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English Bible Dictionary

Confusion of Tongues


The unity of the human race is most clearly implied, if not positively asserted, in the Mosaic writings. Unity of language is assumed by the sacred historian apparently as a corollary of the unity of race. (This statement is confirmed by philologists.) No explanation is given of the origin of speech, but its exercise is evidently regarded as coeval with the creation of man. The original unity of speech was restored in Noah. Disturbing causes were, however, early at work to dissolve this twofold union of community and speech. The human family endeavored b check the tendency to separation by the establishment of a great central edifice and a city which should serve as the metropolis of the whole world. The project was defeated by the interposition of Jehovah, who determined to "confound their language, so that they might not understand one another's speech." Contemporaneously with, and perhaps as the result of, this confusion of tongues, the people were scattered abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth, and the memory of the great event was preserved in the name Babel. [Tower OF] Inscription of Nebuchadnezzar: In the Borsippa inscription of Nebuchadnezzar there is an allusion to the confusion of tongues. "We say for the other, that is, this edifice, the house of the Seven Lights of the Earth, the most ancient monument of Borsippa, a former king built it [they reckon forty-two ages], but he did not complete its head, and you can find more about that here on on other commentaries and dictionary entries. Since a remote time people had abandoned it, without order expressing their words. Since that time the earthquake and the thunder had dispersed its sun-dried clay; the bricks of the casing had been split, and the earth of the interior had been scattered in heaps." It is unnecessary to assume that the judgment inflicted on the builders of Babel amounted to a loss, or even a suspension of articulate speech. The desired object would be equally attained by a miraculous forestallment of those dialectical differences of language which are constantly in process of production. The elements of the one original language may have remained, but so disguised by variations of pronunciation and by the introduction of new combinations as to be practically obliterated. The confusion of tongues and the dispersion of nations are spoken of in the Bible as contemporaneous events. The divergence of the various families into distinct tribes and nations ran parallel with the divergence of speech into dialects and languages, and thus the tenth chapter of Genesis is posterior in historical sequence to the events recorded in the eleventh chapter.


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