Bible Commentaries
Genesis 11

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

The whole earth was of one language, and of one speech - literally, of one lip, and of the same words. Vitringa ('De Confus. Linguarum') considers this statement to be a preface or introduction to the following narrative, designed to intimate that the builders of Babel were, at the commencement of their enterprise, a united body, perfectly at one in their sentiments and aims. But this is a mistaken view of the verse, which, interpreted according to the natural meaning of the words, describes not a harmony of councils among a party, but an exact and entire community of speech among all the existing branches of mankind. It is a brief recapitulation-of which several instances have already occurred-a resumption, after the parenthetical chapter that preceded, of the thread of the narrative where it was broken at the end of Genesis 9:1-29.

The sacred historian, being about to enter on a new subject, takes a retrospective glance at the descent of The sacred historian, being about to enter on a new subject, takes a retrospective glance at the descent of mankind from a single family; and since in such circumstances it might have been reasonably concluded that, having a common origin, they would all speak the same language, he proceeds to explain the mystery of the diversity of tongues. Since the Spirit of God evidently designed in these opening chapters to throw light, by the record of a few simple facts, on the deepest problems relating to the primeval state of the world and of man, of which philosophy has not been able to give a satisfactory solution, an explanation is here furnished of the strange phenomenon of the almost countless varieties of articulate language; and we are led to see that though 'the confusion of tongues' was apparently a retrograde movement in human history, it was really a most important and admirable expedient, conducive, in the superintending providence of God, to ensure the diffusion of mankind throughout the world.

Verse 2

And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

As they journeyed from the east. The margin has 'eastward' (cf. Genesis 13:11), as indicating, not the course of the travelers, but the position of the writer in reference to Mesopotamia. Knobel renders it 'the countries that are in the East.' We prefer the rendering of the King James Version as the most literal and correct. Hitherto the whole human family had continued in their earliest postdiluvian settlement on the mountainous range of Armenia. But a detachment, perhaps the young and adventurous portion of them, gradually moved away from the primeval residence, and proceeded along the hilly country on the east of the Tigris, in a southward direction, until they had reached the province called by the geographers and historians of later times Susiana, or Elymais, when they altered their course, turning westward, and being attracted by the beauty and fertility of the Mesopotamian plain [Hebrew, biq`aah (H1237); Septuagint, pedion, a low wide plain, a level country], they resolved to make it the permanent center of their union and seat of their power.

That extensive region, which lay at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates had probably been the ultimate destination of the emigrating party; because if, as Wells and others suppose, it had been the native country of Noah, where he had formerly resided, and built his ark-Babylonia abounding in gopher wood-it may well be imagined that his descendants would cherish a strong desire to plant themselves again in that ancestral land. In the lapse of years the little party swelled into a tribe, and the tribe rose into the magnitude of a people.

The land of Shinar. Professor Rawlinson derives this name from sªneey, and Ar, or Nahr, naahar (H5102), a river-the country between the two rivers. But that is a purely conjectural derivation, on which no reliance can be placed. Sir H. Rawlinson is inclined to see the name Shinar preserved in Senkereh, and others in the Sinjar chain of mountains, which are in the interior of Mesopotamia. Nothing certain is known about this name, except that it seems to have been applied to the region by the early natives, and was continued among the descendants of Abraham (Daniel 1:2: cf. Isaiah 11:11; Zechariah 5:11, Septuagint). The country was called generally Chaldaea or Babylonia.

Verse 3

And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

Go to - an adverb, interjectionally used as a term of incitement or exhortation. It is equivalent to 'Come on.' In two other passages where the Hebrew and Greek terms are rendered by the same English phrase, it is significant of preparation required (2 Kings 5:4-5; James 4:13-14). Dr. Samuel Johnson says that in English poetry it is a scornful exhortation.

Let us make brick, and burn them throughly - [Hebrew, lªbeeniym (H3843), of white or chalky clay]. Brickmaking, as here described, was a nice operation, requiring both skill and carefulness, not only in the selection of the clay, so as to exclude from the composition all extraneous matter-an excess of which would tend to make the bricks crack or vitrify-but also in the preparation of the brick, by applying the fire so that in the core as well as on the surface they might be formed of a uniform solidity and durability. It is evident from the language employed in the narrative that the builders at Babel were well acquainted with the finishing processes, and hence, since they contemplated the erection of edifices which would be capable of enduring, they resolved, in manufacturing the bricks, to "burn them throughly."

They had brick for stone. The building materials which Shinar furnished for the erection of edifices differed from those of almost every other country in the world. For instead of the marbles of some, or the stone quarries of most regions, the inhabitants of that land, with inventive resources and constructive skill which might have enabled them to rival the architectural achievements of the Egyptians and the Greeks, possessed nothing to build with but the soil of the alluvial plains. Moistening the loam with water, and mixing the softened gypsum with a small quantity of chopped straw or reeds, to increase its consistency, they moulded the raw brick into shape, and then dried it either by the sun or in the kiln. Sun-dried bricks were common in Assyria, since they are in the buildings of the villages still in that country, being easily procured and soon prepared under the intense heat of an almost torrid sun, where the thermometer stands daily at 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Two, or at most three days in that climate are sufficient for the process. But in Babylonia the bricks were usually burnt in the kiln; and the numerous architectural remains which have been disinterred from the accumulated mounds show that they had been baked so effectually as to acquire the firmness of freestone or the solidity of granite.

