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Folk-Lore in the Old Testament:
Studies in Comparative Religion, Legend & Law
by Sir James George Frazer
   ©1918 - Now in Public Domain, i.e. Free to Copy
Table of
Contents &
Introduction
CHAPTER 1
Creation
of Man
CHAPTER 2
The Fall
of Man
CHAPTER 3
The Mark
of Cain
CHAPTER 4
The
Great Flood
CHAPTER 5
The Tower
of Babel

ZIP copy of this entire book (335kb)


 
Chapter 5 - The Tower of Babel



 
The Tower of Babel and the confusion of tongues  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    362
Later Jewish legends as to the Tower of Babel  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  364
The Tower of Babel probably a reminiscence of a temple-tower  .    .    .    .    365
Two such ruined temple-towers at Babylon  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  365
The mound of Babil, formerly a temple of Marduk  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  366
Inscriptions of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar at Babil  .    .    .    .    .    .  367
The mound of Birs-Nimrud, formerly a temple of Nebo  .    .    .    .    .    .    .  369
Inscription of Nebuchadnezzar at Birs-Nimrud  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   370
Ruined temple-tower at Ur of the Chaldees  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  371
Inscription of Nabonidus at Ur  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  372
The temple-tower at Ur perhaps seen by Abraham  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  373
Theories as to the primitive language of mankind  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  374
Experimental attempts to determine the primitive language  .    .    .    .    .    .  375
African stories like that of the Tower of Babel  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  377
Story told by the Anals of Assam  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  378
Story told of the pyramid of Cholula in Mexico  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   379
Story told by the Toltecs of Mexico  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  382
Karen and Mikir versions of the Tower of Babel  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  383
Admiralty Islands' version of the Tower of Babel  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .  383
Stories as to  the  origin  of the diversity of tongues in Greece, Africa,
Assam, Australia, and America  .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   384



Among the problems which beset any inquiry into the early history of mankind the question of the origin of language is at the same time one of the most fascinating and one of the most difficult. The writers whose crude speculations on human origins are embodied in the early chapters of Genesis have given us no hint as to the mode in which they supposed man to have acquired the most important of all the endowments which mark him off from the beasts—the gift of articulate speech. On the contrary they seem to have assumed that this priceless faculty was possessed by him from the beginning, nay that it was shared with him by the animals, if we may judge by the example of the talking serpent in Eden. However, the diversity of languages spoken by the various races of men naturally attracted the attention of the ancient Hebrews, and they explained it by the following tale.

In the early days of the world all mankind spoke the same language. Journeying from the east as nomads in one huge caravan, they came to the great plains of Shinar or Babylonia, and there they settled. They built their houses of bricks, bound together with a mortar of slime, because stone is rare in the alluvial soil of these vast swampy flats. But not content with building themselves a city, they proposed to construct out of the same materials a tower so high that its top should reach to heaven ; this they did in order to make a name for themselves, and also to prevent the citizens from being scattered over the face of the whole earth. For when any had wandered from the city and lost his way on the boundless plain, he would look back westward and see afar off the outline of the tall tower standing up dark against the bright evening sky, or he would look eastward and behold the top of the tower lit up by the last rays of the setting sun. So he would find his bearings, and guided by the landmark would retrace his steps homeward. Their scheme was good, but they failed to reckon with the jealousy and power of the Almighty. For while they were building away with all their might and main, God came down from heaven to see the city and the tower which men were raising so fast. The sight displeased him, for he said, " Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language ; and this is what they begin to do : and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do."

Apparently he feared that when the tower reached the sky, men would swarm up it and beard him in his den, a thing not to be thought of. So he resolved to nip the great project in the bud. " Go to," said he to himself, or to his heavenly counsellors, " let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." Down he went accordingly and confounded their language and scattered them over the face of all the earth. Therefore they left off to build the city and the tower ; and the name of the place was called Babel, that is, Confusion, because God did there confound the language of all the earth.1

On the plain stuff of this narrative later Jewish tradition has embroidered a rich band of picturesque details. From them we learn that the enterprise of the tower was flat rebellion against God, though the rebels were not at one in their aims. Some wished to scale heaven and there wage war with the Almighty in person, or set up their idols to be worshipped in his stead ; others limited their ambition to the more modest scheme of damaging the celestial vault by showers of spears and arrows. Many, many years was the tower in building. It reached so high that at last a bricklayer took a whole year to ascend to the top with his hod on his back. If he fell down and broke his neck, nobody minded for the man, but everybody wept for the brick, because it would take a whole year to replace it on the top of the tower.

So eagerly did they work, that a woman would not interrupt her task of brickmaking even to give birth to a child; she would merely tie the baby in a sheet round her body and go on moulding bricks as if nothing had happened. Day and night the work never slackened ; and from their dizzy height they shot heavenward arrows, which returned to them dabbled with blood ; so they cried, " We have slain all who are in heaven." At last the long-suffering deity lost patience, and turning to the seventy angels who encompass his throne, he proposed that they should all go down and confound the language of men. No sooner said than done. The misunderstandings which consequently arose were frequent and painful. One man, for example, would ask for mortar, and the other would hand him a brick, whereupon the first, in a rage, would hurl the brick at his mate's head and kill him. Many perished in this manner, and the rest were punished by God according to the acts of rebellion which they had meditated. As for the unfinished tower, a part of it sank into the earth, and another part was consumed by fire ; only one-third of it remained standing. The place of the tower has never lost its peculiar quality. Whoever passes it forgets all he knows.

