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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 11

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-9


The Tower of Babel, the Confusion of Languages, and the Dispersion of the Nations

Genesis 11:1-9

1And the whole earth was of one language [lip], and of one speech.1 2And it came to pass, as they journeyed2 from the east3, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. 3And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly [literally, to a burning]. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar [cement]. 4And 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 [a signal, sign of renown], lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men had builded. 6And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language [on the very spot], that they may not understand one another’s speech. 8So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city. 9Therefore is the name of it called Babel4 [for בַּלְבֶל, division of speech, confusion; other explanations: בָּב בֵּל, gate of Belus, בַּר־בֵּל, castle of Belus], 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.


1. The literature: Bibelwerk, Matthew, p. 19. The present work, p. 119, where the title of Niebuhr’s work should be more correctly given: “History of Assur and Babel.” Berlin, 1858. Kurtz: “History of the Old Testament.” Haug, on the “Writing and Language of the Second Kind of Cuneiform Inscriptions.” Gottingen, 1855. J. Brandis, on the “Historical Results from the Deciphering of the Assyrian Inscriptions.” Berlin, 1856. Fabri: “The Origin of Heathendom and the Problem of its Mission.” Barmen, 1859. The latest: Kaulen: “The Confusion of Languages at Babel.” Mainz, 1861. Explorers of the ruins of Babylon, especially Rich, Ker-Porter, Layard, Rawlinson, Oppert.

2. The history of the building the tower at Babel forms the limit to the history of the primitive time. It may be regarded as the genesis of the history of the human striving after a false outward unity, of the doom of confusion that God therefore imposed upon it, of the dispersion of the nations into all the world, and of the formation of heathendom as directly connected therewith. In the proper treatment of this there comes into consideration: 1. the relation of the historical fact-consistency of the representation to its universal symbolical significance for the history of the world, and to its special symbolical significance for the kingdom of God; 2. the relation of the fact itself to the common historical knowledge, as well as to the history of the kingdom of God; 3. the relation of the confounding, therein represented, to the original unity of the human race in its language, as well as to the multiplicity that originally lay in human speech; 4. the historical and archæological testimonies; 5. the reflection of the historical fact in the mythical stories.

3. Kurtz correctly maintains (History of the Old Testament, p. 95) against H. A. Hahn, that this place forms the boundary between the history of the primitive time and the history of the Old Testament. Evidently is the history of primeval religion distinguished from the general history of the Old Testament by definite monuments, namely, by the characteristic feature of the faith in promise, as presented in the genealogies, through which faith Abraham, as the type of the patriarchal religion, stands in contrast with Melchidezek, the type of the primitive religion,—even as the morning twilight of the new time stands in contrast with the evening twilight of the old. And so, too, according to Galatians 3:0 and Romans 4:0, it is not Moses who is the beginning of the covenant religion, but Abraham. Moreover, in the history of the tower-building there is brought out not only the ground form for the historical configuration the world is to assume, but also the contrast between heathenism and the beginnings of the theocracy. For the sake of this contrast, according to our view, the section may still be regarded as belonging to the first period from the beginnings of the Shemitic patriarchalism; although when regarded in itself alone, and under the historical form of view of the Old Testament, it appears as an introduction to the history of Abraham.

4. The genesis of the human striving after a false outward unity, or uniformity and conformity. As in the history of Cain, the first beginnings of culture in the building of cities, in the discoveries and inventions of the means of living, of art, and of weapons of defence, were buried in their own corruption (since the germs of culture, however lawful in themselves, are overwhelmed in their ungodly worthlessness), and as in the history of Nimrod the post-diluvian beginnings of civilization, and of outward political institutions, were darkened by the indications of despotic violence, so also, in the history of the tower-building, must we distinguish the natural striving of the human race after an essential unity, from their aberration in a bold and violent effort to obtain an outward consistency, an outward uniformity (or conformity rather) to be established at the cost of the inward unity. Delitzsch says correctly (p. 310): “the unity which had hitherto bound together the human family was the community of one God, and of one divine worship. This unity did not satisfy them; inwardly they had already lost it; and therefore it was that they strove for another. There is, therefore, an ungodly unity, which they sought to reach through such self-invented, sensual, outward means, whilst the very thing they feared they predicted as their punishment. In its essence, therefore, it was a Titanic heaven-defying undertaking.”5 The inward unity of faith ought to have been the centre of gravity, the rule and the measure of their outward unity. The historical form of their true unity was the religion of Shem; its concrete middle point was Shem himself. It sounds, therefore, like a derisive allusion to the despised blessing of Shem, when they say: Go to, let us build a tower for us, and make unto ourselves a name (a Shem). When, therefore, the tower-building, the false outward idea of unity is frustrated, then it is that Abraham must appear upon the stage as the effective middle point of humanity, and the preparer of the way for the unity that was to come. Abraham forms the theocratic contrast to the heathen tower-building. Since that time, however, the striving of human nature has ever taken the other direction, namely, to establish by force the outward unity of humanity at the expense of the inward, and in contradiction to it; this has appeared as well in the history of the world monarchies as in that of the hierarchies. The history of Babel had its presignal in the city of Cain, its symbol in the building of the tower, its beginning in the Babylonian world-monarchy; but its end, according to Revelation 16:17, falls in the “last time.” The contrast to this history of an outward force-unity is formed by Shem, Abraham, Zion, Christ, the Church of believers, the bride of Christ, according to Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:9.

5. The genesis of the confounding to which it was doomed by God. The germinal multiplicity, as contained in the unity of the human race, is to be regarded as the natural basis of the event. We cannot, as has been attempted by Origen and others, derive an organic division of the nations in their manifold contrasts (and just as little the varied multiplicity of life in the world) from the fall merely, or from human corruption. To this effect it is well observed by Delitzsch, that “even without that divine and miraculous interposition, the one original language, by virtue of the abundance of gifts and powers that belong to humanity, would have run through an advancing process of enrichment, spiritualization, and diversity.” This germinal multiplicity forms, therefore, the other side, or the higher, spiritual side, in the confusion of languages; but this, too, we must distinguish in its genesis and in its world-historical consequences. Since the Babylonian tower-building denotes the genesis of the national separations as the genesis of heathendom (but not the monstrous development of heathendom which goes on through the ages), so, in like manner, does it denote the genesis of the speech-confounding, but not its great development in the course of time. This genesis, however, is to be considered in reference to the following points: 1. With the violent striving after an outward unity there is connected the crushing of the diversity. 2. This violent suppression calls out, by way of reaction, the effort and intensity of the diversifying tendency, or the conflict of spirits. 3. With this conflict of spirits there develops itself, also, the contrast of varying views and modes of expression. 4. The disordered and broken unity becomes dissolved into partial unities, which form themselves around the middle points of tribal affinity, and so form their watchwords. Thus far goes on the process of dissolution, in the sin and guilt of the strife after an outward unity. But here comes in the divine judgment in its miraculous imposition: the spirits, the modes of conception, the modes of expression, the tongues themselves, are all so confounded, that there becomes a perfect breach of unity, and more than this, a hostile springing apart of unfettered elements that had been bound up in a forced unity. So did the divine doom establish a genesis in the confusion of languages—a genesis which afterwards, in the course of time, came to its full development.

6. The genesis of the dispersion of the peoples in all the world, and of the formation of heathendom that from thence began. In opposition to the centripetal force of humanity, impaired by its own supertension and the outward alienating tendency, comes now the reaction of the morbid centrifugal power set free by the sentence of God. So commence the national emigrations of antiquity, setting away from the centre of community, forming in this a contrast to the migrations of the Christian time, which maintain their connection with the centre of humanity, the host of the Christian church. In greater and smaller waves of migration do the nations scatter abroad, and grow widely diverse in their separate lands, and in the midst of the views which they awaken; and this to such a degree that everywhere they lose themselves in a peculiarly paganistic autochthonic consciousness, or, as it may be generally styled, a servile life of nature. The line of Shem is least affected by the drawing of this centrifugal power. It extends itself slowly from Babylon, in a small degree to the east, and in great part to the southwest. The main stream of the Hamites takes a southwestern direction towards Canaan and Africa; another stream appears to have turned itself eastwardly over Persia and towards India. The great stream of the Japhethites goes first northward, in order to divide itself into a western and an eastern current; a part, however, in all probability, taking a still more northern direction, until, through upper Asia, it reaches the New World. The most evident division of the Shemites is into three parts, which still reflect themselves in the three main Shemitic languages. The fundamental separation has gone on into wider separations; for example, into the division of the Indian and the Persian Arians. These divisions are, again, in a great degree, effaced by combinations which proceeded from the contrast between earlier and later migrations in the same direction. So, for example, in eastern Asia, the Japhethites appear to have supervened upon the Hamites, in Asia Minor and Persia upon the Shemites; and so, in many ways, have the earlier Japhethite features been overlaid and set aside by the later. In Canaan, on the other hand, the Hamites appear to have supervened upon the original Shemitic inhabitants; and then, again, at a later date, the Israelites supervened upon the Hamitic Canaanites.

The most direct consequence of this dispersion of the nations was the formation of races, in which different factors coöperated: 1. The family type; 2. the spiritual direction; 3. the climate in its strong effect upon the physical ground-forms which were yet in their state of childlike flexibility. A further consequence was the formation of ethnographical contrasts in civilization. In reference to this there must be distinguished:
1) The contrast between the savage nations who had become utterly unhistorical, or perfectly separated from the central humanity, and the historical nations.
2) The contrast of barbarian nations who for a long time preserved a state of negative indifference as compared with the nations that were within the community of culture.
3) The contrast presented by the nations and tribes of isolated culture, as compared with the centralized culture, or that of the world monarchies as it appeared in its latest form, the Græco-Roman-humanitarian sphere of culture.
4) The contrast presented by the nations of this centralized culture, or as it finally appeared in the Græco-Roman-humanitarian culture, as compared with the central theocratic people of cultus or religion.

The last contrasts reveal, as the second consequence, a double counterworking against the paganistic isolization; the first is a tendency to the outer unity (world-monarchy), the other a tendency to the inner unity (theocracy). A third consequence was the war between them.
7. The relation of the historical fact-consistency of the Biblical representation to its symbolical significance for the universal history of the world. It is difficult to determine the chronological order of the tower-building in the Biblical history; it is still more difficult to fix its place in the universal secular history. It is, however, more easy to do this when we assume that the history of the tower-building was that of a gradually elapsing event, which is here all comprehended in its germinal transition-point (as the commencing turning-point), conformably to the representation of the religious historico-symbolical historiography. Following the indications of the Bible itself, we must distinguish two periods: first, the founding of Babel, in consequence of an ungodly centralization fancy of the first human race, and the catastrophe of the commencing dissolution that thereby came in; secondly, the despotic founding of the kingdom of Babel by Nimrod, as connected with it. Add to this a third, which is in like manner attested by the Bible, namely, the further development of Babel as it continued on in spite of the dispersion, and to whose greatness the stories of Ninus and Semiramis, as well as the world-historical ruins of Babylon bear testimony. It is in perfect accordance with the theocratic historiography, that events which occupy periods are comprehended in the germinal points of their peculiar epochs. As this is the case with the tower-building, so does it also hold true of the confusion of languages, and the dispersion of the nations. In regard now to this germinal point especially, it has been wrongly placed in the days of Peleg, in supposed accordance with what was said, Genesis 10:25, concerning the meaning of the name Peleg. Keil computes that Peleg was born one hundred years after the flood, and draws from thence the wider conclusion, that “in the course of one hundred and fifty to one hundred and eighty years, and in the rapid succession of births, the descendants of the three sons of Noah, who were already married and a hundred years old at the time of the flood, must have already so greatly multiplied as to render credible their proceeding to build such a tower” (p. 120). In respect to the third designated period of the tower-building, Delitzsch thus remarks in relation to the Biblical interpretation of the name Babel (for Balbel, a pilpel form in which the first Lamed has fallen out): “The name Babel denotes the world city where men became dispersed into nations, as the name Jerusalem denotes the city of God, where they are again brought together as one family. As the name Jerusalem obtains this sense in the light of prophecy, so is the name given to Babel, no matter whether with or without the design of the first namer, a significant hiero-glyph of that judgment of God which was interwoven in the very origin of this world-city, and of that tendency to an ungodly unity which it has ever manifested. That the name, in the sense of the world-city itself, may denote something else, is not opposed to this. The Etymologicum Magnum derives it ἀπὸ τοῦ βήλου, and so, according to Masudi, do the learned Persians and Nabatæans. It has, accordingly, been explained as the gate or the house, or, according to Knobel, the castle of Belus (בָּ equal to בָּב or בֵּית, or בּר for בִּירַת). Schelling’s remark that bab in the sense of gate is peculiar to the Arabian dialect, is without ground; it is just as much Aramaic as Arabic. The verb בָּב, intrare, like בָּם ascendere, is a very old derivative from בּא, inire. But Rawlinson and Oppert have shown, on the authority of the inscriptions, that the name of the god is not בֵּל, but אֵל (the Babylonian Phœnician Kronos), and בָּבֶל, therefore, denotes the gate of El.” If the development of heathenism, in a religious sense, and, therefore, the development of idolatry, is regarded as a gradual process, the heathenish tendency at the time of Nimrod could not have been far advanced. Its more distant beginning is probably to be placed in the very time of the catastrophe; for the confusion of fundamental religious views may, in general, furnish of itself an essential factor in the confusion of languages.

On the situation of the land of Shinar and Babylon this side of the Euphrates, compare the Manuals for the old geography by Forbiger and others. Concerning the ruins of the old Babel, and Babel itself, compare Winer’s “Real Lexicon,” the “Dictionary for Christian People,” and Herzog’s “Real Encyclopedia,” under the article “Babel.” In like manner Delitzsch, p. 212; Knobel, p. 127, and the catalogue of literature there given.

8. The special symbolic significance of Babel for the kingdom of God. Here there are to be distinguished the following stages: 1. The significance of the tower-building; 2. the Babel of Nimrod, or the despotic form of empire, and its tendency to conquest; 3. the significance of the world-monarchy of Nebuchadnezzar; 4. the Old Testament symbolic interpretation of Babel (Psalms 137:0; Isaiah 14:0; Jeremiah 50:0; Daniel 2:37; Daniel 7:4; Habakuk); 5. The New-Testament apocalyptic Babylon (Revelation 14:16, Revelation 14:17). Throughout Holy Scripture, Babel forms a world-historical antithesis to Zion.

9. The relation of the confounding, as presented, to the original unity of the human race, as also to the original multiplicity as lying at the foundation of human speech. The two poles by which the catastrophe of the speech-confounding are limited, are the following: In the first place, even after the confusion of languages, there exists a fundamental unity; there is the logical unity of the ground-forms of language (verb, substantive, etc.), the rhetorical unity of figurative modes of expression, the lexical unity of kindred fundamental sounds, the grammatical unity of kindred linguistic families, such as the Shemitic, the Indo-Germanic, and the historical unity in the blending of different idioms; as, for example, in the κοινή, or common dialect, there are blended the most diverse dialects of the Greek; so in the New-Testament Greek, to a certain extent, the Hebrew and old Greek; in the Roman languages, Latin, German, and Celtic dialects; so, also, in the English; in the Lutheran High German, too, there are different dialects of Germany. Science takes for its reconciling medium an ideal unity from the beginning of the separations; faith supposes a real unity, and so, finally, Christendom and the Bible. In the second place, however, it must be acknowledged that in the original manifoldness of human power and views there was already indicated a manifoldness of different modes of expression. “Indeed,” says Delitzsch, “even if this wonderful divine interposition had not taken place, the one primitive speech would not have remained in stagnant immobility. By reason of the richness of the gifts that are stored in humanity, it would have run through a process of progressive self-enrichment, spiritualization, development, and manifold diversity; but now, when the linguistic unity of humanity was lost, together with its unity in God, and with it, also, the unity of an all-defining consciousness, there came, in the place of this multiplicity in unity, a breaking up, a cleaving asunder, where all connection seems lost, but which, nevertheless, through a thousand indices, points back to the fact of an original oneness. For, as Schelling says, confusion of language only originates wherever discordant elements which cannot attain to unity can just as little come from one another. In every developing speech the original unity works on, even as the affinity partially shows; a taking away of all unity would be the taking away of language itself; and, thereby, of everything human,—a limit to which, according to Schelling’s judgment, the South American Indians are approaching, as tribes that can never become nations, and which are yet a living witness of a complete and inevitable disorganization” (Delitzsch, p. 114, 115). In accordance with the religious character of Holy Scripture, we must, before all things, regard the confusion of languages as a confusion of the religious understanding. Languages expressive mainly of the subjective, languages of the objective, those of an ingenuous directness, and those of acute or ingenious accommodation, must very soon present great contrasts.

