If I could ask them one question . . .
Come Follow Me, Lesson 33
For Come Follow Me, lesson 33, Aug 17-23, Helaman1-6
If I wanted to encourage thought and try to understand devout believers better, I might ask:
“Do you think the Tower of Babel story really happened?”
Things to consider:
- Helaman 6:28 declares the Tower of Babel account a literal and factual event. According to scriptural account, prior to the Tower of Babel, there was only one language spoken on the whole earth (Genesis 11:1, 9). This has been confirmed by the Mormon Church (The Flood and the Tower of Babel, by Donald W. Parry). Then, God confounded the language of the people when they built the Tower of Babel, causing them to forget the one language that had been used to that time. It seems possible that by “whole earth” it might have meant the whole land around the tower. I’ll get back to that, but for now, let’s assume it means that every single person on earth spoke one language up to that time.
- If true, this would mean that until about 4,200 years ago (according to Bible chronologies I’ve seen including this one at the Church’s site) there was only one language on the earth, presumably the language of Adam or Adamic language which was apparently powerful even in its written form.
- And, this language confounding is very well established LDS doctrine. If it is just the philosophy of men, it is mingled extensively with scripture like these other Book of Mormon verses: Omni 1:22, Mosiah 28:17, Ether 1:33, and the Title Page of the Book of Mormon which Joseph Smith claimed was part of the original translation according to History of the Church, 1:71. Then, recently enough to be copyright protected, the Church published the Introduction to the Book of Mormon that confirms to this day that the Tower of Babel and resulting language confounding actually happened.
- If this is true, then perhaps Sumerian was the Adamic language because we have written examples going back to about 5,000 years ago (Cuneiform). Oh, except there would be some problems with this. First of all, there doesn’t seem to be an abrupt massive change or disappearance of Sumerian at one single point in time. It seems Sumerian gradually evolved from Archaic Sumerian to Classical Sumerian to newer forms of Sumerian to languages that were no longer considered Sumerian (but were clearly derived from Sumerian) over hundreds of years. This seems to be a natural, organic evolution of the language, not a relatively quick “confounding” of the language. In addition to that, there were at least a few other written languages before the alleged Tower of Babel. As I understand it, each of these appears to have evolved over time naturally as if there had been no divine intervention to confound them.
- Another problem with the Tower of Babel language confounding is the context of how the earth was peopled at the time. The building of the Tower of Babel and the confounding of language is supposed to have taken place about 4,200 years ago. It seems there were already millions of humans (Historical Estimates of World Population), spread among all continents except Antarctica. Even if an entire city of say 50,000 people (which would have been very large at the time) had actually built this tower, it would have been a very small portion of the entire human population at the time. Even if an entire region of 1,000,000 people was devoted to building the tower, that would only have been a fraction of the worldwide population. Why would God confound the language of millions of individuals spread across the entire globe because of something a relatively small portion of the world population did? What kind of God or even god does that? Did you ever have faith in such a God, or did/do you “believe that men will be punished for their own sins” (2nd Article of Faith)?
- But, as I mentioned earlier, it is possible that it was just the people in all the land around the tower—that only one city or civilization had their language confounded because of the tower. According to the Bible, God said, “they [the people building the tower] have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Genesis 11:6). It’s not exactly clear why this bothered God so much. I’ve seen it suggested in Mormon Church sources that God was displeased because the people were arrogant enough to try to get to heaven on their own, because they were seeking glory, or because they were trying to imitate the temple of God without God’s authority (though it seems the first temple by the followers of Elohim would not be built until hundreds of years later, A Temple Before Solomon?). The consensus however, is that the people who built the tower were wicked, so God confounded their language. This would have had a horrible impact on the people. Their society, their way of making a life for themselves, all would have been damaged by such a confounding. Consider all who would have been impacted by this. Children would have suffered greatly along with the adults. It would seem children could no longer understand their parents and vice versa. It would seem reasonable that many would have suffered horribly, maybe even to the point of starvation. All that suffering of innocent children because of a curse from God. Again, what kind of God or even god does that? Did you ever have faith in such a God, or did/do you “believe that men will be punished for their own sins” (2nd Article of Faith)?
- What do you think? What makes more sense? Should the story of the Tower of Babel be taken literally, or might it make more sense as a metaphor or parable? (see the RationalWiki Tower of Babel article for more information)
Other observations about this lesson’s reading:
- Swords seem anachronistic (Helaman 1:14, 23).
- More than 500 years after the Mulekites came to the Americas, Coriantumr is said to be a direct descendant of Zarahemla, who was presumably of the House of Israel, so lack of DNA evidence is a challenge (Helaman 1:15).
- More unnecessary and redundant language seems unlikely for a record engraved on metal plates (Helaman 1:21).
- Cement seems like an anachronism given the context of Helaman 3:7-11.
- Extensive records are said to have been kept, yet not one glyph has been discovered that suggests any of this book is true (Helaman 3:13-16).
- The prosperity gospel is taught (Helaman 3:20, Helaman 4:15).
- The apparently ambiguous or misleading term “endless” is used to describe wo (Helaman 5:12).
- In sharp contrast to modern prophets, two Book of Mormon prophets, Nephi and Lehi, are able to astonish by convincing non-believers to believe (Helaman 5:19).
- Another miracle precedes the faith (Helaman 5:26-34).
- The amazing flip-flopping Nephites (Helaman 6:7-8, 14, 16, 31-32).
- I speculate on how the United States’ war on terror might be different had Joseph Smith instituted a theocracy that worked like in this verse, Helaman 6:37.
If you could ask believers questions about the scriptures for this lesson, what would you ask?
Have fun studying!
If I could ask them one question, Lesson 33