The walls of cities were almost invariably built of fire-burnt bricks; and the walls as well as floors of the royal palaces, except where the hands of exploring antiquarians have disturbed them, were formed of the same material, which remains as compact as at the period when these buildings were constructed. Sometimes the inner parts of the buildings were made of sun-dried bricks, while the exterior portion was strengthened by a covering of burnt brick ten feet in thickness, as at Warka. At other times the crude and the burnt bricks were placed in alternate layers of several feet thick.

The bricks made in later times, as in Nebuchadnezzar's reign, were formed generally in shape and size about a foot or 11 1/2 inches square and 2 or 2 1/4 inches thick. But the bricks found at Nimru, Koyunjik, etc., which belong to an earlier age, are much larger, and variously shaded-some square, others oblong, some triangular, and others wedge-like-though none are fashioned in the longitudinal form with which in Britain we are familiar.

And slime had they for mortar, [ lachomer (H2563)] - so called, according to Gesenius, from a Hebrew root signifying to boil: either from its boiling up from subterranean fountains (Genesis 14:10) or from its redness, the best kind being of that colour.

Josephus ('Antiquities,' 1: 4, 63) calls it Asphaltis; and we give it the name of bitumen or asphalt. It is a remarkable mineral pitch, termed from the decomposition of animal and vegetable substances, and one of the most inflammable of known materials. It is found some times in the form of a solid fossil, at other times in a liquified state on the surface of lakes and wells.

Herodotus (b. 1:, ch. 179) relates that masses of bitumen were washed down the Is, a small stream which joins the Euphrates at the point where stands the modern Hit, a little mud-walled town, inhabited by a population of Jews and Arabs, about eight days' journey from Babylon, whence it was brought to that capital.

And Diodorus Siculus says (b. 2:, pp. 120-123) that there was an almost inexhaustible supply of naphtha obtained from the pits, which were very numerous in Babylonia. This slime, or mud of the country, is still applied by the Arab inhabitants, as a substitute for mortar, in cementing the bricks of which their habitations are formed. The bitumen and naphtha were often boiled together, to form a superior cement; and of so tenacious a quality is it, that, in the ancient palaces which Layard disinterred, that writer tells us, 'it is almost impossible to detach a brick from the entire mass.' Each brick was laid on hot liquid bitumen, and a layer of reeds pressed down on every thirtieth row, where crude bricks were used (cf.Arrian, 'De Exped. Alex.,' lib. vii; Strabo, 'Geog.,' lib. 16:; Pliny, 35: 51; Vitringa, 8:3).

Verse 4

And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

Let us build us a city. The city was in the immediate neighbourhood, if not on the very site of Babylon-the nucleus and origin of that famous capital. Arab tradition makes Calneh, the modern Niffer, the site of the primitive Babel; and in accordance with that tradition the Septuagint speaks of Calneh as the place where the tower was built. (chalanees ou ho purgos ookodomeethee, Isaiah 10:9.)

And a tower whose top may reach unto heaven. It cannot be supposed that they entertained the insane project of raising it to the skies, as the fabled giants are said to have done. The phrase was a figurative mode of expressing great altitude (cf. Deuteronomy 1:28; Isaiah 14:13). The city was, of course, for inhabitation; but what the tower was designed for has been made a subject of much unsatisfactory discussion.

Josephus, whom many writers in modern times have followed, says ('Antiquities,' b. 1:, ch. 4:), that it was reared as a place of security against a second deluge. But that is a view altogether inadmissible; because not only does the context not indicate any such reason, but God had given an express promise to Noah that a similar judgment should not again occur during the existing economy of Providence; and besides, if the people had been actuated by a desire to provide against a recurrence of a flood, they would have erected their tower on the summit of some Alpine mountain, and not in a low champagne country like Babylonia.

A more probable theory is, that since the Chaldeans cultivated astronomy early, they might have contemplated the erection on their level plains of a grand observatory; or, since the Zabian idolatry arose in that country, they might have required a temple for the worship of the host of heaven. [Perhaps the true motive of the builders may be found in the word migdaal (H4026), the tower of fortified cities and fortresses (Judges 8:9; Judges 9:26; 2 Chronicles 14:6), or a fortress itself (1 Chronicles 27:25; Proverbs 18:10).] It was therefore the fortresses (Judges 8:9; Judges 9:26; 2 Chronicles 14:6), or a fortress itself (1 Chronicles 27:25; Proverbs 18:10).] It was therefore the acropolis of the rising city.

And let us make us a name - i:e., get renown (Jeremiah 32:20; 2 Samuel 7:23). Perizonius, followed by others, renders the Hebrew [ sheem (H8034)], a sign: 'let us make us a beacon or rallying point.' In the far-stretching, unoccupied, level plains of the country, no eminence rose within the limits of the horizon to serve as a natural landmark to guide the path of the wanderer; and whether any might have gone to distant pastures with their flocks, or extended their excursions in the pursuits of the chace, they were as uncertain of the homeward way in that trackless region as mariners on the wide ocean without the compass. There was no means, therefore, better fitted to guide them than the erections they contemplated.