In regard to the original language, which preceded the confusion, and formed its ground, the learned men of the Jewish Synagogue, and after them, the church fathers, as well as many orthodox theologians (among the modems with some limitation, Pareau, Havernik, Von Gerlach, Baumgarten), have expressed the opinion that the Hebrew was the language of the primitive time and of Paradise, and that it was propagated after the flood by the race of Eber. On the contrary, however, it is observed that Abraham himself did not originally speak Hebrew, but Aramaic.6 “On this account,” says Delitzsch, “we must regard as better grounded the position of the Syriac, Aramaic, and Persian writers, that the Syriac, or the Nabatæan, was the primitive speech, and that in the confusion of tongues it was still retained as the language of Babylon. But, moreover, the Shemitic in its general acceptation,” he continues, “cannot lay claim to that perfection which must have belonged to the primitive speech. We find nothing to urge against the supposition that the original language, as such, may have become lost in those that are historically known” (Delitzsch, p. 316; Keil, p. 119). Nevertheless, we do not believe that this supposition receives any strength from what is a mere prejudice, namely, that in respect to its structure the paradise language must have been a very perfect one. The speech of holy innocence has no need to prove its claims through forms developed with great exactness. As the Shemitic verbal forms lie in the middle between the monosyllabic character of the Chinese and the polysyllabic character of the Indo-Germanic; as they carry with themselves, also, in a high degree, that impression of immediateness, of the onomatopic, of the sensible presentation of the spiritual, of the spiritualizing of the sensible, so, without doubt, do they lie specially near to the ground-form of different national tongues. In respect to the relation of the different languages, there may be compared the following writings as specially belonging to the subject, namely: Delitzsch: “Jeschurun;” Fürst: “Concordance;” “Treatises of Kunic,” Ernest Renan; see Delitzsch, p. 632. Besides these, Kaulen, p. 70 (The Hebrew in its peculiar character stands nearest to the conception of the primitive speech).

Zahn, in his treatise (“The Kingdom of God,” p. 90), presents a clear idea of the similarity of different languages. “The great ‘Language Atlas’ of Balbi is designed on the most carefully considered principles (Paris, 1826). After a keenly investigated division of language and dialect, he designates eight hundred and sixty languages as spoken on the earth, namely, fifty-three in Europe, one hundred and fifty-three in Asia, one hundred and fifteen in Africa, four hundred and twenty-two in America, one hundred and seventeen in the fifth portion of the world; and yet at this day must the whole sum be taken at a greater number, especially in consequence of researches in Africa.” Kaulen. Linguistic investigations that belong here are connected with the names of Herder, Adelung, Vater, Klaproth, Balbi, Remüsat, W. Von Humboldt, Schleicher, Heyse, Bopp, Steinthall, Pott, Schott, Ewald, Fürst, Bunsen, Max Müller, Jones, Oppert, Haug, and others. In favor of the original unity of languages, as against Pott and others who call it in question, see Kaulen, p. 26; “Treatises on the Origin of Languages,” by the same author, p. 106.

10. The historical and archœological testimonies for the fact of the confusion of languages. Bunsen: “Comparative Philology would have been compelled to set forth as a postulate the supposition of some such division of languages in Asia, especially on the ground of the relation of the Egyptian language to the Shemitic, even if the Bible had not assured us of the truth of this great historical event. It is truly wonderful, it is matter of astonishment, [it is more than a mere astounding fact,] that something so purely historical [and yet divinely fixed], something so conformable to reason, [and yet not to be conceived of as a mere natural development], is here related to us out of the oldest primeval period, and which now, for the first time, through the new science of philology, has become capable of being historically and philosophically explained.” Between this history and the previous chapter must lie the primitive history of the eastern Asiatics, namely, the time of the formation of the Chinese language, that primitive speech that has no formative words, that is, no inflecting forms. The Chinese can hardly take rank as a radical language, but only as a very ancient and strikingly one-sided ramification. To the linguistic testimonies there may be added the fact that Babylon became the oldest world-monarchy; there is also its very ancient fame, and the fact that the influence which went out from Babylon has in the most varied forms pervaded the whole history of the world, to say nothing of its giant ruins and the desolation which has so long rested as a judgment upon them.”

11. The mirroring of the confusion of languages as found in the mythical stories. See Delitzsch, p. 313; Lücken, p. 278; Eusebius, Prœparatio, ix. 14. Abydenus: “Some say that the men who first came forth from the earth, being confident in their greatness and strength, and despising the gods in their fancied, estimation of their own powers, undertook to build a high tower in the place where Babylon now is. They would already have made a near approach to the Heavens, had not the winds come to the help of the gods and overturned their tower. Its ruins have received the name of Babylon. Men had hitherto spoken but one language, but now, in the purpose of the gods, their speech became diverse; to this belongs the war that broke out between Kronos and Titan.


1.Genesis 11:1-2. The settling in the land of Shinar.—The whole earth, that is, the whole human race.—One language and one speech (Lange more literally, one lip and one kind of words). The form and the material of language were the same for all.—From the East (Lange renders, towards the East. Our margin, Eastward).—From the land of Ararat, southeast (מקדם as one word: the land of, or from the East).—A plane.—For them, as they came from the highlands, the plane was the low country, a valley plane (בקעה).—Shinar, the same as Babylonia, though extending farther northward.—And they dwelt there.—The preference for the hill country does not appear to have belonged to the young humanity. Under the most obvious points of view, convenience, fertility, and easier capability of cultivation, seem to have given to these children of nature a preference for the plain. Even at this day do the uncultivated inhabitants of the hills sometimes manifest the same choice. In this respect Babylon had for them the charm of extraordinary fruitfulness. Zahn (“Kingdom of God,” p. 86) gives extracts from Hippocrates and Herodotus in proof of the singular productiveness of this land of the palm, where the grain yields from two hundred to three hundred fold. Thence came luxury, which was followed by the cultivation of the paradisaical gardens (Gardens of Semiramis) and a life of sensuality, together with a sensual religious worship.

2.Genesis 11:3-4. The building of the tower.—They said one to another, Go to.—Expressive of an animated, decided undertaking.—Let us make brick.—The plain was deficient in stones, whereas, on the contrary, it abounded in a clayey soil which would serve for making bricks, and asphaltum, which was good for mortar. They burnt them to stone instead of merely hardening them in the sun, which otherwise was the more obvious practice.—And they said (again) Go to.—Their success in preparing bricks for their dwellings encouraged them to go farther. They resolved upon the building of a city, and a tower whose top may reach, etc. At the ground of this there evidently lies the impression of immensity as derived from the Babylonian plane, which actually, in its great extent, as some travellers have described it, gives the conception of the sublime. The visible middle point of the same must have been the tower, standing up as a sign of unity for the whole human race. According to the representation, therefore, the words, “even to the heaven,” would mean that the heaven was regarded as something that could be reached; although at a later period such language occurs in a hyperbolical sense.—And let us make us a name.—The expression עָשָׂה לוֹ שֵׁם denotes the appointing or establishing for one’s self a signal of renown (Isaiah 63:12; Isaiah 63:14; Jeremiah 32:20). The sign of security shall be for them, at the same time, a sign of their fame, and thus, doubtless, would they give themselves a name as a people.—Lest we be scattered abroad.—Not only as a visible signal, but by the glory of its fame shall the tower hold them together. This is the expression of the political and popular feeling of antiquity; in the pride of the national spirit the individual is lost with his strength and his conscience. Such is the characteristic feature of Babel everywhere, whether upon the Euphrates, the Tiber, or the Seine. The individual with his convictions, his freedom, his personality, must be wholly sacrificed to the name of uniformity, whether it be worldly or ecclesiastical. What is said here relates not merely to an ungodly, arbitrary, ambitious, individually titanic undertaking, but to the first introduction of that atheistical and antichristian principle which would not merely promote the prosperity and authority of the whole in connection with the well-being and the freedom of the individual person, but also make the individual an involuntary sacrifice to a unity, which becomes, in that way, a false unity, as well as a false idol placed on the throne of the living God,—and this whether it be called Babel, Rome, the Church, or “la grande nation.” Göethe:

“Be it truth, or be it fable,
That in thousand books is shown,
All is but a tower of Babel,
Unless love shall make them one.”
Or we may adopt as a various reading,
When love of glory makes them one.
The question here relates to the destruction, in their very principles, of the Shemitic call to religion, and the Japhethic tendency to civilization, by a Hamitic confounding of religion and culture, to the obstruction of the true progress of the world and of the state, by resolving the constitution of human history into an immovable Hamitic naturalism. According to Knobel, the whole significance of the fact becomes resolved into one view. “This view (he says) the author imputes to them after the event, since Babylon, that most splendid city, as the Greeks regarded it (Herod. i. 178), did, indeed, redound to the fame of its builders, but, at the same time, would thereby furnish a proof of their impious pride.” And yet, even in Knobel, the world-historical substratum in the representation very clearly appears, when he says, that “according to Berosus and Eupolemus, there were stories among the Chaldæans that those who were saved in the flood, when they came to Babylonia, again restored the place, and especially built there a high tower. For that purpose there met together in Babylonia diverse masses of people, etc.” He proceeds to say, moreover, that Babylon in later times became the central point of the nations, that it was, besides, a very ancient city, that two thousand years before Semiramis it was built for the son of Belus, and that, by reason of its huge magnitude, its temple of Belus, its high tower, and its dissolute morals giving it the appearance of the very home of sin (Curtius, v. 1, 36), as well as on account of its name, it had a peculiar fitness for the Scriptural author’s narration. The symbolical significance, however, of the appearance of Babylon, as matter of fact, is, in this way, wholly effaced.

3.Genesis 11:5-8. The intervention of Jehovah, his counsel and his act. Without the thought of any Jehovistic document, it would be readily conceived that the frustration of such an undertaking must proceed from God as Jehovah, the founder and protector of the divine kingdom. The coming down7 of Jehovah forms a grand contrast to the rebellious uprising of the Babylonians with their tower. The higher they build, so much deeper, to speak anthropopathically, must he descend that he may rightly look into the matter. Moreover, the expression go to, as used by God, forms an ironical contrast to the two-fold go to (הָבָה, come on, give way now), as used by the Babylonians. The one nullifies the other and turns it against them.—This they begin to do, and now nothing will be restrained from them.—This reminds us of the declaration: Adam is become like one of us. Under the form of apprehension there lies an ironical expression of the conscious certainty of the divine rule.—And the Lord came down.—Delitzsch here again reminds us that (according to Hoffman) Jehovah, after the judgment of the flood, had transferred his throne to the heaven. Keil, however, correctly finds, at least in this place, only the anthropopathic expression of the divine interposition.—Behold, the people is one.—עַם, connection, community. The people, as a community, physically self-unfolding, is called גּוֹי (from גוה, probably in the sense of mound-like, extending, swelling8); the people, as an ethical community, a State, as constituted by an idea, is called עָם, from עמם (to bind together, to associate).—They begin to do.—An indication of the future Babel in the world’s history:—And now nothing will be restrained from them.—In truth, if God interpose not, the prospect is opened, that the pride and confidence of men will advance with extreme rapidity towards the destruction of freedom, of the personal life, of the divine seed and kingdom.—Let us go down and there confound their language.—Upon the descent of Jehovah in his beholding, there follows his descent in his counsel.—Let us.—And here, again, according to Delitzsch, does Jehovah include with himself his angels, the executors of his penal justice. Here, as elsewhere, an inappropriate idea.—Let us confound.—Knobel would understand by בלל to separate, and accordingly translates Babel as meaning separation. But thereby is the conception of the act carried into the unmeaning. What is said does not refer properly to a separation merely of human speech. The manner in which it is confounded is not described. According to Koppen, the miracle must have consisted wholly in an inward process, that is, a taking away of the old associations of ideas connected with words, and an immediate implanting of new and diverse modes of expression.9 According to Lilienthal, Hoffman (A. Feldhoff and others) it must have been wholly an outward process, a confusion of the lips, of pronunciation, of dialects; whilst Scaliger holds that differing meanings were connected with like words or sounds. The historical symbolical expression, however, may mean, perhaps, that the process of inward alienation and variation, the ground of which lay in the manifoldness of dispositions, and the reciprocity of spiritual tendencies, became fixed in diverse forms of speech and modes of expression, by reason of a sudden catastrophe brought upon them by God. The heathenish Babylonian tendency reflects itself still in the enigmatical, capriciously varying dialects of the same people, which is sometimes to be remarked in different quarters of the same city, or in the different peasantry of the same community, but which must have especially had place in the earlier times, when isolization became predominant. The first germ of the speech confounding must, accordingly, have shown itself as a diseased action which the fall introduced into the original innate germ of speech development. For a long time it remained naturally latent in the family of Noah, but manifested its full power in the time of the tower-building; and then the effect of that epoch prolongs itself through the whole history of the world. In like manner, however, was there a counter influence, too, from the days of Abraham onward. According to Kaulen (p. 220), the miracle consists in this, “that at that time, and in that region, there was introduced a linguistic change which, although it would have naturally come in in the course of things, would nevertheless have required for its full development other conditions of space and time than those presented.” If there is meant by this only a wonderful acceleration of a natural development, the view does not satisfy. Rightly says Fabri (p. 31): “A confounding of languages presupposes a confusion of the consciousness, a separation of the original speech into many, a disorder and a breach in the original common consciousness in respect to God and the world.—The history of the tower-building is the history of the origin of heathenism.”—So the Lord scattered them abroad.—Out of their purpose comes its direct opposite.—And they left off to build.—That is, as a community of the human race with that distinct tendency. The idea, however, is not excluded, that the Babylonians who remained behind kept on building Babel. The success of the enterprise was frustrated, but not analogous and limited undertakings of the same tendency; it appears, for example, in the great world monarchies. This first disappointment, however, was a type of all others, as they successively become apparent in the catastrophes of these world monarchies, and the last fulfilling will be found in the fall of Babylon, as mentioned in the Apocalypse. “That the structure itself was laid in ruins by an exercise of divine power which afterwards took place, is told us, indeed, by the sibyl, but not by the Scripture.” Delitzsch.

4. Wherefore is the name of it called Babel.—In deriving the name from bab, gate, gate of Bel, or El, the authority of the religious interpretation is not excluded, as Keil supposes in his second note, p. 119. “Only we must distinguish between the frustration of the tower-building and the destruction of the later Babel that was still built on, and which, probably, for the first after the dispersion of the nations, came to be the seat of a heathenish worship.” Concerning the significance and the building material of Babylon, the classical writers agree with the Old Testament,—for example: Herod. i. Gen 178; Strabo, 16; Diodorus, ii. 7; Arrian, Alex. vii. 17; Curt. Alex. 5, 1, 25; Eustath. ad Dyonys. Perieg. 1005. According to them the huge walls of Babylon were made of burnt brick, as were also the magnificent structure of the temple of Belus, and the hanging gardens. According to one, the circumference of the city amounted to 480 stadia, or 60,000 paces; according to others, 385 or 360 stadia (furlongs), making, therefore, a journey of from 18 to 24 hours. The building of most importance was the quadrangular temple of Belus, each side of which was two furlongs in length; out of this there arose, by eight terraces, a strong, massive tower, which, according to Herodotus, was one furlong in length and breadth, and, according to Strabo, one stadium (that is 600 feet) high. The accounts of modern travellers amount to a confirmation of the ancient statements. The remains of the temple of Belus that was overthrown by Xerxes, and now called Birs Nimrod, form a huge mound of ruins, consisting of burnt and unburnt bricks, cemented partly with lime and partly with bitumen. The whole plain of Babylon is covered with mounds of rubbish from the same materials (see Ker-Porter: “Travels,” vol. ii. p. 301; Buckingham: “Travels in Mesopotamia,” p. 472; Layard: “Nineveh and Babylon,” p. 374; and Ritter’s “Geography,” xi. p. 876). “The ancients, for the most part, ascribe the building of Babylon to Semiramis, but this can only be true of its extension and fortification. According to the ancient inscriptions, the city was older than this (Knobel on the Genealogical Table, p. 346), and, according to Genesis 10:10, it must have been already in existence at the time of Nimrod.” Knobel. In respect to the city, see also Herzog’sReal-Encyclopœdie, article “Babel.” On the ruins of Babylon, see Delitzsch, p. 312, with reference to the account of the traveller, James Rich. The Arabians regard the ruins of Birs Nimrod as the Babylonian tower that was destroyed by fire from heaven. Delitzsch, who at first regarded Birs Nimrod as the temple of Belus (as Rawlinson, too, supposes), remarks now, on the contrary, that the temple of Belus stood in the middle of the city, but that Birs Nimrod was situated in the suburb Borsippa, two miles south. But now, according to Oppert’s supposition, Borsippa means tower of languages, and, therefore, the opinion has much in its favor that the Birs Nimrod had been already in the very ancient time, the observatory of the Chaldæan astrologers, with which the tower of the speech-confounding stands in historical connection. It seems difficult to suppose that the tower, which was to denote the centre of the earth, should be placed at a mile’s distance outside of the city which was distinctly regarded as the capital of the earth. Moreover, this tower might, at a later day, have become the tower of Belus. Bunsen, nevertheless, decides for Birs Nimrod (with reference to Rawlinson), and the name supports the conclusion that the tradition speaks for this place. Of special importance, besides, is the inscription of Borsippa, as given by Oppert, which introduces Nebuchadnezzar as speaking, and according to which the first building of Birs Nimrod is carried back, in its antiquity, 42 generations. See Fabri, p. 49.


