In the book of Genesis chapter 11 the entire human population at the time, Noah’s offspring, started to build a city and a tower in order to consolidate their own situation and also for their name and the increase of their reputation. Building a town and a tower by the entire population of the earth would have represented a way of strengthening human unity, but God apparently didn’t like this kind of human agreement. Unfortunately, this was considered to be a bad idea by God. Humankind was seen as a kind of adversary by God and He would have considered that instilling division amongst the human beings would be a better policy than strengthening their unity.
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This is clearly a metaphor with no correspondence in reality, but it is interesting why this legend is found in the book of Genesis, and what is its underlying message? Taken literally this story is absurd for many reasons. God, as we imagine Him like an Almighty Reality would have been aware that confusing languages of humankind wouldn’t have been enough to stop them cooperating to achieve common goals. In the ancient world people organised in strong societies, everywhere on Earth developed civilizations and built huge constructions, and their vestiges can be found all over the world today.
People speaking mainly one language sometimes using work forces from other countries with other languages, have built pyramids and other impressive constructions in spite of the languages allegedly being confused by God at the Tower of Babel. Moreover, the model of the tower, pyramids or ziggurats, is the most enduring achievement of many civilisations all over the world. The existence of many languages on Earth wouldn’t have been enough to stop human beings building what they wanted. The confusion of the languages by God wouldn’t have achieved anything when aiming to stop humankind cooperating for different goals, but would have generated conflict and finally destructive wars between different nations.
Many languages and many cultures can be and often were a false motivation for destruction when one civilisation or nation considered itself superior to others. Is God responsible for the confusion of languages and consequently for so many conflicts between nations during history? I honestly don’t think so and the story of the Babel Tower is only a myth trying to explain why there are so many languages on Earth. The story of the Tower of Babel goes in the same lines as do all the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis, which in their turn try to explain one thing or another, but by doing that they only generate confusion.
Trying to elucidate why there are so many languages on Earth, the author of the text from the book of Genesis has gone beyond what he or she knew and generated a text which is a legend, hence having no factual support. The text implies that it could have been otherwise and all people could have spoken only one language, but God didn’t want that. Confusing humankind’s languages is a bad moral teaching coming from the book of Genesis which presupposes that God wanted people to misunderstand one another.
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This is contrary also to the Christian morality which professes unity and understanding, not divisions and conflicts.
How would God have confused the languages? Allegedly all people around Babel were family, Noah’s grandsons. Did God arbitrarily separate some of Noah’s grandsons from other grandsons, giving to each of them a different language? How many languages were imposed on people? Did they speak those languages automatically without learning them? Did they know them without being taught the words and rules? Usually languages evolve from a more rudimentary way of communication to a more evolved one. Had Noah’s offspring received in the same time the alphabet of those languages in order to enable them to write? Was humankind made to forget the common language used until the confusion moment by erasing it from their minds or were they prevented from using it? The entire story is unrealistic. This is the most incredible manner of explaining the apparition of languages on Earth.
The differences in languages generated differentiations between cultures and finally those differentiations have contributed decisively to conflicts and wars. Did God intend humankind to confront rather than to have a good understanding? It is what the book of Genesis says but of course cannot be taken literally as a fact. Such divine attitude would contradict the image of a loving God whose aim is to bring humankind to peace and to establish harmony between all human beings. We tend to see all God’s actions depicted by the Bible as part of a broad plan in which the most important feature is to better human nature. God and humankind aren’t seen by Christianity as competitors but the book of Genesis presents this relation as a competition and a struggle for knowledge and creation.
As a matter of fact, God wouldn’t have succeeded in stopping people realising common goals because in spite of the existence of different languages human beings have reached the sky, launching satellites or going to the moon. Languages can be translated one into another as everyone knows and the coexistence of different languages never stopped humankind reaching a high level of scientific knowledge. Sometimes even the competition between different nations speaking distinctive languages was a cause for technological progress and construction achievements, for example the Chinese wall.
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Probably, the differences in languages could have helped rather than prevented the progress of humankind. A single nation with a single language led by autocratic means or under strict religious guidance, for example, something similar to the Inquisition, could have more easily stopped scientific progress than the existence of more nations on Earth. The differences in languages helped human knowledge when some pioneers of science could find refuge in more tolerant societies after being persecuted in their countries. The point is that preventing human cooperation by mixing languages, God couldn’t have stopped the building of towers or other monumental buildings, and the existence on Earth of some millenary towers or pyramids proves that.
