Torah Study Notes 10-17-15

October 17, 2015

page 69 The Tower of Babel and the genealogy of Abraham. What questions is this trying to answer and what message is it trying to send? In some respects it is very political – even with application to modern times..

11:1 Let us confuse their speech – the eternal scattered them over the face of the earth. See:  GT: The question is why there are different languages – it is an attempt at an explanation. SB: This sounds like midrash to me – an explanation instead of a pure narrative. MS: There is a contradiction here. They wanted to not be scattered but were scattered by God. MaryS: The notion of a tower to the sky seems to challenge God. LL: I agree. There seems to be a bit of hubris here and a punishment by being scattered. CL: This is not how bricks were made in ancient times. Tar as such would not have been used. It was bitumen – which is different. See:

AF: The people are organized and self managed and God worries that “no scheme of theirs shall be beyond their reach.” It is as if the tower is an idol and they are reaching beyond God. Shira – the language is reminiscent of Pharaohs’ in the sense that the people are becoming a threat. RB: Modern scholars believe this is a description of the construction of a ziggurat – a place where the divine and human can meet. That is a Babylonian notion and should be contrasted with the idea of man and God as separate – not mating with each other and having very special interactions. RB: We are still a people that like to make big things and are periodically warned about that. Look at global warming as an unintended consequence of human activity – or the loss of species. This could also be considered in praise of diversity. We have a dichotomy between a tower culture and a mountain culture. Ours was more of a mountain culture where our focus is nature – but we should not bow down before the leafy tree. We do build a structure for God – the mishkan and the Temple – which is destroyed. If this is being compiled in exile it may be an indirect reference to the destruction of the Temple and the scattering of the people. Throughout the Torah there is a conflict between focus on the man-made vs spiritual values. SF: This is also a contrast between an agrarian and municipal structure of society. Our faith is people centered – neither tower or mountain. CL: The writers may have been seeing themselves differently than the people living between the Tigris and Euphrates. There the land was flat and each town had a patron God and was controlled by a priest. The Hebrew people clearly saw themselves and their society in contrast. SB: Nothing is permanent. LL: Acceptance of constant change is a very modern concept – starting with the Enlightenment. There were Egyptian societies and feudal societies that were very long –lived. It is just a matter of mind –set; what we are willing to accept. RB: There is a good deal of word play here based on the word “babel” for towers. They are mocking the Babylonian culture. This can also be viewed as rampant capitalism vs socialism – a focus on profit and outcomes instead of on people.

11:10 The line of Shem. See footnotes on page 70 and 71.. Noah had three sons. We are assumed to descend from Shem. AF: They seem to be establishing a basis for primogeniture here by emphasizing the importance of the first born. RB: That may be the norm but the rest of the Torah speaks against the norm by favoring the second son or, in the case of Joseph, the next to last. The writers seem to be intent upon contradicting the norm. LL: What is the purpose of establishing this lineage? It seems to place a premium on pedigree? What about the illegitimate child? Note that a “momzer” has a very defined meaning in ancient times. It was a child conceived illegally by contact with a married woman. A single woman was effectively married to whoever fathered her child.

11:27 The chronicle of Terah… The naming of the wives is a first. Terah only makes it halfway to his goal and there is much midrash about that. Abraham was able to complete his journey. Note that the midrash on the origin of Abrahams name dwells on where he came from, who his family was and where he stands. His people are called “ibri” – the people from across the river i.e. foreigners.

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