They had already enjoyed the benefits resulting from a permanently settled and stationary society; they saw that mighty works-works which would endure for ages and gain great fame to the founders of them-were only to be accomplished by the united energies of a large body of men; and therefore they resolved to provide for themselves and their posterity a lasting establishment in a land, the extent and fertility of which appeared sufficient for long to contain their population, however greatly it might increase.

Lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. The Septuagint renders this clause, [pro tou diaspareenai heemas.], and the Vulgate follows it, [antequam dividamur], before we are scattered. But this is an erroneous translation. [The Hebrew idiom requires that pen (H6435) with the maqqeph (-), after verbs of fearing, hindering, caution, and the like, should be rendered that not, or "lest," as our translators have done.] The whole strain of the context shows that the object of the builders, in the erection of the tower, was to prevent the occurrence of the dreaded dispersion.

What was the cause of their fear? Either the attacks of wild beasts or the trouble and dangers connected with a separation. The prevalence of such feelings indicated a distrust of God's promise (Genesis 9:2), as well as a love of ease and pleasure, more than a regard to the declared will of God (Genesis 9:1). Pride, selfishness, and vain glory were the ruling motives that influenced the confederacy; and whether idolatry had anything to do with this movement or not, it is evident that the spirit of true religion was extinguished in the hearts of men who deliberately adopted and persisted in a course of action designed to defeat or defer the divine intentions, that they should, by occupying the earth, diffuse the knowledge of divine truth and the blessings of civilization. According to the divine purpose, men were to fill the earth - i:e., to spread over the whole earth; not, indeed, to separate but to maintain their inward unity notwithstanding their dispersion. But the fact that they were afraid of dispersion is a proof that the inward spiritual bond of unity and fellowship, not only the oneness of their God and their worship, but also the unity of brotherly love, was already broken by sin. Consequently, the undertaking, dictated by pride to preserve and consolidate by outward means the unity which was inwardly lost, could not be successful, but could only bring down the judgment of dispersion (Keil).

Verse 5

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower. Anthropomorphism is the characteristic style of this history, which frequently describes God as acting more humane. Thus, it speaks of Him as 'coming,' and 'coming down,' in cases where there is no reason for supposing that there was any visible descent; and this phraseology is especially employed in narratives of His proceeding to do or to execute any purpose of His will respecting man (cf. Genesis 11:7; Genesis 18:21; Exodus 3:8; Exodus 11:5; Exodus 19:18; Exodus 19:20; Exodus 24:5; Numbers 12:5; Numbers 22:9; Deuteronomy 32:2). It is important to notice the appropriate use of the divine name [ Yahweh (H3068)], the Lord, in this direct interposition to counteract a rebellion against the scheme of grace which the Mediator was about to develop for the redemption of mankind.

Which the children of men builded - literally, the sons of Adam. This expression also is exceedingly significant, denoting either the folly and impotence of creatures who, though "dust," and destined to "return unto dust," yet, uuder the influence of pride, magnified themselves against the Most High; or their wickedness (Genesis 6:2) in resolving and encouraging one another to oppose the arrangements of Him who had divided to the nations their inheritance when he separated the sons of Adam (Deuteronomy 32:8). [ baanuw (H1129), built, or had built, shows that the works were considerably advanced.]

Verse 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 people is one, and they have all one language. The multitudes assembled in the plains of Shinar formed an organized society, and began to establish the foundations of one universal empire. Union in councils gave them power, which was still further augmented by their ability to communicate their sentiments and designs easily and freely in a language universally intelligible; so that in such circumstances a confederacy of bold bad men might undertake the most daring enterprises.

This they begin to do - i:e., the building of the city and tower is but the commencement of their doings.

And now nothing will be restrained from them - i:e., they will shrink from nothing, however hard or presumptuous, which they may wish to accomplish; so that the evil already in the world will be fearfully increased, and its diffusion accelerated, by this ungodly association, unless means are taken for its immediate dissolution.

Verse 7

Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

Let us ... confound their language - Hebrew, lips; and the Hebrew verb "confound" means to mingle things together, so as to produce a new and composite substance (see the note on the use of the plural in a similar connection, Genesis 1:26). The obvious and natural meaning of these words is, that by an extraordinary act of divine providence the articulate speech by which mankind had hitherto carried on their social intercourse, as a universal medium of communication, underwent changes that rendered it unintelligible. The text does not admit of the explanation which some writers have given, that the effect described was the slow and gradual work of time. They suppose that, since many years were probably occupied in the erection of the city and the tower, jealousy, dissension, and strife had been created among the builders, through the influence of their different views, dispositions, and interests: they were divided into parties; and since the feuds became fiercer and more extended, until reconciliation and reunion were hopeless, the social mass was broken up and dispersed, some going in one way, others in another. The natural consequence was, that in the various settlements which they formed, many of these distant and isolated, time and the influence of climate, food, labour, and other circumstances, gave rise to new ideas and altered habits, and this, in the natural course of things, produced a diversity of tongues among men.