The scene of the legend was laid at Babylon, for Babel is only the Hebrew form of the name of the city. The popular derivation from a Hebrew verb balal (Aramaic balbel) " to confuse" is erroneous; the true meaning, as shown by the form in which the name is written in inscriptions, seems to be " Gate of God " (Bâb-il or Bâb-ilu).1 The commentators are probably right in tracing the origin of the story to the deep impression produced by the great city on the simple minds of Semitic nomads, who, fresh from the solitude and silence of the desert, were bewildered by the hubbub of the streets and bazaars, dazzled by the shifting kaleidoscope of colour in the bustling crowd, stunned by the din of voices jabbering in strange unknown tongues, and overawed by the height of the buildings, above all by the prodigious altitude of the temples towering up, terrace upon terrace, till their glistering tops of enamelled brick seemed to touch the blue sky. No wonder that dwellers in tents should imagine, that they who scaled the pinnacle of such a stupendous pile by the long winding ramp, and appeared at last like moving specks on the summit, must indeed be near the gods.2

Of two such gigantic temples the huge mouldering remains are to be seen at Babylon to this day, and it is probable that to one or other of them the legend of the Tower of Babel was attached. One of them rises among the ruins of Babylon itself, and still bears the name of Babil; the other is situated across the river at Borsippa, some eight or nine miles away to the south-west, and is known as Birs-Nimrud. The ancient name of the temple in the city of Babylon was E-sagil : it was dedicated to Marduk The ancient name of the temple at Borsippa was E-zida : it was dedicated to Nebo. Scholars are not agreed as to which of these ancient edifices was the original Tower of Babel   local and Jewish tradition identifies the legendary tower with the ruins of Birs-Nimrud at Borsippa.1

The mound of Babil, once the temple of the chief Babylonian god Bel or Marduk, is now merely an oblong mass composed chiefly of unbaked brick, measuring about two hundred yards in length on the longer northern and southern faces, and rising to a height of at least one hundred and ten feet above the plain. The top is broad and flat, but uneven and broken with heaps of rubbish. While the solid core of the structure was built of crude or sun-dried bricks, its outer faces were apparently coated with walls of burnt bricks, some of which, inscribed with the name of King Nebuchadnezzar, have been found on the spot.2 From Herodotus we learn that the temple rose in a series of eight terraces or solid towers, one on the top of the other, with a ramp winding up on the outside, but broken about half-way up by a landing-place, where there were seats for the rest and refreshment of persons ascending to the summit.3 In the ancient Sumerian language the temple was called E-temen-an-ki or "The House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth."l Towards the end of the seventh century before our era the temple had fallen into disrepair, if not into ruins, but it was then restored by King Nabopolassar, who reigned 625—604 B.C. In an inscription, which has been preserved, the king describes himself as " the restorer of Esagila and Ezida," and records the restoration of Esagila or Etemenanki as follows:—

" As for Etemenanki, the temple-tower of Babylon, which before my time had become weakened and had fallen in, Marduk the lord commanded me to lay its foundation in the heart of the earth (and) to raise its turrets to heaven. Baskets, spades (?), and U.RU. I made out of ivory, ushu and mismakanna wood ; I caused the numerous workmen assembled in my land to carry them. I set to work (?); I made bricks, I manufactured burnt bricks. Like the downpour of heaven, which cannot be measured, like the massive flood, I caused the Arahtu to carry bitumen and pitch. With the co-operation of Ea, with the insight of Marduk, with the wisdom of Nabu and Nisaba, in the broad understanding with which the god, my creator, had endowed me, with my great ingenuity (?), I came to a decision ; I gave orders to the skilled workmen. With a nindanaku measure I measured the measurements of the aba ash-lam (?). The architects at first made a survey of the ground plot (?). Afterwards I consulted Shamash, Ramman, and Marduk ; to my heart they gave decision, they sanctioned the measurements, the great gods by decree indicated the later stages of the work.

By means of exorcism, in the wisdom of Ea and Marduk, I cleared away that place, (and) on the original site I laid its platform-foundation ; gold, silver, stones from mountain and sea in its foundation I set * * * goodly oil, sweet-smelling herbs, and * * * I placed underneath the bricks. An image of my royalty carrying a dupshikku I constructed ; in the platform-foundation I placed it. Unto Marduk, my lord, I bowed my neck ; I arrayed myself in my gown, the robe of my royalty. Bricks and mortar I carried on my head, a dupshikku of gold and silver I wore   and Nebuchadrezzar, the first-born, the chief son, beloved of my heart, I caused to carry mortar mixed with wine, oil, and (other) products along with my workmen. Nabushumlisher, his twin brother, the offspring of my own flesh, the junior, my darling, I ordered to take a basket and spade (?) ; a dupshikku of gold and silver I placed (on him). Unto Marduk, my lord, as a gift, I dedicated him. I built the temple in front of Esharra with joy and rejoicing, and like a mountain I raised its tower aloft; to Marduk, my lord, as in days of old, I dedicated it for a sight to be gazed at.

