The Tower of Babel
Mel Rosenberg © 2014
Once upon a time, so we are told, there was a lovely village named Babel. It stood in the middle of a fertile valley called the Valley of Shinar. The villagers of Babel had a good life. The soil was dark and rich. A river of sparkling cool water ran by the town. Fruit trees grew in every corner. Sheep and cattle grazed on thick, green meadows.
In Babel there was a young lad named Gamla. Gamla had ideas. And since it was not often that anyone had an idea, whenever Gamla had an idea, everyone came round to hear about it.
“We have a fine life in this here village”, Gamla began. “We have farm animals to give us meat and cheese, more fruit than we can possibly eat, grape vines to make wine, and fields of grain right down to the river. Our families live in comfortable huts and are protected from the wind and rain. We have a good life.”
“But there are many villages like ours in the valley of Shinar. And I am sure that there are many valleys like ours in other lands. And so I ask you, my fellow villagers, this: what makes the village of Babel special?”
Gamla paused here for a short sip of berry juice. The other villagers had never heard such a question and they needed some time to think it over. Finally, they agreed that there was nothing really special about the village of Babel.
Gamla then went on. “Now, you may ask, why should our village be special at all?”. The villagers nodded their heads in unison. This was just the question they were about to ask. “Well then, I will tell you”, he said. “Many years from now, when we are gone from this earth, who will know that we once lived here? Who shall remember our little village of Babel? Who will write about us in the great history books?”
The villagers agreed that they had never given this much thought. After a few moments of silence, one of the old timers rose to his feet. “Gamla is right” said the town elder. Why should the memory of our village just vanish from the face of the earth? Why on earth should we be forgotten? We must do something that will make us famous forever. We must build something which has never been built before.”
“A wooden bridge across the river”, shouted one villager.
“A new flour mill”, said another.
“A hotel for passers-by” cried out a third.
“A bridge a flour mill and a hotel”, replied Gamla, are all very important things. But many villages in our fertile valley already have long wooden bridges, powerful flour mills and comfortable hotels. There is nothing special about them. No, fellow villagers. We must build something so grand, something so tall, that people all over the valley will be able to see it. We must build a building so amazing that people will come from far-off lands to marvel at it. We must build something so special that scribes will write about it in history books. We must build something so strong that it will last forever.”
Again Gamla paused. There was a great silence. The villagers sat more quietly than they had ever sat, and listened more carefully than they had ever listened.
“Last night, fellow villagers, I had a great dream. I dreamed that we were building a great brick tower, rising right out of the center of our village and stretching higher than the clouds and as high as the stars. I dreamed that I was standing atop this tower, looking downwards towards the earth. And what a sight I saw! Our own village of Babel appeared no larger than an ant. The whole fertile valley of Shinar was a green blanket at my feet. The greatest lakes were no more than puddles, and the rivers wove like blue sewing thread. I could see far beyond the borders of the land of Shinar, to the mountains of the North and the great desert of the South. And when I awoke this morning, fellow villagers I realized that this dream must come true.”
“Fellow villagers, we shall make Babel the most famous village in all the world. We shall build a tower to touch the sky.”
The villagers of Babel had never been so excited. A great holiday was proclaimed in the village, and for seven days and nights the villagers did nothing but feast and dance, sing and drink wine. At the end of the week the plans for the great Tower of Babel were drawn up and the work began.
Oh, but how quickly the excitement died down when the work begun! Building a tower higher than the clouds is not an easy job. Bricks must be baked, mortar must be mixed. The villagers of Babel, who had grown fat in the fertile valley of Shinar, had forgotten how to work hard.
“What shall we do?” they asked Gamla (who was now the town mayor). “Each day the tower grows a little higher and we must carry the bricks all the way to the top. We are not used to such hard work. We shall never finish the tower.”
“Do not be sad”, Gamla comforted the villagers. “I have another idea. We shall send our messengers to the far-off mountains, deserts and forests. People who live in such places have a hard life, and are used to hard work. They must be strong to find food and build shelters. We will invite these people to come and help us build the tower. In return we will offer them good food and shelter. You will see how quickly they come.”
Very soon the village of Babel was full of workers who had come from the desert, mountains and forests surrounding the valley. They were poor, hard-working, hungry people, more than happy to receive fresh fruit, meat, cheese and water in return for their help in building the great tower of Babel.
But as soon as they began working the troubles also started. The workers from the far-off lands all spoke different languages. The desert people could not understand what the villagers were telling them to do, and the mountain people could not speak to the forest people. Very soon everyone was talking and no one was listening.
“Give me that brick”, said the desert man in desert language.
“The mortar is too thick”, said the mountain man in mountain language.
“Climb up the ladder”, said the forest man in forest language.
“I cannot understand what any of you are saying”, screamed the villager.
The sound of all the workers talking at the same time grew and grew into a great roar. And the greater the roar grew, the louder all the workers shouted. This great noise grew and grew until other villages in the valley could hear it. And since they had never heard anything like it, they called it “babbling” since it came from the town of Babel.
The babbling of the shouting workers of Babel continued to grow and grow until it could be heard all over the land of Shinar.
One night an even greater roar was heard throughout the palace of Shinar. It was not coming from the village of Babel, it was coming from the king. The far-off babbling was keeping him awake. “What is that terrible noise?” he asked his servant. “Your majesty”, said the trembling servant, “that is the babbling of the workers building the Tower of Babel”. “Tower shmower” said the king. Send my army to the village, and tell them that the King has politely requested them to remain quiet. Or else.”
Since the King’s word was law, it was not long before the people of Babel stopped their babbling. The desert people went back to the desert. The mountain people went back to their mountains, and the forest people went back to their trees. And as far as we know, the Tower never did get built. Legend has it that Gamla spent the rest of his long life sifting flour in the mill, and never had a good idea again. Today, there is no trace of any tower, and we cannot even find the village of Babel. We cannot even prove that this story is true. But every time you here people babbling, you have to wonder whether they might be the great great great great great great great great great great grandchildren of the babblers of Babel.
And one more little thing. They did become famous after all, didn’t they?