11:2 When the people 2 moved eastward, 3 they found a plain in Shinar 4 and settled there. 11:3 Then they said to one another, 5 “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” 6 (They had brick instead of stone and tar 7 instead of mortar.) 8 11:4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens 9 so that 10 we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise 11 we will be scattered 12 across the face of the entire earth.”
1 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.
2 tn Heb “they”; the referent (the people) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
3 tn Or perhaps “from the east” (NRSV) or “in the east.”
4 tn Heb “in the land of Shinar.”
sn Shinar is the region of Babylonia.
5 tn Heb “a man to his neighbor.” The Hebrew idiom may be translated “to each other” or “one to another.”
6 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).
7 tn Or “bitumen” (cf. NEB, NRSV).
8 tn The disjunctive clause gives information parenthetical to the narrative.
9 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.
10 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.
11 tn The Hebrew particle פֶּן (pen) expresses a negative purpose; it means “that we be not scattered.”
12 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.