1. See the preliminary discussion. Analogous to this gigantic undertaking of the young humanity are the later monumental buildings of the Egyptians, of the Indians, of Greece, and of other lands. Like the mythological systems of the civilized nations of antiquity, they present an historical contradiction of a favorite modern view, according to which the whole human race had only gradually worked itself out of an animal or beastly state.
2. The character and the teleology of heathenism. The essence of heathenism is strikingly characterized in our narration as a diseased oscillation between the attraction of humanity to unity, on the one hand, and to multiplicity and unrestrained dismemberment on the other. From the Babylonish striving after an outward unity proceeds the first dispersion of the nations. This afterwards takes the form of a dismemberment of the same in a peculiar sense; it becomes, in other words, a heathenish, national, or local consciousness, an idolatrous, antochthonic consciousness, growing wild with the notions of a national earth and a national heavens, whilst, in its utter disorder, it sinks down to the mere prejudice which regards every stranger as an enemy (hostis), and proceeds, at last, to that absolute exclusiveness which causes the inhabitant of the island to put to death any one from abroad, and the Bushman to threaten every new comer with his poisoned arrows. In the same manner, from a religious striving after a pantheistic world-view, there originates the first declining of the spirit into polytheism. And then, too, the different world-monarchies furnish a proof that the diseased centripetal drawing in the world ever works in interchange with that centrifugal tendency. Upon the downfall of any such world-monarchy, there follows again, in various ways, a dissolution and a dispersion of elements. Even in the history of the Church do we find a shadowy outline of the same process; and yet it is just the task and the daily work of the essential Church to mediate more and more the true development and appearance, both of unity and variety, among the nations; though in truth it does this through the light and law of the Gospel as it goes out from the spiritual Zion, or that true kingdom of God which has its organization in the Church. The true reciprocity between unity and division constitutes the life of humanity. The false, feverish, exaggerated reciprocity, which tends to the overstraining, and, at the same time, the division and dissolution of both these influences, is its disease and its death. The striving of the world-monarchies breaks down against the power of the national individualities. Again, the national isolations are interrupted and broken up by the world-monarchies. But dispersion has the special effect to distribute the evil, to dismember, to send one people as a judgment upon another, until there is awakened in all a feeling of the need of deliverance and unity. Here belong the ethnographic and the mythologic systems. In respect to the first, compare Lange’s “Miscellaneous Writings,” i. p. 74. On the last, see Lange’s treatise entitled, Die Gesetzlich-Catholische Kirche als Sinnbild.

3. As the myth of the Titans reflects itself in the creative periods, so does it also in the Babylonish tower-building.
4. Fabri, p. Genesis 44:0 : “In a manner more or less distinctly marked, since the time of Babel, has every nation, and every group of nations, had spread over it its peculiar veil (Isaiah 25:7) which has impregnated and penetrated the whole national consciousness. Even in the present age of the world does this remain, not yet broken through, morally and spiritually, by whole nations, but only by individuals out of every nation, who in Christ have attained to the participation of a new and divine birth,—these, however, being the very core and heart of such nations, and forming with one another a people in a people. For in Christ alone does man awake to a universal theanthropic consciousness.” [True indeed, but Christ, according to Matthew 13:0, works after the manner of leaven; and in fact, as a principle of new life for the whole humanity (Romans 5:12), and the veils of the nations are gradually lifted up before they are wholly removed or torn away. It is not the individuals and the nations that form the contrast in the present course of the world, but the grain (the elect) and the chaff in the nations,—in other words, the contrast between the believing and the unbelieving—between people and people.]

5. The ironical element in the rule of the divine righteousness (see Genesis 3:22) appears again in the history of the tower-building, after its grandest display in the primitive time. It is just from the false striving after the idol of an outward national unity, that God suffers to go forth the dispersing of the nations. Without doubt, too, is there an ironical force in the words: “and now nothing will be restrained from them” (Genesis 11:7).

6. In this demonical effort of the Babylonians to build a tower that should reach to heaven, there still remains an element of good. By means of it, in later times, they appeared as the oldest explorers of the stars, who discovered the zodiac and many other astronomical phenomena,—as astronomers, in fact, with their searching gaze raised to heaven, although their science was covered under an astrological veil. The unfinished tower was transformed into an observatory; and how vast the benefit that from thence has come to man!
7. The heathenish yet Titanic energy of the Babylonian spirit proves itself in the fact, that whilst in the one direction their worship went to the extreme of offering human sacrifices, it became, on the other, a service of revolting licentiousness.
8. “Let us build us a tower and make us a name.” The antithetic relation which this watchword of theirs bore to Shem (the name), and the destination that God had given to him that he should be the potential central point of humanity, may also be indicated by the name Nimrod (נִמְרֹד, come on, now let us rebel). And so, according to the view of Roos, may the race of Ham have become engaged with special zeal in this tower-building, for the very purpose of weakening the prophecy. But, then, that would lead to the conclusion of a variance with the Shemites, and an overpowering of them, whereas our history represents it as a universal understanding. Moreover, in Genesis 10:10, Nimrod appears, not as the builder of Babel, but as the founder of the kingdom of that name; whereas Genesis 11:0 relates to the building of the city itself. We must, therefore, suppose that in the understanding mentioned, Genesis 11:0, the Shemites were either infatuated, or that they were silenced. The text, however, supposes an understanding of the races. We may, perhaps, assume that, in the designation of the tower, Shem’s priority was symbolically indicated, and that on this account his race would be satisfied. There would result, then, a distinct consequence. Upon this free federal cooperation of the patriarchal races, there followed the despotic exaltation of Nimrod, which contributed, moreover, to hasten the Babylonic dissolution. We make more difficult the view we take of the transaction when we measure the greatness of the tower before the dispersion by the later magnitude of the tower of Belus, or of the Bris Nimrod. “Mesopotamia,” says Bunsen, “is covered from north to south with ruins and localities with which the name of Nimrod is everywhere connected; as in Babylonia so also in Nineveh, lying farther of and eastward from upper Mesopotamia; even the country of the Riphæan mountains, at the source of the Tigris, and so the part of Armenia which lies north from Nineveh, and west of the lake Van, has its Mount Nimrod.”


The tower of Babel in its historical and figurative significance: a gigantic undertaking, an apparent success, a frustrated purpose, an eternal sign of warning. 2. The repeating of the same history in the political and ecclesiastical spheres.—The spiritual history of Babylon to its latest fulfilling according to the Apocalypse. The confusion of languages at Babel, and the scene of the Pentecost at Jerusalem.—Babel and Zion.—Babel, confusion; Jerusalem, peace. Christianity, God’s descent to earth, to unite again the discordant languages. Christianity, in what way it makes the languages one: 1. In that from all spirits it makes one spirit of life; 2. from all peoples one people; 3. from all witnessings, one confession of faith, one doxology, one salutation of love.

Starke: Supposition, that first after the flood men drew from Armenia towards Persia, then eastward towards Babylon. Hedinger: Pride aims ever at the highest. Avarice and ambition have no bounds (Jeremiah 23:23; Luke 1:51).

Lisco: The design of the tower-building is threefold: 1. To gratify the passion for glory which would make itself a name; 2. defiance of God, reaching even to the heaven, his seat of habitation; 3. that the tower might be a point of union and of rendezvous for the whole human race. Selfishness ever separates; so was it here; love and humility alone constitute the true and enduring bond; but this is found only in the kingdom of God, never in the kingdom of the world. As here, so evermore, is Babel the name of pride, of show, of vain glory, of national subjugation, of fraud and tyranny upon the earth. As in this place, so is it always the emblem of insolence towards God, of soaring to heaven, of “making its throne among the stars,” and, at the same time, of confusion, of desolation, of God’s derisive irony in view of the giant projects of men (comp. Isaiah 14:0; Revelation 18:0).—Gerlach: There are now formed the sharply separated families of the nations, each confined to itself alone, and standing to others in an essentially hostile relation; each must now use and develop its own peculiar power. The whole heathen world knows no more any unity of the human race, until finally, through the Gospel, men again recognize the fact that they are all of one blood, that they have all one great common want, and have for their father one God,—until, in short, the languages which the pride of Babel separated become again united in the love and humility of Zion.

Calwer Handbuch: It is worthy of remark that the modern researches into language have recognized the original affinity of most known languages to one common original speech. The sundering and parting of the nations is God’s own work. As labor was the penalty for the sin of paradise, so is separation the punishment for this sin of pride. In both cases, however, was the punishment at the same time a blessing.

Schröder: It is the spirit of Nimrod that inflates humanity in the plane of Babylon. The tower, as historical fact, is to form the apotheosis of humanity.

Luther: They have no concern that God’s name be hallowed, but all their care and planning turns to this, that their own name may become great and celebrated on the earth. This city and tower of men is fundamentally nothing else than an outward artificial substitute for the inner union before God, and in God.—Roos: It is credible that Ham and his son Canaan should have been especially zealous to hinder this counsel of God, according to which a hard destiny was to befall them—that is, that there should be a separation of the nations, so that Canaan should become the servant of Shem and Japheth.—Luther: God comes down, that is, he gives special heed to them, he ceases to be forbearing. His coming down denotes his revelation of himself, his appearing in a new and great act, whether taken in the sense of mildness or severity. “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:0).

Genesis 11:7. The salvation of men is a matter of deep concern to our Lord; the boundary he would set to them is the barrier of grace and compassion.—G. D. Krummacher: Human plans are confounded that the divine order may proceed from them. Such is the course of the world’s history.


[1][Genesis 11:1.—שָׂפָה אֶחָת זּדְבָרִים אֲחָדִים, one lip and one words, as near as our English can come to it. LXX., χεῖλος ἓι καὶ φωνὴ μία πᾶσι; Vulg., labii unius et sermonum eorumdem; the Syriac, ܠܝܐܐ ܚܙ̣ ܘܘܠܘܠܠ ܚܙ̣, one tongue and one speech; and so the Targum of Onkelos, לִישַׁן חַד וּמַמְלַל חַד. So Greek writers describe those who speak the same language a ὁμόγλωττοι and ὁμόφωνοι. Rashi interprets דברים as referring to the thoughts and counsels rather than to language, regarding that as expressed by שפה: “They came to an understanding,” or “into one counsel,” באו עצה אחת; in which Vitringa agrees with him. Kaulen makes a labored distinction between שפֹה and דברֹים, the first of which he refers to the subjective element in speech, producing the grammatical form, the other to the objective, or the words as the matter of language. In proof, he cites such passages as Psalms 12:3, שפת חלקות, lip of flatteries; Exodus 6:12, uncircumcised lip; Proverbs 12:19, lips of truth, etc.; Isaiah 33:19, עמקי שפה, deep of lipּ But these examples only show that, when there is no contrast intended, שפה, lip, may be taken generally for language (like lingua, the tongue; see Genesis 11:9, below), including not only words and pronunciation, but all of thought and expression that belongs to it. To show that דברים and שפה are not tautological here, he quotes Psalms 59:13, דְּבַר שְׂפָתֵמוֹ, the word of their lips. But this is needless. It is clear that they are not tautological. They express two distinct ideas; and yet we may doubt whether there is intended such a philosophical antithesis as Kaulen would bring out, though most true in itself, and most important to be considered in the science of language. The first thought would be the other way, namely, that דבר (λόγος) denoted the subjective, and שפה lip, the outward or objective in language; since the first is used of a thought, thing, subject, that which is expressed, as well as the word or expression. The terms here are neither tautological, nor antithetical, but supplemental and intensive. It is the unity of language described in the most comprehensive manner: one lip, that is, one pronunciation, and the same words (דברים אחדים, every one of them (the plural taken distributively), that is, one name for each thing, and one way of speaking it. When they are put in direct contrast, then שפה, instead of the subjective element, as Kaulen maintains, would denote mere sound in distinction from sense, as in the phrase דְּבַר שְׂפָתַיִם, Isa 36:5; 2 Kings 18:20; Proverbs 14:23speech of the lips, that is, mere empty boasting, sound without sense.—T. L.]

[2][Genesis 11:2.—בְּנָסְעָם, literally, in their pulling up. It is used of the taking up the stakes of a tent (see it in its primary sense, Isaiah 38:12), and is thus pictorially descriptive of a nomadic life, like the Arabic رحل. It is used of the marching in the wilderness, and suggests here the idea of an encampment. The descendants of Noah had hitherto kept together in their rovings.—T. L.]

[3] מִקֶדֶם—rendered from the East. Armenia, the supposed landing-place of the ark, was northwest of Shinar. This has led some to suppose, that the early human race made a detour through Persia, and so were travelling east when they came to Shinar. Others have regarded the ark-mountain as situated to the east, a view which can only be maintained by supposing the naming of the Armenian Ararat to belong to a later period, as a transfer from an older and more easterly region (see text, note p. 308). The original Scripture does not, of itself, determine the location as either east or west; so that the Samaritan version, that makes it Serendib (in Ceylon) is not to be rejected, as in itself false or absurd, any more than the Vulgate location in Armenia, or the Targum and Syriac mountains of Kardu, or the Arabian Mount Judi wherever that may have been. Rashi seems thus to have regarded it when he interprets מִקֶּדֶם as a journeying from הַר קֶדֶם (mountain of the East), mentioned just above, ch.Genesis 10:30. Others would render מִקֶּדֶם eastward, or to the east, referring to such passages as Genesis 13:11; Numbers 34:11; Joshua 7:2; Judges 8:11, etc., in all of which, except the first, the term denotes position instead of moving direction, and may, therefore, be regarded as determined from the standpoint, real or assumed, of the narrator or describer. Bochart regards קֶדֶם as a name given to all the country beyond the Euphrates and Tigris, independent of the position of some parts of it in respect to other parts or to regions on the other side. This would seem the best way, if we must render מִקֶּדֶם from the east. But there is an older sense to the root, which may well be regarded as intended here. This primary sense is ante, before, or in front of. Hence its application to time as well as to space. The old country is afterwards called the East, and so קִדְמָה becomes a word of local direction. This primary sense of anteriority gives the idea here demanded, which is not so much any particular direction (the geography not being the thing chiefly in view), as it is the general idea of progress. As they journeyed onward, מקדם, right ahead, in their nomadic roving—from one before to another, or from the place before them to one still farther on—they found a בִּקְעָה, or plain country. Genesis 13:12 seems to be like this, and may be rendered in the same way: Abraham and Lot parted; the former settled (יָשַׁב) in the land where they were; or Abraham stopped, as we say in familiar English, but Lot journeyed on, יַיִּסּע מִקֶּדֶם. Compare Genesis 11:2, וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם, and they stopped there (in Shinar), where וַיֵּשֵׁב is in a similar contrast to the nomadic word וַיִּסָּע. Or it may be taken as a word of position: he pitched his tent eastward. In this place the Targum of Onkelos has בְּקַדְמֵיתא, in the East, regarding it as denoting position. So also the Arabic فو البثى ق. The LXX., the Vulgate; and the Syriac render it from the East.—T. L.]