But this theory of interpretation is at variance with the tenor of the inspired record, which expressly states, that 'the confusion of languages' occurred instantaneously and miraculously, and, moreover, that it was the cause, not the effect of the dispersion of mankind. In what degree, or to what extent the language was confounded is a problem which it is impossible satisfactorily to solve. This much, however, may be safely affirmed, that it was not reduced into chaotic disorder; because that must have occasioned a complete dissolution of human society, and every individual, compelled to separate himself from the rest of the species, would have had to live apart, as the dumb animals.

The 'confusion,' as the original term indicates, was in the 'lip,' - i:e., the old language was broken into a variety of dialects, by changes on the form and termination of words, or by new modes of pronouncing them, such as rendered the maintenance of general conversation impossible. It is extremely probable that, if not every family, at least those groups of families that had been closely allied, and were destined to coalesce into one colony in the future dispersion, had a distinct dialect. Thus, the statement of the sacred historian would be verified in general, that the language of the Shinar builders was 'confounded, that they could not understand one another's speech.'

It is easy to judge what would be the result if workmen from all the different counties of Great Britain were congregated in one spot: the provincial dialect of one half of the assembly would be an unintelligible jargon to the other half. Somewhat similar was the scene enacted at Shinar; and this labial change, which was effected suddenly on a vast multitude, struck all as so unmistakable a display of the divine anger, that they forthwith abandoned the works in which they had been engaged, and dispersed themselves into different parts of the world, "after their families, and after their tongues."

Probably at first the 'confusion' did not appear greater than what has just been described. But in course of time it was found to extend much further-to consist not in a dialectical merely, but a structural difference-such a radical difference as tended to extinguish the idea that the people who spoke those various languages could have had any previous intercommunity.

Verse 8

So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence, ... Thus easily was their purpose defeated by God. Their crime was a premature attempt at centralization, rather, perhaps, than any vast scheme of conspiracy; and the 'confusion' producing as its natural consequence a disunion of their councils, they were compelled to the dispersion they had combined to prevent, as in all popular movements the multitude would be actuated by a variety of motives. Some might have joined in the enterprise from the simple motive of enjoying the benefits of a settled society; while the responsibility and the guilt would rest chiefly on the leaders, who from motives of political ambition or Zabian idolatry, planned and conducted the rebellion. To the former the 'confusion' was a mild correction of the error which they had innocently committed, while the latter saw their punishment in the judicial infliction which frustrated their favourite projects. Thus, their design of 'making to themselves a name,' and adhering together in defiance of the Almighty, was entirely frustrated; and they were driven by a divine judgment, which doubtless struck them with awe, to separate genealogically into various tribes and regions.

But looking beyond the immediate actors, it was a wise and merciful interposition in regard to the general interests of the human race; and the miraculous deed that was done in Shinar is a beautiful instance of the vigilant care with which the Mediator maintained the order and progress of the world he had undertaken to govern.

And they left off to build the city. This statement (cf. Genesis 10:10), refutes the old and prevalent opinion that Nimrod was the prime mover and instigator of the rebellion; and besides, the cuneiform inscriptions place the date of his appearance on the public stage at a period long posterior, when he did in all probability complete the unfinished city, and make it "the beginning," or metropolis of his kingdom. No notice is taken of the tower; and we do not know to what height it had risen, or whether it had advanced beyond the foundations. The imagination of profane historians and of oriental writers has abundantly supplied the deficiency by fabulous stories relative to its gigantic magnitude-which some say was four miles high, others more-and to its sudden destruction, which, according to a Jewish tradition preserved by Bochart, was caused by fire from heaven, but according to Alexander Polyhistor and others, was overthrown by a furious tempest. These and similar legends which have reached our time, represent the erection of the tower to have been in a state of considerable forwardness.

But the sacred historian does not furnish information upon any of these points; neither how far the builders had proceeded with the tower, nor whether the portion that had been erected had sustained any damage at the time of the violent dispersion. The only warranted conclusion is, that its further progress was arrested, with that of the city, by the sudden 'confusion.'

An approximate idea may be obtained of the form and character of this remarkable tower from the architectural remains of antiquity which modern research has brought to light; because, since it is allowed by competent judges that a uniform style of building was adopted in the East for sacred purposes, the Birs Nimrud may be taken as a general type of Chaldean temples. The edifice of which this extraordinary ruin is the relic was built of kiln-burnt bricks, and 'the building rose in seven receding stages, and conformity with the Chaldean planetary system. Upon a platform of crude brick, raised a few feet above the level of the alluvial plain, was built of burnt brick the first or basement stage, an exact square, 272 feet each way, and 26 feet in perpendicular height. Upon this stage was erected a second, 230 feet each way, and likewise 26 feet high; which, however, was not placed exactly in the middle of the first, but considerably nearer to the southwestern end, which constituted the back of the building. The other stages were arranged similarly, the third being 188 feet, and again 26 feet high; the fourth 146 feet square, and 15 feet high; the fifth 104 feet square, and the same height as the fourth; the sixth 62 feet square, and again the same height; and the seventh 20 feet square, and once more the same height. On the seventh stage there was probably placed the ark or tabernacle, which seems to have been itself 15 feet high, and must have nearly, if not entirely, covered the top of the seventh storey. The entire original height, allowing 3 feet for the platform, would thus have been 156 feet, or without the platform 153 feet. The whole formed a sort of oblique pyramid, the gentler slope facing the northeast, and the steeper incline the southwest. On the northeast side was the grand entrance; and here stood the vestibule, a separate building, the debris from which having joined those from the temple itself, fill up the intermediate space, and very remarkably prolong the mound in this direction. It remains to be noticed that the different stages were coloured after the hue of the planets to which they were respectively dedicated. Thus the lower stage, belonging to Saturn, was black; the second, to Jupiter, was orange; the third, or that of Mars, was red; the fourth, of the Sun, golden; the fifth, of Venus, white; the sixth, of Mercury, blue; and the seventh, of the Moon, a silvery green.

