Return to Babel

Detail from The Tower of Babel by Brueghel. Lots of boats.

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. – Genesis 11, King James Bible

The people had ideas above their station. United in action, they were to build a city that could stretch to the sky, to take the place of God Himself. For this great presumption, they were scattered, their languages confounded and the city abandoned. But what if the story had a sequel? What if the people of the world decided to return to their old task, to combine their labours and usurp the seat of Heaven?

The people are scattered across the face of the earth. They speak many different languages, they know none but their own kind. They have heard tales of Babel, a bold and impetuous undertaking that ended in confusion and tragedy. As they hear the story, some wish to see the abandoned city to imagine what could be. The most eager of the tribes gather their belongings and set out to find their distant kin.

Coming from many far-off locations, the peoples find their separate ways to Shinar and converge in the shadow of Babel. The abandoned city fills their eyes, it is vast in its breadth and height. The peoples see it and wonder how it was that such pitiful creatures could build with such ambition. But as they camp amongst the city, they see that Babel is under attack, eroded by the harsh winds of heaven. Each day it seems that another building is toppled by the onslaught of the elements.

The peoples know they must build quickly, that they cannot do it in their small clans alone. They must work together, must find a common language. They stand across from each other in their groups, grunting and gesticulating. They attempt to educate each other in their respective linguistic systems, the arcana of the conjugations, the turnings of the tenses. They repeat, but louder. But it does not work. They speak different languages, neither exposition nor exclamation can solve that. So they begin to work together. With simple gestures they find shared tasks. The city is large and crumbling, there is much to do. They go to their tasks with others, though they can barely share their names. As they form and fire their bricks, mix and spread the mortar, they speak of what they do, and they begin to understand each other. At night, they sit amidst the ruins, they learn some pieces more and do not care if much passes them by. Soon they learn more, they can speak of all their hopes and dreams, they can craft great plans and share their visions of the life they are building.

More are coming every day. Messengers have gone to the scattered tribes and told them of the work that is being done, that is still to do. They tell them that the city can be saved, it can be built upon. Together the people can reach the heavens and make their mark upon the sky.

About Dara McHugh

Dara is an amateur social critic and a professional pedant. He enjoys punctuation, science-fiction and beer.
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