[4][Genesis 11:9.—קָרָא שְׁמָהּ בָּבֶל called its name Babel, כִי שָׁם בָּלַל, because there he confounded (balel = balbel) the language, etc. There is difficulty, sometimes, in the etymologies given in the Hebrew Bible, but this seems to be a remarkably clear and consistent one. It seems strange that Dr. Lange should show himself inclined to the other far-fetched derivation, which would make it mean either the “gate of Bel,” or “ the gate of El.” Naming cities from the gate is not the most early way, though it came in afterwards, from the gate becoming the important place of commercial, judicial, and political procedure. Schelling is right in saying that באב, دـا ب, for gate, is confined alone to the Arabic, of all the Shemitic tongues. It is entirely unknown to the Hebrew, and if it is ever found in any very late Syriac, it comes from the comparatively modern Arabic use. There is reason, too, to regard בֵּל, notwithstanding a doubt expressed by Rawlinson (Rawlinson: Herod., i. p. 247), as the same with בַעַל, the deified power, or personage, that appears all over the East,—Baal, Lord, Master, and which becomes a general name for monarchs, like Pharaoh in Egypt. In the Babylonian, it becomes Bel or Belus; and in addition to the Phœnician Baal, or Bal, (appearing in many Phœnician and Carthaginian proper names, such as Hannibal, Adsrubal, etc.), we find a Lybian Belus (see Virg.: Æn., i. 621), a Lydian Bel, connected also with a Ninus (Herod., i. 7), besides the common Scriptural appellation of the idol deity so worshipped. In view of these facts, there must be rejected the idea of an early Babylonian monarch, to whom the name was exclusively given. They seem to have used the word in the plural, as the Phœnicians did (בעלים, Baalim), and this accounts for the form it takes, as expressed in Greek, in the Persæ of Æschylus, 657, βαλὴν�. Though with a singular adjective, it can be nothing less than בַּעַלִין (Baalin), or, as the whole would be expressed in the later Hebrew, בַּעַלִין הַקַּדמֹנִין. To make this very ancient and memorable name בָּבֵל (Babel) equivalent to the Arabic بـاب بل, באב בל or בב בעל, gate of Bel or Baal, would be greatly straining etymology as well as history. Had such a derivation been found in the Bible, it would doubtless have been contemptuously rejected, by some who go so far from the Bible to get it. Nothing can be more direct and consistent than the etymology given in Genesis. The verb בלל is the same with the intensive form בלבל, balbal, from which בבל is softened after becoming a fixed and oft-pronounced name. בלבל, balbel, is an onomatope, exactly like our word babble, and its sense of confusion is probably secondary, coming from this early onomatopic use. The letters L and R are cognate and interchangeable, in the Greek as well as in the Shemitic tongues. Hence balbal and βαρβαρ are the same. Barbarian did not, originally, mean savage, but one who speaks a different language, or who seems to the hearer to babble. It was the place where men first became barbarians to each other (see 1 Corinthians 14:11), though the name, as an onomatope, would seem still to belong to them all.—T. L.]

[5][The more carefully the peculiar language of this Babel history is considered, and especially its heaven-defying look, the more probable will appear the view supported by Bryant, which regards it as the origin of the heathen fable of the war of the giants against the gods. The war of the Titans was probably the same, though it appears as a duplicate of the event in the Greek mythology. The latter, however, being set forth as the more ancient event, may, with some reason, be referred to the antediluvian rebellion described in Genesis 6:0 th. Both of these myths must have had some historical foundation in actual human history; for nothing can be more wild in itself, or more inconsistent with what we know, or may conceive, of the earliest thinking, than those representations of allegorical wars of which some writers are so fond. In the first period of human life, men were too much occupied with the great actual, and this is shown by the very exaggerations of the form which it assumed in history. Myth-making and allegorizing came in afterwards. The war of ideas, of which some talk, shows a previous philosophizing, however crude. The sight of great physical convulsions may have suggested some of these stories; but the actual occurrence of great events in human history was their more probable source.—T. L.]

[6][There could, at this time, have been no great difference between Hebrew and Aramaic. Even in the days of Jacob and Laban, they could not have diverged much; since they appear to have well understood each other in the very beginning of Jacob’s residence. Afterwards, when they parted, they gave two different names (גַּלְעֵד and יְגַר שָׁהֲדוּתָא, Genesis 31:47) to the monumental heap of stones; but in so doing, they probably sought as much diversity as the growing change in their respective dialects would afford.—T. L.]

[7] [Genesis 11:5.—וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָֹה, And God came down. The Targum of Onkelos renders this וְאִתְגְּלִי יְיָ, and Jehovah was manifested, or revealed himself. So most of the other Jewish authorities. They derived the idea, probably, from such passages as Hosea 5:15, where the opposite expression seems to represent God as retiring, and leaving the world to itself: אֵלֵךְ וְאָשׁוּבָה אֶל מְקוֹמִי, I will go and return to my place. So in the seventh verse, Onkelos renders it, Come, let us be revealed. The Arabic follows the Targum, and has تعاوا ذـتكاـى. Compare also Micah 1:3, יְהוָֹה יוֹצֵא מִמְּקוֹמוֹ וְיָרַד, “For lo, Jehovah goes forth from his place, and comes down and walks upon the high places of the earth.” There is a spirituality in Rabbi Schelomo’s interpretation of this which is lacking in most Christian commentators. “It represents God,” he says, “as coming down from his throne of mercies, כסא רחמים, to his throne of judgment,” כסא הדין, as though the one were in the serene upper heavens (comp. Psalms 113:6), and the other nearer to the sphere of this turbulent earth,—implying also that the divine mercy is more retired, less visible to the sense, because more general and diffused, though seen by the eye of faith as sending rain upon the just and the unjust, whilst God’s judgments in the world are more manifest, more extraordinary, more palpable to the sense. It is “his strange work,” זָר מַעֲשֵׂהוּ, Isaiah 28:21; עֲבֹדָתוֹ נָכְרִיָּה, “his extraordinary doing.” The commentary of Aben Ezra on ירד, Genesis 11:5, is very noteworthy: “This is thus said, because every thing that takes place in the world below depends from the powers that are above; as is seen in what is said (1 Samuel 2:3) מְהַשָּׁמַיִם יִתְכְּנוּ עֲלִילוֹת, from the Heavens events are arranged (in our English Version it is given very poorly, actions are weighed). Wherefore God is said to ride upon the heavens (רוֹכֵב הַשָּׁמַיִם, Deuteronomy 33:26); for thus the Scripture speaks with the tongue of men.” With this citation of Aben Ezra, comp. Psalms 68:5, “Praise him that rideth on the Heavens by his name Jah,” although many modern commentators differ from the Jewish in their rendering of עֲרָבוֹת. The riding on the Heavens is explained, by the commentator on Aben Ezra, as referring to the outer sphere (according to the astrological technics), in which there are inherent the higher or ultimate causalities, as Rabbi Tanchum says עֲלִילוֹת should be rendered in the verse above quoted, 1 Samuel 2:3 (see Tanchum: “Comment.” Lamentations 1:12), or סִבּוֹת, deflecting or turning causalities, as it is explained by him (see 1 Kings 12:15). Similar interpretations are given by the Jewish commentaters of such words as הָבָה, Genesis 11:7, Go to now, Let us go down. They are used to express the most direct opposition between the ways and thoughts of men and those of God. Says Rabbi Schelomo: “It is מִדָּה כְּנֶגֶד מִדָּה, measure for measure (par pari). Let us build up, say they, and scale the heavens; let us go down, says God, and defeat their impious thought.” Other Rabbins, and Jewish grammarians, have a method of explaining such passages by a very concise yet most significant phrase. This mode of representing things, more humano, they call לְשׁוֹן הַדָּבָר, the language or “tongue of the event,” or the action speaking. Thus Rabbi Tanchum characterizes the words אֲדֹנָי לֹא רָאָה, the Lord not see it, Lamentations 3:36, as لساب الكا ل, the tongue or speech of the condition (the supposed language of the wicked actions just before described), whether regarded as actually uttered or not. Thus here, God speaks in what he does, in most direct contrariety to the ways and thoughts of men. The event to be narrated by the sacred historian is the divine intervention in counteraction of human wickedness and folly. To be intelligible, it necessarily includes some statement of the divine thoughts or purposes, as inseparable parts of the res gestæ. This must be done after the manner of men, or it cannot be done at all. These divine purposes and acts are, therefore, represented as speaking. In fact they do speak; and this is what they say most emphatically. It is analogous to the frequent usage in Homeric Greek of φημί, to speak, for οἴομαι, to think; and, in Hebrew, of דבר, word, for thought or thing,—a connection of ideas which is obvious in the English think and thing, as also in the German ding and denken. This language of the event, if it would be expressive, must be characteristic and idiomatic. The הָבָה, go to, of man, is met by a direct response on the part of Deity, and to this end the very same term is used, not ironically, as Lange thinks, but as the most speaking form of the antithesis. This is not like the language of the prophet who hears words spoken in vision. In that case they are truly, though subjectively heard, as the mediate language of the inspiring power, and not alone of the inspired human medium. But in such narrations as these, nothing could better describe the rhetorical peculiarity than this formula of the Jewish critics. It is “the language of the occasion,” not as uttered objectively, or heard subjectively, but still as virtually representing most important parts of the event.

Those who are offended at such a style cannot consistently stop short of a denial of all revelation, as either actual or possible. When we make the objection, we should consider how far it goes. Not only is there shut out the thought of any direct divine intervention in the world’s history, but also every idea whatever of any divine action or personality. Look at the question carefully, and we are compelled to say that thinking, in any such way as we think, and even knowing, in the sense of any particular recognition of anything finite as finite, are as truly anthropopathic exercises as remembering and speaking. It is truly pitiable, therefore, when Rosenmüller, and other commentators like him, indulge in their usual apologizing and patronizing talk about the simple belief of the early ages, deos descendere, atque, ut ex antiqua persuasione credebatur, ad humanum morem consilia agitare, deliberare, rebus ex omni parte perpensis, decernere,—“that the gods actually come down to see, etc.” How far have we got, in these respects, beyond these simple “early people?” What advantage has the most rationalizing commentator over them in the use of any language that will enable him to think of God, or talk of God, without denying the divine personality on the one hand, or bringing in something impliedly and essentially anthropopathic on the other. This language is as much for one age as for another; since here all ages, and all human minds, are very much on a par. But why, it may be asked, could there not have been used terms more general, and which would not have suggested such crude conceptions? It might have been simply said, God intervened to prevent the accomplishment of evil purposes, or he provided means in the course of his general providence, or government of nature and the world, for such an end. This, it may be thought, would have sounded better, and better preserved the dignity of the Scripture. But what is an intervention, but a coming between, and a prevention but a going before, and a, providing, or a providence, but a looking into, a coming down to see what the children of men are doing? We gain nothing by them. Instead of helping the matter, our most philosophical language would only be the substituting of worn-out terms, whose early primary images had faded out, or ceased to affect us conceptually, for other language equally representative of the idea, whilst excelling in that pictorial vividness in which truly dwells that which we most need. This is the suggestive and emotive power, making words something more than arbitrary signs of unknown quantities, like the x y z of the algebraist, where the things signified are mere notions, having no meaning or value except as they preserve the equilibrium of a logical equation. We would have the Bible talk to us philosophically: “the infinite intelligence conditions the finite; the divine power is the conserving principle ever immanent in nature.” But hear how much better the Scripture says this: “the God of old is thy dwelling-place, and underneath are the everlasting arms,” זְרֹעוֹת עוֹלָם, the arms of eternity, the arms that hold up the world. The divine wisdom has adopted this style. It is a mode of diction ever fresh, yet equal to any other as a representative of that which is strictly ineffable, that is, un-utterable in any of those sense-forms in which all human language must terminate, though still belonging to the spiritual intelligence, and known by it as something that truly is. Paul once heard the divine ideas expressed in their own proper words (2 Corinthians 12:4), but he could not translate these ἄῤῥητα ῥήματα into the speech of the lower sphere. The language of the Bible is the best that could be given us. It may present stumbling-blocks to the careless reader, or to those who wish to stumble, but still is it true, that the more we study the Holy Scriptures, even in their earliest parts, the more reason do we find to thank God that they are written just as they are.—T. L]

[8][The senses of flowing together which Gesenius gives, or of extending, swelling, as here presented, are not found in any use of the root גו or גוה, but are accommodated, as supposed primary senses, to the meaning required. It is better, however, to deduce it from the sense of interiority, inclusion (implying, exclusion, seclusion, separateness), which is common in the Chaldæan and Syriac. Thus regarded, it would be the political, rather than any physical idea—a nation as a political unity by itself, separate from all others—whilst עָם would denote association. A commuuity within itself in its two aspects, of outward exclusion, and inner binding.—T. L.]

[9][How easily this is done, whether by a power purely physical or divine, is seen in the cases of paralytics, where, the mind remaining clear, the connection between it and the vocal organs is suddenly changed; so that though speech is not lost, its utterances are misplaced, the name of one thing is given to another, or the connection between the usual word and the usual idea seems almost wholly broken up. The individual derangement is a very mysterious thing, as inexplicable now as in the earliest ages of the world. National and popular derangements are more rare, but history records strange movements, that suggest the thought, as the truest, if not the only possible, explanation. Our knowledge of man, of the immeasurable deep within him, of the infinite unknown around and above him, is too small to warrant any positive denial of such statements, or the possibility of such events, whether regarded as supernatural, or as falling within those natural causalities of which we talk so much, and yet, comparatively, know so little.—T. L.]

Verses 10-32


The race of Shem. The Commenced and Interrupted Migration of Terah to Canaan. The Genesis of the Contrast between Heathendom and the germinal Patriarchalism

Genesis 11:10-32

1. Genealogy of Shem—to Terah.

10These are the generations of Shem: Shem was a hundred years old and begat 11Arphaxad10 [Knobel: probably, highland of Chaldæa] two years after the flood. And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters. 12And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah [sending]: 13And Arphaxad lived after he begat Salah four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters. 14And Salah lived thirty years and begat Eber11 [one from the other side, pilgrim, emigrant]. 15And Salah lived after he begat Eber four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters. 16And Eber lived four and thirty years, and begat Peleg [division]: 17And Eber lived after he begat Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters. 18And Peleg lived thirty years, and begat Reu [friendship, friend]: 19And Peleg lived after he begat Reu two hundred and nine years, and begat sons and daughters. 20And Reu lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug12 [vine-branch]: 21And Reu lived after he begat Serug two hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters. 22And Serug lived thirty years, and begat Nahor [Gesenius: panting]: 23And Serug lived after he begat Nahor two hundred years, and begat sons and daughters. 24And Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begat Terah [turning, tarrying]: 25And Nahor lived after he begat Terah a hundred and nineteen years, and begat sons and daughters. 26And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram [High father], Nahor [see Genesis 11:2], and Haran [Gcsenius: Montanus].

2. Terah, his Race and Emigration (Genesis 11:27-32).

27Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah bagat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot [veil, concealed]. 28And Haran died before [the face of] his father Terah, in the lend of his nativity, in Ur [light; flame] of the Chaldees (כשדים). 29And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai [princess]; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah [Queen], the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah13 [spier, seeress]. 30But Sarai was barren; she had no child. 31And 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 unto the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran and dwelt there. 32And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.


This genealogy of the Shemites is really an appendage to that of the Sethites, Genesis 5:0, and in this way forms a genealogical series extending from Adam to Abraham. It is continued on the line of Nahor (Genesis 22:20-24), on that of Keturah (Genesis 25:1-4), of Ishmael (Genesis 25:12, etc.), of Esau (Genesis 36:1, etc.), on the line of Jacob (Genesis 46:8-27), etc. (See the article: “Genealogical Register,” in Herzog’s Real Encyclopœdie.) According to Knobel this table has the character of an element of fundamental Scripture (p. 129); we are satisfied to designate it as elohistic universalistic, since it embraces not only Abraham’s race, but also the nearest branches of it that at a later period became heathen. The table of the Shemites embraces ten generations, as does the table of the Sethites. The first (conformably to the number ten) denotes a perfect development, which runs out in Abraham, the “father of the faithful,” representing, as he does, a numberless race of the believing out of all humanity. Abraham must be reckoned here with the tenth, as Noah in Genesis 5:0. It is clear, too, that this table is designed to indicate the growth, or establishment of the patriarchal faith, together with its previous history. Most distinctly is this expressed in the migrations of Terah,—and in the individual names of the patriarchs. In the son of Arphaxad, Salah, there is announced a sending, or mission, in Eber the emigration, in Peleg the division of the theocratic line from the untheocratic, in Reu the divine friendship, in Serug the entangling or the restraint of the development, in Nahor a conflict or a striving, in Terah a setting out from the heathen world which in his tarrying comes to a stop. And so is the way prepared for Abraham’s departure. We cannot maintain, with Knobel, that these Shemitic patriarchs must have been all of them first-born. They are, throughout, the first-born only in the sense of the promise. Bunsen interprets the name Eber as one who comes over the Tigris. But in a wider sense Eber may also mean pilgrim. The names Reu and Serug he interprets of Odessa and Osroëne. As coming, however, in the midst of personal names, these also must have been expressed as personal names, from which, indeed, the names of countries may have been derived. On the interpolation of Cainan in the Septuagint, and which is followed by Luke (Gen 3:36), compare Knobel, as also on the varying dates of the ages, as given in the Samaritan text and in the Septuagint. The numbers we have here are 600, 438, 433, 464, 239, 239, 230, 148, 205, and 175 years. Here, too, as in the case of the Sethites, we can get no symbolical significance from the respective numbers, although Knobel is unwilling to recognize their historical character. In connection, however, with the general gradual diminution of the power of life, there is clearly reflected the individual difference; Eber lives to a greater age than both his forefathers, Arphaxad and Salah. Nahor, the panting (the impetuous), dies earliest. According to Knobel, the genealogical table advances from the mythical to the legendary period; at least we have no sufficient grounds, he thinks, to deny to Abraham and his brothers an historical existence. The same must hold true, also, of his fathers, whose names, with their theocratic characteristics, must have belonged, without doubt, to the most lasting theocratic reminiscences. The table before us is distinguished from the Sethitic by being less full, in that it divides the life-time of each ancestor into two parts, by the date of the theocratic first-born, whilst it leaves the summing up of both numbers to the reader. “In Genesis 11:26 this genealogy, just like the one in Genesis 5:32, concludes with the naming of three sons of Terah, since all these have a significance for the history to come: namely, Abram as the ancestor of the elect race, Nahor as the grandfather of Rebecca (comp. Genesis 11:29 with Genesis 22:20-23), and Haran as the father of Lot (Genesis 11:27).” Keil. The table in Delitzsch gives us a good view of the series of Shemitic families (p. 324). According to Bertheau the Septuagint is right in its interpolation of Cainan. Delitzsch disputes this; comp. p. 322. “The Alexandrian translators inserted this name because the Oriental traditions have so much to say of him as the founder of astronomical science; and, therefore, they were unwilling to leave out so famous a name. There may have been a brother of Salah, through whom the main line was not propagated.” Lisco. Delitzsch gives a reason for its not being called the tholedoth, or generations of Abraham, from the fact that the author makes the history of Abraham himself a large and principal part. That, however, would not have prevented the setting forth of Abraham’s genealogical history. But in such a representation there might have been, perhaps, an obscuring of the idea that the seed of Abraham in the natural sense goes through the whole Old Testament, whilst, in a spiritual sense, it pervades the New (see Romans 4 cf. Genesis 15:0).


