Saturday, June 28, 2008

Is Genesis 11:1-9 (about the Tower of Babel) a parable or folklore?

This is a question of genre or we might ask what kind of literature is Genesis 11:1-9? As we read through the book of Genesis, we see that this book is made up of many stories or narratives. Interestingly, about 40% of the biblical material is comprised of narrative and so it is good for us to take some time to understand this topic.

First, it is important to understand that a narrative can be a made-up story or a real (historical) story. Basically, a parable is a made-up story that draws upon ordinary experiences of life in order to illustrate a moral or spiritual truth. Parables generally illustrate a main point and are not intended to be read as an historical narrative.

Likewise, folklore is also comprised of made-up stories but these traditional stories are ones that are passed down from one generation to another. Folklore stories can be religious in nature but they are not necessarily so and are not to be read as an historical narrative.

A biblical narrative, on the other hand, is a true story that none-the-less retains some of the characteristics of all good stories: setting, plot, and characters. These elements are taken from history and formed into a narrative (a true story) in order to let the reader be drawn into the action so as to experience it more fully. Thus, narratives are not to be read as a history textbook would be read. They are meant to be experienced and to elicit a response from the reader.

Something else to consider is that in Scripture, narratives never exist as isolated stories but are always a part of a larger whole. In Genesis 11, for example, we have a historical narrative (a true story) of the Tower of Babel tucked into a larger story of humankind and God’s relationship to them.

As I look at Genesis 11 and look at the surrounding chapters and verses, I see in Genesis 5 a tell-tale sign of a true story: the genealogy from Adam to Noah. In chapter 10 we see another sign of an historical narrative—the Table of Nations. Directly thereafter, we have the story of the Tower of Babel—a true story of the consequence of an arrogant act of humankind.

-Jody Robinson


Robert said...

So you are saying there literally was a tower as described in Genesis, right?

Jim said...

Yes, I'm saying there was a real tower as described in Genesis

Barrett said...

It is interesting to me that there are still towers of this type viewable in Iraq today, called Ziggurats. Yet people like myself had always invisioned this cylindrical tower(like a smoke stack) rising up into the clouds.
What is more interesting to me, is what the building of the tower and the city symbolize. Man's first attempt at building a society, a political system, and a religion that excluded God. Maybe we all could learn from history?