In the story of the Babel Tower the method which is said to have been used by God is unsuitable for the purpose which is declared. It is the same idea as with the story of the Flood. The Flood wasn’t a proper method to sort out the problem of human morality and violence. These mythological stories cannot be understood as parables because they don’t bear any high spiritual messages. If we take them to be parables their understanding points to God as being angry and hostile to humankind who He had created. After creating human beings and following their disobedience, God tried to stop their progress either by drowning their majority under the waters of the Flood or by confusing their language, but as we know the evolution of human knowledge didn’t stop.
Bricks and bitumen used instead of mortar couldn’t have brought humankind to the heavens if by heavens is understood the Kingdom of God. There are limits for any human achievement and there wouldn’t have been any reason for God to be anxious about humankind cooperating to reach the sky.
This anxiety of God about the human creativity is very strange and cannot reflect a reasonable image of an Almighty divinity.
“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as they migrated from the east,* they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’
5 The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6 And the LORD said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused* the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 11; 1-9 NRSV)
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God went to see the city and the tower when they had already been built. Probably they didn’t finish all their work but even so, God made an important prediction in verse 6 from chapter 11. “And the LORD said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” God has prohibited the knowledge of good and evil to humankind and now He realises again that having knowledge, humankind can become like Him, not only by knowing good and evil but also by having scientific knowledge which would allow it to realise great deeds. But can humankind become like God only through scientific knowledge? In the book of Genesis, the answer is positive and that would mean that God can be reached through technological means.
This mythology shapes a certain philosophy. God would have set some barriers but humankind doesn’t respect those limits, going over them. At the same time the idea of the Babel Tower can mean a continuation of the hints given by the book of Genesis in respect to an extra-terrestrial civilization. The sons of God, again, have offered new technologies to humankind and God didn’t like that. The traces of the sons of God, possibly the representatives of a very developed civilization, are found in the Bible also after the Flood, for example in Numbers or in relation to David’s fight against Goliath. Jesus is the ultimate Son of God who came on Earth also to give to humankind spiritual knowledge, against the will of the god of this world who is Satan. Christians are also sons and daughters of God ready to impart the spiritual knowledge to the entire humankind.
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There are strong arguments which show that in the book of Genesis there are two stories of the Flood and not just one, and this observation has important implications for the credibility of these stories. I will approach the two stories of the Flood from two perspectives. The first one will be the examination of the internal contradictions of each story of the Flood. The second one is the relation between the facts described by the Bible and real life.
The stories of the Flood are two different stories from two different sources, stitched together by a redactor who wanted to transform them into one fluent story but without success. The following quotation summarises well the cause of so many contradictions about the description of the Flood in the book of Genesis:
“…Genesis’ supposed flood narrative is in fact a composite of two different textual traditions, each expressing the story in its own terms, language, and emphasis. Contradictions #14-18 are therefore a byproduct of having stitched these two separate flood stories together.”
One can read the biblical texts and see for oneself obvious differences in the description of the alleged event of the Flood. What was the motivation for the destruction brought by the Flood? There are two different motives for waters covering the entire earth. The first biblical text states:
“5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6; 5 NRSV)
The second text extends the motivation to animals also. This text contradicts fully the statement found in the book of Genesis according to which all animals on Earth would have eaten only plants before the Flood, because animals in order to be considered violent would have needed to be aggressive towards other animals. Those animals were mainly aggressive in connection with their feeding, killing other animals in the process.
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“11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.” Genesis 6; 11-13 NRSV)
At the first reading, seemingly the two commentaries complete each other and there is nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, it is a repetition of the story but it is also a different approach of the same theme. In verse 5, humankind was the problem, but in verses 11 to 13 all flesh is corrupted, not only humankind but animals too. There are two different motivations. Wickedness of humankind is not the same as the existence of violence generated by human and by animals.
In the second version, the author tried to explain why animals would have been wiped out from the face of the world but doesn’t explain what corruption means in the case of animals. It is a different way of thinking because humankind having consciousness could have been responsible for their behaviour but animals couldn’t.
