As mentioned in Genesis 11, the Tower of Babel was built by a united humanity to reach the heavens. Because man had ambitions to be like God, God stopped this project by confusing their languages so that everyone spoke a different language. As a result, they could no longer communicate with one another, and the work was indefinitely halted. The builders were then scattered to different parts of the planet. This story is used to explain the existence of many different languages and races. However, the story of the historical accuracy of the Tower of Babel is one that is much disputed. The story of the Tower of Babel is mentioned only in the canonical book of Genesis, yet the story is supposed to be a description of why there are so many races spread throughout the world. This poses problems when archeology and paleolinguistics analyze the truthfulness of the Genesis narrative. The search for the Tower of Babel has been as successful as that of the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark. It is safe to say that no such tower exists today, and it is questionable whether one has ever existed in the past. By analyzing what is written in Genesis 11:1–9, we can use the bible itself to find fault in the accuracy of the Tower of Babel narrative.
There are three potential problems when analyzing the narrative. First, could the Tower of Babel have been built to the measurements estimated from scripture, and where would it have been? Second, how could people who migrated to different parts of the world prior to the Tower of Babel— thus not actually partaking in building the tower— be affected by God’s wrath? Lastly, did other languages exist before the estimated existence of the Tower of Babel, and how in fact do other languages evolve? These questions are not simple to answer, and as a result, we must look to extra-biblical sources to answer the questions that are left by scripture. The book of Genesis uses only nine simple verses to explain the Tower of Babel, even less than that of the unimportant Cain and Abel story. However, the supposed consequences of the Tower of Babel seemingly affected the entire world. Conversely, history describes the events of different languages and races in a different manner. That puts the Tower of Babel in a precarious position to where it can be scrutinized and even disproved in some aspects. We must look to historical evidences to make sense of what Genesis 11 is telling us, even if no evidence can be found to support this section of the book of Genesis.
1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as the journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime they had for morter.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound their language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
The Tower of Babel is the final event in the early chapters of the book of Genesis that are historically questionable. As described in Genesis 1–10, original creation, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the Great Flood, and Noah’s Ark all lay the fundamental foundation for Christian faith. The Tower of Babel is no exception.
Historians have hypothetically contemplated the idea of a single original language, informally named the Adamic language. Attempts to identify this language with a current existing language have been rejected by the academic community. Yet, the well-documented branching of certain languages from common ancestors points in the direction of a single ancestral language. It seems only natural that, if humans originated from a single population and source, they would speak the same language. Theologically, the Adamic language is a term for the hypothetical language believed to been spoken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Thus, it is believed that the Adamic language was directly spoken by God, or this language itself was invented by Adam. In Genesis 2:19, he was declared the nomothete (name-giver), which meant that he named all things. That could insinuate that Adam created the first language on his own by merely naming all the things in the Garden of Eden. However, this is questionable, because God was said to speak to the earliest biblical humans, meaning that humans spoke the same language as God; humans could not have created God’s language.
The bible itself makes no assertion to the first language, even though the Old Testament was first written in Hebrew. In previous centuries, historians believed that Hebrew was the first language, and all languages originated from Hebrew in two forms: naturally by human separation due to original sin or from the confusion of tongues because of the Tower of Babel. Even before the Tower of Babel, Genesis 10:5 makes mention of changing languages. Right before a long genealogy, it states, “By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” That raised the hypothesis that languages changed after original sin, meaning that differing languages existed before the Tower of Babel. Humans would have migrated and adapted on their own, taking on their own forms of communication. Over time, their language would differ so much from their original language that it would be a new language on its own. Based on Genesis 10:5, early scholars contend that languages such as the Japhetite languages are direct descendants from the original Adamic language. Hebrew then would have evolved from a Japhetic language. The future languages of Europe would have evolved from the tribe of Japheth, the son of Noah, after they would have migrated there following the Great Flood. By that, all other languages would have vanished in the flood.
When taken literal, there is a contradiction between Genesis 10:5 and 11:1. The former mentions that other languages could have been created by human migration. It states that people followed the language of their families in their own nations. By that, the original language would have been altered by individual populations after they would become isolated from their original population. This is evident in many languages of today. We can even use the United States as an example of this. Citizens in the north often view the language of the south as different. Though it is still English, the regional dialect is different— words have different meanings in different regions of the United States. That kind of change has taken place within the past 200 years, mainly with the introduction of other cultural dialects. It is hypothetical that over time the language of the southern United States can become a completely different language of that in the northern states. This is unlikely, because the northern and southern states interact constantly. A long time ago, communication and travel was not as easy as it is today. The two regions would have been completely isolated with minimal interactions from a few travelers and traders. 6,000 years ago, two populations living only 100 miles away could be completely isolated. That would have been the case during the early biblical period. Therefore, according to Genesis 10:5, other languages could have come about by human migration and several generations of isolationism. The bible verse mentions that the people were divided (isolated) in the land and spoke the tongue (language) of their nation. However, Genesis 11:1 says Earth spoke one language. How can that be if a few verses earlier it mentions the formation of other languages? Scripture’s accounts of philology do not make sense.
