Genesis 11

Gen 11:1 the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech
Bruce R. McConkie
In the beginning God gave Adam a language that was pure, perfect, and undefiled. This Adamic language, now unknown, was far superior to any tongue which is presently extant. For instance, the name of God the Father, in this original language, is Man of Holiness, signifying that he is a Holy Man and not a vague spiritual essence. (Moses 6:57.)
This first language spoken by mortals was either the celestial tongue of the Gods or such adaptation of it as was necessary to meet the limitations of mortality; and Adam and his posterity had power to speak, read, and write it. (Way to Perfection, pp. 60-69.) In writing of the saints in the day of the first man, Moses says: "And a book of remembrance was kept, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration; And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled." (Moses 6:5-6.) The beauty and power of this Adamic language is indicated by a statement made by Moroni to the Lord about the Brother of Jared (who spoke the original and pure language): "Thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art unto the overpowering of man to read them." (Ether 12:24.)
During the millennium, it appears that men will again have power to speak and write the Adamic language. Of that day the Lord says he will "turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent." (Zeph. 3:9.) In some instances when the saints speak in tongues, the language impressed upon them by the power of the Spirit is the pure Adamic tongue. (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 19.)
Joseph Smith
Oh, Lord, deliver us in due time from the little, narrow prison, almost as it were, total darkness of paper, pen and ink;-and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language. (Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith's Teachings, edited by Larry E. Dahl and Donald Q.Cannon [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], "language".)
Gen 11:2 they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there
The Jewish historian Josephus explains that most of the people after the Flood were afraid to dwell in the plains, fearing another deluge.
"Now the sons of Noah were three,-Shem, Japhet, and Ham, born one hundred years before the Deluge. These first of all descended from the mountains into the plains, and fixed their habitation there; and persuaded others who were greatly afraid of the lower grounds on account of the flood, and so were very loath to come down from the higher places, to venture to follow their examples. Now the plain in which they first dwelt was called Shinar. God also commanded them to send colonies abroad, for the thorough peopling of the earth, that they might not raise seditions among themselves, but might cultivate a great part of the earth, and enjoy its fruits after a plentiful manner." (Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, 4:1)
The plain in the land of Shinar was the Mesopotamian plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It must have been the most fertile, lush, inviting landscape-much different than the arid desert of modern Iraq. This would become the seat of early civilization.
Joseph Fielding Smith
It is also a conceded fact that civilization in ancient times spread from the valleys of the Mesopotamia, which by interpretation means, the land between the two rivers. These two regions, the Mesopotamia and Egypt, were two of the most fertile spots of ancient times. And here two civilizations were established. All known history centers in the Mesopotamia and it was from here the Lord scattered the nations. Professor Willis Mason West, in his Ancient History, says: "The first homes of civilization were in the lower valley of the Nile and the Euphrates. In each of these regions a cheap food supply made possible at an early date a dense population, with a leisure and military class supported by the agricultural masses. In both districts, too, at a still earlier time, the marvelously fertile soil attracted enterprising tribes from different sources, and so brought about a mixture of races-apparently a condition favorable to progress." (Man, His Origin and Destiny [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 457 - 458.)
Gen 11:3 let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly
"The building of the tower was undertaken when the people discovered an important new 'technology'-the oven-baked brick. Ordinary mud brick, baked in the sun, could only be used to build so high, and then it crumbled under the stress. But the 'brick ... burned thoroughly' (i.e., in an oven) could be stacked quite high; the ziggurats at Babylon are three hundred feet high. In the Bible, bricks are mentioned only in connection with this tower, pharaoh's buildings, and idolatrous altars. This detail suggests the impudence in the people's feelings for the Lord in this society which had developed since the Flood." (Lee Donaldson, V. Dan Rogers, and David Rolph Seely, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Feb. 1994, 60-61)
Gen 11:4 let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven
Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God... He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers !
Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high, sooner than any one could expect; but the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was. It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. When God saw that they acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they were not grown wiser by the destruction of the former sinners; but he caused a tumult among them, by producing in them divers languages, and causing that, through the multitude of those languages, they should not be able to understand one another. The place wherein they built the tower is now called Babylon, because of the confusion of that language which they readily understood before; for the Hebrews mean by the word Babel, confusion. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, 4:2-3)
From the Jewish tradition, we have even more information regarding the audacity of man after the Flood:
"The iniquity and godlessness of Nimrod reached their climax in the building of the Tower of Babel. His counsellors had proposed the plan of erecting such a tower, Nimrod had agreed to it, and it was executed in Shinar by a mob of six hundred thousand men. The enterprise was neither more nor less than rebellion against God, and there were three sorts of rebels among the builders. The first party spoke, Let us ascend into the heavens and wage warfare with Him; the second party spoke, Let us ascend into the heavens, set up our idols, and pay worship unto them there; and the third party spoke, Let us ascend into the heavens, and ruin them with our bows and spears.
"Many, many years were passed in building the tower. It reached so great a height that it took a year to mount to the top. A brick was, therefore, more precious in the sight of the builders than a human being. If a man fell down, and met his death, none took notice of it, but if a brick dropped, they wept, because it would take a year to replace it. So intent were they upon accomplishing their purpose that they would not permit a woman to interrupt herself in her work of brick-making when the hour of travail came upon her. Moulding bricks she gave birth to her child, and, tying it round her body in a sheet, she went on moulding bricks.
"They never slackened in their work, and from their dizzy height they constantly shot arrows toward heaven, which, returning, were seen to be covered with blood. They were thus fortified in their delusion, and they cried, 'We have slain all who are in heaven.' Thereupon God turned to the seventy angels who encompass His throne, and He spake: 'Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.' Thus it happened. Thenceforth none knew what the other spoke. One would ask for the mortar, and the other handed him a brick; in a rage, he would throw the brick at his partner and kill him... those who had proposed to assault the heavens with their arms, God set against each other so that they fell in the combat; and those who had resolved to carry on a combat with God in heaven were scattered broadcast over the earth. As for the unfinished tower, a part sank into the earth, and another part was consumed by fire; only one-third of it remained standing. The place of the tower has never lost its peculiar quality. Whoever passes it forgets all he knows. (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, 7 vols. [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1909-38], vol. 1, "The Tower of Babel")
Gen 11:7 let us go down
Mark E. Petersen
Regarding the Tower of Babel he declared, "Let us go down, and there confound their language." (Gen. 11:7.) Note the plural form that is used.
In the Book of Abraham we also find the plural form in the description of the various steps in creation: "And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth. And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light; and there was light. And they (the Gods) comprehended the light, for it was bright; and they divided the light, or caused it to be divided, from the darkness." (Abr. 4:1, 3-4.)
This plural form appears throughout Abraham's record of creation.
Note now how the Prophet Joseph Smith shed light on this matter. In his revision of the fall of Adam, we read: "And I the Lord God said unto mine Only Begotten, Behold, the man is become as one of us." (JST Gen. 3:28.) The mystery of the plural form is solved, and the language used regarding Babel becomes quite clear. (Jaredites, pp. 7-8)
Gen 11:8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth
The Book of Mormon tells the story of one of the groups scattered at this time. Unlike the others, the Jaredites did not have their language confused. They were, however, scattered from Mesopotamia to the Americas.
"the Lord confounded the language of the people, and swore in his wrath that they should be scattered upon all the face of the earth; and according to the word of the Lord the people were scattered.
And the brother of Jared being a large and mighty man, and a man highly favored of the Lord, Jared, his brother, said unto him: Cry unto the Lord, that he will not confound us that we may not understand our words.
...therefore he did not confound the language of Jared." (Ether 1:33-35)
Jared and his brother received the promise that they would be taken to a choice land, "I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth." (Ether 1:42)
Josephus also recorded the population of the earth by scattered peoples. He explains that the Lord had commanded the people after the Flood to scatter abroad, but they were disobedient to His command. At the time of the tower, the Lord scattered them anyway.
God also commanded them to send colonies abroad, for the thorough peopling of the earth, that they might not raise seditions among themselves, but might cultivate a great part of the earth, and enjoy its fruits after a plentiful manner. But they were so ill instructed that they did not obey God; for which reason they fell into calamities, and were made sensible, by experience, of what sin they had been guilty: for when they flourished with a numerous youth, God admonished them again to send out colonies; but they, imagining the prosperity they enjoyed was not derived from the favor of God, but supposing that their own power was the proper cause of the plentiful condition they were in, did not obey him...
