Professionally I advertise myself as a “language expert,” which is quite accurate (see ), and I get a wide range of contacts from attorneys and private citizens regarding anonymous letters, plagiarism, contract interpretation, copyright infringement, and other issues where money, reputation, or something else of value is at stake. 

I also get questions about grammar and usage, which I answer gratis, just to shed a bit of linguistic insight on issues that usually cannot be resolved definitively because language is flexible and variable, and there just isn’t one right answer.

But a few days ago, I got this, which is indeed in a class by itself:

“My name is _______and I am student at Texas Women's University in Denton, Texas. As a philosophy major, I am currently writing a research paper outlining the argument against the Tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel is a story told within the Christian bible (Genesis 11:1-9) that tells how all the languages in the world began to exist.

“Within the bible, the people of Babylon decided to build a tower to reach the heavens. This made god angry so he decided to scatter the tower workers all around the world and gave them each a different language to speak. And this is the very reason there are many different languages.

“Within my research paper I am required to provide a professional reference. I would truly appreciate some feedback as a linguistic expert on the validity of the Tower of Babel.

“Is the Tower of Babel possible?
“Is it likely?
“Is it impossible? (I am personally inclined to believe that it is impossible)

“WHY and WHAT makes this story possible, likely or impossible?

“In a nutshell, what is the best reasoning for the many different languages that have existed?”

"I am truly grateful for your feedback and it will go a long way in my research paper.


My reply:

Dear _____,

I suggest you read my book, "An Atheist Reads the Torah" -- it answers this as well as many other questions.  Briefly, there is no archaeological or any other evidence for any of the events of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). The Tower of Babel is a complete fiction.  As far as we know, there is no evidence that everyone in the world spoke one language. I find it remarkable that this is even a viable point of view in an academic institution.

Scientific investigation tells us that the world's 5,000 or so languages are related to other languages in the distant past, and we can describe the historical processes by which ancient “proto-languages” change and ultimately divide into separate language families and individual languages and dialects as people moved farther and farther from each other.

Language is perhaps 100,000 years old. There's disagreement over whether it originated once or many times. We can't go much beyond the historical written records. I think it originated many times because the world's languages are so different. It probably started with gestures, mixed with nouns. Verbs and grammatical relations came later.

The real point of the Babel story is subjugation and dependence: God says that if humans can build the tower, they will be able to do whatever they set out to do and nothing "will be beyond their reach." We learn early on how the Torah writers felt about human ambitions.  

And who heard him say this?  The text doesn’t say that he said it to anybody in particular.  If God supposedly wrote that passage, why does he refer to himself in the third person?

Indeed, God’s method is successful, and he has a point: to this very day, language differences are the main source of cohesion within -- and the root of divisions between -- tribes and ethnic groups.

BTW, this story is not, properly speaking, in the “Christian Bible.” The first 19 books are known as “the Hebrew Bible” or “the Tanakhor “the Old Testament.”  Furthermore, all of Noah’s descendants settle in Shinar before they begin the tower; only afterward is it called Babylon (Genesis 11:2 and 9). 

I am really concerned about the quality and bias of your education.

Thanks for contacting me. I hope I have been helpful.




Humanists have long pondered the question of why religion, even though it is manifestly wrong and harmful to boot, manages, century after century, to survive and enslave most of the world’s people. 

Now comes one of the most astonishing answers I have encountered (OK, maybe I’ve been too sheltered): they teach in it college!

And they call it philosophy!  What a disgusting perversion of a noble endeavor.  In the search for an understanding of the mind, of life, of consciousness, knowledge, thought, beauty, morality, and everything else that makes us human, debating the truth of Bible passages has no place whatsoever.

The Middle Ages are gone, and good riddance.  Except at Texas Women’s University (and, no doubt, many other fine institutions).

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Comment by Joan Denoo on April 11, 2013 at 4:04pm

While attending Central Texas Community College in Killeen, Tx, in 1972-3, I took a comparative religion course; my seat mate was Asian, Thailand if I remember correctly. The instructor made fun of all other religions except Southern Baptists, and my friend was outraged. We had coffee together after classes, and she reported that he distorted her faith, told outright lies and then mocked it. He was a tenured professor at Baylor University of Waco, Tx. 



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