Languages that are ancestors of modern languages are referred to as proto-languages. The languages that are ancestors of proto-languages can be tied back to one proto-world language. The term proto-world language refers to a hypothetical, most recent common ancestor of all the world’s languages. Recorded history can be dated back 6,000 years by means of the earliest forms of writing, and all existing languages, language families, and even extinct languages can hypothetically be traced back to languages existing at the beginning of the age of writing. However, modern linguists refute that hypothesis, claiming that if ever there was a proto-world language, it existed far before 6,000 years ago. The languages used at the beginning of the age of writing are merely descendants from languages before that. Therefore, according to modern linguists, the proto-world language can never be determined, because no such traces of it exist today. By that logic, we can say that languages can exist without the means of writing or that any traces of their primitive historical writings have been lost. Languages can even exist with writing and other forms of communication without speech, such as primitive forms of sign language.
The main issue of dispute for a proto-world language is the date, which most modern scholars would put several thousand years before the bible’s own estimated date for the demise of the Tower of Babel. Such a language is believed to be in the wide range of 50,000–100,000 years ago, which is the estimated separation date of modern humans from our direct ancestors. However, we cannot use that date to estimate the proto-world language, because differing languages could have even existed during that time amongst various tribes of humans. That could mean that the sole proto-world language could be even older than that. It would not necessarily be the first language spoken altogether. It would only be the latest common ancestor of all languages known today, and it already may have endured a long evolution in which it may have existed alongside other languages of which no trace survived into modern historical times. The direct ancestors of modern Homo sapiens are the Homo neanderthalensis (c. 350,000–24,000 years ago). If they in fact had their own languages, then our earliest ancestral languages could have been carried over from them. That could make the proto-world language within the Neanderthal’s existence, in which their language could have come from an even earlier ancestor, the Homo heidelbergensis. However, by analyzing Neanderthal fossils, it is disputed whether they even had the capabilities of speech. If they did, that does not mean that they even spoke the proto-world language. In terms, the proto-world language would have to be the earliest ancestor of our modern languages; Homo sapiens’ languages do not necessarily have to come from an earlier source. To say the least, no such language today can even have characteristics of the proto-world language, because no such languages today are spoken in any primitive forms. The evolution of linguistics is unclear since no such written traces exist past 6,000 years ago. It is impossible to have traces of an intangibly spoken word unless it was written down in some form. Though the earliest “modern” languages can be dated for 6,000 year, we can rightfully presume that many languages existed before that. The oldest written artifacts in existence were written in Egyptian in the years 3400–3200 bc. Even though this is the oldest evidence of written languages, it does not mean that all languages today are taken from Egyptian. The Egyptian language itself has evolved into other forms. The original form (hieroglyphics), to which we do not even know where that form came from, became extinct around 1600 ad when it fully evolved into Coptic Egyptian.
Since the proto-world language is impossible to identify, where could our languages have come from, and how could they have formed? A proto-language is a language that is the common ancestor of a set of related languages. The study of language change is referred to as historical linguistics (also known as paleolinguistics or philology). By studying the change is modern languages, we can reconstruct where these languages originated. For example, it is obvious that English evolved from other languages. English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world today, even though the language has only existed in its most primitive form as early as 1,400 years ago. The most primitive form of English, however, was not grunting like monkeys; it was combined from other languages. The proto-language of Old English was West Saxon. In later centuries, it was mixed with Scandinavian Germanic and French Norman. Old English is not modern English. Over the past millennia, the English language we speak today has been mixed with so many other different languages. Of course, since English has evolved in recent times, we can accurately trace its origins and its interactions with other languages. When taking into account the total number of all existing languages recorded under the Ethnologue, there are about 7,300 different languages in use today. Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a Christian linguistic service organization that studies lesser-known languages, primarily to provide the speakers with native language biblical texts. In their fifteenth edition (2005), it recorded 7,300 different languages. It is currently the most comprehensive language inventory. It is impossible to trace where all these languages originated.
