Tower of Babel

If you follow the Catholic liturgical calendar, there is a three-year cycle of Bible readings for each day of the week.  If you go to Mass everyday or look through the readings at home, you will read through 99% of the Bible every three years.  This morning’s First Reading is Genesis 11:1-9, the story of the Tower of Babel.

Every time I read this passage, I can’t help thinking of my former Judaic studies professor, Dr. Ron Veenker.  I don’t remember in which one of his classes we went over this story.  It could have been Old Testament, Judaic Studies, or the two semesters of Hebrew I audited.  I remember him making a very interesting linguistic point, though.

Verse 9 says, “That is why it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the speech of all the world.”  Now, most of us would assume or were taught that Babel is a play on words for babble, or to talk nonsense.  Veenker pointed out that this pun only works in English.  It actually refers to the meaning of the original name of the place where the tower was built, which meant “gate of the gods” (see the footnote in the passage link).  Obviously, God would not like humans being so arrogant as to think they could build a gate to heaven and usurp him.  That is how the Jews interpreted the reasoning behind this story.

That’s just a little tidbit that has always stuck with me, along with a few Hebrew phrases and new view of what the word “feet” means in the Old Testament.  And of course, I believe Veenker.  After all, he is a member of the Society for Sexy Assyriologists on Facebook.

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