After this they were dispersed abroad, on account of their languages, and went out by colonies every where; and each colony took possession of that land which they light upon, and unto which God led them; so that the whole continent was filled with them, both the inland and the maritime countries. There were some also who passed over the sea in ships, and inhabited the islands: and some of those nations do still retain the denominations which were given them by their first founders. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, 4:1; 5:1)
Gen 11:9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel
"The Akkadian or Babylonian word babel means 'gate of God.' The word translates from Hebrew into English as 'confusion' or 'confound'-hence Moses' text, 'Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth' (Gen. 11:9).For some in the modern world, the historicity of the tower of Babel story, as with the Flood, is often discounted. One modern school of thought considers the account to be nothing more than an 'artful parable' and an 'old tale.' But Latter-day Saints accept the story as it is presented in Genesis. Further, we have the second witness of the Book of Mormon. The title page of the Book of Mormon explains that the book of Ether 'is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven.' The book of Ether itself then tells of when 'Jared came forth with his brother and their families, with some others and their families, from the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, and swore in his wrath that they should be scattered upon all the face of the earth' (Ether 1:33). (Donald W. Parry, "The Flood and the Tower of Babel," Ensign, Jan 1998, 35)
Joseph Fielding Smith
This story of the confounding of tongues and the building of the tower, is today almost universally disbelieved. It is classed among the folklore and mythology of the ancient peoples. Textbooks on sociology, all linguistic studies and history, ridicule, or ignore entirely, this history of the confounding of tongues. There are many theories in the world as to the origin of speech. Some of these have been mentioned previously and will not be enlarged upon at this point. Out of this interesting account of the confounding of speech opponents of the Bible and its scientific critics think they have given the Holy Scriptures a vital blow, and from this story they get great amusement. (Man, His Origin and Destiny [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 438 - 439.)
Gen 11:10-26 Now these are the generations of Shem
Based on Genesis chapter 5, and assuming the Fall of Adam was the year 4000 BC (which, by the way, is a big assumption), we can calculate the chronology of these ancient patriarchs. Noah would have been born in 2944 BC. Also that places the flood in the year 2344, as Noah was 600 years old when he entered the ark. He must have given birth to Shem at age 502 (see Gen. 7:6; 11:10). Now the chronology from the Fall of Adam can continue according to Genesis.
Age at heir's birth
Years after heir's birth
Age at death
Estimated birth/death dates
2944 - BC
2442 - 1842 BC
2342 - 1409 BC
2307 - 1874 BC
2277 - 1813 BC
2243 - 2004 BC
2213 - 1974 BC
2181 - 1951 BC
2151 - 2003 BC
2122 - 1911 BC
2052 - 1877 BC
This chronology places the birth of Abraham at the year 2052 BC. It is also remarkable to note that Arphaxad and Abraham were alive at the same time. Can we imagine Abraham being familiar with Arphaxad, Noah's grandson? How many people remember their great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather? That's six greats!
Joseph Smith
It appears from this account, that Nahor, brother of Abraham, Terah, Nahor, Serug, Reu, Peleg, Eber, Salah, Arphaxad, Shem, and Noah, all lived on the earth at the same time. (Lectures on Faith, 2:52)
Gen 11:26 Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran
If Terah had three wives, he could have fathered all three sons all in the same year. However, this language, similar to Gen. 5:32 would indicate that Terah began having sons about his 71st year. Again, our chronology then places the birth of the great Patriarch Abraham in the year 2157 BC. What do external sources tell us about the date of his birth?
Jewish sources place his birth at 1812 BC and Christian traditions (obviously not based on the Fall in 4000 BC) place his birth around 2000 BC. ( External histories, i.e. Egyptian, etc., do not allow us to place an exact date on Abram's year of birth.
Who cares? Well, the Genesis chronology tells us that Abram was born 1843 years after the Fall. If the Fall was the year 4000 BC, then Abram was born in 2157 and the end of the 6th seal would be the year 2000 AD. However, if the Jewish chronology is correct-that he was born in 1812 BC-that would place the Fall in 3655 BC and the beginning of the 7th seal at the year 2345 AD. If the Christian chronology is correct-that he was born in 2000 BC-that would place the beginning of the 7th seal at the year 2157 AD by the same logic. Quickly, it becomes evident that determining the year of the Second Coming based on Genesis chronology is problematic.
