Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Myth of Babel and the assumption that Christianity is false

Read the Guardian's guide to the ancient world on the Mesopotamians this morning. I think the Guardian because of it's design, it's provoking articles and because I frequently disagree with bits of it - much rather than than reading The Telegraph...

The booklet is fascinating stuff, especially after spending three days last week studying Isaiah at our Newfrontiers Leadership Training with Andrew Wilson. Isaiah prophesied in the days when the Assyrians were the superpower.

For all the interesting bits, the booklet is an exercise in dodging the testimony of the Bible. I'm taking as read here that the Bible is a reliable and coherent record of events.

The article on "Babylon: myth versus reality" argues that "a gigantic tower did exist there, and is thought to have been at least the visual reference for the symbolic one in the biblical tale" -  who on earth said that the incident in Genesis 11 is 'symbolic'? The text we have reads like history. The only problem is that you have to concede the existence of Yahweh to make sense of it as history...

The paper edition includes an article on Assyrian army tactics about the taking of the Judean fortified city of Lachish, which meant King Sennacherib would control the road to Jerusalem but ignores entirely why he didn't then managed to take down Jerusalem. Isaiah prophesied he would fail. That is tricky if you don't believe in Yahweh or in predictive prophecy - same issue for accepting that Isaiah is just one book not 2-3... gotta believe he predicted the name of King Cyrus a long time in advance... I don't expect to see it but perhaps one day someone might admit "the Bible says this, but we don't believe the Bible or it's god and therefore we're searching around for other interpretations" rather than just ignoring them. Honesty is underrated! The Bible records this:
And Yahweh sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword. (2 Chronicles 32:21 ESV)
An angel struck down his entire army of 185000 soldiers struck down, and the once unstoppable king crawled home to be killed in the house of his own god. That is extraordinary, and impossible if there is no Yahweh to send an angel. 2 Chronicles says that his failure was to think that Yahweh was just like the made-up gods of the nations he'd conquered. Fake gods can't stop an army, Yahweh isn't a fake god.

The underlying question here isn't could a great tower at Babel be demolished or could a great army be struck down in one night. The question is - does Yahweh exist? Yahweh is the name of the one in the public square of human history brought his people up out of Egypt and formed them into a nation, who struck down Sennacherib's army, and who raised Jesus from the dead. He makes himself available for open-minded scrutiny and examination.

We find this same thing going on in John 9 - where a man is healed by Jesus. His friends and his parents confirm that he was blind and can now see. Something happened. He is then put on trial by the religious leaders, the Pharisees, who we're told had already made it illegal to say that Jesus is the promised Messiah. The search around in the darkness to find some alternative conclusion leaving the now seeing man bewildered before they throw him out of court. Their simultaneous interest in Jesus and deliberate avoiding of the most obvious conclusion would be comedic if it weren't tragic. We all have our presuppositions, Sennacherib, The Pharisees, The Guardian, me. The question is whether they're sound ones or not.


  1. doing Gen 11 with Steve next week.... I have to agree Gen 1-11 (or at least 3-11) reads like history, not 'symbolism' or 'fable'. Like this post...

  2. You're catching up fast in Genesis. Eek.
    The whole book makes much more sense when its read as being a piece of good literature rather than with extreme suspicion and a desire to have it say anything at all apart from what it appears to say.