Records of historical languages, such as Hebrew, do not have much detail into their origins. Hebrew, to which the earliest version of the Judaic bible was recorded, does not have such an understandable origin. The earliest Hebrew origins date back to the tenth-century bc (around the time of King David and Solomon), and it thrived in the region of Israel until the Byzantine Empire took control of the area in the fourth-century ad. The original language of the Torah— which would have been written before 1000 bc— is not known, though the earliest copies of it were written in Hebrew. Hebrew is the only existing Canaanite language, which is the family branch from which Hebrew originated. The other Canaanite languages— Phoenician, Philistine, Ammonite, Moabite, and Edomite— have all become extinct. Only Hebrew has survived, even though it has characteristics of the other Canaanite languages. Since the fourth-century ad, Hebrew has largely been on a decline. Because of that, Hebrew has largely been unaffected by linguistic changes throughout the medieval period since it was not used by the majority of the populous. It was largely spoken by isolated populations. The most popular source of Hebrew literature is in fact the original version of the Old Testament. The Hebrew language has been largely unchanged by changes in other languages around it. Conversely, because of that, many of the words in Hebrew cannot be translated to other languages without changing the original meaning of the Hebrew word. That is why translations of the bible into other languages, most notably the English King James Version in 1611, yield staggering mistranslations.
The story of the Tower of Babel is also used to explain the creation of differing races, because God was said to cast people to other places on Earth. There is substantial archeological and paleoanthropological evidence to indicate that humans were spread throughout many regions of Earth prior to the date estimated for the Tower of Babel, which means that the account of God’s wrath is likely allegorical. There is evidence that humans migrated to other areas prior to 2300 bc— the earliest estimated date according to James Ussher— such as New World migrations (14000–12000 bc), the Neolithic Revolution across Europe (8000 bc), Pacific Island settlements (13000–10000 bc), and the earliest known Australasian migrations around 60,000 years ago. Therefore, it is commonly refuted that the spread of humans across the globe was a result of God’s intervention in Genesis 11. Not only does this evidence disprove the account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis, but it also calls into question the preceding chapters. If the Genesis account for the distribution of the human population has been disproved, then how does that affect the accuracy of Genesis 11? Could this be God’s simplified explanation for why there are so many differing varieties of humans, similar to the simplified creation account? If this were the case, the Tower of Babel would fall into the league with creation, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and the Great Flood as controversial allegorical myths in the elementarily historical accounts in Genesis.
Genesis 11:8–9 says that in some form God cast humans over the face of the planet. This can be interpreted in two different ways. It could mean that humans were forced to migrate to other regions since they could not understand their neighbors, and they banded together with those they could understand the most. Alternatively, it could mean that God implemented ‘forced migration’ on the humans to separate them from the others and to populate the sparse regions of the planet. As far as forced migration, this is hardly possible under what we know today. Although the Tower of Babel has little correlation with the actual concept of creationism, it is a story that describes why there are so many different languages and races on Earth today, which can be explained through branches of evolution. Although scripture only mentions that God confused their tongues, God casting them to different regions of the planet can be used to describe different races— as it can easily be seen that people from separate regions are different in physical characteristics. This is contradictory to the biological evolutionary concept that explains differing races as being a result of human migration and adaptation over many years. It can easily be seen today that certain races― such as Africans, Caucasians, Asians, and Arabs― all descend from a common location, but the question of how they got to those locations and how their race came about is arduously debated between the religious and scientific world. The latter sees differing human characteristics as a result of migration and adaptation, while the former sees these distinctions as a result of God placing humans in different locations as a consequence for their curiosity and ambitions to reach the heavens and obtain perfection (or to be like God). There are conflicting beliefs between the two branches about the origins of humans. Scientific evidence supporting migration and adaptation coincide with the complicated evolutionary principles on the origin of the human species, while creationists’ support the simple passages from Genesis to explain diversity in the world.
The introduction of diversity has to do with centuries of adaptation by certain groups of isolated populations. Humans are known to have migrated extensively throughout prehistory and even in modern times. Migratory isolation is one of the four evolutionary forces that cause changes to a population of people; the others are natural selection, genetic drift, and mutation. Therefore, by analyzing human migratory patterns, we can get a better understanding of why there are in fact different races. Human migrations have taken place at all times in human history and under a number of circumstances. Migration is a slow and constant phenomenon, and at the same time, there were drastic human migrations and interactions, such as through colonization and warfare. Forced migration has been a means of social control under authoritarian regimes. Forced migration in its simplest form can denote any inconvenient form of moving that is against one’s wishes, such as sudden climate change, lack of food supply, natural disasters, and, in the most prehistoric times, continental drift. All these effects can isolate populations, and they will adapt on their own.
