Enuma Elish, Knapp, Babel, Babylon
dwashbur at nyx.net
Fri Jan 22 10:13:15 EST 1999
Thanks for taking the time to explain this for me. While I tend to
disagree about the post-exilic dating, the scenario you present
makes good sense and is definitely worth considering. A question:
if the story were pre-exilic, say, around the time of Hezekiah when
Babylon was beginning to rise to power and prophets like Isaiah
were beginning to warn about them, would it be possible to see this
story as a prophetic image predicting the downfall of Babylon, and
thus subtly warning the powers that were against getting involved
with her? Just a thought, but I'd be interested in your view.
> Dave Washburn wrote:
> > Can you help me understand how the image of
> > confused languages and being scattered and an unfinished
> > city/tower fit your Babylonian scenario?
> If Babylon is still going strong from and after the time that the Babel
> tradition was crafted, then I agree it is difficult to see the
> representation behind the imagery. However, if Babylon has fallen, then
> the images of scattering, and unfinished tower become almost
> transparent. They are emblematic of the destruction of the power and
> influence of a defeated nation which was formerly proud but now
> humiliated. The imagery also conveys the hope/expectation of the writer
> that Babylon will never again achieve the pre-eminence it had once had.
> The tower image takes the central temple of Babylon as its starting
> point, but uses the image as an emblem of the prestige of the nation,
> most likely in much the same that the Babylonians themselves would have
> done. In that sense the tower was not a finished product, nor could it
> ever be. But the demise of the state struck a finishing blow to the
> Babylonian dreams of greatness, I think, and that is what the imagery of
> the story reflects. But the story is not sympathetic to that tragedy.
> Rather, it is told from the point of view of an antagonist who is glad
> to see the demise of the old order, and now ridicules its former
> greatness. It reflects the mood of those who had suffered as a result
> of that greatness, and were liberated politically and culturally by its
> demise. People like the Yahwistic priests of the former Judah exiled to
> The confusion of languages is the logical outcome of the demise of the
> last great Mesopotamian state. Akkadian would not necessarily be the
> lingua franca for international relations, now that the Persians were
> pre-eminent. The uniform tongue was on the verge of being supplanted,
> and even petty states could regain a voice. Historically events did not
> turn out this way, but the story voices a nationalistic hope of those
> who circulated and preserved such a story. It also points at the
> totality of the demise of the Mesopotamian old order. An unexpected and
> unpredictable new day was dawning, and the story ends on that note of
> anticipation mingled with trepidation. Who knows what will happen
> next? But the Yahwists, looking at the historical moment much as they
> did in early exile, will assure the reader that their God is in the
> midst of this and in control, shaping events even through catastrophe to
> the far flung reaches of the earth (perhaps a nod to the diaspora?).
> Thus ends the Primeval History.
> I freely admit that all these interpretations of the imagery are
> conjectural, but they are also reasonable for the kind of context I am
> attempting to reconstruct for the historical setting of this story,
> which I see as early post-exilic.
> Stephen A. Knapp, sknapp at megsinet.net
> PhD candidate, Old Testament Biblical Studies
> Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
> Part time faculty: Department of Theology
> Valparaiso University (Indiana)
A Bible that's falling apart means a life that isn't.
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