In several cases these colours were still clearly to be distinguished, the appropriate hue being obtained by the quality and burning of the bricks; and it was thus ascertained that the vitrified masses at the summit were the result of design, and not of accident-the sixth stage, sacred to Mercury, having been subjected to an intense and prolonged fire, in order to produce the blue slag colour, which was emblematical of that planet. It further appeared that we are indebted to this peculiarity of construction for the preservation of the monument, when so many of its sister temples had utterly perished, the blue slag cap at the summit of the pile resisting the action of the weather, and holding together the lower stage, that would otherwise have crumbled while it also afforded an immovable pedestal for the upper stages, and for the shrine which probably crowned the pile.

The only other point of interest which was ascertained from the cylinders was, that the temple in question did not belong to Babylon, but to the neighbouring city of Borsippa, the title of Birs, by which it is now known, being a mere abbreviation of the ancient name of the city' (Rawlinson 'Herod.' 2:, Essay 4:, combined with Sir H. Rawlinson's 'Report to the Royal Asiatic Society,' April 1855: see also Layard's 'Nineveh and Babylon,' pp. 497-9.) - It is a prevailing opinion that the remains of the Biblical tower are still in existence; and from the early period of the Jewish captivity down to the Christian travelers of our own times, there has been a strong disposition evinced to identify it with one of the remarkable mounds which are found in Babylonia.

Two of these, in particular, have had their zealous advocates, the MujelibŠ (the overturned), and the Birs Nimr-d (the great temple of Nebo at Borsippa). The great height of the Birs in particular, its prodigious extent, and its state of tolerable preservation, produced a very general disposition to identify it with the tower of Belus, so minutely described by Herodotus; and, from there being also large vitrified masses of brick work on the summit of the mound, which presented an appearance of having been subjected to the influence of intense heat, conjectures that the Birs might even represent the more ancient tower of Babel had been frequently hazarded and believed. Into the rival claims of Mujelibe and the Birs Nimrud, however, to represent the tower of Babel, it is needless to enter; for it is now agreed by the most trustworthy travelers who have visited those regions that the former contains the ruins of the fortress, while the distance of the latter from Babylon precludes the possibility of its being the relic. Besides, there is no good ground for identifying the Biblical tower with any existing monument at or near Babylon; for since the inscriptions on the bricks have been read, it has been ascertained that none of the ruins ascend to a period so early as the date of the Shinar dispersion.

Verse 9

Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Therefore is the name of it called Babel. Rationalist writers regard this Mosaic narrative as the embodiment of a traditionary legend, and therefore, in accordance with this view, reject the derivation assigned in the text, ascribing its origin to the tower having been, in later times at least, rebuilt and used as the temple of Belus, whose image was placed in it, according to Herodotus. [Their explanation of the name is, that it means baarel, the gate of Baal or Bel, or Bab-il, the gate of the god Il-the word 'gate' being used in the extensive sense we give to the 'Porte.' But, as declared by Moses, Babel comes from the root-verb baalal (H1101), to confound, as if it were baal-beel, and it is a name so very special that it is impossible to account for its being made the designation of any place, unless some remarkable transaction had occurred to furnish a historical basis on which it rested] - Some writers, like Herder, look upon this narrative as a poetical fragment in the Oriental style, to account for the origin of diverse languages. But it is a fact as real as any other related in the inspired history, and no one who believes in a personal God as the providential Ruler of the world can doubt the possibility of a miracle, or that the confusion, or rather the multiplication of tongues, originated in the way described.

`Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus,'

is a statement of a pagan poet, which embodies a sound principle; and every intelligent man must feel and acknowledge that the sacred historian gives a more rational account of the phenomena of different languages than the writers who ascribe it to the operation of natural causes.

Besides, the Mosaic record of this memorable occurrence is confirmed by a variety of independent testimonies. The account of Berosus, the Chaldean historian, is substantially the same as that of Moses, as also is the Hindu tradition, according to Sir William Jones. The Egyptian monuments attest the fact of the dispersion at Shinar (Osburn's 'Egypt and her Testimony'), and the cuneiform inscriptions speak of Chaldea or Babylonia as 'the land of tongues' (Fox Talbot). The most eminent ethnologists also have come to this conclusion. 'There is the greatest probability that the human race, no less than their language, go back to one common stock-to a first man-and not to several, dispersed in different parts of the world. And it is asserted, with the greatest confidence, that from an extensive examination of languages, the separation among mankind is shown to have been violent; not, indeed, that they voluntarily changed their language, but that they were rudely and suddenly (brusquement) divided from one another' (Wiseman's 'Lectures'). And Sir H. Rawlinson ('Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society,' 15:, p. 232) says, that 'if we were guided by the mere intersection of linguistic paths, and independently of all reference to the Scriptural record, we should be led to fix on the plains of Shinar as the focus from which the various lines had radiated.'