1.Genesis 11:10-26.—Shem was a hundred years old.—See the computations of Knobel and Keil.—Two years after the flood.—This must be understood of the beginning of the flood.—And begat sons and daughters.—See the ethnological table; also, Genesis 11:17. “For the sake of tracing the line of the Joktanides the author had already given, in Genesis 10:21-25, the patriarchal series from Shem to Peleg; he repeats it here, where he would lay down fully the line from Shem to Abraham, with the addition of the ages.”—Arphaxad.—Arrapachitis, “in northern Assyria, the original seat of the collective Chaldæan family.” Knobel. “It was the home of the Χαλδαῖοι and Καρδοῦχοι mentioned by Xenophon and Strabo, as well as of the modern Kurds.” The same writer refers the names that follow to cities or territories, to which we attach no special importance, since in any case the districts here would be themselves derived from the names of persons.

2.Genesis 11:27-32. The family line of Terah. According to Keil, this superscription must embrace the history of Abraham, so that the tholedoth of Ishmael, Genesis 25:12, and of Isaac, Genesis 25:19, correspond with it. But then, in the spiritual relation, Abraham would be subordinate to Terah, which cannot be supposed.—And Haran begat.—“According to the constant plan of Genesis, it is here related of Haran, the youngest son of Terah, that he begat Lot, because Lot went with Abraham to Canaan (ch, Genesis 12:4), and Haran died before his father Terah, whereby the band which would have retained Lot in his father-land was loosed.” Keil.—Before his father Terah.—Properly, in his presence, so that he must have seen it; it does not, therefore, mean simply in his life-time. The first case of a natural death of a son before the death of his father, is a new sign of increasing mortality.—Ur of the Chaldees.—This must either be sought in the name Ur, which Ammianus calls Persicum Castellum, between Patra and Nisibis, not far from Arrapachitis, or in Orhoi (Armenian, Urrhai), the old name of Edessa, now called Urfa (see Kiepert and Weissenborn: ‘Nineveh and its Territory,’ p. 7).” Keil. Delitzsch, correctly perhaps, decides for the castle Ur mentioned by Ammianus, although, doubtless, the Ur in our text has a more general, territorial, and, at the same time, symbolical meaning. “The old Jewish and ecclesiastical interpretation reads ‘out of אור’ (fire), meaning that Abraham, as an acknowledger of the one God, and a denier of the gods of Nimrod, was cast into the fire, but was miraculously preserved by God.” Delitzsch. The same writer finds therein the idea that Abraham was plucked as a brand from the fire of heathendom, or from its heathenish fury. We would rather suppose, on the contrary, that by Ur is meant a region in Chaldæa, where the ancient monotheistic symbolical view of the heavenly lights and flames had passed over into a mythical heathenish worship of the stars, as a worship of Light and Fire; wherefore it is that the starry heaven was shown to Abraham as a symbol of his believing progeny (Genesis 15:0), whilst, for the heathen Chaldæans, it was a region of divine (or deified) forces. Knobel explains the word as meaning Mount of the Chaldœans. Rawlinson holds to the reading אוּר as equivalent to עִיר (city). The interpreting it of light and fire is both etymologically and actually the more correct. “The family of Terah had its home to the north of Nimrod’s kingdom (in northeastern Mesopotamia), and worshipped strange gods; as is clear from Joshua 24:2.” Delitzsch.—Iskah.—By Josephus, the Talmud, the Targum of Jonathan, and others, this name is held to be one with Sarah. On the other hand, Knobel properly remarks that according to Genesis 20:12, Sarah was the daughter of Terah, and, according to Genesis 17:17, only ten years younger than Abraham; she could not, therefore, have been a daughter of Abraham’s younger brother. It is probably the case that the Jews, in deference to their later law, sought by means of this hypothesis to weaken as much as possible Abraham’s kinsmanship to Sarah. Delitzsch assumes the possibility that Haran was a much older half-brother of Abraham, and that Abraham, as also Nahor, had married one of his daughters. According to a conjecture of Ewald, Iscah is mentioned because she became Lot’s wife. But it may be that Iscah was thought worthy to be incorporated in the theocratic tradition because she was a woman of eminence, a seeress like Miriam, according to the signification of her name. Knobel alludes to the fact that Abraham bad his sister to wife, without calling to mind that she was a half-sister (Genesis 20:12), or might even have been his adopted sister. So also he says that Nahor married his niece, and that in like manner Isaac and Jacob did not marry strangers, but their own kindred. He accounts for this on the ground of a peculiar family affection in the house of Terah (Genesis 24:3-4; Genesis 26:35; Genesis 27:46; Genesis 28:1); just as at the present day many Arabian families ever marry in their own, and do not permit one to take a wife from any other (Seetzen: “Travels,” iii. p. 22). The ground, however, of such kindred marriage in the house of Terah and Abraham, is a theocratic one, and thus far are the children of Abraham placed in a condition similar to that of the children of Adam. As for the latter, there were, in general, no “daughters of men,” out of their own immediate kindred, so for the sons of the theocracy there were no spiritual daughters of like birth with themselves, that is, of monotheistic or theocratic faith, out of the circle of nearest natural affinity. In this respect, however, they did not venture to tread in the foot-steps of the Sethites (Genesis 6:0); for it was theirs to propagate a believing race through consecrated marriage.—But Sarah Was barren.—A prelude to the history that follows.—And Terah took Abram his son.—Without doubt has this removal a religious theocratic importance. At all events, this divinely accomplished withdrawal from Ur of the Chaldees must mean more than a mere providential guidance, as Keil supposes.—And they went forth with them.—The word אִתָּם (rendered, with them) makes a difficulty. It may be easiest understood as meaning with one another. On the other hand, Delitzsch reminds us that the suffix may have a reflex sense, instead of a reciprocal (Genesis 22:3). This is the very question, as otherwise the sentence would be indefinite; the expression, therefore, must mean not only with one another, but by themselves; that is, they withdrew as one united, exclusive community. Besides this, there are two modes of taking it. Keil understands only Lot and Sarah as the subject of the verb, and, therefore, refers אִתָּם to Terah and Abraham. There are three things in the way of this: 1. The withdrawing (or going forth) would be separated from the previous introductory expression: Terah took Abraham, etc., which will not do; 2. it would be a withdrawing from that which leads, and the accompanying would become the principal persons; 3. Abraham would have to be regarded as a co-leader, which is contrary to what is said: Terah took Abraham. Moreover, Abraham, regarded as an independent leader, would have been bound in duty to go further on when Terah broke off from his pilgrimage in Mesopotamia. Delitzsch, on the other hand, together with Jarchi, Rosenmuller, and others, refers the words they went forth to the members of the family who are not named, namely, they went forth with those named; but this is clearly against the context. By the expression with them, it would be more correct to understand, with those, namely, with the first-named (Terah, etc.), went forth those just previously mentioned, or named immediately after them. Later, is Haran denoted as the city of Nahor (Genesis 24:10 as compared with Genesis 27:43; Genesis 29:4; Genesis 31:53). For other interpretations see Knobel.—And they came unto Haran.—Terah intended to go from Ur to Canaan, but he stops in Haran, wherefore he also retains his people there. According to Knobel, the mention of Canaan is an anticipation of the history that follows.—Haran.—Carra, Charran, lay in northwestern Mesopotamia (Padan Aram, xxv. 20), ten leagues southeast from Edessa, in a fertile region, though not abounding in water. The city now lies in ruins. It was the capital of the Gabians, who had here a temple of the Moon goddess, which they referred back to the time of Abraham. In its neighborhood Crassus was slain by the Parthians. More fully on the subject, see in Schröder, p. 520; also in Knobel and Delitzsch.—And Terah died in Haran.—Terah was two hundred and five years old. If Abraham, therefore, was seventy-five years old when he migrated from Mesopotamia, and Terah was seventy years old at his birth, then must Abraham have set forth sixty years before the death of Terah. And this is very important. The emigration had a religious motive which would not allow him to wait till the death of his father. As Delitzsch remarks, the manner of representation in Genesis disposes of the history of the less important personages, before relating the main history. The Samaritan text has set the age of Terah at one hundred and forty-five, under the idea that Abraham did not set out on his migration until after the death of Haran. The representation of Stephen, Acts 7:4, connects itself with the general course of the narration.


See above: The significance of the genealogical table of the Shemites.

1. The decrease in the extent of human life. In the manifold weakenings of the highest life-endurance, in the genealogy of Shem, there are, nevertheless, distinctly observable a number of abrupt breaks: 1. From Shem to Arphaxad, or from 600 years to 438; 2. from Eber to Peleg, or from 464 years to 239; 3. from Serug to Nahor, or from 230 years to 148; beyond which last, again, there extend the lives of Terah with his 205, and of Abraham with his 175 years. Farther on we have Isaac with 180 years, Jacob 147, and Joseph 110. So gradually does the human term of life approach the limit set by the Psalmist, Psalms 90:10. Moses reached the age of 120 years. The deadly efficacy goes on still in the bodily sphere, although the counter-working of salvation has commenced in the spiritual. Keil, with others, finds the causes of this decrease in the catastrophe of the flood, and in the separation of humanity into various nations.

2. Chaldœa and the Chaldœans.—See the Theological Real Lexicons, especially Herzog’s Encyclopœdie, The Fragments of the Chaldæan Author, Berosus, as found in the Chronicon of Eusebius, and the Chronographia of Syncellus. This people seem to have been early, and, in an especial sense, a wandering tribe. The priestly castes of Chaldæans in Babylonia must have come out of Egypt. Strabo and others transfer the land of the Chaldæans to a region in lower Babylonia, in the marshy district of the Euphrates near the Persian Gulf; the same author, however, finds also, as others have done, the seat of the Chaldæans in the Chaldæan Mountains, very near to Armenia and the Black Sea. The proper home of the Chaldæans was, therefore, at the head waters of the Tigris.

3. Ur in Chaldæa. See above.
4. On the indication of a great yet gradual provision for the variance that was to take place between the race of Eber and the heathen, see the Exegetical and Critical. The later Biblical accounts of Terah and the forefathers of Abraham appear, in general, to owe their form to the reciprocal influence of Israelitish tradition and the Israelitish exegesis of the passage before us. According to the language of Stephen, Acts 7:2, Abraham was already called at Ur in Chaldæa. We must, therefore, regard him as the proper author of the migration of his father, Terah. The passage, Joshua 24:2, according to which Abraham’s forefathers, and Terah especially, dwelt beyond the river (the Euphrates), and served other gods, has special relation to this fact of Terah’s suffering himself to be detained in Haran.—This, then, is to be so understood, that in consequence of the universal infection, idolatry began to take up its abode very near to the adoration of the one God, as still maintained in Terah’s family (see Genesis 29:32-33; Genesis 29:35; Genesis 30:24; Genesis 30:27; and to this belongs what is said, Genesis 31:34, about the teraphim of Laban). We may well suppose that Joshua, from his stern, legal stand-point, judged and condemned that mingling of worships, or that image worship, as strongly as Moses did the setting up of the golden calf. The little group of wanderers, Genesis 11:31, appears to have originated from a similarity of feeling which, after long conflicts in the line of Eber, was finally to tear itself away from this conjectural capital of the Light and Fire worship in Chaldæa, and, in that way, from heathenism altogether. Their aim was Canaan, because there, partly from their decidedly foreign state, partly by reason of their antagonism to the Hamitic race, they would be protected from the contagion. But Terah cannot get beyond Haran, and to this not only does Joshua refer, but also the later Jewish tradition respecting Terah. To this place, where he settles down, Terah seems to have given the name of his dead son, in loving remembrance, and it may have been this name, as well as the fair land and apparent security, that bound him there. The circumstance that Abraham, according to Genesis 11:32, does not appear to have departed before the death of Terah (with which, however, the history otherwise does not agree), has been interpreted by Syncellus and others as implying that Terah was spiritually dead. A like untenable Jewish hypothesis, which Hieronymus gives us, assumes that the 75 years which are ascribed to Abraham, Genesis 12:4, are not to be dated from his natural birth, but from the time of his deliverance from the furnace of fire, which was like a new birth. But that Abraham tore himself away before his father’s death has, at all events, the important meaning that, in the strife between filial piety and the call of faith, he obeyed the higher voice. The family group in Haran, however, is thus distinctly denoted, because it now forms the provisional earthly homestead of the wandering patriarchs, and because, also, as the later history informs us, it was to furnish wives of like theocratic birth for their sons.

5. Legends concerning the migration of Abraham. See Rahmer, “The Hebrew Traditions” (Breslau, 1861, p. 24). According to a Hebrew Midrash (Rabba 38, in Hieronymus), Abraham, at Ur, was cast into a furnace of fire, because he would not adore the fire which the Chaldæans worshipped, but was miraculously preserved by God. His brother Haran, on the contrary, was consumed, because he was unresolved whether to adore the fire or not. It was Nimrod who had him cast into the furnace. Here belongs, also, the Treatise of Beer, entitled “The Life of Abraham, according to the Jewish traditions.” Leip., 1859.


As Abraham’s life of faith develops itself in his posterity, so did it have its root in the life of his forefathers.—How the life of all great men of God rests upon a previous hidden history.—Comparison of the two lines of faith, that of Seth to Noah, and from Shem to Abraham: 1. outwardly, ever less (at last reduced to one point); 2. inwardly, ever stronger (attaining at last to the one who makes the transition). [Thus Noah passed through the corrupted race and through the flood; thus Abraham made the transition through heathenism.]—Terah’s migration to Canaan: 1. its spirited beginning; 2. its failure to go on.—Abraham and his kinsmen: 1. He was probably the author of their movement; 2. they, probably, the cause of his tarrying in Haran.—The death of children before the eyes of their parents (Genesis 11:28).—Sarah’s barrenness, the long and silent trial in the life of Abraham.

Starke: The Sethites, among whom the true church is preserved.—God’s remembrance of the righteous abides in his blessing.—Osiander: A Christian when he is called, must, for the sake of God, leave joyfully his fatherland; he must forsake all that he loves, all that is pleasing to him in the world; he must follow God obediently, and only where He leads.

