Monday, January 01, 2007

A Taste of the Word Hoard

Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, "Come let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, "Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech."

So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is 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 NKJV emphasis mine.

Growing up, I was always taught that God confused language because the people blasphemed by building a tower so that they wouldn't drown in another flood; they had no faith in the Rainbow. Without going to any of the provided cross-references, my most recent reading of this passage reveals more ire with the gathering of people and the power they have when they can communicate clearly. (Generally, the passage seems a bit apocryphal too, but I'm not an authority, or even student enough, of the topic to make that judgement either.) Methinks God wanted to keep man down, and keep him separated too (cue The Offspring). Now there could be legitimate reasons for this like preventing disease, an excuse for circumscision in a desert environment, or populating all the corners of the earth. But it seems arbitrary to me, like the requirement of a blood sacrifice from Cain and Abel.

So, if God makes us impotent and separate by muddling our language, does clarifying our language empower and unite us? Speaking the same language sure would be a start to that end.

Don't get me wrong, I revel in the myriad grammars, phonemes, and lexicons. For example, there is a language that has a case that indicates the responsibility of an action. They have a different way to write the word for "I fell down." (and it was my fault) and "I fell down." (and it wasn't my fault). But what is so wrong about being powerful and united? I might forego some variety to that end. Sure someone said learning another language is like gaining a second soul, but what will I do with another soul?

What do you think?

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