In Genesis chapter 2, Adam and animals were created both in the same way, from the dust of the earth. One story of creation and one story of the Flood have in common a different view about the relationship between humankind and animals in which animals are seen as more related to humankind.
In point of fact, it is absurd to blame animals for their violent behaviour as far as they were created by God with a particular nature according to their kinds. God would have created the wild animals together with all other animals on the sixth day of creation, according to the book of Genesis chapter 1. He had created predator animals which eat other animals and He refused Cain’s offering which was bloodless, but He accepted Abel’s offering which implied killing of an animal therefore violence.
The motivation of the book of Genesis for the destruction of the animals through the Flood is absurd as far as many animals were predators and violence was their way of life.
Noah had to take animals with him to preserve their kinds. The number of the animals taken with Noah is different from one record to the other:
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“2 Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; 3 and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 7; 2-3 NRSV)
“19 And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive.” (Genesis 6; 19-20 NRSV)
“8 Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, 9 two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah.” (Genesis 7; 8-9 NRSV)
“15 They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. 16 And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in.” (Genesis 7; 15-16 NRSV)
It is easy to notice that in one text the number of clean animals is seven pairs of each kind and in the other text the number of all animals, including the clean ones, is two of each. Probably the difference appeared when one of the authors of the two stories noticed that Noah had to kill some of the clean animals from each kind to bring them as an offering to God after the Flood. Killing the only pair of clean animals coming out from the boat would have brought the extinction of those animals and no clean animals would have survived on Earth in order to be sacrificed under Moses’ laws. It is also possible that the late redactors of the stories of Noah have seen that contradiction and tried to rectify the absurdity. They just modified one story so it would have been in accordance with the Mosaic Law.
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They kept the initial version also probably out of respect for its antiquity. The initial story of the Flood was considered by the redactors to be a human creation, not the result of God’s inspiration, otherwise they couldn’t have taken the decision to modify it.
“20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar.” (Genesis 8; 20 NRSV)
Why seven pairs of all birds? In one of the two versions seven pairs of birds would have been required for Noah’s boat but in another place, only one pair of birds is mentioned. This is a contradiction which shows the multiple authorships of the stories of the Flood and which raises serious doubts about God’s inspiration of the book. Moreover, not all birds were considered to be clean by God so not all birds would have been sacrificed to make offerings to God. In the case of birds, the need to conserve them following the sacrifice of the clean ones isn’t an explanation for the presence of seven pairs of birds of all kinds, clean and unclean, on the ark.
The difference in the number of animals which would have been on the ark is a contradiction which cast doubt on the stories of the Flood from the book of Genesis. It is an important aspect because between one pair of clean animals and seven pairs of them, and one pair of all birds and seven pairs of all kinds of birds, the number of animals which would have been on a boat with limited space is very different.
How long did the Flood last? One answer is one hundred and fifty days:
“24 And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred and fifty days.” (Genesis 7; 24 NRSV)
“But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; 2 the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rainspan> from the heavens was restrained, 3 and the waters gradually receded from the earth. At the end of one hundred and fifty days the waters had abated; 4 and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains appeared.” (Genesis 8; 1-5 NRSV)
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In the first verse “the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred and fifty days” no less and no more. In the second version, the waters only started to recede after one hundred and fifty days but it continued to abate for another few months. The waters would have swelled on Earth more than one hundred and fifty days if we take into consideration Genesis chapter 8, verses 3-5, hence Genesis chapter 7, verse 24 is wrong.
First the ark hit the mountain and after another two months and thirteen days the top of that mountain would have become visible. How deep was the ark sank into the waters? If the ark was about 15m tall or less an important part of its height, probably approximately 10m, was under water. When the ark hit the Ararat Mountain if it was on its peak as it should, another two months and 13 days would have been needed for the 10m recession of water. Only in “the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains appeared”.