[Excursus on the Confusion of Languages.—That there was here a supernatural intervention the language of Scripture will not permit us to doubt. We need not, however, trouble ourselves with the question how far each variety of human speech is connected with it, or regard, as essentially affecting the argument, the greatness or smallness of the number of languages now spoken upon the earth. There is, doubtless, many a local jargon, the result of isolation, or of unnatural mixtures, that has but little, if anything, to do with an inquiry in respect to this most ancient and world-historical event. It is so difficult to determine what is a language in distinction from a dialect, or mere local variety of idiom and pronunciation, that such lists as those of Balbi and others can have but little philological value. For all essential purposes of such inquiry, therefore, there is no need to extend our view beyond that district of earth in which languages now existing, either as spoken or in their literature, can be historically or philologically traced to peoples connected with the earliest known appearances of the human race. We give this a very wide sweep when we include in it Southern and Middle Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa. Here philological science, though yet very imperfect, has found great encouragement in its inquiries, and within this district has it begun to make out, with some clearness, what must have been the earliest divisions of language. The result thus far, as stated by some of the latest and best writers, has been the recognition of three general families or groups. In giving names to these, there has also been recognized, to some extent, the ethnological division supposed to be made from the sons of Noah; and hence some have been inclined to call them the Japhethic, Shemitic, and Hamitic (Bunsen, Khamism and Semism). It was early perceived, however, that the ethnologic and linguistic lines do not exactly correspond even in the Shemitic; and there is still more of aberration and intersection within the supposed limits of the two others. The first group has therefore been called the Indo-Germanic, and of late the Arian. In the third the term Hamitic has been generally dropped for that of Turanian. The general correspondence, however, gives much countenance to the first ethnological naming. But whatever method be adopted, it does not affect the main characteristics belonging to each of the three. These may be thus stated. The Shemitic is the smallest, the most unique, both in its matter and its form, the most enduring, the most easily recognized, and having the least diversity in its several branches. The group termed Arian, Indo-Germanic, or Japhethan, is less marked in all these characteristics, though retaining enough of them to make clear the family relationship in all the best-known branches. The third is so different from both these, it seems so utterly broken up, that Pritchard, and other philologists, have given it, as a whole, the name Allophylian, using it simply as a convenience of nomenclature. There exist, however, marks of affinity that show it to be something more than a mere arbitrarily separated mass (see Max Müller “Languages of the Seat of War,” pp. 88, 90, and Rawlinson: “Herodotus,” vol. i. 524). To make use of geological analogies, as Bunsen has done, the Shemitic may be likened to the primitive rocks, the Arian to the stratified formations, broken, yet presenting much clearness of outline and direction, the Turanian to confused volcanic masses projected from some force unknown, or solitary boulders scattered here and there in ways inexplicable, yet showing marks of the localities from whence they came, and evidence of some original correspondence in the very irregularities of their fracture. Or we may compare them, the first, to a temple still entire in its structural form, though presenting tokens of catastrophes by which it has been affected; the second, to wide-spread ruins, where whole architectural rows and avenues still show a clear coherence, whilst even the broken arches, fallen columns, displaced capitals, give evidence by which we are enabled to make out the original plan; the third, to scattered mounds of rubbish, in which shattered slabs, obscurely stamped bricks, and faint marks of some joining cement, alone testify to a structure having once a local unity at least, though now exhibiting little of inward plan and harmony. To drop all such figures, it may be said that the Shemitic has preserved what was most enduring of the original form, the Arian what was most permanent of the original matter, whilst in the Turanian has fallen all that was most frangible in the one, or most easily deformed or defaced in the other.

Now to account for such a condition of things in language, especially in its earliest appearance, is equally difficult, whether we hypothesize the primitive movement as a tendency to gregariousness and to a consequent unity of speech, or as a tendency in the opposite direction, or as being both combined in an attractive and repulsive polarity. The phenomena in each and all are at war with every such induction. There is in the one family a strangely preserved unity. There is in another a totally different peculiarity of form stamped upon it from times that precede all historical memory; it is full where the first seems to be scant, free where the other is tense; sometimes just the reverse,14 having as a whole a look so exceedingly foreign as never to be mistaken, yet with an equally unmistakable familiarity, or family likeness, of its own, within which the many dissimilitudes among its different branches never efface the strong and seemingly ineradicable affinities. There is a third so marked by an almost total dissolution that its very looseness would seem to make its only classifying feature, were it not that certain indices found in every branch (such as the numerals and some pronominal forms), point to a community of origin, whilst appearances of correspondence, even in its fractures, suggest a common disorganizing catastrophe. Viewing these three families in their relations to each other, we find that there is not only separation, and that of long standing, but great diversity of separation. The original cleaving dates from a most ancient period, before which nothing is known, and in its general aspect remains unaffected by time. The Hamitic, or Turanian, seems to have been confused and tumultuous from the beginning. Such is said to be its appearance on the early trilingual inscriptions made to accommodate the incongruous peoples in the Assyrian empire who had, in some way, been here and there wedged between the Arian and Shemitic portions. See Rawlinson’s “Herodotus,” i. 527. Again, the Shemitic, though oftentimes in close contiguity, has put on none of the essential features of the Arian, nor the Arian of the Shemitic. The German and Arabic are as distinct in modern times, as anciently the Greek and Hebrew. The minor specific divisions in each family have varied more or less, but the great generic differences have remained the same from age to age, still showing no signs of blending, or of mutual development into some common comprehending genus, according to the process which Bunsen supposes to have produced such changes in the antehistorical times. What has stamped them with features so ancient and so diverse? Nothing of any known natural development, either of one from the other, or of all from a common antecedent stock, can account for it. If Sinism, or Chinesian (the name given to this hypothetical beginning of human speech), developed Khamism, and Khamism Semism, and Semism Arianism, how is it that we find nothing like it as actual fact in historical times, and no marks of any transition-period in the ages before? Surely, if Bunsen’s favorite comparisons be good for anything, we ought to find in language, as geologists do in the rocks, the visible marks of the process, or if we are compelled to adopt a theory of sudden or eruptive breakings in the one case (whether we call them supernatural or extraordinary matters but little to the argument) why should a similar idea be regarded as irrational in the other. Thus there are no linguistic marks in Greek and Hebrew (regarded as early representatives of two great families), or in Syriac and Sanscrit, showing that at any time they were a common language,15 or any beginning of mutual divergency as traced downwards, or any evidences of convergency as we follow them up the stream of time. In fact, they stand in most direct contrast in their earliest stages; even as the fresh geological rupture must present, doubtless, a more distinct breakage than is shown after ages of wear and abrasion. When history opens, these languages stand abruptly facing each other. This may be said with some degree of confidence, for our knowledge here is not scanty. We have the Shemitic all along from the very dawn of history to our latest times. The Arabic of the present day, copious as it has become in its derivative vocabulary, is as rigid in its Shemitic features as the oldest known Hebrew. There is some reason for regarding it as retaining even still more of the primitive type. The Greek was in its perfection in the days of Homer, and as Homer found it. It has never been surpassed since in all that makes the glory of language as a spiritual structure, in its classifications16 of outward things, in its still higher classification of ideas, in its precision and richness of epithet, in the profound presentation of moral and æsthetic distinctions,—in this respect ever in advance of the people who used it—in the elements it contained for the expression of philosophic thought whenever its stores should be required for that purpose, and, withall, in the melodiousness, the flexibility, and the exuberance of its vocal forms. The Thucydidian Greek falls below it in all these respects. Certainly it had not risen above it. It is the tendency of language, when left to itself, to decline in the attributes mentioned. The assertion may be hazarded that the evidence of this fact is exhibited in most modern tongues. More copious are they doubtless, better adapted to a quick political, social, or commercial intercourse, or to certain forms of civilization in which a greater community of action, or of understood conventional proceedings, makes up for the want of pictorial and dialectical clearness as inherent in the words themselves—but everywhere, in their old worn state, presenting a lack of that vividness, that exquisite shading of ideas, that power of emotion, which astonishes us in the early languages just mentioned. The tendency, in fact, is towards Sinism, or a language of loose arbitrary symbols, not away from it. As savagism is the dregs of a former higher civilization, so Sinism is the remains of language, bearing evidence of attrition and fracture; and this, however copious it may be, or however adapted it may be to a mere worldly civilization, such as that in which the Chinese have long been stationary, or slowly falling, and to which a godless culture, with all its science, is ever tending. There is in language accretion, addition, looseness, decay; but we rarely find, if we ever find, in any speech that has long been used, what may be truly called growth in the sense of organic vigor, or inward structural harmony.17 That young and vigorous constitution which is discovered in the earliest Arian and Shemitic speech, they must have received in some way for which it is very difficult to account on any natural or ordinary grounds. Convention will not explain it, as Plato saw long ago in the very dawn of philological inquiry; onomatopic theories fail altogether to account for the first words, to say nothing of grammatical forms; development is found to be mere cant, giving no real insight into the mystery. If the originating processes fall wholly within the sphere of the human, then must we suppose some instinctive logic, some sure intelligence working below consciousness, and somehow belonging to the race, or races, rather than to the individual. If this is difficult to conceive, or to understand, then there remains for us that which hardly surpasses it in wonder, whilst it falls short of it in mystery, namely, the idea of some ab extra supernatural power once operating on the human soul in its early youth—whether in the first creation, or in some subsequent early stages of remarkable development,—and now comparatively unknown.18

When we study language on the map, the difficulty of any mere development theory bringing one of these families from the other, or from a common original stock, is greatly increased. Whilst the Arian and Shemitic present, in the main, certain geographical allotments tolerably distinct, this Hamitic or Turanian conglomerate is found dispersed in the most irregular manner. It is everywhere in spots throughout the regions occupied by the more organic families; sometimes in sporadic clusters, as in parts of Western Asia, sometimes driven far off to the confines as is the case with the Finnic and Lap language, or, again, wedged into corners, like the Basque language in Spain, lying between two branches of the Arian, the Roman and the Celtic.
Had we found rocks lying in such strange ways, it would at once have been said: no slow depositing, no long attrition, no gradual elevation or depression, has done all this. They may have exerted a modifying influence; but they are not alone sufficient to account for what appears. Here has been some eruptive or explosive force, some ab extra power, whether from above or beneath, sudden and extraordinary in its effect, however generated in its causality, and however we may style that causality, whether natural or supernatural, simply inexplicable, or divine. Such eruptive forces are not confined to rocks and strata, or to sudden changes in material organization. They have place also in the spiritual world, in the movements of history, in the souls of men, in remarkable changes and formations of language. There are spiritual phenomena, if the term may be used, for which we cannot otherwise easily account. The evidence here of any such intervening power may be less striking, because less startling to the sense, but to the calm and reverent reason they may be even more marked than anything analagous to them in the outer world of matter. Great confusion has arisen in our theological reasoning from confining this word miraculous solely to some supposed breakage or deflection in the natural sphere.

To say the least, therefore, it is not irrational to carry this view into the history of man regarded as under the influence of supernatural, as well as natural, agencies. And thus here, as we contemplate the remarkable position of the early languages of the world, and especially of the three great families, some force from without, sudden, eruptive, breaking up a previous movement, extraordinary to say the least, would be the causal idea suggested, even if the Scripture had said nothing about it. A primitive formation has been left comparatively but little affected; all around it, east and west, are linguistic appearances presenting the most striking contrasts to the first, and yet the most remarkable family likenesses to each other; elsewhere, as a third class of elements show, the eruptive or flooding force has broken everything into fragments, and scattered them far and wide. Philology cannot account for it; but when we study the tenth and eleventh of Genesis in what they fairly imply as well as clearly express, we have revealed to us an ancient causation adequate, alone adequate, we may say, to the singular effect produced. The language of the account is general, as in other parts of Scripture where a mighty change is to be described, universal in its direct and collateral historical effect, without requiring us to maintain an absolute universality in the incipient movement. From some such general terms in the commencement of chapter 11 it might seem, indeed, as though every man of the human race was in this plane of Shinar, and directly engaged in the impious undertaking described. Taking, however, the two chapters together—and it is too much to say, as most commentators do, in the very face of the arrangement, that the eleventh chapter is wholly prior to the tenth—we must conclude that one line, at least, of the sons of Shem, that of Arphaxad, the ancestor of the Chaldæans, and of Eber, the more direct progenitor of the Hebrews, remained in the upper country of the Euphrates. It is fairly to be inferred, too, that the Joktan migration to Arabia had commenced, carrying with it the Shemitic element of speech to modify or transform the Cushite, whether introduced before or after it. Some of the sons of Japheth may have already set off, west and east, in their long wanderings (to Greece and India perhaps), whilst Sidon, a descendant of Ham, had even at this early day, founded a maritime settlement, and ventured upon the seas. It is not easy to understand why the narration of the tenth chapter should have had its place before that of the eleventh, unless a portion, at least, of the movements there recorded, had been antecedent in time. It is commonly said that the tenth is anticipatory in respect to what follows, but this is not altogether satisfactory. As the story of the greater scattering comes after the ethnological divisions in the order of narration, it may be consistently maintained that it was subsequent to some of them, at least, in the order of time, whilst the seeming universality of the language may be explained on the ground of the magnitude of the later event, and its world-wide effect in the human history. A close examination, however, shows that, even in the diction, this universality is not so strict as some interpretations would make it. After these earlier departures, as we may supply from chapter 10, it proceeds to say, “the whole earth (land country) was (yet) of one language and one speech.” It had not been broken up, though it may have begun to be affected by causes which would naturally produce changes of dialect. “And in their journeying,” or “as they journeyed onward (מִקֶדֶם), they found a plain in the land of Shinar.” “As they journeyed,” that is, as men journeyed onward, or migrated more and more. Who or how many they were is not said, and these indefinite pronouns give us no right to say that every man of the human race, all of Noachian kind, were in this plain of Shinar. There is the strongest proof to the contrary. We cannot believe that Noah was there, although he lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood, or that Shem was there, who lived one hundred and fifty years later, and even in the days of Abraham. The idea is abhorrent that one so highly blessed of God, and in “whose tents” God had promised “to dwell”—Shem, the Name, the preserver of the holy speech, and the direct antithesis of that false “name” which these bold rebels sought to make unto themselves—should have had any participation, even by his presence, in so unholy a proceeding. As little can we believe it of any of the line from which came Abraham, or even of their not remote consanguinèi, the Joktanite Arabians. The same feeling arises when we think of the pious fathers of Melchizedek, king of Salem, king of righteousness, and who had consecrated him a priest to El Elion, that Most High God of the Heavens (see Genesis 14:18), who is here so blasphemously defied.19 Who were they, then, that composed this strange assemblage on the plain of Shinar? A vast multitude doubtless, a majority of Noah’s descendants perhaps, yet still, as is most likely, a colluvies gentium, a gathering of the bad, the bold, the adventurous, from every family, but with the Hamitic character decidedly predominant.20 Nimrodian, perhaps, might they be called with more propriety, if we take the constant Jewish tradition that Nimrod was their leader in rebellion. The nobler sons of Ham are to be distinguished from these Babylonian Hamites. The founder of the Egyptian monarchy, and, perhaps, the Arabian Cushites, had in all probability gone to their respective settlements. The very name, Nimrod, shows a difference between them. It is not the name of a country, or of a family of descendants, like the others mentioned Genesis 10:8; a fact of which Maimonides takes notice (see marg. note, p. 349) when he calls attention to the manner in which Nimrod is mentioned irregularly, as it were, or out of the line, after the other sons of Cush had been disposed of. He was not, like them, a “father of a people,” a patriarch, or ancestor, but a bold adventurer, a “mighty hunter of men before the Lord,” or in defiance of the Lord, who gathered together, out of every people, those who were like himself, not to settle the world, but to prevent its peaceful settlement by engaging in bold and reckless enterprises of an opposite nature. He may be said to have represented the empire-founding, instead of the planting or colonizing, tendency. He was the postdiluvian Cain, and there would seem to be a significance not to be disregarded in the fact that here there is given to this rebellious multitude that same name, בְּנֵי הָאָדָם, “sons of men,” which, in its feminine form, is used Genesis 6:4 (בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם) to denote the godless in distinction from the more pious. The line here indicated, between the sons of God and the “sons of men,” was less distinct, perhaps, than that which was drawn between the Sethites and the Cainites, yet it still existed to some extent, making a division between the better branches of the Shemites, with some from both the other lines, and this vast rabble of the sensual and ungodly. The grammatical form of the name Nimrod (which is very unusual for such a purpose) shows that it had a popular, instead of a family, origin. It is the first person plural future jussive, נִמְרֹד, “come let us rebel.” It was the watchword of the impious leader, afterwards given to him as a title by his applauding followers: “Let us break Jehovah’s bands, let us cast his cords from us,” let us build a tower that shall reach Him in the Heavens.21

On this impious host of Nimrod, predominantly, although not solely, Hamitic, fell especially the scattering and confounding blow, like the bolts from heaven aimed at the rebellious Titans; and hence this rabble of tongues called Hamitic or Turanian, or these allophylic conglomerates which philologists find so remarkable as compared with the enduring unity of the Shemitic, and the diversified, yet unmistakable Arian relationship. These two were, doubtless, affected by the shock; one of them may have had much of its subsequent modification, if not its origin, from it; but on the Hamitic host fell the stone that ground them to powder. “For there22 Jehovah confounded the language of all the earth” (land or country). This Nimrodian Babel of tongues wrought more or less of confusion everywhere, making the universality in the effect rather than in the immediate causality—a view perfectly consistent with the soberest interpretation of the artless language of Holy Scripture.

The causative influence, we may believe, was primarily a spiritual one. It was a confounding not only of their purposes (מַחְשְׁבוֹת לֵב, Genesis 6:5)—thus introducing confusion, madness,23 and discord, into their camp—but also of their ordinary thinkings and conceivings, τῶν ἐνθυμήσεων καὶ ἐννοιῶν καρδίας, Hebrews 4:12, “reaching to the dividing line of soul and spirit,” ψυχῆς τε καὶ πνεύματος, holding back the divine gift of reason, and thus introducing disorder into the sense and the utterance through a prior confusion in the spirit. It deranged their word-formations by a previous derangement of their thoughts.

