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.”
11:5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the people 5 had started 6 building. 11:6 And the Lord said, “If as one people all sharing a common language 7 they have begun to do this, then 8 nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. 9 11:7 Come, let’s go down and confuse 10 their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.” 11
11:8 So the Lord scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth, and they stopped building 12 the city. 11:9 That is why its name was called 13 Babel 14 – 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.
[11:4] 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.
[11:4] 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.
[11:4] 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.
[11:7] 10 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
[11:9] 14 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).