Keeping this rate, how long would it have taken for the waters to descend 5,137m, the height of Mount Ararat, in order to render the plains visible? 10m in 2.5 months means 10m in approximately 74 days. This also means 1m in 7.4 days. If we multiply 5,137m by 7.4 days we obtain 38,013.8 days for the recession of the waters from the Earth. If we divide 38,013.8 days by 365.25 days which is the average of the days in a year, we find that 104.07 years would have been needed until the waters would have reached approximately the levels that we know today. These figures show how aberrant is the so-called information given by the stories of the Flood from the book of Genesis. 104.07 years is a huge period of time for the life of animals which would have been on Noah’s ark and during this period of time they would have needed to be fed and watered in order to survive. The figures offered by the book of Genesis are arbitrary and they don’t reflect any reality; they are thrown randomly in order to fill the details of a legend.
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In the moment when the ark hit the Ararat Mountain its peak couldn’t have been seen because it was under water, according to Genesis 8; 4-5. If the height of the water was at the same level as the peak of the mountain or a little bit higher, the ark couldn’t have hit anything else but the peak which was under water. It was impossible for the boat to hit a lower level taking into consideration that the height of the boat would have been 13.5m and the highest point on the mountain was under water. Probably, the peak of the mountain wasn’t plain and a landing on a rock looks more like a shipwreck. From the point of view of the people found on the ark the tops of the Ararat Mountain couldn’t have been seen after two and a half months because they would have been under the ark, being the place where the boat would have landed first. The episode about the landing of the ark on the Mount Ararat is inconsistent because it contains details impossible to be harmonised in a credible scene.
Let’s now imagine the life of so many animals for that period of time. They had to live and feed on the Ararat Mountain for all that time because they were isolated by water and prohibited to live in other locations. On the mountain the entire vegetation was destroyed by the waters which covered the entire geographical relief for a long period of time. When the waters receded the whole reserve of food from the ark would have been long gone.
Noah didn’t see the horizon himself and for that reason he had to send birds to discover if the land was dry or not. Why couldn’t Noah have seen the horizon and needed birds to confirm that he could land? The answer isn’t directly given by the book of Genesis but the explanation could be the unsuitability of the window of the boat for this purpose. Normally he could have seen the land through the window if that window had been big enough and placed at the right angle but it wasn’t, in spite of the fact that its dimensions would have been established by God, according to the book of Genesis.
The two stories of the Flood also diverge from each other in establishing the moment when the Flood started in relation to the time when Noah and his family boarded the ark:
“7 And Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything/span> that creeps on the ground, 9 two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after seven days the waters of the flood came on the earth.” (Genesis 7; 7-10 NRSV)
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“11 In the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. 12 The rain fell on the earth for forty days and forty nights. 13 On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons, entered the ark,” (Genesis 7; 11-13 NNRSV)
The discrepancy between the two texts as to the moment when Noah and his family entered the ark is easy to notice. In the first biblical text, the waters came to the earth only after seven days since Noah and his family boarded the ark. In the second text the Flood started on the same day when Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons, entered the boat.
Those are some discrepancies in the Flood stories generated by the mixing together of two different ancient stories from two different sources, Yahwist and Priestly. They were organised together as a unique compound by a redactor who didn’t succeed in generating a consistent account. Besides those types of discrepancies there are others which concern the relationship between the biblical record and the real life.
How big was the ark? It was a relatively big boat after the description of the book of Genesis, but big or small is a degree of comparison which must be related to its assigned purpose. The comparison has to be made first with the complexity and the size of the animal world which is said to have been hosted by it, and not with another boat which wasn’t designed to carry samples of all living creatures on Earth. These are the dimensions of Noah’s ark described in the following quotation:
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“Genesis 6:15 in the Bible tells us the Ark’s dimensions were at least 135 meters long (300 cubits), 22.5 meters wide (50 cubits), and 13.5 meters high (30 cubits). That’s 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high! It could have been larger, because several larger-sized cubits were used. But the 45-centimeter (18-inch) cubit is long enough to show the enormous size of the Ark.”
A cubit is a measurement unit taken from the human body. It is equal to the distance between the tip of the fingers and the elbow of an adult person. More information about the cubit follows:
“Ancient measures were often based on parts of the body — palms, spans, feet, etc. The disadvantage was that everyone else would seem to have a slightly different finger span or arm length, so if you were working on a building project with other people, you would have to agree on whose arm you were going to use as the measuring standard. In order to overcome this problem measuring sticks called “cubit rods” have been produced. The “cubits roads” that have been discovered are thousands of years old and they show a bit of variation in length.”
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