What was the primeval language that was broken into fragments at Shinar, and in what relations it stood to the languages that proceeded from it in later times, has been a fruitful subject of discussion and controversy. Various claimants have been brought forward for the honour of being the original tongue-the Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Chaldee, Phoenician, Egyptian, Ethiopic, Sanskrit, Chinese, Abyssinian, Celtic; and to these must now be added the Accad, the language which, like the Latin in the Mediaeval ages, was used for all the oldest state documents found in Babylonia (Rawlinson). The Hebrew had numerous and zealous advocates in earlier times, as it still has a few, among whom may be mentioned Baumgarten and Havernick. But modern scholars are, for the most part, inclined to regard the present Hebrew as the early offspring of a more aboriginal tongue.

Sir William Jones gave it as his opinion that the primitive language has been irretrievably lost. But immense progress in linguistic researches has been made since the days of that accomplished scholar. Students of comparative philology, who have scientifically examined the languages of the various nations, ancient and modern, have traced certain affinities between them, which nothing but such a mode of investigation could have discovered, and on the ground of such a connection have ranked languages, which to outward appearance are remotely related, in three large families or groups, called the Semitic, Indo-European, and Allophyllian or Turanian tongues. Nay, closer observation seems to show that, even in these large collective masses, affinities exist in the essential constitution of each language-elements of resemblance which run through them all-suggesting the belief, on purely philological principles, that the languages themselves were once united, and that some extraordinary agency had severed them. The advancement made in all the various lines of investigation has been so great, that not only doubt is being constantly removed in regard to points that once presented apparently insuperable difficulties, but the time seems not far distant when, in the opinion of the most competent judges, the narrative contained in the first nine verses of this chapter will be fully corroborated by the testimony of science.

'Fragments,' says Herder, 'of an original form yet exist through all the dialects of the old and new worlds.' 'Over the languages of the primitive Asiatic continent of Asia and Europe,' says Professor Max Muller, 'a new light begins to dawn, which, in spite of perplexing appearances, reveals more and more clearly the possibility of their common origin.' 'It is now incontrovertibly established,' observes Donaldson ('New Cratylus'), 'that most of the inhabitants of Europe and a great number of the most ancient and civilized tribes of Asia speak, with greater or smaller variations, the same language; and the time may perhaps come when it will appear as probable, philologically, since it is certain historically, that every language in the world has sprung from one original speech.'

It is from the Scriptures alone we learn the true origin of the different languages, as well as nations of the world; and the most advanced philology will only render the humble, though welcome and important, service of verifying the statement of the sacred historian, when she proves all the various languages to be only emanations of one great primordial tongue, whose integrity was broken, and itself lost in the catastrophe at Shinar.

It is in accordance with the whole scheme of the sacred volume to represent dispersion as well as death to have been a necessary consequence of the fall. By one miracle of tongues men were 'scattered abroad on the face of all the earth,' and gradually fell from true religion. By another, national barriers were broken down, that all men might be brought back to the family of God.

Verse 10

These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood:

These are the generations of Shem. The sacred historian here passes from the general to the particular, and, as introductory to the biography of Abraham, traces his lineal descent from that son of Noah in whose line the promise was to be transmitted. This genealogy is therefore of a totally different character from that which is contained in the preceding chapter. It is exclusively a family register. On comparing it with the similar record in Genesis 5:1-32, there will be perceived a progressive decrease in the ages of the patriarchs; and, besides, it proceeds according to a different method; because, instead of giving the total duration of their lives, it states merely the age of each individual at the birth of the son by whom the Messianic line was to be conveyed, and the number of years the father lived afterward, leaving the reader to make the summation. The consequence has been the commission of clerical errors of a serious description. The following table will show how many and great discrepancies exist in the Hebrew, Samaritan, and Septuagint versions, and in Josephus, in regard to the numbers in this genealogy:

Whatever was the cause of these extraordinary discrepancies-whether they originated in the errors of transcribers mistaking one letter for another, which might occasion a difference of a century or more, or whether they proceeded from a deliberate tampering with the genealogies on the part of the Jews in the beginning of the Christian era (see the note at Genesis 5:1-32), as seems to have been the case, from the systematic nature of the alterations, the result has been to introduce irreconcilable confusion into the chronology.

'There is nothing,' says Professor Rawlinson, 'either in the facts of history or in those of language, against the chronological scheme of Scripture, if we regard the Septuagint and Samaritan versions as the best exponents of the original text in respect of the genealogy of the patriarchs from Shem to Abraham. Whether the chronology of these versions admits of further expansion; whether, since the chronologies of the Hebrew Bible, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Septuagint differ, we can depend on any one of them; or whether we must consider that this portion of revelation has been lost to us by the mistakes of copyists, or the intentional alterations of systematizers, it is not necessary to determine.

"Our treasure is in earthen vessels. The revealed Word of God has been continued in the world in the same way as other written compositions-by the multiplication of copies. No miraculous aid is vouchsafed to transcribers, who are liable to make mistakes, and may not always have been free from the design of bending Scripture to their own views. That we have a wonderfully pure and perfect text of the Pentateuch, considering its antiquity, is admitted; but doubts must ever attach to the chronology, not only because in all ancient MSS. numbers are especially liable to accidental corruption, but also, and more especially, from the fact that there is so wide a difference in this respect between the Hebrew, Samaritan, and Greek copies."