Gen 11:28 Ur of the Chaldees
Traditionally, Ur of the Chaldees, has been thought to be located in southern Mesopotamia. This tradition came from Sir Leonard Woolley's 1920's work in Tell el Mukay, known locally as Ur. Recently, LDS scholars have questioned this traditional location, arguing that an Ur of the Chaldees located further north and west makes more sense with the available evidence-see map 9 in current (2008) edition of LDS scriptures
"Most people have an interest in the material settings of the scriptural accounts they hold sacred. Beyond this interest, physical settings become particularly important when scholars locate scriptural sites on present-day maps, because on this basis scholars augment and supplement our body of scriptural knowledge with facts from the indicated sites. For instance, many scholars place the site of Abraham's Ur in southern Mesopotamia, and on that basis suggest that Abraham had contact with and was influenced by the dominant cult of that Ur, the cult of the moon god. With the aid of the book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, I will suggest an alternate location for the Ur of the Chaldees in the story of Abraham.
"Aside from the fact that ancient tradition allows a southern Mesopotamian location (as well as two northern Mesopotamian sites), those who opt for the southern Mesopotamian location base their conclusion on three pieces of evidence.
"First, the ancient name of tell al-Muqayyar is similar in sound to the Hebrew Ur (in the original cuneiform documents, the name can be read either Urim or Uri). These words are similar to the Hebrew Ur, but the similarities are not without problems.
"Second, the Chaldeans Abraham mentions in conjunction with Ur have been equated with the Kaldu, Aramean people living in southern Mesopotamia in the first millennium b.c. However, equating the Kaldu of the cuneiform documents with the Chaldeans of Genesis results in several problems...
"And third, because Abraham settled for a time in Haran, a known major center of the moon-god cult, scholars have theorized that the city of origin for Abraham must also have been a major center of the moon-god cult. The fact that Ur in southern Mesopotamia was also such a site tended to confirm that Abraham did indeed have his origins there. This assumption is not warranted, however, because the book of Abraham indirectly says that Abraham left Ur partly to get away from the local cult. He would hardly have gone to another location of the same cult. This would also probably exclude Ur in southern Mesopotamia as Abraham's city of origin.
"... As a result of these insights provided by the book of Abraham, some Latter-day Saint scholars increasingly feel persuaded that Ur of the Chaldees was located somewhere in or near northwestern Syria." (Paul Y. Hoskisson, "Research and Perspectives: Where Was the Ur of Abraham?," Ensign, Jul 1991, 62)
"Haran is located in Turkey, approximately to the northeast of Aleppo, Syria, just north of the modern-day border between Syria and Turkey. We do not know where the Ur is in which Abraham was born, but more and more scholars today assume that it was in Turkey, near the site of Haran, the location of which we know with certainty." (John M. Lundquist, Studies in Scripture, Vol. 2: The Pearl of Great Price, ed. by K. Jackson and R. Millet, [Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, 1998], 226-227)
Gen 11:28 Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity
Jewish traditions explain how Haran died. The story is a good one. However, it doesn't match the explanation in the book of Abraham. The Abraham account implies that Haran died in consequence of the famine in the land: "Now the Lord God caused the famine to wax sore in the land of Ur, insomuch that Haran, my brother, died." (Abr. 2:1) The Jewish tradition, while perhaps not reliable, is interesting and pervasive in rabbinical writings.
"Terah was a manufacturer of idols. He once went away somewhere and left Abraham to sell them in his place. A man came and wished to buy one. 'How old are you?' Abraham asked him. 'Fifty years,' was the reply. 'Woe to such a man!' he exclaimed, 'you are fifty years old and would worship a day-old object!' At this he became ashamed and departed. On another occasion a woman came with a plateful of flour and requested him, 'Take this and offer it to them.' So he took a stick, broke them [the idols], and put the stick in the hand of the largest. When his father returned he demanded, 'What have you done to them?' 'I cannot conceal it from you,' he rejoined. 'A woman came with a plateful of fine meal and requested me to offer it to them. One claimed, I must eat first, while another claimed, I must eat first. Thereupon the largest arose, took the stick and broke them.' 'Why do you make sport of me,' he cried out; 'have they then any knowledge!' 'Should not your ears listen to what you mouth is saying,' he retorted. Thereupon he seized him and delivered him to Nimrod. 'Let us worship the fire!' he [Nimrod] proposed. 'Let us rather worship water, which extinguishes the fire,' replied he [Abram]. 'Then let us worship water!' 'Let us rather worship the clouds which bear the water.' 'Then let us worship the clouds!' 'Let us rather worship the winds which disperse the clouds.' 'Then let us worship the wind!' 'Let us rather worship human beings, who withstand the wind.' 'You are just bandying words,' he exclaimed; 'we will worship nought but the fire. Behold, I will cast you into it, and let your God whom you adore come and save you from it.' Now Haran was standing there undecided. If Abram is victorious, [thought he], I will say that I am of Abram's belief, while if Nimrod is victorious I will say that I am on Nimrod's side. When Abram descended into the fiery furnace and was saved, he [Nimrod] asked him, 'Of whose belief are your?' 'Of Abram's,' he replied. Thereupon he seized and cast him into the fire; his inwards were scorched and he died in his father's presence." (Tvedtnes, Hauglid, & Gee, Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham [Provo: FARMS, 2001], 91)
Gen 11:29 the name of Abram's wife was Sarai
"At first I thought Sarah was lost in the shadow of her husband. Although extolled by many (including the Apostle Peter) as a model, obedient wife, she is too quickly passed over. Under closer examination, however, I began to view her not as submissive, but as quietly confident. She felt a true affection for her husband Abram, a feeling he returned in kind. Never in any of their wanderings, trials, or disappointments, did he presume to interfere with her authority-not even when it concerned the bondwoman Hagar and the son he had fathered by her.