" O Marduk, my lord, look with favour upon my goodly deeds! At thy exalted command, which cannot be altered, let the performance of my hands endure for ever! Like the bricks of Etemenanki, which are to remain firm for ever, do thou establish the foundation of my throne for all time ! O Etemenanki, grant blessing to the king who has restored thee! When Marduk with joy takes up his abode in thee, O temple, recall to Marduk, my lord, my gracious deeds !"1

Again, the temple was further repaired and adorned by Nabopolassar's son and successor, Nebuchadrezzar the Second, the Nebuchadnezzar of the Bible. To these restorations the great king repeatedly refers in his inscriptions. Thus he says:—

" The temples of Babylon I rebuilt and restored. As for E-temen-an-ki (house of the foundation of heaven and earth) with burnt brick and bright ugnu-stone I raised on high its turrets. To the rebuilding of Esagila my heart incited me ; I held it constantly in mind. I selected the best of my cedar trees, which I had brought from Mount Lebanon, the snow-capped forest, for the roofing of E-kua, the shrine of his lordship, and I decorated with brilliant gold the inner sides of the mighty cedar trunks, used in the roofing of E-kua. I adorned the under side of the roof of cedar with gold and precious stones. Concerning the rebuilding of Esagila I prayed every morning to the king of the gods, the lord of lords."1 Again, in another Babylonian inscription King Nebuchadrezzar II. says: " In Esagila, the majestic shrine, the temple of heaven and earth, the dwelling-place of royalty, I decorated with shining gold E-kua, the shrine of the lord of the gods, Marduk, Bab-Hili-shud, the home of Çarpanit, (and) Ezida in Esagila, the shrine called ' the king of the gods of heaven and earth,' and I made (them) to shine like the day. E-temen-an-ki, the temple-tower of Babylon, I made anew."2 Again, in another inscription the king declares : " Esagila, the temple of heaven and earth, the dwelling-place of the lord of the gods Marduk, and E-kua, his shrine, I adorned with shining gold like a wall. Ezida I built anew, and with silver, gold, precious stones, bronze, palm-wood, cedar-wood I completed its construction. E-temen-an-ki, the temple-tower of Babylon, I built and completed, and with burnt brick and shining ugnu-stone I raised on high its turrets." 3

The huge pyramidal mound, to which the Arabs give the name of Birs-Nimrud, is a solitary pile rising abruptly from the vast expanse of the desert some eight or nine miles from the ruins of Babylon. Roughly speaking, the mound forms a rectangular oblong, measuring about six hundred and fifty feet on the long sides and four hundred feet on the short sides. The height of its summit above the plain is about one hundred and fifty-three feet. To the ordinary observer at the present time it presents the appearance rather of a natural hill crowned by a ruin than of a structure reared by the hand of man. Yet there appears to be no doubt that the great mound is wholly artificial, being built entirely of bricks, which have to some extent solidified into a single mass. Thirty-seven feet of solid brickwork, looking like a tower, stand exposed at the top, while below this the original building is almost hidden under the masses of rubbish which have crumbled down from the upper portion.

The whole structure, however, is deeply channelled by exposure to the rain, and in places the original brickwork is sufficiently exposed to reveal the true character and plan of the edifice. From the researches carried on by Sir Henry Rawlinson in the year 1854 it appears that the temple, like that of Bel or Marduk in Babylon, was built in a series of receding stages, seven in number, which rose one above the other in a sort of oblique pyramid to a height of about one hundred and fifty-six feet above the plain. The grand entrance was on the north-east, where stood the vestibule, a separate building, of which the remains prolong the mound very considerably in this direction. Such are the mouldering ruins of E-zida, the great temple of Nebo (Nabu), whose shrine probably occupied the summit of the pyramidal or tower-like structure. In its present form the edifice is chiefly the work of King Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadrezzar the Second), whose name appears exclusively on the bricks composing it, and on the cylinders deposited at its angles.1 The modern name of Birs-Nimrud preserves in a slightly altered form the first syllable of Borsippa, the ancient name of the city which stood here.2

On two of the cylinders found by Sir Henry Rawlinson at the angles of the temple is engraved an inscription, in which King Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadrezzar II.) records his restoration of the edifice, which had fallen into ruins before his time. The inscription runs thus :—
" Behold now the building named ' the Stages of the Seven Spheres,' which was the wonder of Borsippa, had been built by a former king. He had completed forty-two ammas (of the height), but he did not finish its head. From the lapse of time it had become ruined ; they had not taken care of the exits of the waters, so the rain and wet had penetrated into the brickwork : the casing of burnt bricks had bulged out, and the terraces of crude brick lay scattered in heaps ; (then) Merodach, my great lord, inclined my heart to repair the building. I did not change its site, nor did I destroy its foundation platform ; but in a fortunate month, and on an auspicious day, I undertook the rebuilding of the crude-brick terraces, and the burnt-brick casing (of the temple). I strengthened its foundation, and I placed a titular record in the part that I had rebuilt. I set my hand to build it up and to finish its summit. As it had been in ancient times, so I built up its structure ; as it had been in former days, thus I exalted its head. Nebo, the strengthener of his children, he who ministers to the gods (?), and Merodach, the supporter of sovereignty, may they cause my work to be established for ever ! May it last through the seven ages ! May the stability of my throne and the antiquity of my empire, secure against strangers and triumphant over many foes, continue to the end of time ! "l

From this record we learn that the ancient Babylonian king, who began to build the great temple-tower at Borsippa, had left it incomplete, wanting its top. It may have been the sight of the huge edifice in its unfinished state which gave rise to the legend of the Tower of Babel.

