11:4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens 1 so that 2 we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise 3 we will be scattered 4 across the face of the entire earth.”
11:9 That is why its name was called 5 Babel 6 – because there the Lord confused the language of the entire world, and from there the Lord scattered them across the face of the entire earth.
1 tn A translation of “heavens” for שָׁמַיִם (shamayim) fits this context because the Babylonian ziggurats had temples at the top, suggesting they reached to the heavens, the dwelling place of the gods.
2 tn The form וְנַעֲשֶׂה (vÿna’aseh, from the verb עשׂה, “do, make”) could be either the imperfect or the cohortative with a vav (ו) conjunction (“and let us make…”). Coming after the previous cohortative, this form expresses purpose.
3 tn The Hebrew particle פֶּן (pen) expresses a negative purpose; it means “that we be not scattered.”
4 sn The Hebrew verb פָּוָץ (pavats, translated “scatter”) is a key term in this passage. The focal point of the account is the dispersion (“scattering”) of the nations rather than the Tower of Babel. But the passage also forms a polemic against Babylon, the pride of the east and a cosmopolitan center with a huge ziggurat. To the Hebrews it was a monument to the judgment of God on pride.
5 tn The verb has no expressed subject and so can be rendered as a passive in the translation.
6 sn Babel. Here is the climax of the account, a parody on the pride of Babylon. In the Babylonian literature the name bab-ili meant “the gate of God,” but in Hebrew it sounds like the word for “confusion,” and so retained that connotation. The name “Babel” (בָּבֶל, bavel) and the verb translated “confused” (בָּלַל, balal) form a paronomasia (sound play). For the many wordplays and other rhetorical devices in Genesis, see J. P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art in Genesis (SSN).