There is one special difficulty connected with this genealogy, arising from the occurrence of the name of Cainan in the Septuagint, and in the Gospel of Luke, who follows the Septuagint. The Septuagint, instead of Salah, has Cainan-`Arphaxad begat Cainan, and Cainan begat Salah.' Cf. Luke 3:36. 'All existing MSS. and editions of the Septuagint version-the Complutensian, the Aldine, the Alexandrian, and the Vatican edition-do contain the name of Cainan in this passage; as also the Septuagint version, as given in Origen's 'Hexapla,' did, on the testimony of Procopius, who wrote soon after A.D. 500 AD; the canonical Latin version of the Septuagint, used by Augustine and the African Church; Demetrius, the historian, who lived under the Ptolemies, about B.C. 170, and within one hundred years of the Septuagint translation being made; and many of the Fathers quote from the copies of the Septuagint used by them as containing the name of Cainan.

Such are the most important facts and statements, as given by Walton, Yardley, Jackson, Mill, and others, from which the authenticity of the name Cainan has been argued. But, on the other hand, the Hebrew MSS. and editions, which form the authoritative text of Scripture, do not contain, nor ever did contain, Cainan, either in this chapter or the preceding, or in 1 Chronicles 1:18; besides the Samaritan Pentateuch Onkelos, in his Chaldee Targum, compiled about the time of our Saviour; the Syriac version, made from the Hebrew very early in the Christian era; the Arabic, the Vulgate, the versions made from the Hebrew-none of them acknowledge the name. But further, there are very strong grounds for asserting that the intrusion of Cainan into the Septuagint version is comparatively of modern date: for in the Vatican manuscript of the Septuagint Cainan is omitted, as it is also in the Armenian version of the Old Testament, made from the Septuagint in the fourth century. Josephus and Philo, who both quote from the Septuagint, knew nothing of it. Various testimonies of Christian Fathers, at a later date, all form a mass of external evidence which, together with several circumstances of internal probability, make the insertion of the name Cainan in this passage very suspicious, or rather prove, that for the first three or nearly four centuries after Christ the Septuagint version agreed with the Hebrew text in omitting Cainan. This much must suffice on so complicated a question. We conclude that, at all events, Cainan has no right to a place among the ancestors of Jesus Christ' (Hervey's 'Genealogies').

There is one other observation which remains to be made on this genealogy-namely, that it comprises ten names. This has been objected to as an artificial arrangement; because it is precisely the same as in Genesis 5:1-32, and in the genealogies of several ancient profane writers. Kalisch is of opinion that the number "ten" had a sacred or symbolical meaning which is now lost; but this is a pure conjecture.

Verses 11-25

And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 26

And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran. It appears that Terah did not acquire the paternal character until he had reached the age of seventy, and that although in the enumeration of his sons, Abram, like Shem (Genesis 5:32; Genesis 6:10; Genesis 7:13), is, from his great eminence, mentioned first, he was not the oldest of the family. That honour belonged not to him, but to Haran (Genesis 11:29); and Abram, who seems to have been the youngest son, was not born until sixty years after: for by comparing Genesis 11:32 with Genesis 12:1-20, and subtracting 75 from 205, Terah must have been one hundred and thirty years old at Abram's birth. This is the explanation given by Chrysostom among the Fathers, Calvin and Musculus among the Reformers, Usher, Clinton, and others in later times, of a very perplexing difficulty; and it seems to be in accordance with the Scripture (see the note at Genesis 11:32), although it makes Abram's exclamation of surprise (Genesis 17:17) at the announcement of his own paternity at a less advanced age than Terah's not a little remarkable.

Verse 27

Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram Nahor and Haran; and Haran begat Lot Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.

Now these are the generations of Terah - (see the note at Genesis 2:4; Genesis 5:1). This section of the history includes all that relates to Abram, ending Genesis 25:10.

Verse 28

And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.

Haran died ... in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. Josephus speaks of the sepulchre being still pointed out in his time at Ur. As to the locality of Ur, the name has been assigned to various towns, such as those represented by the modern Orfah (which Col. Chesney, 'Hist. of Euphrat. Exped.,' says is still called by the Arabs Ur of the Chaldees), Warka, and others. Knobel considers it 'the mountain of the Chaldees' [taking 'uwr (H217) = har (H2022)]. But the cuneiform inscriptions have shown Mugheir, or Mugeyer, in Southern Mesopotamia, which was what was properly called Chaldea, to be the true site of Ur. Mugheir is an oval-shaped mass of antique ruins, conspicuous among which are those of a spacious temple dedicated to the moon, and built with great bricks, cemented with bitumen, whence the name, Mugheir, 'the bitumened.' It is situated about six miles from the Euphrates, on its right or western bank, near the junction of that river with the Shatel-Hie.