However, there were many more such temple-towers in ancient Babylonia, and the legend in question may have been attached to any one of them. For example, the remains of such a temple still exist at Uru, the Ur of the Chaldees, from which Abraham is said to have migrated to Canaan.2 The place is now known as Mukayyar or Muge-yer ; it is situated on the right bank of the Euphrates about a hundred and thirty-five miles south-east of Babylon.3 A series of low mounds, forming an oval, marks the site of the ancient city. The country all around is so flat that often during the annual flood of the Euphrates, from March till June or July, the ruins form an island in a great marsh and can only be approached by boat. Groves of date-palms here line the banks of the river and extend in unbroken succession along its course till it loses itself in the waters of the Persian Gulf. Near the northern end of the site rise the remains of the temple-tower to a height of about seventy feet. The edifice is a rectangular parallelogram, in two stories, with the larger sides facing north-east and southwest, each of them measuring about two hundred feet in length, while the shorter sides measure only one hundred and thirty-three feet.

As in all similar Babylonian buildings, one angle points almost due north. The lower story, twenty-seven feet high, is supported by strong buttresses ; the upper story, receding from thirty to forty-seven feet from the edge of the first, is fourteen feet high, surmounted by about five feet of brick rubbish. The ascent was on the north-east. A tunnel driven into the mound proved that the entire edifice was built of sun-dried bricks in the centre, with a thick coating of massive, partially burnt bricks of a light red colour with layers of reeds between them, the whole, to a thickness of ten feet, being cased with a wall of inscribed kiln-burnt bricks. Inscribed cylinders were discovered at the four corners of the building, each standing in a niche formed by the omission of a single brick in the layer. Subsequent excavations seem to prove that commemorative inscriptions, inscribed on cylinders, were regularly deposited by the builders or restorers of Babylonian temples and palaces at the four corners of the edifices.1

The inscriptions on the cylinders found at Ur" record the restoration of the temple-tower by Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon (555-538 B.C.), and give us in outline a history of the ancient edifice. One of them runs as follows :—

" Nabonidus, King of Babylon, patron of Esagila and Ezida, who fears the great gods, am I.

"As for E-lugal-(?)-si-di, the temple-tower of E-gish-shir-gal, which is in Ur, which Ur-uk, a former king, had built, but had not completed—Dun-gi, his son, completed its construction. From the inscriptions of Ur-uk and Dun-gi, his son, I learned that Ur-uk had built this temple-tower, without completing it, and that Dun-gi, his son, had completed its construction. This temple-tower was now old, and upon the old platform-foundation which Ur-uk and Dun-gi, his son, had built, I undertook the reconstruction of this temple-tower, as of old, with bitumen and burnt brick, and for Sin, the lord of the gods of heaven and earth, the king of the gods, the god of gods, who inhabit the great heavens, the lord of E-gish-shir-gal, which is in Ur, my lord, I founded and built (it).

" O Sin, lord of the gods, king of the gods of heaven and earth, the god of gods, who inhabit the great heavens, upon thy joyful entrance into that temple may the good done to Esagila, Ezida (and) E-gish-shir-gal, the temples of thy great divinity, be established on thy lips !

" And do thou implant the fear of thy great divinity in the heart of its people, that they may not sin against thy great divinity, (and) like the heavens may their foundations stand fast!

" As for me, Nabonidus, King of Babylon, save me from sinning against thy great divinity! A life of far-distant days grant me as a present! And as regards Belshazzar, the first-born son, my offspring, do thou implant in his heart the fear of thy great divinity ! May he not fall into sin ! May he be satisfied with fulness of life ! " 1

From this inscription we learn that the name of the city was Ur, and that the temple was dedicated to Sin, the Babylonian moon-god. Further we are informed that King Ur-uk or Urengur, as his name should rather be spelt, who built the temple-tower, left it unfinished, and that the edifice was completed by his son, King Dungi. The reign of King Ur-uk or Urengur is variously dated about 2700 B.C. or 2300 B.C.2 In either case the foundation of the temple preceded, perhaps by hundreds of years, the date which is usually assigned to the birth of Abraham;1 so that if the patriarch really migrated from Ur to Canaan, as Hebrew tradition relates, this very building, whose venerable ruins exist on the spot to this day, dominating by their superior height the flat landscape through which the Euphrates winds seaward, must have been familiar to Abraham from childhood, and may have been the last object on which his eyes rested when, setting out in search of the Promised Land, he took a farewell look backward at his native city disappearing behind its palm groves in the distance. It is possible that in the minds of his descendants, the conspicuous pile, looming dim and vast through the mists of time and of distance, may have assumed the gigantic proportions of a heaven-reaching tower, from which in days of old the various nations of the earth set out on their wanderings.

