Notes on Genesis (v)

‘Come, let us go down there and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ (Gen 11:7)

The story of the tower of Babel came easily to people not familiar with the manner in which languages develop, who sought an explanation for there being different tongues spoken around them. But the project of building a tower whose top would reach to heaven involves what the Greeks would call hubris, which is punished. Those who had sought to avoid being scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth by building the tower have to endure just this, their condition being one of diaspora (diespeiren, Gen 11:8). But this will be overcome. Just as with Gen 1:26, the use of the plural, ‘Let us go down’, irresistibly suggested to the Fathers a Trinitarian understanding this passage, and so appropriately it will be one particular Person of the Trinity who descends at Pentecost to create a linguistic community in which the speech of others can be understood in the hearer’s own language (Acts 2:4-6): ‘As he promised, when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, O Christ, in his own power, he united the divided tongues of the various nations in the single harmony of faith in the undivided Trinity. Come and dwell in us, good lover of mankind, we beseech you.’ (Pentekostarion)  And so, more broadly, the Church will constitute a community in which the most basic human differences are overcome: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Gal 3:28; cf Col 3:11) Despite all the evidence to the contrary, this is its deepest reality.

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