Friday, January 4, 2008

Q4H: Why all the confusion?

I've long been taught that way back in the day, a bunch of folks — who, at the time, all spoke the same language — got together at a place called Babel and decided to build themselves a huge tower that would reach to Heaven to show off how great they were. As the story goes, God is disgusted by this display of arrogance, and decides to frustrate their efforts by causing them all to speak different languages. Unable to effectively communicate, their building project fails and the people scatter.

Today's reading covered the section of the Bible that tells this tale (Genesis 11:1-9), but the details don't match the story told to me as a child. Yes, we have people trying to build a huge tower (using an apparently novel brick-making technique instead of stone-hewing, the text tells us). But the target altitude of this thing appears only to be "the heavens", not Heaven proper. The goal is a selfish one, but appears to be mere self-preservation instead of something sinister such as exalting oneself above God. But most importantly, the text never says that God's actions were intended as punishment for man's impure motives; it reads as though God simply didn't like the fact that man, absent communication barriers, was destined for success in all that he put his mind to.

Why cause the confusion? Man is certainly no threat to God, His will, or His work.

I have a theory, though admittedly one that I'm forming as I type this (and is probably a bit "out there"). We read early in Genesis that man is created vegetarian (Genesis 1:29). After Adam and Eve sin in the Garden, God curses them. Part of Adam's curse is that his farming job will no longer be easy (Genesis 3:17-18). Man must now depend on God, as the Designer and Ruler of Nature, to permit harvests. In fact, there are no shortage of cultures in times past and present that believed exactly this — that the gods must be begged for sufficiently productive harvests so that societies and civilizations don't die of starvation.

Anyway, we move on in history to Noah and the famous flood. After the flood waters recede, Noah and his family are tasked with repopulating the earth. But there's a dietary change here — in Genesis 9:3 God tells Noah he gets to eat meat. (Yes, I say "gets to" — you'll find no vegetarian sympathies here, folks!) But what, then, does this mean for Adam's curse? The primary physical payload of the curse on Man is that the earth will no longer give up her fruits readily for us to eat. However, post-Noah man is given another food source to draw from anyway. Maybe, just maybe, God — having recognized that His goal with the original curse (to draw Man to a dependence on Himself) is being undermined by this meat-eating loophole — acts in what seems like a spiteful manner at Babel to amend the original curse and draw Man back into dependence.

Now that's how rumors — and entirely new false religions — get started.

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