The authors of Genesis say nothing as to the nature of the common language which all mankind spoke before the confusion of tongues, and in which our first parents may be supposed to have conversed with each other, with the serpent, and with the deity in the garden of Eden. Later ages took it for granted that Hebrew was the primitive language of mankind. The fathers of the Church appear to have entertained no doubt on the subject; and in modern times, when the science of philology was in its infancy, strenuous, but necessarily abortive, efforts were made to deduce all forms of human speech from Hebrew as their original. In this naïve assumption Christian scholars did not differ from the learned men of other religions, who have seen in the language of their sacred writings the tongue not only of our first forefathers but of the gods themselves.

The first in modern times to prick the bubble effectively was Leibnitz, who observed that " there is as much reason for supposing Hebrew to have been the primitive language of mankind, as there is for adopting the view of Goropius, who published a work at Antwerp, in 1580, to prove that Dutch was the language spoken in Paradise."1 Another writer maintained that the language spoken by Adam was Basque ; while others, flying clean in the face of Scripture, introduced the diversity of tongues into Eden itself, by holding that Adam and Eve spoke Persian, that the language of the serpent was Arabic, and that the affable archangel Gabriel discoursed with our first parents in Turkish. Yet another eccentric scholar seriously argued that the Almighty addressed Adam in Swedish, that Adam answered his Maker in Danish, and that the serpent conversed with Eve in French.2 We may suspect that all such philological theories were biassed by the national prejudices and antipathies of the philologers who propounded them.

Attempts have been made to arrive at the primitive language of mankind by the experimental method. The first recorded experiment of this nature is said to have been made by Psammetichus, King of Egypt. Desirous of learning what race of man was first created or evolved, he had recourse to the following device. He took two newborn babes, selected at haphazard, and gave them in charge to a goatherd with strict injunctions to rear them in a lonely hut, where they were to be fed on goat's milk and never to hear a word of human speech ; for the sagacious monarch calculated that, left to themselves, uncontaminated by oral intercourse with others, the children would in due time yield to the promptings of nature and break out into the primeval language of our first forefathers.

The result seemed to justify his prevision. For when two years had passed, it chanced that one day the goatherd opened the door of the solitary hut as usual to give the two children their daily meal of goat's milk, and no sooner did he do so than the two little ones ran at him, holding out their hands and crying "Bekos"! At first he said nothing, but when the same thing happened day after day, he reported the matter to the king, who on making inquiries discovered that bekos was the Phrygian word for bread. On the strength of that discovery, King Psammetichus concluded that the Phrygians were the most ancient race of mankind, and that the Egyptians must accordingly yield to them the coveted palm of antiquity.1 Such is the tale as told by the Greek historian Herodotus. We may suspect that it is not an Egyptian but a Greek story, invented to flatter Greek vanity by humbling the pride of the Egyptians and transferring the crown of remotest eld from their brows to those of a race akin to the Grecian.2

A later rationalism, accepting the truth of the anecdote, disputed the conclusion drawn from it, by arguing that bekos was nothing but a natural imitation of the bleating of the goats, whose voices the children heard and whose milk they imbibed daily.3 The experiment is said to have been repeated in later ages by several monarchs, including the German emperor Frederick the Second 4 and the Mogul emperor Akbar Khan. Of the latter potentate it is told that, anxious to discover the true religion, and perplexed by the contradictory claims of the rival systems, he hit upon the following device for solving the problem. He took thirty young children and caused them to be brought up by persons who were strictly forbidden to converse with their youthful charges ; for he was resolved to adopt the religious faith of that people whose language the infants should spontaneously speak, being apparently satisfied in his own mind that the religion thus authenticated by the voice of nature could be none other than the true one. The result of the experiment was to confirm the philosophic Mogul in his scepticism ; for the children, we are informed, spoke no particular language, and the emperor accordingly continued to be of no particular religion.5 In our own country James IV. of Scotland is reported to have shut up two children with a dumb woman in the island of Inchkeith, desiring to know what language the children would speak when they came to the age of perfect speech. Some say that they spoke good Hebrew, but the chronicler seems to have had doubts on the subject.1

Stories which bear a certain resemblance to the legend of the Tower of Babel are reported among several African tribes. Thus, some of the natives of the Zambesi, apparently in the neighbourhood of the Victoria Falls, " have a tradition which may refer to the building of the Tower of Babel, but it ends in the bold builders getting their crowns cracked by the fall of the scaffolding." 2 The story thus briefly referred to by Dr. Livingstone has been more fully recorded by a Swiss missionary. The A-Louyi, a tribe of the Upper Zambesi, say that formerly their god Nyambe, whom they identify with the sun, used to dwell on earth, but that he afterwards ascended up to heaven on a spider's web. From his post up aloft he said to men, "Worship me." But men said, "Come, let us kill Nyambe." Alarmed at this impious threat, the deity fled to the sky, from which it would seem that he had temporarily descended. So men said, "Come", let us make masts to reach up to heaven." They set up masts and added more masts, joining them one to the other, and they clambered up them. But when they had climbed far up, the masts fell down, and all the men on the masts were killed by the fall. That was the end of them.3

