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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 11

Verses 1-32

Genesis 11:1. One language or lip. These words are to be literally understood, because it is added, God confounded their language. There has been a long and unavailing dispute whether the Chaldaic, the Hebrew, or the Arabic was the most ancient language. But since the oriental languages were studied, this subject has been discussed with more success. Epiphanius, a bishop of the fourth age, wrote in five languages, and he gives the name of dialects, not distinct languages, to the families whose tongue God confused. The learned Professor Ihre of Sweden has proved, that the Gothic, the Hebrew, and the Persic had one origin, the radicals of innumerable words being the same. Our Sir William Jones, (discourse 6.) affirms that all the languages of India have descended from the language once spoken in the empire of Iran, which the French write Irak or Erech, Genesis 10:0.; that is, Persia. The Greek, the Gothic, the Latin, the Irish, the Welsh, have one origin, for in all the numerals, one, two, three are the same, and are scarcely varied in spelling. If we had records of the old Greek before the schools altered it, the coincidence between the Gothic and the Greek would be yet more striking. Our missionaries in Ceylon have found a long list of words which have at least one radical letter or more remaining, of the Hebrew and the English. The doctrine of Moses is therefore established beyond dispute, that the whole world had one origin, and one tongue. The confusion at Babel was but a variation of dialect and names, as is wittily described by Du Bartus, a French poet translated by Sylvester, and quoted here by John Trapp.

“Bring me, quoth one, a trowel quickly, quick

One brings him up a hammer;

hew this brick Another bids, and then they cleave a tree;

Make fast this rope, and then they let it flee.

One calls for plank, another mortar lacks;

They bring the first a stone, the last an axe.”

Genesis 11:4. A tower, said to be 5164 paces high, and the circumference equal to the elevation. Heylin’s Geog. A circuitous road was made on the outside so broad that carrs could pass one another. This tower, or temple as it was afterwards called, was not finished, it would seem, till the reign of Semiramis, which Herodotus thus describes. “The temple of Jupiter Belus was in the city on the opposite side of the river (to that where the palace stood.) There was in the midst of the temple a tower, which was a furlong thick, and equal in height. Upon this tower was another, and then a third, and eight in all. It had a gradual ascent, and at each turn a recess, and a seat cut in the wall, where those who ascended might rest. In the last tower there was a chapel, &c.” Clio. Of the first tower Abydenus, as quoted by Origen and afterwards by Eusebius, speaks thus. “The first men were born of the earth, and of great bodily strength; and affecting great antiquity they built a tower of immense height, where Babylon is now situate. When they had raised it very high towards heaven, a great wind from the gods threw it down, and from its rude mass of ruins Babylon derives its name. Till that time men had all been of one language.” Præparat. Genesis 9:14.

From the above it is plain enough that the long-lived sires understood architecture, and consequently, geometry and the use of letters. Cadmus, as Pliny, lib. 5. c. 39, and others all agree: he adds, that the Pelasgians brought letters into Latium or Italy. lib. 8. c. 56. But the figure of the letters was long in a fluctuating state. In 1735, Placentinius published at Rome a work in 4to. entitled, Epitome Græcæ Palæographiæ, &c. in which the author from manuscripts and ancient stones exhibits near 300 figures of the 22 letters which now compose that alphabet.

This subject is much relieved by the Scandinavian society. In 1742, Sir Erick Biorner published at Stockholm, Cogitationes critico philologicæ de orthographia Linguæ Sveo Gothicæ, in which by fac similes of Runic stones, cut to promulgate laws, and to perpetuate the memory of expeditions, he proves that the Hebrew and the Gothic alphabets had an identity of origin. Many of the ancient letters are evidently the same; and where an apice, or a fulcrum is wanting, he supplies the supposed defect by a dotted line.

In 1781, Faciculus, or a collection of Latin tracts on Swedish antiquities, was published at Stockholm, in six volumes 8vo. edita a Car, Gjorwell, Biblioth. Regio. In this work, specimens of Swedish literature are exhibited, which refer to a very great antiquity. It is here asserted that Odin came from the river Tanais, or Tanaquisl, or Vanaquisl, now the Don; and that he brought letters with him, which Benzelius admits are very much like the old Greek alphabets in number, order, and power. He refers to a work, In Periculo Runico ( pag. 29) ubi et schemata tam Ionicarum, quam Runicarum, exhibentur, in which a scheme of fac similes both Ionic and Runic is exhibited. He refers also to Memoires de litterature de l’ Academie des inscriptiones, tome 6. p. 616. He concludes that the alphabet used in the Scandinavian Runes, [mysteries] and on the stones, and sometimes on the contour clefts of Sweden, had emanated from a common fountain with the Cadmuan alphabet; and that those of Odin are found on monuments more ancient than those of Greece. Tomus 1. Sect. 8.

