down and bless us and we'll have a nice place for everyone to come and see God. And people will then know our city for the place where they can meet God." There is hubris here in that they seem that their actions can dictate God's blessing rather than the sovereignty of God being the criteria.

This is all just first impression. Obviously, I have my own lens I'm viewing this through and I welcome critique.

"Reading the Genesis 11 account sounds without this background makes God sound selfish and peevish."

While it's helpful to know how ziggurats were made, that background knowledge isn't necessary to understand why God was upset. However if it has helped clear up your own preconceptions before you read Scripture then that's a good thing.

Dr. Walton,

You said, "More than anything else, it is an attempt by the people to procure God’s presence in their midst—a benefit that had been lost when Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden."

But the text seems to clearly say otherwise in v. 4, namely that the point is to "make a name for ourselves." It appears that this is the offense, and ch. 12 represents God's plan instead, which is that He will be the one to make Abraham's name great, which will be a blessing to all peoples.

It seems possible that your interpretation dovetails with this if making a name for oneself was tied to unique divine-human interaction, such that a great ziggurat would procure a great name specifically by means of apparently procuring divine presence. But the main issue does seem to be how one will get a great name (the text says so!), and maybe only secondarily how to reconnect with God.

Any thoughts?

Andrew

Excellent article, thanks!

Dr. Walton,

Thanks for the thought provoking article.

You mention "It is this language, along with the indication that God "came down," that gives textual confirmation that the tower is a ziggurat."

I agree with the idea that it was a ziggurat being built, but your statement above seems a little odd to me. You mentioned earlier that the idea of gods coming down in response to a ziggurat was a false pagan concept. If that's true, then I find it difficult to think that the Holy Spirit would associate such false paganism with the Biblical God.

I've tended to think about the phase "came down" more in terms of irony - i.e. even when man tried his best to build a tower with its "top in the heavens," God still needed to "come down" to see it. To me, it speaks of the feebleness of man's efforts in contrast with God's greatness and exaltation.

Lots of good comments here. There is no problem with the idea of God coming down, but he wants to do it on his own terms at his own time. God begins to reestablish his presence among his people through the covenant, the temple, the incarnation and the Holy Spirit. These are God's initiatives.

Making a name is an interesting aspect here. I do not question that there could be some pride motivating the builders. But, as indicated, that pride could come through their initiative to bring God down. It must also be noted, however, that "making a name" can be more innocent. One makes a name by anything that will bring remembrance once the person has died. The most notable way to do that is by having children.

There is no indication that the people wanted to be like gods or that the ziggurat would help to achieve that. Historically that interpretation came from those who were borrowing a page from Greek mythology where there was an attempt to scale the heavens and overthrow the gods. No hint of that in the bible of the ancient Near East.

Great post.

The dream which Jacob had at Beth El, was of course, a means/vehicle by which God communicated revelation to the patriarch. Do you think the "sulam" ("stairway") that Jacob saw was an accomodation by God to the ziggurat mentality and theology of the Ancient Near East? Of course, an interesting difference is that the pagan accounts have the deities ascending and descending the stairways. Contrasted with that, Gen 28 has the angels ascending and descending ('olim veyordim bo).

I believe it is the same principle. It is used as a passage between heaven and earth.

Good post, and I agree with your point://
"There is no problem with the idea of God coming down, but he wants to do it on his own terms at his own time. God begins to reestablish his presence among his people through the covenant, the temple, the incarnation and the Holy Spirit. These are God's initiatives."//
I think the issue was the people wanting to take matters into their own hands and manipulate God as if He were just another god like all the pagan gods. While I am reminded by some at my church that many of the practices in the modern Evangelical church are pagan in origin, the difference is do we sanctify those practices or are they empty rituals for which there is no readily identifiable reason for their existence? Are we on some level trying to achieve the same empty ends as the pagans?

This discussion helps clarify what was going on. I think that more of the story hinges on the fact that they were trying to make a name for themselves. This article shows HOW they tried to make a name for themselves. Every other major town had their gods within arms reach. To be seen on par with them, Babel had to have the same "setup". They believed that having this structure to which God must come down would equate them with the rest of civilization. How sad that so many of God's people have always been worried about keeping up with the Jones's.

I really liked the railroad station analogy.

I'm wondering if the Israelites and their neighbors might not have had some of this "ziggurat thinking" when they went to great lengths to recover the Ark of the Covenant when it was taken in battle. They saw it as their access point or garage-door opener of the presence of God (rather than the opposite: that God's presence was invited, not compelled, to dwell between the cherubim.)

Enjoyed this article very much.

Latayne C Scott
www.latayne.com
representationalresources.com


God is "the most high god" and wanted to stay that way. Because he lived in the sky, just above the solid structure that supported the waters above the land, he was the highest person.

Luke 19:38 Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven [the sky], and glory in the highest [place].

Isaiah goes into detail about the king of Babel's ambitions:

Isaiah 14:14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

The height was associated with power, partly because the stars were considered the dictators of the destinies of men:

12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer ["shining one"], son of the morning [ie: the morning star: Venus]! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:

He wanted to rule from the two highest points: a sky throne and the highest mountain (which are both said to be God's operating points):

Psalms 76:2 In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion.

And the scriptures indicate that God was concerned that he would accomplish his goal:

Gen 11:6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

The confusion of their speech was to defend the rule of Yehovah from an ambitious king Nebuchadnezzar.

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