11:2 When the people 1 moved eastward, 2 they found a plain in Shinar 3 and settled there. 11:3 Then they said to one another, 4 “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” 5 (They had brick instead of stone and tar 6 instead of mortar.) 7 11:4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens 8 so that 9 we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise 10 we will be scattered 11 across the face of the entire earth.”
11:5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the people 12 had started 13 building. 11:6 And the Lord said, “If as one people all sharing a common language 14 they have begun to do this, then 15 nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. 16 11:7 Come, let’s go down and confuse 17 their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.” 18
11:8 So the Lord scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth, and they stopped building 19 the city. 11:9 That is why its name was called 20 Babel 21 – 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 Heb “they”; the referent (the people) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
2 tn Or perhaps “from the east” (NRSV) or “in the east.”
3 tn Heb “in the land of Shinar.”
sn Shinar is the region of Babylonia.
4 tn Heb “a man to his neighbor.” The Hebrew idiom may be translated “to each other” or “one to another.”
5 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).
6 tn Or “bitumen” (cf. NEB, NRSV).
7 tn The disjunctive clause gives information parenthetical to the narrative.
8 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.
9 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.
10 tn The Hebrew particle פֶּן (pen) expresses a negative purpose; it means “that we be not scattered.”
11 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.
12 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.
14 tn Heb “and one lip to all of them.”
15 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.”
16 tn Heb “all that they purpose to do will not be withheld from them.”
17 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
18 tn Heb “they will not hear, a man the lip of his neighbor.”
19 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.
20 tn The verb has no expressed subject and so can be rendered as a passive in the translation.
21 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).