The Bambala of the Congo say "that the Wan-gongo once wanted to know what the moon was, so they started to go and see. They planted a big pole in the ground, and a man climbed up it with a second pole which he fastened to the end ; to this a third was fixed, and so on. When their Tower of Babel had reached a considerable height, so high in fact that the whole population of the village was carrying poles up, the erection suddenly collapsed, and they fell victims to their ill-advised curiosity. Since that time no one has tried to find out what the moon is." 4 The natives of Mkulwe, in German East Africa, tell a similar tale. According to them, men one day said to each other, "Let us build high, let us reach the moon!" So they rammed a great tree into the earth, and fixed another tree on the top of it, and another on the top of that, and so on, till the trees fell down and the men were killed. But other men said, "Let us not give up this undertaking," and they piled trees one on the top of the other, till one day the trees again fell down and the men were killed. Then the people gave up trying to climb aloft to the moon.1

The Ashantees have a tradition that God of old dwelt among men, but that, resenting an affront put on him by an old woman, he withdrew in high dudgeon to his mansion in the sky. Disconsolate at his departure, mankind resolved to seek and find him. For that purpose they collected all the porridge pestles they could find and piled them up, one on the top of the other. When the tower thus built had nearly reached the sky, they found to their dismay that the supply of pestles ran short. What were they to do ? In this dilemma a wise man stood up and said," The matter is quite simple. Take the lowest pestle of all, and put it on the top, and go on doing so till we arrive at God." The proposal was carried, but when they came to put it in practice, down fell the tower, as indeed you might have expected. However, others say that the collapse of the tower was caused by the white ants, which gnawed away the lowest of the pestles. In whichever way it happened, the communication with heaven was not completed, and men were never able to ascend up to God.2

The Anal clan of the Kuki tribe, in Assam, tell of an attempt made by a man to climb up into the sky, in order to recover his stolen property. The story is as follows. Once upon a time there was a very pious man who devoted much time to worshipping God, and he had a pet bitch. Envious of his noble qualities, the sun and moon resolved to rob him of his virtue. In pursuit of this nefarious design, they promised to give him their virtue, if only he would first entrust them with his. The unsuspecting saint fell into the trap, and the two celestial rogues made off with his virtue. Thus defrauded, the holy man ordered his dog to pursue and catch the thieves. The intelligent animal brought a long pole and climbed up it to reach the fugitives, and the saint swarmed up the pole behind his dumb friend. Unfortunately he ascended so slowly that, before he reached the sky, the white ants had eaten away the lower end of the pole, so he fell down and broke his neck. But the bitch was more agile ; before the white ants had gnawed through the wood, she had got a footing in the sky, and there the faithful animal is to this day, chasing the sun and moon round and round the celestial vault. Sometimes she catches them, and when she does so, the sun or moon is darkened, which Europeans call an eclipse. At such times the Anals shout to the bitch, " Release! Release ! " meaning, of course, that she is to let go the sun or moon.1

A story like the Biblical narrative of the Tower of Babel is told of the great pyramid of Cholula in Mexico, the vastest work of aboriginal man in all America. This colossal fabric, on which the modern traveller still gazes with admiration, stands near the handsome modern city of Puebla, on the way from Vera Cruz to the capital. In form it resembles, and in dimensions it rivals, the pyramids of Egypt. Its perpendicular height is nearly two hundred feet, and its base is twice as long as that of the great pyramid of Cheops. It had the shape common to the Mexican teocallis, that of a truncated pyramid, facing with its four sides the cardinal points and divided into four terraces. Its original outlines, however, have been effaced by time and the weather, while its surface is now covered by an exuberant growth of shrubs and trees, so that the huge pile presents the aspect of a natural hill rather than of a mound reared by human labour. The edifice is built of rows of bricks baked in the sun and cemented together with mortar, in which are stuck quantities of small stones, potsherds, and fragments of obsidian knives and weapons. Layers of clay are interposed between the courses of brick. The flat summit, which comprises more than an acre of ground, commands a superb prospect over  the broad fertile valley away to the huge volcanic mountains which encircle it, their lower slopes covered with grand forests their pinnacles of porphyry bare and arid, the highest of them crowned with eternal snow.1

A legend concerning the foundation of this huge monument is recorded by the Dominican friar Pedro de los Rios. It runs as follows.   Before the great flood, which took place four thousand years  after the creation   of the world,  this country was inhabited by giants.   All who did not perish in the inundation were turned into fishes, except seven who took refuge in caves.   When the waters had retired, one of the seven, by name Xelhua, surnamed the Architect, came to Cholula, where, in memory of the mountain of Tlaloc, on which he and his six brothers had found safety, he built an artificial hill in the shape of a pyramid.   He caused the bricks to be made in the province of Tlalmanalco, at the foot of Mount Cocotl, and in order to transport them to Cholula he set a line of men on the road, who passed the bricks from hand to hand. It was his purpose to raise the mighty edifice to the clouds, but the gods, offended at his presumption, hurled the fire of heaven down on the pyramid, many of the workmen perished, and the building remained unfinished.   Afterwards it was dedicated to the great god Quetzalcoatl.2

