11:1 The whole earth 1 had a common language and a common vocabulary. 2 11:2 When the people 3 moved eastward, 4 they found a plain in Shinar 5 and settled there. 11:3 Then they said to one another, 6 “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” 7 (They had brick instead of stone and tar 8 instead of mortar.) 9 11:4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens 10 so that 11 we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise 12 we will be scattered 13 across the face of the entire earth.”
11:5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the people 14 had started 15 building. 11:6 And the Lord said, “If as one people all sharing a common language 16 they have begun to do this, then 17 nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. 18 11:7 Come, let’s go down and confuse 19 their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.” 20
11:8 So the Lord scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth, and they stopped building 21 the city. 11:9 That is why its name was called 22 Babel 23 – 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 sn The whole earth. Here “earth” is a metonymy of subject, referring to the people who lived in the earth. Genesis 11 begins with everyone speaking a common language, but chap. 10 has the nations arranged by languages. It is part of the narrative art of Genesis to give the explanation of the event after the narration of the event. On this passage see A. P. Ross, “The Dispersion of the Nations in Genesis 11:1-9,” BSac 138 (1981): 119-38.
2 tn Heb “one lip and one [set of] words.” The term “lip” is a metonymy of cause, putting the instrument for the intended effect. They had one language. The term “words” refers to the content of their speech. They had the same vocabulary.
3 tn Heb “they”; the referent (the people) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
4 tn Or perhaps “from the east” (NRSV) or “in the east.”
5 tn Heb “in the land of Shinar.”
sn Shinar is the region of Babylonia.
6 tn Heb “a man to his neighbor.” The Hebrew idiom may be translated “to each other” or “one to another.”
7 tn The speech contains two cohortatives of exhortation followed by their respective cognate accusatives: “let us brick bricks” (נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים, nilbbÿnah lÿvenim) and “burn for burning” (נִשְׂרְפָה לִשְׂרֵפָה, nisrÿfah lisrefah). This stresses the intensity of the undertaking; it also reflects the Akkadian text which uses similar constructions (see E. A. Speiser, Genesis [AB], 75-76).
8 tn Or “bitumen” (cf. NEB, NRSV).
9 tn The disjunctive clause gives information parenthetical to the narrative.
10 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.
11 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.
12 tn The Hebrew particle פֶּן (pen) expresses a negative purpose; it means “that we be not scattered.”
13 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.
14 tn Heb “the sons of man.” The phrase is intended in this polemic to portray the builders as mere mortals, not the lesser deities that the Babylonians claimed built the city.
15 tn The Hebrew text simply has בָּנוּ (banu), but since v. 8 says they left off building the city, an ingressive idea (“had started building”) should be understood here.
16 tn Heb “and one lip to all of them.”
17 tn Heb “and now.” The foundational clause beginning with הֵן (hen) expresses the condition, and the second clause the result. It could be rendered “If this…then now.”
18 tn Heb “all that they purpose to do will not be withheld from them.”
19 tn The cohortatives mirror the cohortatives of the people. They build to ascend the heavens; God comes down to destroy their language. God speaks here to his angelic assembly. See the notes on the word “make” in 1:26 and “know” in 3:5, as well as Jub. 10:22-23, where an angel recounts this incident and says “And the
20 tn Heb “they will not hear, a man the lip of his neighbor.”
21 tn The infinitive construct לִבְנֹת (livnot, “building”) here serves as the object of the verb “they ceased, stopped,” answering the question of what they stopped doing.
22 tn The verb has no expressed subject and so can be rendered as a passive in the translation.
23 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).