Re: [asa] A question on Genesis

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Fri Mar 27 2009 - 08:46:29 EDT

Dick -

There is no doubt that Gen.1:1-11 makes use of ancient Mesopotamian traditions, & in some cases those of real historical events. In particular, the story of the tower of Babel in Gen.11 no doubt has connections with Mesopotamian ziggurats (not siggurats, as I mistyped before!) But it's a very different thing to say that therefore these texts are straight accounts of "history as it really happened." If someone writes an historical novel that mentions George Washington and Valley Forge, it doesn't necessarily follow that the whole novel is an accurate historical account of the Revolutionary War. The fact that theme of a tower in Gen.11 stems from Mesopotamian ziggurats doesn't mean that the reference to "one lip" must therefore refer to conversation about those ziggurats, whether or not everyone in historical Mesopotamia was in fact talking about them.

It is indeed important to take context into account in reading a text. But here we have to do not just with the original context of whatever historical events were used in the story but the context of the Hebrew writers many centuries later. (This is similar to the situation with the gospels, where in dealing with any pericope one must take into account not only the context - the Sitz im Leben to be fancy - in the life of Jesus but the contexts in the early church that led them to preserve the story and the situation of the evangelist who put it in the text.)

We have to look at what the text actually says and be helped in determining the usage by the way the Hebrew is used in other places. The facts that (a) saphah refers to language in other texts (as noted earlier), (b) that it's initial use in Gen.11 is separated from any mention of the tower, & (3) in its later uses in vv. 7 & 9 it is hard to make any sense of the "one subject of conversation" interpretation, & (d) the as-far-as-I-know universal understanding of this text among Jews and Christians has been that the people all spoke one language all militate against your reading.

The basic problem is that you assume from the start that the entire text must be an historical account. Then in arguing for that view you end up defending not the accuracy of the actual biblical text but one which has been modified in order to fit your interpretation. This is obvious from the fact that you steadfastly refuse to deal with any tough questions about the text itself and insist on referring to Mesopotamian history instead. They aren't the same, though your fundamental assumption is that they must be.

I have taken some time this morning to once more try to make the problem with your approach as clear as possible. I will not say anything further on this thread.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Dick Fischer" <>
To: <>
Cc: "ASA" <>
Sent: Friday, March 27, 2009 1:38 AM
Subject: RE: [asa] A question on Genesis

Hi George:

The whole earth or even the whole land did not speak one common unified
language, not at any point in the history of mankind. My contention is that
the writer of Genesis had something else to tell us. I have only given a
small portion, a brief glimpse of this chaotic period of time. You can't
imagine the amount of toil that went in to building a ziggurat and every
city was building at least one. They towered over the city. Cut stone for
decoration had to be bought and paid for or traded for and imported. Daily
offerings were prepared. These were massive undertakings that came at great
cost and required enormous laborious effort by the entire city. The extent
to which your particular city god was pleased could be measured by how high
your particular ziggurat was compared to that built in a neighboring city.
You conld not afford to be outbuilt. Your very lives depended on it.

That was the situation as best I can describe it. There is only the subject
of this particular tower in Genesis 11, but you could read dedications from
kings from every city. So to say the whole land was of one lip, meaning
there was one predominent topic of conversation, is as good a way to
describe it as any given the limitations of ancient Hebrew.

I know the popular interpretation can't be true and this interpretation has
a likelihood of being true. I can't say with 100% conviction that this is
the intended meaning but I have every reason to believe it is.

Dick Fischer, GPA president
Genesis Proclaimed Association
"Finding Harmony in Bible, Science and History"

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of
Sent: Thursday, March 26, 2009 7:23 PM
To: Dick Fischer
Subject: RE: [asa] A question on Genesis

Dick -

This is very informative, though I knew that siggurats were an important
feature of Mesopotamian culture. But where does it say that everyone was
talking about the tower?

Of course even if other ANE sources did say that, it wouldn't prove that
Genesis 11 does, especially in view of the other problems with that


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Received on Fri Mar 27 08:46:53 2009

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