Genesis 11:12. Arphaxad lived thirty five years and begat Salah. The Septuagint reads here, “Arphaxad lived one hundred and thirty five years and begat Cainan; and Cainan lived one hundred and thirty five years and begat Salah.” Luke 3:36. The rabbins contend that Arphaxad and Cainan are only different names for the same patriarch, which has some appearance of truth from the exact number of 135 years, before Salah, the next princely patriarch was begotten. Yet the chronology of those ancient times cannot be reconciled with the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses in the ninetieth Psalm says, “Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest, return ye children of men, for a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday.” Whereas the chronology of Usher, as in our bibles, gives but 898 years to the death of Moses. It were desirable that the Chaldaic and the Hebrew chronology could be reconciled perfectly; but as we have fragments only of the Babylonian empire in Ctesias Cnidius, Diodorus Siculus, Æmilius Sura, Castor, and Eusebius, neither Josephus, nor Afficanus, nor Eusebius, nor any of the moderns, as Petavius, Scaliger, Helvicus, Usher, nor Strauchius have been able to effectuate it. Diodorus says “The reinforcements of men sent by the Assyrians, under the command of Memnon, son of Tithon, to the Trojans, deserves also to be remembered here: for under the reign of Teutamus, the twentieth king after Ninyas, the son of Semiramis, who ruled over all Asia, the Greeks engaged in a war against the Trojans under their general Agamemnon, above a thousand years after the Assyrians had been masters of Asia. Eusebius makes the above circumstance a fixed era of his chronology, which is given in the following table, which harmonises Moses, as in the LXX.

KINGS Years Reigned Scalinger’s Julian Period OF ASSYRIA AND EVENTS 1. Belus 60 2357 Nimrod, who reigned 62, or 65 years: the first king and builder of Babel. 2. Ninus 52 2412 who conquered most of Asia in 17 years, and built a statue to Belus; hence Baal the idol. He crucified Pharnah king of the Medes, with his wife and children. 3. Semiramis 42 2464 who fought against the Bactrains like a

soldier and conquered Medea. 4. Ninyas 38 2506 who attacked the Scythians in Mount Caucasus. 5. Arius 30 2544 6. Aralius 40 2574 or Aranos. 7. Xerxer, Balaius 30 2614 8. Aramamithrus 38 2644 9. Belochus 35 2682 called Biloch 10. Balaius 52 2717 11. Altadus 32 2769 called Sethos by Syncell, in whose reign the hanging gardens were erected. 12.Mamythus 30 2801 or Mamiathus. 13. Mane, Ash 28 2831 or Manchalaios who reigned 30 years. 14. Sphaerus 22 2859 or Itaspheros who reigned according to Callisthienes 20 years. 15. Mamylus 30 2881 or Mamythus 16. Sparthaeus 40 2011 17. Ascatades 38 2953 18. Amyntes 45 2991 Actosai or Atossa, a second Semiramis, flourished after the death of Amyntes. 19. Belochus 2 25 3036 dethroned by Baltetares governor of his gardens. 20. Balatores 30 3061 Baltetares or Bellepares. 21. Lamprides 30 3091 22. Sosares 20 3121 called Pesares. 23. Lampraes 30 3141 called Lamparos. 24. Panyas 40 3171 called Pannios. 25. Sosarmos 22 3216 surnamed Zeos, that is, god, by adulation. 26. Mithraeus 27 3258 Memmon of gigantic stature born. 27. Teutamu 32 3285 who sent 10,000 Ethiopians to assist Priam against the Greeks. Diodorus 2. c. 17. Troy was taken in the 22nd year of Mnesteus king of Athens. 28. Teutaeus 44 3317 called Eutaios. Tyncelle adds here four kings omitted by Eusebius, which occasions a difference of 116 years between Eusebius and Africanus. 29. Thinnaeus 30 3523 30. Dercylus 40 3553 31. Eupacmes 38 3593 or Eupalos.