The difficulty attending the mere outer view, here, arises from a fundamental error which may be found, even in acute treatises of philology. Words do not represent things, as outer existences merely, according to the common notion, but rather what we think about things. They are in truth symbols of our own inner world as affected by the outer world of things around us. They translate to us our own thoughts as well as help us to make them known to others. The animal has no such inner world, and therefore it is that he cannot use speech to represent it to himself or to other animals. This would be readily admitted in respect to words representative of thought alone; but it is true also of that large class that seem to stand directly for outward sensible things per se. Here, too, the word called the name represents only remotely the thing named, but nearly and primarily, some thinking, conceiving, or emotion, in our souls, connected with the thing, and giving rise to its name.24 As proper names are last of all, so these names of outward objects must have come after words denoting action or quality, and from which their own naming, unless supposed to be purely arbitrary, could alone have been derived. Originally they must have been all descriptive, that is, they had a meaning beyond their mere sign significance. In proportion as such primary meanings have faded out in modern languages, have words lost vividness and emotive power, though still remaining as a convenient classifying notation. Thus in early speech the names of animals, for example, were all descriptive. We find it so even now, as far as we can trace them in the significance of their roots. They invariably denote something which the animal does, or suffers, or is, or is supposed to do, to suffer, or to be—thus ever implying some judgment of the human mind respecting it; and tins corresponds to what is said in the Scripture of the animals being brought before Adam to see (לראות for Adam to see, judge, decide) what name should be given to each one. This name is ever taken from something more general, and the name of that from something more general still, and so back from the concrete to the more and more abstract, until we are lost in the mystery, and compelled to admit that there is something in ourselves, and in language, which it is not easy to understand. We may be sure, however, that in all these primary names of animals there was something descriptive, though in many it may have been long lost. In some cases it still shines dimly through the wear of time and usage, enabling us to infer it universally. Thus bird, we may be certain, means something more than bird, and dog than dog, even as fowl, fugel, vogel, still carries with it some faint image of flying, and chien, hund, κύων, canis (cano, canorus, קִינָה), suggests the clear, ringing, houndlike sound that denoted the animal in the earliest Arian speech.25 Connected with this there is another thought that has importance here. The first impression is that nouns, or the names of things, must be older in language than verbs. Examination, however, shows just the contrary as a fact, and then we see that it must be so, if names are not arbitrary, but ever imply some action or quality of the thing, and so an antecedent naming of that action or passion. But not to pursue this farther, it is enough to show that the spring of language is in the thought, the conceiving, the affection, as the source of names for things, and for the relations of things. Confusion here is confusion throughout, and this would be much more operative in a multitude thus affected than in an individual. Break up the community of thought and the community of language is broken up, or begins to break up along with it. It affects not only the matter but the form, the soul, the grammatical structure.26 Going still deeper, it changes the mode of lexical derivation, or the process through which secondary senses (as they exist in almost all abstract words) come from the primary—the inward etymologies, as they may be called, which are of more importance in determining the affinities of languages than the outward phonetic etymologies on which some philologists almost exclusively insist, and which are so easily lost—all the more easily and rapidly when the more spiritual bonds are loosed. So, on the other hand, the maintaining secure against mutation the higher ideas that dwell in a language, especially its religious ideas, is most conservative both of its matter and form. Thus may we account, in some degree, for the way in which the Shemitic endured the shock that left all around it those masses of fragments which philologists call the Hamitic or Turanian. The great name of God was in it in fulfilment of the promise. Those other remarkable appellations of Deity, El, Allah, Eloah, Elohim, Adonai, El Shaddai, El Elion, El Olam, παντοκράτωρ, ὕψιστος, ἀιώνιος, have been to it like a rock of ages, giving security to its other religious ideas, whilst these again have entered extensively into its proper names, its common nouns and verbs, conserving it against the corruption and degeneracy of those who spoke it, and giving even to its Arabic and Syriac branches a holy and religious aspect beyond anything presented in any ancient or modern tongue. Well and worthily have the Jewish Rabbis called it לשון הקודש, the holy tongue. Truly it is so, whether we regard it as the original Noachian speech, or something later preserved entire from the wreck of the Babel confusion.27

How this extraordinary breaking up of language took place we may not easily know, though maintaining its possibility, and its strong probability, as a fact, aside from the express Scriptural declaration. There is no department of human inquiry in which we so soon come to the mysterious and inexplicable as in that of language. Some have maintained its onomatopic origin, as has been lately done in a very clear and able treatise by Prof. Whitney. If this, however, is confined to vocal resemblances in the names of sounds themselves, it accounts for only an exceedingly small number of words; if carried farther, to supposed analogies between the names of certain acts, or efforts, and the effort of the organs in pronouncing them, it takes in a very few more; beyond this it would be that idea of some inherent fitness in sounds which has been already considered in the note, p. 377, and to which the name onomatopic may be given in its widest sense; though then, instead of being the easiest, it would be the least explicable of all. So the philologist may endeavor to find the beginning of speech, especially in the names of animals, in the imitation of animal sounds; or he may absurdly trace it to a conventional naming, overlooking the truth that for the initiation of such a proceeding language itself is required—or he may deduce it from accident, or, give him time enough—and a past eternity is very long—he may fancy it coming out of inarticulate or merely interjectional sounds, making its random “natural selections,” until, after ages of chaos, a light inexplicable begins to gleam, an intelligence somehow enters into the process, and thus, at last, language comes into form, as a vehicle of rational, that is, of logical28 thought. But for human minds, λόγος, speech, and logos, reason, are one; and the serious thinker, who cannot separate them, takes but a few steps in this mysterious search before he is forced, either to acknowledge something superhuman, or to admit that in the birth and growth of language, the instrument of all reasoning, there must be some strange generic intelligence, if such a thing can be conceived, that we utterly fail to discover in the individual logic. In other words, men as a race, or races, do what the individual singly never does, something of which he is wholly unconscious, and which he cannot understand. The thought of divine intervention is the less strange; it presents the less difficulty, and is, therefore, the more rational. We are not to be unnecessarily introducing a divine agency into the world’s drama, but here, surely, it is a nodus vindice dignus, a knot which a divine intelligence can alone unbind. There is not in all nature anything like that spiritual mystery which meets us on the very threshold of an inquiry into the origin and development of human speech.

Leaving these more abstruse regions, and descending again to the clearer field of inductive observation, there still meet us those geographical difficulties to which some attention has already been given as inexplicable on any theory of gradual or mutual development. Allusion was before made to the appearances presented by those broken allophylic tongues to which has been given the common name Turanian—showing themselves among the other families, sometimes in contiguous beds, and then again as lying far away and far apart in space, even as they indicate a remote location in time. In such cases everything indicates the sudden projection of an early people, and of an early speech, entire. Succeeding waves of migration have pressed upon their shores, but changed no feature of their language. That seems to have had its form fixed in the beginning, and to defy mutation. Its isolated state, though surrounded by hostile elements, has only rendered it more unyielding in this respect. It will perish rather than change into anything else. There may be pointed out another geographical anomaly on a larger scale, and only explicable, too, on the ground of some early intervention to change the course of what might otherwise have been the ordinary historical development. A little less than a century ago, the learned began to perceive a striking resemblance between the Greek and the ancient language of India; a resemblance both in matter and form. They are both of the Arian or Indo-Germanic family, and yet we have no right to say that one has been derived from the other. From a period transcending all history they have been widely parted, territorially, from each other. They stood in the days of Alexander as distinctly separate as at any time before or after. In all the antecedent period there is no record or tradition of any colonizing on either side, of any military expedition, of any commercial or literary intercourse, that could have produced any assimilating effect. All this time, and for long after, there lay directly between them a territory and a people, or peoples, having nothing, socially or politically, in common with either, and speaking a language, of all others, the most directly foreign to both, or to any common language of which they both could be considered as branches. From Southern Arabia to Northern Syria, or the head waters of the Euphrates nearly, there was the continuous strip of the Shemitic, unbroken and unaffected during all that time. This, as has before been remarked, was, and is, the most tenacious and enduring of all linguistic families. It is still a wide living speech, although Greek and Sanscrit have both died, and been embalmed in their common and Sacred literature, and although this parting language, until comparatively modern times, had no literature except the scanty and most secluded Biblical writings. A branch of the Shemitic, if we may not rather call it the Shemitic itself, continuous and unchanged, is still living, strong and copious. Notwithstanding the addition of many new words, and many new senses that have attached themselves to the old, the Bedouin still talks in a manner that would have been recognized as familiar in the days of Abraham. Could we suppose the patriarch now listening to it, he would hear some strange words mingled with the great body of its earliest roots, and some few later forms, but in its pronouns, its prepositions, its tenses, its conjugations, its logical and rhetorical particles, in the nerves and sinews as well as in the bones of the language, it would strike him as substantially the same kind of talk that had passed between him and his sons Isaac and Ishmael.29 This most enduring ancient speech has suffered nothing that could be called development from anything on either side of it; and there has been no development across it from one parted shore to the other. Such theories as that of Bunsen, by which he gets Khamism out of Sinism, and Semism out of Khamism, and so on, would never explain this. The difficulty clears up somewhat if we bring in the extraordinary, and suppose some early supernatural cleaving and transformation, leaving one primitive type standing in its place, another, greatly changed, to be carried east and west by one people suddenly parted, and meeting again historically after ages of separation, whilst another type, broken into fragments, is dispersed far and wide to remote portions of the earth. This may be called cutting or breaking the knot, rather than untying, but even if the Bible had been silent, it is better than any hypothesis called natural, yet found to be wholly inadequate to explain the extraordinary phenomena to which it is applied. It is true, give a theorist time enough, and hypothetical conditions enough, and he may seem to develop almost anything out of anything else. Grant him enough of “natural selections,” and he may show us how to make worlds and languages by producing, at last, seeming congruities, falling into place after infinite incongruities. But then, such a method of proceeding, supposed to be inherent in the nature of things, cannot stop (if it goes right on without cycles) until it has abolished all things seemingly incongruous or extraordinary, and introduced a perfect level of congruity everywhere, in the physical, social, and philological world. Only take time enough, or rather suppose, as some do, a past eternity of such working, and the only conceivable result is a perfect sameness; all disorders must long since have been gone, all species must have become one, and that the highest or the lowest, all languages must have become one, and that the best or the poorest—something rising in its linguistic architecture far above the Greek and Sanscrit, or sinking in its looseness below anything called Turanian or Sinitic. The extraordinary, now and then, would be not only the easier conception, but an actual relief from the weariness of such a physical monotony.

But we have a more sure word of testimony. The great Bible-fact for the believer is, that, in order to prevent a very evil development of humanity, at a very early day, God interfered with men and confounded their language. There is nothing irrational in this if we believe in a God at all. The manner of doing it is not told us. What is said in Genesis 11:0 may not wholly explain the linguistic phenomena so early presented, and even now so remarkable; but it may be safely affirmed that far greater difficulties oppose themselves to any other solution that has been, or may yet be offered.—T. L.]


[10][Genesis 11:1.—אַרְפַּכְשָׁד. Arphaxad,—pronunciation derived from the LXX., Αρφαξαδ; according to the Hebrew pointing, Arpakshad. It is a compound, evidently, of which the principal part is כשד, from which the later כשדים, Chaldæans. It would appear, on these accounts, to be the name of a people transferred to their ancestor, as in many other cases. Among the early nations names were not fixed, as they are with us in modern times. The birth name was changed for something else—some deed the man had done, or some land he had settled, and that becomes his appellation in history. Sometimes the early personal name is given to the country, and then comes back in a changed form as a designation of the ancestor. Thus Josephus speaks of the five primitive “Shemitic people, the Elamites (or Persians), the Assyrians, the Aramites (or Syrians), the Lydians (from Lud), and the Arphaxadites, now called Chaldæans.”—T. L.]

[11][Genesis 11:14.—עֵבֶר. The line of Shem in Arphaxad seems to have remained along time after the flood in the upper country; and it may be doubted whether this branch of the Shemites, from whom Abraham was directly descended, were with the great multitude of the human race in the plain of Shinar, or had much, if any thing, to do with building the tower of Babel (see remarks of Lange, p. 367). Eber’s descendants came over the river, and began the first migrations to the south. The word עבר may mean over in respect to either side, and so it might be applied to one that went over, or to one that remained. This passing over being a memorable event, the naming would come very naturally from it, whether as given to the ancestor who stayed, or to the descendants who left the old country. Each side would be transeuphratensian to the other, and so truly עִבְרִים עִבְרִי, or Hebrews. It would be very much as we speak, or used to speak, of the old countries as transatlantic, on the other side of, or over the Atlantic; the Hebrew עבר having every appearance of being etymologically the same with the Greek ὑπέρ, German über, and our Saxon over. Compare Genesis 14:13, where אַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי, Abram the Hebrew, is rendered ’Αβρὰμ ὁ περάτης, Abram the passenger.—T. L.]

[12][Genesis 11:20.—שְׂרוּג). Some would resort to the primary sense of שרג or סרג to get the meaning entangled (verwickkelter), to make it correspond to some other derivations which are fancied here as denoting either the advance, or the retarding, of this early Shemitic movement. But besides the faintness and uncertainty of such derivations, the names they seem to indicate could only have been given long afterwards, when the facts on which they are supposed to be grounded had acquired a historical importance. Gesenius would render it palmes, a young vine-shoot (from שרג, to wind, twist). No name-giving could be more natural and easy than this. Compare שָׂרִוֹגִים, Genesis 40:10; Genesis 40:12; Joel 1:7; and what is said in the blessing of Joseph, Genesis 49:22, פֹּרָת יוֹסֵף בֵּן פֹּרָת, fruitfulness Joseph, son of fruitfulness—our translation, a very fruitful bough.—T. L.]

[13][Genesis 11:29.—יִסְכָּה, Iscah. The Jewish interpreters, generally, say that Iscah and Sarah were the same. Thus Rashi—“Iscah, that is, Sarah, so called because she was a seeress (סוכה) by the Holy Spirit, and because all gazed upon her beauty,” for which he refers to Genesis 12:14. The root סכה (see, gaze upon) is quite common in the Syriac, the oldest branch of the Shemitic, though it does not come in the Hebrew. It is revived, and becomes frequent, in the Rabbinical. It is equivalent to the Hebrew חוֹזֶה, Prophet or Seer. Aben Ezra has the same interpretation.—T. L.]

[14][Thus the Shemitic greatly excels in the number of what are called its conjugations, or ways of modifying the primary sense of the verb. Otherwise its form may be characterized as the very grandeur of simplicity, suggesting the comparison of the majestic palm, whilst the Greek and Sanscrit may be likened to the branching oak. And so, again, in some of its aspects, the Shemitic presents a surprising bareness. In the Hebrew and Syriac, for example, there is the least show, or rather, only the rudimentary appearance of any optative or subjunctive modality, that is, in outward modal form, since all the subjective states may be clearly and effectively expressed by particles, or in some other way. It is the same, even now, in the Arabic, only that this embryotic appearance is a little more brought out. Three thousand years, and, within the last third of that time, a most copious use (philosophic, scientific, and commercial, as well as colloquial), have given it nothing, in this respect, that can be called structural growth, nothing that can be regarded as an approach to the exuberant forms of modality to be found in the Greek and Latin even in their earliest stages. It has kept to the mould in which it was first run. So also in the expression of time, the Shemitic still preserves its rigidness. It keeps its two tenses unmodified in form, though it has ways of denoting all varieties of time, relative or absolute, that any other language can express. Compare it with the Greek and Sanscrit copiousness of temporal forms; how early born are they, and how fruitful, in the one case, how unyielding, how stubbornly barren, we may say, in the other! Surely, one who carefully considers such phenomena as these, must admit that there is in the birth and perpetuity of language some other power—either as favoring or resisting—than that of mutual development, or reciprocal change, however long the periods that may be assumed for it as a convenience to certain theories.—T. L.]

