The orthodox interpretation of the Tower of Babylon from Genesis 11:1-9 attempted to explain the origin of different cultures/languages, and that man cannot, and should not dare, challenge the power and might of God. In this first section of Genesis 11, the generations following the Flood and Noah’s Ark are a united Humanity, singular in language and origin, who attempt to build a tower to the heavens. God sees this united humanity as a challenge to his power, and quickly scatters the people of Babylon both geographically and with language; however, upon reexamination, a plausible alternative interpretation is that Humanity is extremely powerful and intelligent, but there are certain barriers and things man was never meant to know and God’s intervention was meant to save us from ourselves.
The story of Babylon has key similarities to that of the Titan known as Prometheus in Greek mythology, in particular God(s)’s fear of an intelligent creature. Prometheus was punished for both his creation of man, a creature that was self-aware, and for gifting them with fire, a symbolic representation of knowledge. In Genesis 11, there are two vital verses which specifically reveal the fear of God to the capabilities of man, just as Zeus and the other gods feared Prometheus and his creation.
5And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men had built. 6And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”
Just like in the Greek interpretation of man’s obtainment of knowledge, with humanity’s first real concerted effort in Genesis, the ‘cat’ was out of the bag. This alternative interpretation of Genesis holds that man is an actual ‘threat’ to ‘God.’ God being either an actual deity or nature, and the ‘threat’ is our capacity for knowledge. This story represents the inherent ability within men, and our threat to the natural order of things around us; unlike the rest of the Earth’s creatures, man is unique in his gift of conscious thought and ability, a tool that makes humanity infinitely powerful and sovereign over our environment. God’s admittance of this in Genesis is seen as the ultimate recognition of man’s influence and capability over his world, and what potential risks we hold, as God would later deal with.
Symbolically with the traditional interpretation, the end of Babylon and the division of humanity is parallel to that of Prometheus’ punishment to eternal torture and suffering. The consequence for attempting to match God only resulted in our downfall; however, going further, we must keep in mind that God does not only possibly represent a deity, but reality and nature itself. Just as Adam and Eve disobeyed God and obtained the fruit of good and evil, man’s ability to cooperate and manipulate his environment leads to the possibility of entering realms of science and knowledge that were never meant to be obtained. With this in mind, we see that God destroyed Babylon not necessarily out of self-interest and fear for himself, but for the self-interest of humanity and fear for our survival. Or, through a naturalist view, we see that our language and cultural barriers that humanity developed through the centuries serves overall as a protection, rather than a hindrance as most would think. God confused our language and dispersed man to prevent us from crossing thresholds that could lead to unimaginable danger and suffering to humanity’s condition, or even our own extinction. By attempting to enter the heavens, man came too close to the Sun, and God saved us. These ‘Heavens’ that man attempted to reach before divine intervention brings into mind our current technological state, and the threats that our knowledge has unleashed upon the 20th and 21st century, most relevant being Atomic Power.
Humanity was the Prometheus in Genesis, and ironically to this day Prometheus is used as a symbol of progress and science. Humanity’s never ending ambition for knowledge at face seems like a beneficial characteristic key to prosperity, but one must think at what cost would man finally be able to challenge God. In contrast to the traditional view, God’s intervention was not an act of wrath, but the exact opposite: an act of mercy. Just like in the Garden of Eden when God warned us of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God’s dispersal of man was intended to save us from the Heavens, something we couldn’t possibly begin to imagine.