I have been listening to the BEMA podcast. I highly recommend it. As summarized one the website, “‘BEMA’ (or bimah) is a Hebrew word that refers to the elevated platform in the center of first-century synagogues where the people of God read the Text.”
The early Christians knew their Scripture. They built their lives around it. They devoted themselves to it, and to prayer, and the apostles reaching, and to fellowship and shared meals. (Acts 2:42
The BEMA podcast attempts to approach Scripture the way easterners would have, the way the early Christians in the Middle East would have approached it. My Jewish professor in college told us one day that Jews were not westerners; they were easterners, and they thought differently than westerners.
Christianity quickly became westernized, but it’s origins are eastern. We would do well to gain some new perspective from a more eastern way of thinking. I encourage you to listen to the first couple of episodes of the podcast linked in the opening paragraph if you want an introduction to an eastern perspective of the Bible.
Reading the first 11 chapters of Genesis from an eastern, Hebraic perspective, opens up new insights. Not the least of which is the genre of literature these chapters represent. They are poetry. They are chiasms with intricate organization and emphasis that is found in the structure of the chiasms.
The Tower of Babel story is one of the chiastic passages in Genesis. The story actually begins in the Hebrew with the last verse of Chapter 10 (as it is organized in English Bibles), and it goes like this (ESV):
These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Hebrew has no vowels, only consonants. There are vowel signs over the consonants that denote where breaths should be taken for anyone reading Hebrew out loud.
The consonants in this chiasm are repetitive: N, B, L, H; then H, L, B, N in reverse. There is a front half and a back half. The middle of the story is 11:4, which I have emphasized by bolding it.
The verse in the middle of the chiasm is where the emphasis lies: the peoples’ concern about being scattered over the face of the earth. They didn’t want to be scattered.
Why not? That’s the question we should be prompted to ask.
I am not sure I can do any justice to the layers of meaning and the questions that arise in these verses in a short blog post. I can only scratch the surface, but here goes….Continue reading “East and West Meet at the Tower of Babel”