Ur was a place of great importance, as the most ancient capital of Chaldea, and a market of commerce. [ 'Uwr (H217), Ur, or Hur, means the moon goddess. Kasdiym (H3778), the people of Chesed, nephew of Abram, according to some; but that is absurd, since the name was in use before Chesed himself was born. Others consider it applied to a people who were originally a nomadic race, occupying the mountains where the Kurds are now found. Their name was properly Kardiym, altered, through the interchange of letters, which was frequent, into Chaldaioi, by the Greeks. A third class derive it from Khaldi, which in the old Armenian tongue denotes moon-worshippers (Rawlinson).]

Ur of the Chaldees, then, was so named as a city dedicated to the worship of the moon (cf. Job 31:2-28), in conformity with the Zabian idolatry that early prevailed in Chaldea. [The Septuagint has, instead of Ur, en tee choora toon Chaldaioon, in the country of the Chaldees.] There is great probability that a country, not a place, is meant, Terah and his sons being nomadic shepherds; and so Loftus regards Ur as a district of the Chaldees, including both the ruined sites of Warka and Mugheir ('Resear. in Chald. and Susiana').

Verse 29

And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.

Abram and Nahor took them wives. The consuetudinary law of marriage in nomadic tribes obliges a young man to choose his wife from among those who are connected by ties of blood with his own clan. But in Terah's family matrimonial alliances, sanctioned, doubtless, by the customs of a pagan land, were allowed within degrees of consanguinity nearer than are permitted by the code of a more advanced and Christian society (cf. Genesis 20:12). The same practice obtained among the Hebrews in the pre-Mosaic age (cf. Exodus 2:1 with Numbers 26:59).

Iscah. Josephus, Jerome, and most modern commentators consider this to be another name for Sarai, who was ten years younger than Abram (Genesis 17:17). But Iscah is expressly said to be the daughter of Haran; and it seems strange to apply this name to Sarai, when she is mentioned by her own name both in this and the following verse. Ewald thinks that Iscah is introduced here as the wife of Lot (see further the note at Genesis 20:12).

Verse 30

But Sarai was barren; she had no child.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 31

And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.

Terah took Abram ... to go into the land of Canaan. The ordinary movements of a nomadic tribe from one encampment to another are begun by order, and conducted under the directions, of the head, or shiech; and so Terah (for we discard as apocryphal the tradition of his being a statuary, or maker of images, and consider him a pastoral chief) is naturally mentioned as having originated the departure from Ur of the Chaldees.

And they went forth with them, [Septuagint, exeegagen autous] - he led them forth. But the reason of Terah's taking this distant western migration is not stated. It may have been, as Josephus says, that he hated Chaldea through excess of grief for the loss of Haran ('Ant.,' 1: 6., sec. 5), or that there is truth in the Oriental legend, which bears that he had resolved to join Abram in abandoning the Zabian idolatry (see the note at Genesis 12:1). Nahor did not accompany them, though at a later period his family appears to have settled in Haran (Genesis 28:10; Genesis 29:4).

And they came unto Haran - i:e., a dry place [ Chaaraan (H2771); Septuagint, Charran (G5488); Charrae of the Romans]. Haran (now Harran), a town of Mesopotamia, was situated south of Edessa, on the Bilicus (Belik), a small tributary of the Euphrates, which empties itself into that river about fifty miles below the town. Besides its situation in the midst of a spacious plain environed by mountains, Haran formed the point whence diverged the principal roads which led to the great fords of the Tigris and Euphrates, and consequently was a great commercial emporium (cf. Ezekiel 27:23).

It was the junction of three great caravan routes-one which led southwards to the large towns of Chaldea; a second toward the Tigris, through Nisibis; and the third, southwest, toward Syria. This traditional site of Haran, however, has been recently disputed by Cyril Graham, Corbaux, and Dr. Beke, who, appealing to Acts 7:2 as a proof that it was not in Mesopotamia Proper, fix on a place called Harran El-Awamid (Harran of the Columns, Porter's 'Damas.,' 1:, p. 376), lying about fourteen miles east of Damascus (see the note at Genesis 24:10; Genesis 28:2). If Orfah was Ur, which, according to Rennell, is only twenty-nine miles distant from Haran, the journey could have been made by a pastoral tribe in two days, or less; and it was the direct route to Canaan. But from Mugheir to Haran, which lay far north, must have been a lengthened expedition.

And dwelt there. Hales ('Sac. Chron.,' 2:, p 123), after Abulfaragi, the Arabian historian, says, that when the tribe left Ur, Abram was sixty years old, and that he remained at Haran for fifteen years-an extraordinary delay for a man of so ready obedience to make. But Philo ('De Migr. Abrah.,' tom. 1:, p. 463) states that he remained only a short time there; and Josephus ('Antiq.,' 1: 7), that he departed from Haran in the course of the year in which he came to it.

Verse 32

And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.

And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years. This has long been regarded as a difficulty, for the solution of which various explanations have been offered; but all of them are unsatisfactory; and certainly it would be an insuperable difficulty if Abram were the oldest son, born in his father's 70th year; because adding 70 + 75, Abram's age on his departure "out of Haran," would make Terah's age only 145 years, the number assigned for it in the Samaritan Pentateuch. But according to the exposition given above of Genesis 11:26, together with the asserted brevity of the sojourn at Haran, which, though an hypothesis, meets all the conditions of the narrative, all difficulties are removed: for 130 + 75 = 205 years, Terah's age when he died.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 11". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.