Notes for Gen 11:1LEB

The whole earth. Here "earth" is a metonymy of subject, referring to the people who lived on the earth. Genesis 11 begins with everyone speaking a common language, but chap. Gen 10:1-5LEB has the nations arranged by languages. It is part of the narrative art of Genesis to give the explanation of the event after the narration of the event. On this passage see A. P. Ross, "The Dispersion of the Nations in Genesis 11:1–9LEB, " BSac 138 (1981): 119-38.


Heb "one lip and one [set of] words." The term "lip" is a metonymy of cause, putting the instrument for the intended effect. They had one language. The term "words" refers to the content of their speech. They had the same vocabulary.


Notes for Gen 11:2LEB

Heb "they"; the referent (the people) has been specified in the translation for clarity.


Or perhaps "from the east" (NRSV) or "in the east."


Heb "in the land of Shinar."


Shinar is the region of Babylonia.


Notes for Gen 11:3LEB

Heb "a man to his neighbor." The Hebrew idiom may be translated "to each other" or "one to another."


The speech contains two cohortatives of exhortation followed by their respective cognate accusatives: "let us brick bricks" (נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים, nilbbénah lévenim) and "burn for burning" (נִשְׂרְפָה לִשְׂרֵפָה, nisréfah lisrefah). This stresses the intensity of the undertaking; it also reflects the Akkadian text which uses similar constructions (see E. A. Speiser, Genesis [AB], 75-76).


Or "bitumen" (cf. NEB, NRSV). The disjunctive clause gives information parenthetical to the narrative.


Notes for Gen 11:4LEB

A translation of "heavens" for שָׁמַיִם (shamayim) fits this context because the Babylonian ziggurats had temples at the top, suggesting they reached to the heavens, the dwelling place of the gods.


The form וְנַעֲשֶׂה (vénaaseh, from the verb עשׂה, "do, make") could be either the imperfect or the cohortative with a vav (ו) conjunction ("and let us make…"). Coming after the previous cohortative, this form expresses purpose.


The Hebrew particle פֶּן (pen) expresses a negative purpose; it means "that we be not scattered."


The Hebrew verb פָּוָץ (pavats, translated "scatter") is a key term in this passage. The focal point of the account is the dispersion ("scattering") of the nations rather than the Tower of Babel. But the passage also forms a polemic against Babylon, the pride of the east and a cosmopolitan center with a huge ziggurat. To the Hebrews it was a monument to the judgment of Elohim on pride.


Notes for Gen 11:5LEB

Heb "the sons of man." The phrase is intended in this polemic to portray the builders as mere mortals, not the lesser deities that the Babylonians claimed built the city.


The Hebrew text simply has בָּנוּ (banu), but since v. 8 says they left off building the city, an ingressive idea ("had started building") should be understood here.


Notes for Gen 11:6LEB

Heb "and one lip to all of them."


Heb "and now." The foundational clause beginning with הֵן (hen) expresses the condition, and the second clause the result. It could be rendered "If this…then now."


Heb "all that they purpose to do will not be withheld from them."


Notes for Gen 11:7LEB

The cohortatives mirror the cohortatives of the people. They build to ascend the heavens; Elohim comes down to destroy their language. Elohim speaks here to his angelic assembly. See the notes on the word "make" in 1:26 and "know" in 3:5, as well as Jub. 10:22–23, where an angel recounts this incident and says "And the Elohim our Elohim said to us…. And the Elohim went down and we went down with him. And we saw the city and the tower which the sons of men built." On the chiastic structure of the story, see G. J. Wenham, Genesis (WBC), 1:235.


Heb "they will not hear, a man the lip of his neighbor."


Notes for Gen 11:8LEB

The infinitive construct לִבְנֹת (livnot, "building") here serves as the object of the verb "they ceased, stopped," answering the question of what they stopped doing.


Notes for Gen 11:9LEB

The verb has no expressed subject and so can be rendered as a passive in the translation.


Babel. Here is the climax of the account, a parody on the pride of Babylon. In the Babylonian literature the name bab-ili meant "the gate of Elohim," but in Hebrew it sounds like the word for "confusion," and so retained that connotation. The name "Babel" (בָּבֶל, bavel) and the verb translated "confused" (בָּלַל, balal) form a paronomasia (sound play). For the many wordplays and other rhetorical devices in Genesis, see J. P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art in Genesis (SSN).


Notes for Gen 11:11LEB

The word "other" is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied for stylistic reasons.


Notes for Gen 11:13LEB

The word "other" is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied for stylistic reasons.


The reading of the MT is followed in vv. 11–12; the LXX reads, "And [= when] Arphaxad had lived thirty-five years, [and] he fathered [= became the father of] Cainan. And after he fathered [= became the father of] Cainan, Arphaxad lived four hundred and thirty years and fathered [= had] [other] sons and daughters, and [then] he died. And [= when] Cainan had lived one hundred and thirty years, [and] he fathered [= became the father of] Sala [= Shelah]. And after he fathered [= became the father of] Sala [= Shelah], Cainan lived three hundred and thirty years and fathered [= had] [other] sons and daughters, and [then] he died." See also the note on "Shelah" in Gen 10:24LEB; the LXX reading also appears to lie behind Luke 3:35–36LEB.


Notes for Gen 11:15LEB

Here and in vv. 16, 19, 21, 23, 25 the word "other" is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied for stylistic reasons.


Notes for Gen 11:28LEB

The phrase of the Chaldeans is a later editorial clarification for the readers, designating the location of Ur. From all evidence there would have been no Chaldeans in existence at this early date; they are known in the time of the neo-Babylonian empire in the first millennium b.c.


Heb "upon the face of Terah his father."


Notes for Gen 11:29LEB

The name Sarai (a variant spelling of "Sarah") means "princess" (or "lady"). Sharratu was the name of the wife of the moon god Sin. The original name may reflect the culture out of which the patriarch was called, for the family did worship other gods in Mesopotamia.


The name Milcah means "Queen." But more to the point here is the fact that Malkatu was a title for Ishtar, the daughter of the moon god. If the women were named after such titles (and there is no evidence that this was the motivation for naming the girls "Princess" or "Queen"), that would not necessarily imply anything about the faith of the two women themselves.


Notes for Gen 11:32LEB

Heb "And the days of Terah were."


Heb "Terah"; the pronoun has been substituted for the proper name in the translation for stylistic reasons.