Answers from Genesis - Part 7

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The authors of a 2009 book titled Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It have found that up to two thirds of young people eventually leave their church. Why? One of the primary reasons, these authors discovered, was that the youth quit believing that the first chapters of Genesis are true. With the constant bombardment from schools and the media against the veracity of the book of Genesis, it’s no wonder this is the result.

This ongoing dilemma is one of the reasons we continue addressing some of the questions young people have about the book of Genesis. Of course, even apart from that, this book that lays the foundation for the rest of Scripture merits a lot of attention.

Some believe the table of nations in Genesis 10 is mostly fictional. Are they right?

Genesis 10 traces the genealogies of mankind after the Flood through the descendants of Noah’s three sons up to shortly before the time of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham. The chapter has been called the table of nations because the descendants listed fathered the 70 nations that eventually overspread the earth after the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel.

But how accurate is the record, really?

Here are some quotes from some prominent archaeologists and historians about the table of nations.

• William Albright, often referred to as the father of biblical archaeology, stated: “The tenth chapter of Genesis…stands absolutely alone in ancient literature, without a remote parallel, even among the Greeks, where we find the closest approach to a distribution of peoples in a genealogical framework…Many of the names of peoples and countries mentioned in this chapter have been discovered on the monuments for the first time…The Table of Nations remains an astonishingly accurate document” ( Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands, 1955, pp. 70-71).

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia notes: “As a literary and historiographic document the ‘Table of Nations’ is without parallel in the ancient world. What makes it even more remarkable is its contrast to the parochialism [local focus] that tended to plague the Israelites throughout their history. In one quick stroke the ‘table’ puts the nation’s history into its proper perspective. Although the Hebrews were the specially chosen agents of divine revelation, they were but one member of the universal family of nations, all of whom had a common origin” (1988, Vol. 4, p. 712, emphasis added throughout).

• Anthropologist Arthur Custance, an author dedicated to bridging science and theology, wrote: “Had this Table been designed for propaganda purposes (to establish Israel’s position as of equal dignity though not sharing some of the glories of the surrounding peoples) or had it been merely the work of some early historian creating his own data with a comparatively free hand, then almost certainly some device would have been adopted for deliberately setting forth not only the high status of his own ancestors, but the very low status of that of his enemies…

“In complete contrast, it would be difficult to prove with certainty of what nationality the author of Genesis 10 was. We assume he was a Hebrew, but if the amount of attention given to any particular line that is traced were used as a clue to his identity, he might have been a Japhethite, a Canaanite, or even an Arab. This is remarkable and shows enormous restraint on the author’s part, the kind of restraint which suggests the hand of God upon him” ( A Study of the Names in Genesis 10 , 1975, chapter 1, online book edition).

• Again from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “If the ‘table’ is allowed to speak for itself in its present canonical context, several themes seem to be emphasized or implied. (1) The providential fulfillment of the Noachian blessing and the population of the earth after the flood proceeded in the main along ordered lines. (2) The world is one united family, all of whose members trace their origin back to a common ancestor, Noah. (3) The segmentation of Noah’s family is reflected in the present existence of separate nationality groups, recognizable by their distinctive locations, languages, and political structures. (4) The call of Abraham and Israelite history in general take place within the context of universal history, thus the effects of patriarchal revelation are felt throughout the earth” (1988, Vol. 4, p. 712).

Even after being subjected to extensive analysis by noted scholars, the table of nations has stood the test of time.

Was there really a confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel?

Secular teachers often dismiss this biblical account as a myth, but when we examine the evidence we find that a great deal exists about both the confusion of languages and the Tower of Babel.

Many linguists (those who study languages) readily admit they have no feasible explanation for how or why there are so many languages on the earth.

For instance, Dr. Mario Pei, a world-renowned linguist and author, states: “If there is one thing on which all linguists are fully agreed, it is that the problem of the origin of human speech is still unsolved…Human language, in contrast with animal cries, displays infinite variability, both in time and in space…In one sense, the reason for the changeability of language is as mysterious as the origin of language itself” ( The Story of Language, 1965, pp. 21-23).

Presently, we know of some 5,000 different languages, with seven main branches, spoken around the world. About 1,000 are doomed to disappear within the next two decades, due in large part to the major languages growing in cultural and economic dominion.

Surprisingly, as it may seem counterintuitive, the more advanced a culture becomes, the simpler the language gets, since people tend to simplify and abbreviate their concepts and words. Inversely, the most primitive tribes have the most complex languages. For example, the African Swahili language has 26 different functions for nouns!

Dr. Pei notes, “It seems at least partly established that language changes least rapidly when its speakers are isolated from other communities, and most rapidly when they find themselves, so to speak, at the crossroads of the world” (ibid., p. 23).

This remarkable feature shows that language has not “evolved,” as many assume, but instead has actually “devolved” from a very sophisticated system. The diversity and complexity of language is evidence that God, not human beings, is the original author of languages.

What about the fabled Tower of Babel? The Babylonians, or the inhabitants of Babel who remained in the area, apparently were very proud of this tower, for they built many more. There are 35 ruins of towers, called ziggurats, found in the region. They had seven levels with a pagan temple at the top, and they may have become a pattern for the first Egyptian pyramids.

The New Bible Dictionary explains: “Babel, or ‘the gate of God,’ called also Babylon. The name of one of the chief cities founded by Nimrod in the land of Shinar (Sumer), ancient Babylonia. According to Babylonian tradition, the tower [i.e., the ancient ziggurat of Babylon] was founded by the god Marduk and destroyed by Sargon [king of Akkad or Agade] in 2350 B.C…. A text of Sharkalisharri, king of Agade (c. 2250 B.C.) mentions the restoration of the temple-tower at Babylon, implying the existence of an earlier sacred city on the site…After Sharkalisharri, the earliest reference to the ziggurat at Babylon is to its restoration by Esarhaddon [king of Assyria] in 681-665 B.C. This was named in Sumerian ‘Etemenanki’—’the Building of the Foundation-platform of Heaven and Earth.’

“It is very probable that such a sacred edifice followed an earlier plan. The tower was severely damaged in the war of 652-648 B.C. but restored again by Nebuchadnezzar II [king of Babylon] (605-562 B.C.)…The ziggurat at Babylon was demolished by Xerxes in 472 B.C., and though Alexander [the Great] cleared the rubble prior to its restoration, this was thwarted by his death. The bricks were subsequently removed by the local inhabitants, and today the site of Etemenanki is a pit as deep as the original construction was high” (1982, pp. 110-111).

Some, however, contend that the original Tower of Babel was located 11 miles southwest in modern Birs Nimrud—anciently called Borsippa , meaning “tongue-tower.” Nebuchadnezzar also built a great ziggurat over an earlier structure here, stating: “This edifice, the house of the Seven Lights of the Earth, the most ancient monument of Borsippa, a former king built it (they reckon forty-two ages), but he did not complete its head. Since a remote time people had abandoned it, without order expressing their words. Since that time the earthquake and the thunder had dispersed its sun-dried clay; the bricks of the casing had been split, and the earth of the interior had been scattered in heaps” (quoted in Smith’s Bible Dictionary, “Tongues, Confusion of”).

In any case, the biblical account of the Tower of Babel is not a myth. The building of such enormous mudbrick towers has solid historical backing. And clearly the tradition of the unfinished tower due to language confusion was known at the time of Nebuchadnezzar. VT

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