The Tower of Babel Story: A Cross-Cultural Tale
Have you ever stopped to marvel at the vast variety of languages on Earth? According to Ethnologue, there are about 7,000 total languages found throughout the world. Where exactly did they all come from?
Although there are many hypotheses regarding the origin of language, there is no one general consensus amongst scholars. The oldest belief — that there was a single language that eventually evolved into many — is detailed in many Tower of Babel stories from various cultures. The similarities and differences of these fascinating tales still leave us with unanswered questions.
Tower of Babel Bible Story
The most famous Tower of Babel concept is the one that appears in Genesis.
In the famed tale, the people of the world came together to build a tower that would be tall enough to reach the heavens. At the time, there was one universal language on the planet, which made it easy for the people to communicate with one another and facilitate the tower’s construction.
However, this endeavor dismayed God, as he perceived it to be a shortcut to gain entry into heaven. He decided to put a stop to the construction by confusing the people’s language and scattering the humans all over the world.
Other Tower of Babel Stories
The Tower of Babel tale isn’t exclusive to Christianity or Judaism. Other cultures and religions have their own stories about the Tower of Babel.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints cites the Genesis tale, but there is another part of the Tower of Babel story that is specific to the Mormon faith.
According to the Book of Ether in the Book of Mormon, God changed the language of the people to thwart their plans of getting to heaven — except for a few. A man named Jared and his brother both prayed to God that he would not change their language because they still wanted to talk to their families.
Because Jared and his brother were “righteous men” who obeyed the word of God, God answered their prayers and let them keep their language. The disciples of these men became known as the Jaredites, who eventually made their way to the promised land of America.
Sumerian culture talks about a ziggurat called Etemenanki. Known as the “House of Foundation of Heaven on Earth,” Etemenanki was dedicated to Marduk, the patron deity of Babylon. It measured roughly 300 feet tall and featured seven levels.
Today, only the remains of Etemenanki are visible, residing in modern-day Iraq. However, they serve as potential evidence of the existence of the famed Tower of Babel.
A section of the Qur’an mentions an incident that resembles the Genesis Tower of Babel story, except there are a few key differences. In the Islamic tale, the story takes place in Egypt, and it is the Pharaoh who orders a minister named Haman to build a tower that reaches the heavens.
Similarly, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus links the tower’s construction to Noah’s great grandchild, Nimrod. According to the Old Testament, Nimrod allegedly ordered the people to build the tower to rebel against God.
The tower’s construction is described in the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch, a text that was written between the first and third centuries. The text describes the condition of Jerusalem after the sack by Nebuchadnezzar.
The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch details a vision of Baruch ben Neriah, a scribe and disciple of the prophet Jeremiah. In the vision, he sees the punishment of the builders of the “tower of strife against God,” which many interpret to be the Tower of Babel.
Tower of Babel: Truth to the Story?
All of these stories, despite coming from different cultures and religions, bear an uncanny resemblance to one another. Can this be brushed aside as a bizarre coincidence, or is there some truth to the story of the Tower of Babel? Continue to explore this intriguing topic on your own to come to your own conclusions about the tale’s authenticity.
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The Transformational Power of the Viking's Runes
The Birth of Runes
The Viking runes came into being when Odin brought them forth from another world. Historians from the National Museum of Denmark explain that Odin ruled over Asgard, which contains Valhalla, “the hall of the slain.” Half the warriors who died in battle were collected by his female handmaidens, the valkyries, who belonged to him. As such, Odin was the object of worship by kings, warrior chieftains, and their people.
In a mythic Viking tale, Odin wounds himself with his own spear before hanging himself from the Yggdrasil—the world tree in Norse culture—for nine nights, drawing wisdom from the Depths of Urd, just below it. From there, Odin sees the runes that existed even before his own coming into being, “a time before time.”
Just as he’s about to die, Odin gathers up the runes and shares them with all of creation and an array of supernatural entities and human beings. Eventually, the runes were given their shapes and phonetic values by subsequent tribal elders. They were carved on weapons, tools, jewelry, amulets, bones, pieces of wood, memorial stones, church walls, and other hard surfaces.
Ancient peoples of the Germanic lands knew the runes to be beyond the time and space with which most people are familiar. Some experts suggest that they were never really “invented,” but are instead eternal, pre-existent forces that Odin discovered through his aforementioned superhuman ordeal.
Historians have linked the runes to areas with a history of Germanic-speaking peoples, including from Iceland to Scandinavia, throughout England, and into Central Europe. Even Constantinople is home to the runes, showing that ancient seafaring cultures had made their way into what is now modern-day Turkey.
Reading the Runes
We may use the metaphor of a tree to assess how the runes are read. Historian Emma Groeneveld noted that “they are generally made up of vertical lines — one or more — with ‘branches’ or ‘twigs’ jutting out diagonally (and very occasionally horizontally) upwards, downwards or in a curve from them. They can be written both from left to right and from right to left, with asymmetrical characters being flipped depending on the direction of writing.
Each rune represents a phoneme (a speech sound) and had a name, made up of a noun, that started (and in one case, ended) with the sound the rune was mainly associated with. Lots of regional and temporal variation existed in the shapes of the letters.”
Experts of Norse mythology explain that, on the surface, runes seem to be letters. However, they are much more, because each one is a symbol of a cosmological principle or power. The very act of writing a rune called upon unseen spiritual forces. In every Germanic language, wrote historian Daniel McCoy, the word rune comes from the Proto-Germanic word that means both “letter” and “mystery.”
The Eternal Magic of the Runes
The runes have been used to link the natural and supernatural worlds, and this gives them the power to enact spells for protection or success. Still, said Olsen in an exclusive Gaia interview, according to archaeological and historical evidence, runes were used as magical tools for healing, transformation, building wealth, and for making the world a better place.
The power of the runes is in their sound vibrations, teaches Olsen. Each runic character represents a letter so that it can be combined with others to form words. The runes are also magical symbols, and each character has its own name and symbolic meaning.
Norwegian historian Marit Synnøve Vea explained that runes are not limited to their carved signs, but are also applied in certain songs, magical formulas, secret skills, and for secrets hidden in Skaldic (Old Norse) poetry. Vea noted that runic magic was used to foretell the future, as a form of protection, to cast spells, to cure illness, to bestow love, and much more.
But where there is power, there is a warning. In the wrong hands and minds, runes carved by unskilled persons could represent risky business. Vea cites a poem from the Old Norse Egil Saga that serves as an ancient warning for the modern generation:
Runes none should grave ever
Who knows not to read them;
Of dark spell full many
The meaning may miss.
Ten spell-words writ wrongly
On whale-bone were graven:
Whence to leek-tending maiden,
Long sorrow and pain
The history of the runes is the history of timelessness, a paradox among paradoxes. Often regarded as tools for parlor games, serious historians have found the deeper meaning in ways the runes can be read and applied for the betterment of life on this planet and the invisible worlds.