David Instone-Brewer, senior research fellow at Tyndale House, Cambridge, is writing a series on ‘Embarrassing Bible Texts?’ for Christianity. The one for July is devoted to Genesis 11:1-9, the tower of Babel.
On the question of whether God made everyone talk in different languages, he notes that ‘the text doesn’t say that any new languages were created at Babel. It says that ‘the Lord confused the language’ (11:9)’, that ‘there was still only one language, but the people couldn’t understand each other any more’. Moreover, he says, ‘there is no indication that this was a worldwide phenomenon, because the phrase translated “the whole earth” (Hebrew eretz) can also mean “the whole land”’.
In the closing paragraphs, he wonders whether ‘a modern equivalent of the Tower of Babel is humanity’s reuniting via the Internet’, concluding that ‘we have an important role to play in doing all we can to ensure that our unity doesn’t destroy us, but rather that it helps us understand and unite with each other and with God’.