One of the many common points in the histories and cultures of the world is the shared stories. Tales of great deluges, first cities, and immensely powerful deities tie together a familiar touch to us all. It is possible that such things were brought forward by the inheritors to help connect with masses in the inevitable conversion of the conquered people. The example of such a tale comes in the form of the breaking of a single people into many. Normally, this is told as a myth of the powers above confusing the languages and sending the people to the edges of the map.
A familiar telling of this comes in the Hebrew Bible. It is called the Tower of Babel and it has some significance to the history of the world that followed. I searched for the exact wording in Genesis 11:1-9 via Revised Standard Version in English from the website: http://www.biblegateway.com.
1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found 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, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused[a] the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
a. Genesis 11:9 Babel sounds like the Hebrew for confused
As a scholar of religious histories, this story intrigued me. First, it seems to be an editing error in Genesis. The chapter before it is about the genealogies from Adam to Noah and two of his sons. Chapter 11 starts with this passage in verses 1-9, and then verse ten begins with continued genealogies from Shem to Abram. However, with a bit of background work, I learned that some of the common problems with the version that we have of the Hebrew Bible are due to fact that scribes would make mistakes or try to fix mistakes from the last rewrite. Over time, the mistakes would not be recognized as such and remain. It is also clear that the Hebrew Bible version in our time survived from the Exile period.
So it seems out of context for the words around it. With that thought, I looked solely at this tale and began to ask myself what the purpose of this tale is. According to most explanations of this and some of the other similar stories where the deities confuse the language and break up the unity of the people, it is described as a moment when the hubris of people attempting to place themselves on the same level as the deities or it is a moment when the deities fear the people remaining united.
In the Greek myths, Zeus is always searching for a way to keep the people dependent on the gods so they don’t become obsolete. His act of breaking up the languages comes as he realizes that he cannot be the ruler of Earth. He passes this to a mortal king and breaks up the languages to confuse them. Josephus, first century CE Jewish historian, describes the tale as a moment of hubris when the people of Shinar under the rule of Nimrod defy God and build a tower. His reading a lot more into the Chapter 10 under the Priestly tradition as verse 6 refers to Nimrod ruling over Babel. As Nimrod is a descendant of Ham also known as the cursed Canaan, Josephus makes the connection to support doctrine of the cursed line defying God.
Now, one theory is that this story is just an example of etiology. It is meant to apply a particular cause to an event which, in this tale, is blamed on the deities. I tend to agree with this tendency of the primitive cultures that did not have much in the way of science to explain the world around them. It is also helps support some of the stories that come with the culture especially for the ones that claim to be the source culture from which all others spring.
So, this leads me to a question still dangling before me like a carrot. If it was the plan of God or the gods to keep man from rising above their place in the universe because we are a threat, is this the reason that the religions that are based on these old stories continue to battle against a common form of communication that speaks with a universal language? This universal language is science and it does not remain confined to the need for shared languages. It is understood no matter the culture or language group.
It is my thought that scientific theories and methods that come to question the very faith-based systems and mythologies are rejected by certain members of those faiths because of this challenge. My thought is based on Chapter 11 verse 6. An example is the conflict between the Theory of Evolution and the tales of the Creation. Is this battle over the conflict of evidence versus faith or is it a conflict of science being a universal language that defies God once again? Let me know what you think.
To be honest, the fluid evolution of this blog has surprised me. I have found that each day that I sit down to write the next posting, my discovery in each topic has come from a new place. Occasionally, I have found the subject while reading through the news sites or perhaps it was a discussion that I had with someone close. Or I was reading through some of the great blogs that are found here. These particular writings are coming from very intelligent and insightful people. I am impressed and pleased to be able to read something from them daily.
So, recently, I was glancing through a few blog that I have considered following. While I was evaluating each, I came to the realization that I was looking for a balance of pros and cons. I am not going to bore anyone with what I like and don’t, but the thoughts that came to me while in this search were about the technology that we have our fingertips.
Many of the blogs that I have followed since starting my own writing have been opinion and philosophical in slant. This was quite odd for my personality as I see it. Usually, I don’t jump into philosophy because I have never considered myself on that level of thinking. And opinion topics are something that I am just learning to understand. This led me quickly to the thought that I have benefited from not only the depth of these writers, but I have such vast technology to find these people.
In the times before the Internet, we all had to depend on the television or telephone for fast information. Before that, people had to rely on slower forms of communication and not always reliable at that. So, I am very grateful for the modern forms that keep me appraise of others’ thoughts instantly. However, I am struck with the curiosity that maybe our minds need to make a new step forward to adapt to this new world.