It is said that at the time of the Spanish conquest the inhabitants of Cholula preserved with great veneration a large aerolite, which according to them was the very thunderbolt that fell on the pyramid and set it on fire. A  similar  tradition,   differing   somewhat  in  details,  is related by the Spanish historian Duran, who wrote in 1579 "In the beginning," says he, "before the light and sun were created, the earth was in darkness and gloom, void of all created things, quite flat, without hill  or  dale, encircled  by water on  every side, without trees  and  without  any other created thing.   As soon as the sun and the light were born in the east, some men appeared there, ungainly giants who possessed the land. Wishing to see the rising and the setting of the sun, they agreed to go in search of it ; so dividing into two bands they journeyed, the one band toward the west, and the other toward the east. So they journeyed till they were stopped by the sea. Thence they resolved to return to the place from which they had set out : so they came back to the place called Iztacçulin ineminian. Not knowing how to reach the sun, and charmed with its light and beauty, they decided to build a tower so high that its top should reach the sky. In their search for materials with which to carry out their design they found a clay and a very sticky bitumen with which they began in a great hurry to build the tower. When they had reared it as high as they could, so high that it is said to have seemed to reach the sky, the lord of the heights was angry and said to the inhabitants of heaven, ' Have you seen how the inhabitants of the earth have built a tower so high and so proud to climb up here, charmed as they are with the light and beauty of the sun? Come, let us confound them ; for it is not meet that the people of the earth, who live in bodies of flesh, should mix with us.' In a moment, the inhabitants of heaven, setting out towards the four quarters of the world, overthrew as by a thunderbolt the edifice which the men had built. After that, the giants, scared and filled with terror, separated and scattered in all directions over the earth." 1

In this latter tradition the traces of Biblical influence appear not only in the dispersal of the builders over the face of the earth, but also in the construction of the tower out of clay and bitumen ; for while these are the materials out of which the Tower of Babel is said to have been built, bitumen seems never to have been used by the Mexicans for such a purpose and is not found anywhere near Cholula.2 " The history of the confusion of tongues seems also to have existed in the country, not long after the Conquest, having very probably been learnt from the missionaries ; but it does not seem to have been connected with the Tower-of-Babel legend of Cholula. Something like it at least appears in the Gemelli table of Mexican migrations, reproduced in Humboldt, where a bird in a tree is sending down a number of tongues to a crowd of men standing below."1 On the strength of these suspicious resemblances Tylor may be right in condemning the legend of Cholula " as not genuine, or at least as partly of late fabrication." 2

A like suspicion of spuriousness, or at all events of assimilation to Biblical traditions, must apparently rest on a legend ascribed to the Toltecs of Mexico. " Ixtlil-xochitl writes of this tradition as follows : They say that the world was created in the year Ce Tecpatl, and this time until the deluge they call Atonatiuh, which means the age of the sun of water, because the world was destroyed by the deluge. It is found in the histories of the Toltecs that this age and first world, as they term it, lasted seven hundred and sixteen years ; that man and all the earth were destroyed by great showers and by lightnings from heaven, so that nothing remained, and the most lofty mountains were covered up and submerged to the depth of caxtolmoletltli, or fifteen cubits, and here they add other fables of how men came to multiply again from the few who escaped the destruction in a toptlipetlacali; which word very nearly signifies a closed chest; and how, after multiplying, the men built a zacuali of great height, and by this is meant a very high tower, in which to take refuge when the world should be a second time destroyed. After this their tongue became confused, and, not understanding each other, they went to different parts of the world."3 In this legend the coincidences with the Biblical narratives of the flood, the ark, the tower of Babel, and the confusion of tongues seem too numerous to be accidental.

A similar verdict may be pronounced, with even less hesitation, on a tale told by the Karens of Burma, a tribe who display a peculiar aptitude for borrowing Christian legends and disguising them with a thin coat of local colour. Their edition of the Tower of Babel story, as told by the Gaikho section of the tribe, runs as follows. "The Gaikhos trace their genealogy to Adam, and make thirty generations from Adam, to the building of the Tower of Babel, at which time they say they separated from the Red Karens. ... In the days of Pan-dan-man, the people determined to build a pagoda that should reach up to heaven. The place" they suppose to be somewhere in the country of the Red Karens, with whom they represent themselves as associated until this event. When the pagoda was half way up to heaven, God came down and confounded the language of the people, so that they could not understand each other. Then the people scattered, and Than-mau-rai, the father of the Gaikho tribe, came west, with eight chiefs, and settled in the valley of the Sitang."1

The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of tongues reappears also among the Mikirs, one of the many Tibeto-Burman tribes of Assam. They say that in days of old the descendants of Ram were mighty men, and growing dissatisfied with the mastery of the earth they aspired to conquer heaven. So they began to build a tower which should reach up to the skies. Higher and higher rose the building, till at last the gods and demons feared lest these giants should become the masters of heaven, as they already were of earth. So they confounded their speech, and scattered them to the four corners of the world. Hence arose all the various tongues of mankind.2 Again, we find the same old story, in a slightly disguised form, among the Admiralty Islanders. They say that the tribe or family of the Lohi numbered one hundred and thirty souls and had for their chief a certain Muikiu. This Muikiu said to his people, " Let us build a house as high as heaven." So they built it, and when it nearly reached the sky, there came to them from Kali a man named Po Awi, who forbade them to go on with the building. Said he to Muikiu, " Who told you to build so high a house ?" Muikiu answered, " I am master of our people the Lohi. I said, ' Let us build a house as high as heaven.' If I had had my way, our houses should have been as high as heaven. But now, thy will is done, our houses will be low." So saying he took water and sprinkled it on the bodies of his people. Then was their language confounded ; they understood not each other and dispersed into different lands. Thus every land has now its own speech.1 There can be little doubt that this story is merely an echo of missionary teaching.

