How to Read the Bible, Chapter 5 by James L. Kugel


In chapter 5, Kugel describes the very short section of the Bible concerning the tower of Babel. In this story, the descendants of Noah decided to build a great city with a tall tower. At this time, they all spoke the same language. For some reason unexplained, God took insult at this, and destroyed the tower, halting the building of the city. He scattered the people around the world, confounding their language so that they could no longer understand people from different regions of the world.

Ancient Interpretation: Interpreters of ancient times thought that the purpose of this story was the Tower of Babel itself. That this is a story of human hubris, in which the people were trying to reach heaven by building such a tall tower.

Modern Interpretation: People of modern times look back at the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia – how they were built of materials that would easily crumble with time. They figured ancient people saw these ruins and wrote the story of Babel to explain them. They also have an etiological interpretation in which this story explains how so many languages developed from one prototypical language.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

4 thoughts on “How to Read the Bible, Chapter 5 by James L. Kugel

  1. I have always found the Tower of Babel story so interesting. I can see how, not knowing how languages evolve and change over time, that this story solved the puzzle of why there were so many.


    1. I suppose this is true. Though of the many great mysteries of life, why people speak different languages wouldn’t occur to me as one of the top to write about. But that’s me coming from a modern world view, where I take the development of language within my own lifetime as a matter of course.


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