By all biological presumptions, human origins were in southern-middle Africa, not in the Mesopotamian region. The only reason we think that human origins were in the Middle East is because that is where we have the first evidences of written languages and civilizations. Human migratory routes can be traced back to our Pleistocene ancestors, Homo erectus, who existed from 1–2 million years ago. They migrated from central Africa and then took on two different routes. Some crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, which was closed at the time, and others traveled through passages in the Himalayas in what is now the modern-day Silk Road. Some speculate that Homo erectus had the capabilities to build ships and sail the oceans. When Homo erectus died out with Neanderthals coming and going, Homo sapiens emerged around 150,000 years ago; their migration continued. Their main populations were believed to been located in the area of modern day Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. The Homo sapiens lineage broke down with the spread of populations, caused by very simple changes in mitochondrial DNA haplogrouping. Three different variations began to populate Africa: L2 (mtDNA)/ B (yDNA) in western-central Africa and L3, which remained in east Africa. Today, almost all humans are descendants of the L3 population, with the exception of localized tribes in central Africa. Parts of the L3 population began migrating into the Middle Eastern region, eventually making their way across Asia and Australasia around 60,000 years ago. This is the first known evidence of modern Homo sapiens migration. Around 40,000 years ago, they migrated through central Asia and Europe. 30,000 years ago, populations found their way into America. Even though their populations migrated, not all of them would have done so. Certain groups would have remained in a certain location, thereby beginning the isolation necessary for their own adaptation.
The reasons and motives of certain migrations have been debated in recent times, especially those migrations of our direct ancestors beginning around 50,000 years ago. A central debate exists as to how and when humans would have gotten to the New World (North and South America). The most prevalent theory is that of the Bering Land Bridge during the Wisconsin glaciation in North America— the last stage of the last ice age. During that time, sea levels were 180 feet below what they are today. The reason for that is because so much water was contained within the glaciers that the ocean level receded as ice built up in the northern glaciers. Because of that, an exposed land bridge of up to 1,000 miles wide existed between Siberia and Alaska. There is evidence of migratory routes traveling through the area as late as around 12,000 years ago. Within only 1,000 years, these hunter-gatherers traveled to the southern tip of South America, populated many areas along the way. It is believed that humans migrated from Siberia and populated the New World. These people would become the Amerindians— a blanket term for all New World inhabitants. This is plausible since modern-day Arctic Amerindians have strong mitochondrial relations to Siberian natives. The Amerindians became isolated from the rest of the world when the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago. Sea levels increased, and the Bering Land Bridge became submerged. These people were able to adapt on their own, and they did. A more detailed discussion on the variations and causes of human races will be elaborated later in the evolution section.
Agriculture was one of the main reasons why people began to populate the region of Europe and the Middle East around 8000–3000 bc. It was during this period that we find modern human development. This period is known as the Neolithic Revolution. It marked the transition from hunter-gathering societies to agrarian. By this, populations were able to increase as they now had a steady supply of crops and the domestication of various animals. This transition took place at different times in different locations. The region of Mesopotamia was a haven for agricultural development. Surrounded by deserts on both sides of the surrounding rivers (Euphrates and Tigris), this region was an oasis where human populations thrived. Around 4000 bc, we find the first successful civilization of which we have evidence for today, the Sumerians. With the advance of technology and human population increases, migration was made easier and less of a necessity. However, not all populations would adapt at the same rate. The Amerindians developed their own means of adaptations, and they too became agrarian over time. Indigenous populations thrived throughout the region of Mesoamerica. This is evident from Aztec and Mayan cities like Tenochtitlan (1325–1521) and Teotihuacán (c. 150–450 ad), where both populations were estimated to be at around 200,000. Despite their isolation from the rest of the western world, they both formed some of the largest cities on Earth, equal in size to that of London. They had their own technology, and thrived without any interactions from the people of Europe. Estimates of the then total population of the Amerindians are as high as 100 million. All this would change after 1492.
Back in the western world, one dramatic event caused an enormous forced migration. The Sahara Desert, which can be traced back to 2.5 million years, has fluctuated constantly between wet and dry over the last 100,000 years. The desert was at enormous proportions before the last ice age, but after the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, the area became wetter. Around 8000–6000 bc, the area endured yearly monsoons, which enabled the area to flourish in vegetation. From around 4000–2500 bc, the monsoons decreased because of gradual changes in Earth’s orbital parameters, and they eventually stopped. Within that time, massive desertification took place; so sudden that people would have noticed it during their lifetime. This caused a mass migration out of the area. The Sahara Desert became an impenetrable barrier for human migration, and the area itself became inhabitable. During this time, the desert was as dry as it was before the ice age. This caused three migratory routes. Travelers would have moved to the Nile River basin, sailed across the Mediterranean into Europe (or settled the North African coastline), or moved south into central Africa. The last option was the least favorable because of the vast jungles. Not only did the desert cause people to move away, it also prevented people from migrating through it. Those in central Africa could not travel to northern Africa and vice-versa. Those who migrated to the Nile area would eventually grow to be the powerful nation of Egypt, as well as further populate the area of Mesopotamia. Keep in mind, people already lived in these areas before the desertification of the Sahara, but the sudden increase of people to those areas allowed for tremendous growth. The Sahara Desert was the most notable reason for population increases in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and this allowed for the creation of civilizations and the beginning of biblical history— though not the beginning of human history.