32. Lausthenes 45 3631 33. Pyritiades 30 3676 34. Ophrataeus 21 3706 35. Ephachares 52 3727 or Ophratenes. 36. Ocrazeres 42 3779 or Acrazapes, or Acracarnes. 37. Sardanapalus 19 3821 or Tonos Concoleros; Arbactus governor of Medea revolted, and after some years of The years are 1300 3841 war Nineveh was taken in the 29th year of king Josiah. Thus Eusebius agrees with Justin, that the Assyrian Empire continued 1300 years, which, allowing for the uncertainty of the times, agrees in the main with Moses.

Genesis 11:28. Haran died in Ur of the Chaldees. St. Jerome says that Abraham set fire to the house of the idols, and that Haran perished in the flames while endeavouring to save his gods. The name of Ur, meaning fire, is probably a surname given to Haran, like that of Peleg, because he worshipped fire. The Lord did indeed accept offerings by fire from heaven, but it argued the most vain and foolish imagination in the magi to worship fire, as in the Egyptians to worship a bull. On this subject Herodotus says in Thalia, “The Persians account fire to be a god; and for that reason neither the Persians nor the Egyptians burn the bodies of the dead, but salt and embalm them, lest they should be eaten of worms.” This worship is still kept up. In the year 1818 Mr. Homer, missionary at Bombay, attended the festival of fire worship, fifty miles from Bombay, which is celebrated in the woods every four years, and continues for the space of five days. About fifty thousand people assembled. They dug holes in the earth to admit the air, and kindled over them large fires; and having hung the branches of trees with lamps, they commenced singing, dancing, and drinking; and it is awful to add, both sexes, from ten to seventy years of age, indulged in undisguised shame.

Genesis 11:31. They came to Haran, a town so called from the patriarch, as also the river on whose shores he had lived.


We have here the second general and gradual apostasy of the human race, as descended from Noah, by pride, tyranny, and idolatry. The first acts of idolatry consisted in worshipping the hosts of heaven, as is stated by Eusebius. The sun in Hebrew is called shemesh, because he is the servant of God in administering equal light in the year to all the earth: and, no doubt, to teach mankind that they ought not to worship the servant but the Master who made the sun. The second acts of idolatry, according to Epiphanius, were to make household gods, the feigned likenesses of the angels who had appeared to the fathers. The third, and worst influx was, according to St. Paul, “When they knew God,” by the covenant of Noah and by the creation, “they did not like to retain his holy religion, but likened the Godhead to birds, and beasts, and creeping things; for which cause God gave them up to vile affections.” The fourth was that of the priests, in writing the Theogony of those gods, six thousand in number, as old Hesiod has done, and so to confirm the corruption by theological science. For this reason, the Hebrew Scriptures very often designate idolatry by “walking in the imagination of the heart;” or as our Saviour says, “Ye worship ye know not what;” idolatry having no foundation but in the imagination of the priests, who ought to have been the guardians of religion. We cannot pay even a secondary homage to the statue of any creature without attributing omnipresence to that creature, and by putting the world under its care. Yet we must own, that the grand enemy deceived those men by a notion that the Divinity himself was present in their statues and their temples.

On seeing the proud tower which reached the clouds, and the builders crushed beneath its ruins, pause, oh my soul, to utter thy feelings in tragic contemplations. Were the builders of Babel confounded for their pride and false glory, in wishing to exalt their name? And how many ambitious men have ruined themselves in the same way! Had they remained quiet in private life, what faction, strife and war they might have avoided; and how often have they been hurled from the summit of their grandeur to exile and misery! Was Babel, or Babylon, the seat of idolatry and tyranny? Then it was the more expressive figure of the papal power, and of antichristian idolatry; and God shall destroy the empire of the latter, as he has overthrown that of the former. But did wickedness so soon break out again in the new generation? We see then how deep is the natural depravity of man: it is a fountain in every age rushing forth in bitter streams. We see how soon men forget the judgments of God; and how awfully just it is that heaven should often repeat its blows. Did God mock and confound those proud men who raised their tower to the skies? Then let the pharisee learn how vain are all his efforts to reach heaven by his own works. The house built on the sand will fall in the day of tempest. There is no entrance into heaven but by Jesus Christ, who is gone before to prepare us a place. Did the seventy-two great families after their dispersion retain their habits of pastoral life, their acquaintance with poetry and music, and their religious customs? Then they afford us proof of divine revelation. The difference of their tongues was not effectuated either by conquest or civil compact, but by divine interposition. The origin of nations, the building of cities, and the progress of the arts, prove that the world in its present state has not existed long. In this view they all corroborate the truth of the inspired writer.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 11". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.