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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 11

Verses 1-9

Genesis 11:1-9 . The City, the Tower, and the Confusion of Speech.— The section plainly belongs to J but not to the same stratum as the story of the Flood, nor is it consistent with the origin assigned to the various nations in Genesis 11:10. It is an æ tiological story (p. 134), naturally not historical, answering the question, Why is it that though the races of mankind have sprung from a common ancestry they speak so many different languages? The Divine jealousy, which fears what a united humanity may achieve, whose first enterprise is planned on a scale so colossal, is like that shown in the prohibition of the tree of knowledge, the guarding of the tree of life, and the displeasure excited in Yahweh’ s mind by the angel marriages. The narrative presumably originated in Babylon, though no cuneiform parallel has been discovered, and it may have expressed the attitude of the nomads towards the buildings of Babylon rather than that of the Babylonians themselves. It has been adapted by the Heb. narrator; the explanation that brick and bitumen ( mg.) were used in the building would be unnecessary in Babylonia, and the name Babel is derived from the Heb. verb. bâ lal, “ to confound.” The story hangs fairly well together. Observe, however, that whereas in Genesis 11:5 Yahweh comes down to earth, in Genesis 11:7 He is still in heaven. Gunkel has suggested that two stories have been combined, one relating the building of a city, the other that of a tower. He has succeeded by skilful analysis in constructing two stories, the former of which narrates the project to build a city and make a name, which was defeated by the confusion of their speech, hence the name Babel; while the latter narrates that to avoid dispersion they began to build a lofty tower, but were scattered over the earth, hence he infers that the name of the tower was Phî ts ( i.e. Dispersion). This may quite well be correct, and the difficulty of harmonising Genesis 11:5 with Genesis 11:7 disappears. Otherwise, Genesis 11:5 perhaps originally recorded the descent of a heavenly messenger on whose report Yahweh comments in Genesis 11:6 f.

The district from which the start was made is uncertain, but perhaps E. of Babylonia is intended, in which case they wandered westwards and reached Shinar, i.e. Babylonia. There they made bricks and set to work on the city and tower. The latter is what the Babylonians called a “ zikkurat,” i.e. an immense tower shaped like a pyramid, rising in terraces, and crowned with a temple, which was regarded as an entrance to heaven ( cf. Genesis 11:4). Possibly some unfinished or dilapidated structure may have given rise to the story. The intention of the buildings was to provide a rallying point and prevent their separation.

Genesis 11:3 . Go to: an archaism; we should say “ Come.” Yahweh echoes it ironically in Genesis 11:7.

Genesis 11:7 . let us: Yahweh addresses the Divine beings ( cf. Genesis 1:26 *).

Genesis 11:9 . Babel really means “ Gate of God” ; the etymology here is popular.

Verses 10-26

Genesis 11:10-26 . The Descendants of Shem.— This section, like Genesis 11:5, is taken from P. Here the formula is abbreviated, but whether this was so originally or due to an impatient editor is uncertain. There is also great difference between the Heb., Sam., and LXX, but it cannot be discussed here. It is characteristic of P, where no information is available, to bridge over the gap by a genealogy rather than leave an absolute blank. The period from the Flood to the birth of Abraham is given in Heb. as 292, in Sam. as 942, and in LXX as 1172 (variant gives 1072). The period in Heb. is incredibly short, but the Sam. destroys the proportion between the period before and that after the begetting of the eldest son, and its text thus becomes suspicious.

Verses 27-32

Genesis 11:27-32 . The Sons of Terah.— Derived from P and J. Genesis 11:27 and Genesis 11:31 f. are clearly from P, Genesis 11:28-30 probably from J (there are phraseological grounds), and Genesis 22:20 (J) refers to Genesis 11:29.

Genesis 11:28 . Ur of the Chaldees: Heb. Ur Kasdim, is generally identified with Uru, one of the most ancient cities of Babylonia, where the moon-god was worshipped, now Mugheir. The Chaldees (Ass. Kaldu) lived on the SE. of Babylonia round the Persian Gulf (pp. 58f.).

Genesis 11:30 . The childlessness of Sarah plays an important part in the sequel.

Genesis 11:31 . Read with Sam., LXX, Vulg. “ he brought them forth” or with Syn “ he went out with them.” “ They went out with him” (so Ball) would be simpler still.— unto Haran: Haran the place is not the same word as Haran the man; the initial letters are different in Heb. Haran was a very ancient and important city near Carchemish on the Belikh, a tributary of the Euphrates, and, like Ur, a seat of moon-god-worship.

Genesis 11:32 . Instead of 205 the Sam. gives 145 as the years of Terah’ s life. In that case Abraham leaves Haran just after his father’ s death (so in Acts 7:4) instead of sixty years before it. [Our narrative represents Abram as the earlier form of the name, but it is simplest to use the familiar form throughout.]

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 11". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.