I am nearing the end of my second score of years and I have seen our society explode with technology. As a child growing up in the eighties, I thought that to have video games move from the arcades and into our home was mind-blowing. I was fascinated with such technology and ate up every game that I could get my hands on. To my father, these video games were amazing. In his teens, the pinball machine held his mind for hours and left its mark on him.
Now, even my children have become very dependent on the technology to make it through the day. In fact, they have had textbooks replaced by laptops and homework is a few hours at the screen. They are learning in a whole new world that some of us may have to quickly adapt to in order to survive. There is no sign as to what will happen, but it is clear that sometimes the very belief of people is enough to create changes.
One of the questions that I hope to find an answer to is if all this technology that we have become dependent on will become our society’s Achilles’ heel. The hopeful side of me is very positive that we are just making the brave steps that our forefathers did with the invention of the light bulb and the combustion engine. We have the potential to be better than they were. I merely hope that we don’t over-extend ourselves. I ask for some caution with the leaps. Consider the consequences of the decisions. We are still slaves to cause and effect.
With all that has been created, I wonder if we are ready and what that next step will be. All I hope is that the massive amounts of gadgets and technology do not lead us to a step backward. It is a curious thought, but nothing that I lose sleep over. What I foresee is that our world will come to a point when we realize that we either adjust our steps or stumble back. Either way, the human race has become a hardy group and we will continue to please Mother Nature as the height of evolution.
As an undergraduate, I started to learn the myths of creation in the Western cultures from primary sources. It was research into the depths of the ancient texts left by the first civilizations to record their own histories in the Western world. I was taught to use a standard method for this kind of research. It is very similar to the scientific method. But, I am not going to dive into that can of worms. I am touching on the simple fact that the closer a primary source is to the events then there is a higher degree of accuracy.
In relation to this, I have added a new background to this blog. It is a picture called Cosmogony by a great digital artist, Ryan Bliss, at www.digitalblasphemy.com. I have been following his work for years; recently a friend gifted me a year membership to his site. Each one of his pieces has a way of being quite evocative and this one did not miss the mark. As with its title, I turned my thoughts to the definition of cosmogony; in addition, what it means to me.
At www.merriam-webster.com, cosmogony has a pair of meanings. 1. : a theory of the origin of the universe; 2. : the creation or origin of the world or universe. Now, to some, this might be a contradiction as it brings the idea that the first definition is related to the scientific theory of the origin of the universe and the second would be related to the creation of the world or universe. If you unwrap that further, it could be that the word has the ability to be used in both senses. It can be part of the theory of the Big Bang, which in turn becomes connected to the Evolutionary Theory, or it can play a role within the explanation of Creationism. I find it fascinating to say the least and explored my thoughts even further.
Recently, as is my usual tendency on a regular basis, I returned to the writings of the ancient world of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Near East, and the Mediterranean. I enjoy keeping the information fresh in my mind. One of the texts that I have been looking at is a creation story originally written in cuneiform. It is the myth of Tiamat as the feminine, chaotic Ocean and Apsu as the masculine Fresh Water or River. In it, these two primeval entities mingle together and create offspring that become gods. However, these gods begin to disturb Apsu, so he plots to destroy them. However, one of the gods, Ea, stops and kills Apsu to save the others.
This story set me on a course to read the next creation story and the next. It all starts to have the same thematic elements with separation or defining of the primeval elements of the world. Each may be personified or mentioned as part of the creation of world. The creation story of Genesis speaks of God separating the light from the dark; the land from the water; and man from the animals. Each becomes a role in the story. From the simplest parts, the elements become more complex until they achieve a level when they must even separate from the eternal force that created them.
Now, if we draw forth the pieces of the creation stories and set them aside, we can examine the theory that the universe was once the simple elements brought together and an unexplained event set these elements into a violent separation. From this spreading out of the particles, the universe and its galaxies are brought into existence. Our understanding of it is a very small piece of that vast timeline, but we have the capacity to extrapolate the evidence that supports this theory.
It is this point that brings me back to cosmogony. It is a word that helps to define the origin of the universe and how we interpret that word is in the context and from our relative position to it. One side of the argument finds its support through a faith while the other side explores the possibilities through evidence. However, with one word, we have cosmogony to describe both.
Where do I stand on this? Well, that has been a long road to a simple answer. I prefer to have some form of evidence before me. As a student, I dug into the past texts of the creation stories of cultures that would have been an influence on the ones that wrote the book of Genesis. It is all about context of the text because that is where the truth lies. For me, it is difficult to accept blindly that a story shared and altered to their preferences by several civilizations over a period of a thousand years to be the true answer to the origins. Of course, without having the ability to see the Big Bang with my own eyes, the evidence of this will remain questionable until proven. However the evidence is strong with the theory.
Don’t follow blindly and find your own opinion.