[15][This is said more especially in reference to the form, or what may be called the soul of each language respectively. Of the matter, or vocalized material, as it may be styled, there is a good deal that is common. There are many roots in the Arian that are evidently the same with the Shemitic, whether coming from a common original stock of sounds, or from a later borrowing from each other. Words pass from one language to another, or original vocal utterances are broken up, in an immense variety of ways; but the structural forms are unyielding. In this resides the characterizing principle of perpetuity; so that it is no paradox to affirm a generic identity in language, in which the greater part, or even all the articulated sounds had been changed, or have given place to others. When we consider the great facility of mere phonetic changes, through cognate letters or those of the same organ, through transition letters, by whose intervention there is a passage from one family into another (as i and y make a transition from the dentals to the gutturals, and w or v from the gutturals to the labials), or through nasal combinations, such as ng, nd, mb, which, on dissolution, may carry the syllable in the new direction of either element with all its affinities, thus making, as it were, a bridge between them—when we bear in mind how sounds wear out in the beginning or at the end of words, entirely disappearing, or easily admitting in their attenuated state the substitution of others belonging to a different organ, or how, in the middle of words, the compression of syllables bringing together harsh combinations, crushes out letters in some cases (especially if they be gutturals), or introduces a new element demanded by euphony—we cease to wonder at the great variety and extent of vocal changes. It is seen how in various ways any one letter almost, or syllabic sound, may pass into almost any other, and how the same word, as traced through its phonetic changes, presents an appearance in one language that neither the eye nor the ear would recognize in another. To take one example that may stand for an illustration of some of the most important of such changes, who, by the sight or sound alone, or by any outward marks, would recognize the Latin dies in the French jour, or the English tear (teaghr, δάκρυ) in the Latin lacr, lacrima, or the English head in the Latin caput and the Greek κεφαλή, though nothing can be more certain than their relationship as traced by the phonetic laws. The real wonder is that the changes in this department have not been greater than they are found to be. It is the soul of language, the unyielding rigidity of its form, that, by its association, prevents the utter dissolution and mutation of the material. Its conservatism, in this respect, is shown in, the case of languages that are merely spoken. It has its most complete effect in those that have a written and printed literature.—T. L.]

[16][The arrangement, in the mind, of things to be named, belongs to the formation of language, as much as the naming, if it may not rather he said to be the most important part of the naming itself. Things, thus regarded, may be divided into three general classes: 1. Outward sensible objects; 2. actions, qualities, etc., as the ground of their naming, and themselves, therefore, demanding an antecedent naming; 3. mental acts and states, thoughts, thinkings, emotions, etc., regarded as wholly spiritual. In respect to the first, it may, indeed, be said that nature makes the classification, but the mind must recognize it, more or less correctly, before it can give the names. The second lies in both departments; since acts (doings, sufferings) must be the source whence direct names are drawn for the first, and figures, pictures, or spiritual representatives, for the third, as is shown in that large class of words that are said to have secondary meanings, or abstract ideas denoted by something material or sensible in the root. The third classification is wholly spiritual or within, though its namings are thus drawn from without. We find all this work done for us when we are born. The earliest languages have it as vividly as the latest, more vividly, we may say, if not carried to so wide an extent in the classification of outward objects, more profound, as analysis would show, in the distinctions of moral and æsthetical ideas. Whence came it? We must ascend to the very taproot of humanity to find an answer, if we are not to seek still farther in some divine teaching or inspiration. The phenomena lie ever before us; their commonness should not diminish our wonder at the mystery they present.—T. L.]

[17][We may thank God that some of the noblest languages (Greek, Hebrew, Sanscrit, Latin) died long ago, or in their comparative youth. They have thus been embalmed, preserved from decay, made immortal, ever young,—their expressive words and forms still remaining as a reserve store for the highest philosophical, theological, and even scientific use. They are called “the dead languages;” but that which some would make an objection to what has long and justly been deemed their place in education, is the very ground of their excellence.—T. L.]

[18][It is not extravagant to suppose something like this still lying at the ground of that mysterious process which we witness without wonder, because so common,—the rapid acquisition of language by the infant mind. It is not the mere learning to speak the names of outward, sensible, individual things—there is nothing much more strange in that than in teaching a parrot to talk,—but the quick seizing of those hidden relations of things, or rather of thought about things (ideas of the soul’s own with which it clothes things), and which it afterwards tasks all our outward logic to explain. How rapidly does this infant mind adapt words, not merely to chairs and tables, but to the relational notions of number, case, substance, attribute, qualifying degree, subjective modality, time relative and absolute, time as past, present, and future, or time as continuous and eventual, knowing nothing indeed of these as technical names, but grasping immediately the ideas, and seeing, with such amazing quickness, the adaptability to them of certain forms of expression, a mere termination, perhaps, or the faintest inflection, and that, too, with no outward imitative indices from the sense, such as may aid in the learning of the names of mere sensible objects. This indeed is wonderful, however common it may be. We never do it but once. All other acquisition of languages, in adult years, is by a process of memory, comparison, and conscious reasoning—in other words, a strictly scientific process, however certain abbreviations of it may be called the learning of a foreign tongue by “the method of nature” and of infancy. Something in the race analogous to this process in the individual infant soul, may be, not irrationally, supposed to have characterized the earliest human history of language. The failure of every system of artificial language, though attempted by the most philosophical minds, aided by the highest culture, shows that neither convention nor imitation had anything to do with its origin.—T. L.]

[19][Thus Rashi interprets their הָבָה, “Go to, now let us climb the firmament and make war upon the most High.” Melchizedek and his forefathers were, in all probability, Canaanites. There might be piety and faith even among these, as is instanced, afterwards, and in a time of still greater corruption, in the case of Rahab, who was a direct ancestress of our Lord! What Paul says (Hebrews 7:3) of Melchizedek’s being ἀπάτωρ and ἀμήτωρ, “without father and without mother,” is not intended to deny his having any earthly lineage.—T. L.]

[20][The opinion that the men in the plain of Shinar were not the whole human race, but predominantly Hamites, or followers of Nimrod, is maintained by Augustine, and, among modern authorities, by Luther and Calvin. See also the account of Josephus (“Ant.” i. 4). who makes Nimrod the great leader of the whole rebellious movement.—T. L.]

[21][It was a thought exceedingly wicked, yet having in it a kind of terrific sublimity. Neither could the idea of reaching the heavens, or sky, be called irrational, or absurd, however unscientific. They reasoned inductively, Baconianly, we may say, from sense and observation. Their limited experience was not against it. It showed a vast ambition. It was not an undertaking of savages, but of men possessed with the idea of somehow getting above nature, and having much of that spirit which, even at the present day, characterizes some kinds of scientific boasting (see remarks, p. 355). It was not the success merely of the undertaking (from which we are yet as far as ever), but the impious thought, that God meant to confound, and to strike down, whenever it arose in the minds of men. History is full of overthrown Babels; and it is still to be tested whether our excessive modern boasting about what is going to be achieved by science, progress, and democracy, will form an exceptive case.—T. L.]

[22][כִּי שָׁם; for there. It may denote fact or circumstance as well as place. For there—in that event, or in that confusion. Compare Psalms 133:3, where this particle, שָׁם, is used in just the same way to denote the opposite condition of brotherly love, and the opposite effect: כִּי שָׁם צִוֶּה יְהוָֹה, “for there Jehovah commanded the blessing, even life forever more;” not in “Mount Hermon,” or “the mountains of Zion,” merely, but as belonging to this holy affection of brotherly love. Compare 1 John 3:14.—T. L.]

[23] [For a notable example of this, see 2 Chronicles 20:23, where the hosts of Ammon, of Moab, and of Mount Seir, who rose up against Jehoshaphat, are suddenly turned against each other. Profane history records such events as taking place, now and then, in great armies; cases of sudden and irretrievable confusion, giving rise to hostility as well as flight. They are called panics, whether the term means simply universal disorder, or what was sometimes called “the wrath of Pan” (Πανὸς ὀργή, see Eurip. “Medea,” 1169), bringing madness upon an individual or a multitude; it denotes something inexplicable, even if we refuse to call it supernatural. See Polyænus: De Strateg., Genesis 1:0; also a very striking passage in the “Odyssey,” xx. 346, which shows, at all events, the common belief in such sudden madness falling upon multitudes of men, whatever may be the explanation of it:

μνηστῆρσι δὲ Παλλὰς ’Αθήνη

ἄσβεστον γέλω ὦρσε παρέπλαγξεν δὲ νόημα.

Among the suitors Pallas roused
Wild laughter irrepressible, and made
Their mind to wander far.
Even where there is nothing startling to the sense, how many examples are there—they can be cited even from very modern times—where the minds of assemblies, composed sometimes of those who claim to be most shrewd and intelligent, seem strangely confounded, and, without reason, and against all apparent motive, they do the very thing which is the destruction of all their schemes. They seem seized with a sudden fatuity, and act in a manner which is afterwards unaccountable to themselves. We may explain it as we will; but so strong is the conviction of an ab extra power somehow operating in such cases, that it has passed into one of the most common of proverbs, quos Deus vult perdere prius dementat—“those whom God would destroy, he first makes mad.”—T. L.]

[24] [The first thing denoted in outward language must have been something purely inward; a conscious state of soul, a thought or an emotion, which demanded an outward sign in some articulated sound representing it, not arbitrarily, nor accidentally, but by a conscious fitness for it, such as other sounds do not possess, and of which there can no more be given an explanation than of the correspondence between a thought, or an emotion, and an outward look. It is as real, and, at the same time, as inexplicable, as the harmony which is felt to have place between a feeling, or an idea, and a musical modulation. From the primary roots representing these most interior states, and which must be comparatively few in number, comes the next order of names, namely, those of qualities and actions of outward things regarded as affecting us. From these, in the third place, come the names of outward things themselves, as having such qualities or actions, and as denoted by them. Later, indeed, though still very early, there arise metaphorical words, or words derived from the second and third classes, with secondary tropical senses intended to represent mental states as pictured in some outward thing, scene, or act; but these do not belong to the prime elements of speech, which must begin with radical sounds supposed to represent something inward by a real or imagined fitness. That there is some such primary fitness seems to be assumed by some of the best philological writers, as by Kaulen in his Sprachverwirrung, and William Von Humboldt, in his work on the Kawi language, although they are unable to explain it. It is not likely that philology will ever penetrate the mystery. The great argument, however, for the reality of such a correspondence between articulated sound and thought, is, that, on the reverse theory, language is arbitrary throughout, which we cannot believe it to be. The denial brings more difficulty than the assumption, however inexplicable the latter may be.

On this deeper psychology of language we have a hint, it may be reverently said, in what is told us, 1 Corinthians 14:0., concerning the mysterious “gift of tongues.” It teaches us an important fact, though revealing nothing of its nature or mode. Although miraculous, it must be founded on something in the essential human spiritual constitution. There was a real language here. It is a profane trifling with a most sacred matter to treat it as a mere thaumaturgic babble, designed only to astonish or confound the unbelieving beholders. It was the true outward expression of an elevated inward state. The words uttered must have been not only articulate (that is, formod of vowels and consonants) but truly representative. They were none of them ἄφωνοι (Genesis 11:10), or mere φθογγοί, sounds, or noises. They had a real δύναμις τῆς φωνῆς (Genesis 11:11), a true “power of voice,” and this could be nothing else than an inherent fitness in the utterance to represent the entranced state, not generally, merely, but in its diversities of ecstatic idea or emotion. They were not understood by the hearers, because, in their ordinary state, there was nothing within them corresponding to it. Even the utterers could not translate it into the common logical language of the νοῦς (Genesis 11:14), or understanding. They were spoken ἐν πνεύματι, in the spirit, and only in the spirit could they be understood, like the words that Paul heard in his entranced state, “whether in the body, or out of the body, he could not tell.” Paul certainly does not mean to deny, or disparage, the greatness of the spiritual gift in what he says, Genesis 11:19, but only to set forth the greater outward usefulness of the prophetic charisma. “I thank God,” he says (Genesis 11:18) “I speak with tongues more than you all.” He was often in the state that demanded this language to express itself to itself. In respect to the connection of this peculiar case with the general argument, the analogy holds thus far, namely, that these ecstatic utterances were real representative words. They represented an inward spiritual state of thought, or emotion, or both, from a real inherent fitness to do so. We may, therefore, rationally conclude that a similar correspondence between words and ideas was at the beginning of all human speech. Had man remained spiritual, this connection would have continued as something intuitively perceived, and leading ever to a right application of articulate sounds to the things or acts signified, as it seems to have guided the first humanity in the naming of animals from some spiritual effect their appearance produced. This primitive gift or faculty of intuition became darkened by sin, sensuality, and earthliness turning the mind outward, and thus tending, more and more, to make words mere arbitrary signs. With all this, there is evidence that in the earliest speech of men there was more of vividness, more of a conscious living connection between words and that which they signified, than afterwards existed when languages became more copious and more mixed. In this way may we suppose that the early roots, though comparatively few in number, had more of a self-interpreting power, and that, in proportion as this continued, there was the greater security against the changes and diversities which a lower spiritual state must necessarily bring into language. A total loss of it among this rebellious Hamitic host may have led to a more rapid confounding of words and forms, and, of consequence, a greater ruin of language than ever came from any other event in human history. There are examples enough to show how soon the best language becomes a jargon in a community of very bad men, such as thieves and evil adventurers. Here was a similar case, as we may conceive it, only on a vastly larger scale.—T. L.]

[25][The name given to an animal could never, of course, be a full description. It is the selection of some predominant trait, action, or habit, as the distinguishing or naming feature. This may vary among different people. In one tongue the same animal may be denoted by his color, if it has something peculiar, in another by his manner of movement, in another by a burrowing property, or by his method of seizing his prey. These different conceivings may give rise to different names; and yet if the actions so represented by these names have the same or similar verbal roots they may be indicative of a remoter unity.—T. L.]

[26][If our modes of conceiving individual sensible objects have such an effect upon language, much more important, in this respect, are the more abstract conceptions, such as those of time, relative or absolute. The conserving power thus arising may receive an illustration from the scanty, yet most tenacious, Shemitic tenses, as compared with the Greek. In the Hebrew, time is conceived of as reckoned from a moving present, making all that comes after it, future, although it may be past to the absolute present of the narrator or describer, and all before it, past. It need not be said how much more of a subjective character this imparts to the language, especially in its poetry. It has had, besides, the effect of giving a peculiar form to the two tenses, and of making these, deficient as they may seem in number, denote all the varieties of time that are expressed in other languages, but in a more graphic manner. Whilst dispensing with an absolute present form, which would make it fixed and rigid, it has a flowing presence which may become absolute whenever the narration or description demands it. In the Indo-Germanic tongues, on the other hand, there is a fixed present and a fixed form for it, which will not allow a departure from the absolute time, except as sometimes implied in the assumption of a poetical style. Hence a much greater number of tense forms are demanded, not only for the past, present, and future, simply, but for a past and future to the past and future respectively, besides an indefinite or aorist form. Thus there is a wide machinery performing these offices—accurately, indeed, though with little more precision than is found in the Shemitic—whilst there is a loss of pictorial and dramatic power. There is no time, relative, or absolute, denoted by the Greek tense forms, that may not, in some way, be expressed in the Arabic; whilst the manner in which the latter shifts its present, as we may say, by hanging it on a particle, or making it depend upon its place before or after, gives a greater vividness of narration. It is astonishing how such scantiness of mode and tense escapes confusion and ambiguity; and yet there is a comparative test of this which is conclusive. The Arabic is written and read without anything like capital letters or italics, without any grammatical or logical punctuation, of any kind, making any division of paragraphs, sentences, or clauses. From the beginning of a book to the end, there are none of these helps to relieve deficiencies of expression, whether the result of carelessness, or coming from unavoidable looseness in the language. In English this could not be done. Without such outward helps, the most accurate writer, take he ever so much pains, would be full of grammatical constructions that might be taken in different ways, and not a few unsolvable logical ambiguities.—T. L.]

[27][This is on the supposition that the Shemitic (for any difference here between the earliest Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac, is of little consequence) was the primitive Noachian speech that came out of the ark. The best argument for it is that there is no good argument to the contrary. If no other has any better claim on inward philological grounds, the Bible history greatly favors the idea, to say the least, that this language of the ark continued the purest in the line of Shem. Kaulen, however, in his Sprachverwirrung zu Babel, presents a philological argument that certainly seems to have weight, though, in itself, it may not be deemed conclusive. He insists upon the fact that throughout this family, the most important modifications of the verbal idea are made by vowel changes in the root itself, and not merely by additions more or less loosely made to a fixed root, growing only by agglutination. Thus from one root, k-t-l (as written without vowels), we have katal, katel, kotel, katol, katul, kittel, kattel, kuttal, ktal, ktel, ktol, etc., all presenting distinct though varying ideas. The modification of the idea is in the root, not attached to it, as in the Indo-Germanic languages, by a modal or tense letter or syllable, taken from something without. The author connects this with a view he maintains, that the vowels, as distinct from the consonants, represent the more spiritual element in language. For the argument in its detail the reader is referred to the very able work above named, p. 73.—T. L.]

[28][See the distinction that Plato makes in the Dialogue de Legibus, p. 895, D, between the thing, its spiritual word or λόγος (which is, in fact, the reason of the thing, or that which makes it what it is for the mind, its constituting idea), and the ὄνομα, the vocal name representative of the spiritual word itself.—T. L.]

[29][This would especially be the case in respect to subjects falling into the Scriptural or Koranic style. In Reckendorf’s Hebrew translation of the Koran (Leip., 1857), there are, sometimes, whole verses in which the Arabic and Hebrew are almost wholly identical, both in the roots and in the forms.—T. L.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 11". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/genesis-11.html. 1857-84.
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