Not   a   few   peoples   have   attempted   to   explain   the diversities of human speech without reference to a Tower of   Babel   or   similar   structures.   Thus   the   Greeks   had a   tradition   that   for   many   ages   men   lived   at   peace, without   cities   and  without   laws, speaking  one  language, and   ruled  by   Zeus   alone.   At   last   Hermes   introduced diversities   of speech  and   divided   mankind  into   separate nations.   So discord first arose among mortals, and Zeus, offended at their quarrels, resigned the sovereignty and committed it to the hands of the Argive hero Phoroneus, the first king of men.2   The Wa-Sania of British East Africa say that of old all the tribes of the earth knew only one language, but that during a severe famine the people went mad and wandered in all directions, jabbering strange words, and so the different languages arose.3

A different explanation of the diversities of language is given by the Kachcha Nagas, a hill tribe of Assam.   According to them, at the creation all men were of one race, but they were destined soon afterwards to be broken up into different nations.   The king of the men then on earth had a daughter named Sitoylê.   She was wondrous fleet of foot, and loved to roam the jungle the livelong day, far from home, thereby causing much anxiety to her parents, who feared lest she should be devoured by wild beasts. One day her father conceived a plan for keeping her at home. He sent for a basket of linseed, and upsetting it on the ground he ordered his daughter to put the seeds back, one by one, into the basket, counting them as she did so. Then thinking that the task he had set her would occupy the maiden the whole day, he withdrew. But by sunset his daughter had counted all the seeds and put them back in the basket, and no sooner had she done so than away she hurried to the jungle. So when her parents returned, they could find no trace of their missing daughter. After searching for days and days, however, they at last came across a monster python lying gorged in the shade of the trees. All the men being assembled, they attacked the huge reptile with spear and sword. But even as they struck at the snake, their appearance changed, and they found themselves speaking various dialects. The men of the same speech now drew apart from the rest and formed a separate band, and the various bands thus created became the ancestors of the different nations now existing on earth.1 But what became of the princess, whether she was restored to her sorrowing parents, or whether she had been swallowed by the python, the story does not relate.

The Kukis of Manipur, another hill race of Assam, account for the diversity of languages in their tribes by saying, that once on a time the three grandsons of a certain chief were all playing together in the house, when their father bade them catch a rat. But while they were busy hunting the animal, they were suddenly smitten with a confusion of tongues and could not understand each other, so the rat escaped. The eldest of the three sons now spoke the Lamyang language ; the second spoke the Thado language ; and as for the third, some say that he spoke the Waiphie language, but others think it was the Manipur tongue which he spoke. At all events the three lads became the ancestors of three distinct tribes.2 The Encounter   Bay tribe of  South  Australia   trace the origin  of languages to an ill-tempered old woman, who died long ago. Her   name   was  Wurruri,  she   lived  towards  the east, and generally  walked  about  with  a big   stick   in   her   hand   to scatter  the  fires  round which other people were sleeping. When at last she died, her people were so glad to be rid of her, that they sent messengers in all directions to announce the good news of her death.   Men, women, and children accordingly assembled, not to mourn but to rejoice over the decease and  to  celebrate  it by a cannibal   banquet.   The Raminjerar were the first who fell upon the corpse and commenced to devour the flesh ;  and  no  sooner did they do so than they began to speak intelligibly.   The  other tribes to the eastward, arriving later, ate the contents of the intestines, which caused them to speak a language slightly different. Last of all came the northern tribes, and having consumed the intestines and all that remained of the corpse, they spoke a language which differed still more from that of the Raminjerar.1

The  Maidu   Indians   of California   say   that   down   to a certain time everybody spoke the same language.   But once, when the people were having a burning, and everything was ready for the next day, suddenly in the night everybody began to speak in a different tongue, except that each husband and wife talked the same language.   That night the Creator, whom they call  Earth-Initiate, appeared to a certain man  named Kuksu, told him what had happened, and   instructed   him  how  to  proceed  next day when   the Babel of tongues would commence.   Thus prepared, Kuksu summoned all the people together, for he could speak all the languages.   He taught them the names of the different animals   and   so   forth   in   their   various   dialects,   showed them how to cook and to hunt, gave them  their laws, and appointed the times for their dances and festivals.   Then he called each tribe by name, and sent them off in different directions,  telling   them   where   they  were   to  dwell.2

We have seen that the Tlingits of Alaska explain the diversity of tongues by the story of a great flood, which they may have borrowed from Christian missionaries or traders.1

The Quiches of Guatemala told of a time, in the early ages of the world, when men lived together and spoke but one language, when they invoked as yet neither wood nor stone, and remembered naught but the word of the Creator, the Heart of heaven and of earth. However, as years went on the tribes multiplied, and leaving their old home came to a place called Tulan. It was there, according to Quiché tradition, that the language of the tribes changed and the diversity of tongues originated ; the people ceased -to understand each other's speech and dispersed to seek new homes in different parts of the world.2

These last stories, in attempting to account for the diversities of language, make no reference to a Tower of Babel, and accordingly they may, with the possible exception of the Tlingit tale, be accepted as independent efforts of the human mind to grapple with that difficult problem, however little they succeed in solving it.
 

Oct.2002

 
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