"Hagar was Sarah's sorest trial in a life that seemed a continuous testing of her faith in God's promises... God overwhelmed Sarah. After she had despaired, given up, scoffed at the thought of being blessed, she suddenly found herself the fulfillment of all that had been covenanted. Such bespeaks the closeness, the individuality of God's relationships with his female children.
"She was called Sarai when, in her mid-years, she left her settled home in the teeming, cultured city of Ur and took up the life of a nomad. In the company of her husband Abram, their father Terah, and their nephew Lot, she traveled to Haran, the place of their family origins." (Jerrie W. Hurd, Our Sisters in the Bible, 6)
Gen 11:30 Sarai was barren; she had no child
In today's world, some women would count infertility as a blessing. The culture of Abram's day was completely different. A woman who was barren was discounted and despised. Women in particular would be cruel to those who were not blessed with fertility (Gen. 16:4-5). Men might ask, what good was Sarai's beauty if she could not give Abram an heir?
Spencer W. Kimball
Not everyone can have children. We realize, of course, there are some women who cannot have children, some men who cannot reproduce. The Lord will take care of all that if we have done everything in our power, if we have done what we could to make ourselves normal and productive and to follow the commandments of the Lord.
Few couples need remain childless. Men and women who have been unable to have children should build their faith. Many a barren woman like Sarah has had children through special blessings of the Lord. She was blessed in having a son-a son to a barren woman.
Sometimes operations or adjustments or hormones may make parenthood possible. Frequently fears and frictions and tenseness are causes for barrenness and sterility. Such people should do everything in their power to put themselves in a position to have their babies. Adoption of parentless children brings joy to many hearts. Few, if any, parents need be childless through their years. (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 330)
Gen 11:31 Terah took Abram his son, and they went forth... to go into the land of Canaan
Both apocryphal sources and the Book of Abraham indicate that Abram took his father out of Ur-not the other way around. Abram is the righteous one. His move is for righteousness. He leads his idolatrous father out of idolatrous Ur.
And it came to pass that I, Abraham, took Sarai to wife, and Nahor, my brother, took Milcah to wife, who was the daughter of Haran.
Now the Lord had said unto me: Abraham, get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee.
Therefore I left the land of Ur, of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and I took Lot, my brother's son, and his wife, and Sarai my wife; and also my father followed after me, unto the land which we denominated Haran.
And the famine abated; and my father tarried in Haran and dwelt there, as there were many flocks in Haran; and my father turned again unto his idolatry, therefore he continued in Haran. (Abr. 2:2-5)
Gen 11:31 they came unto Haran and dwelt there
The city Haran was not named after Terah's deceased son. Perhaps the son was named after the city. At any rate, Haran was not as steeped in idolatry as were the Chaldeans. This is what Abram was looking for, and it allowed him to teach and preach about the one true God. The Book of Jasher records: "And the people of the land of Haran saw that Abram was good and upright with God and men, and that the Lord his God was with him, and some of the people of the land of Haran came and joined Abram, and he taught them the instruction of the Lord and his ways; and these men remained with Abram in his house and they adhered to him." (Book of Jasher, 13:2, from Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham, 149)