A prominent American rabbi sees a number of striking parallels between the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) and current geopolitical movements, especially the European Parliament.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, head of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, has studied these parallels for years. Recently he shared his thoughts with radio and television host Glenn Beck, most recently this evening (November 16) on Beck’s television program. He has also written about the matter here, and at least one other observer distilled his thoughts here.
Lapin begins with the story of the most likely builder of the city and tower of Babel: King Nimrod. Shem (Genesis 10:1b-11:10a) describes him as “a mighty hunter before the LORD.” Lapin says that Nimrod wasn’t hunting animals, but men—not to kill, of course, but to recruit into his kingdom. But Nimrod had more in mind than an ordinary kingdom. He was the first post-Flood political leader to attempt to unite all of mankind. Naturally, Nimrod would have to inspire in his subjects a vision of a higher purpose. Shem records his message:
[L]et us make for ourselves a name; otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.
Lapin also sees some disturbing symbolism in the story of the making of the brick and asphalt that Nimrod used for building materials to build his Tower. Specifically,
They used brick for stone, and they used [asphalt] for mortar.
In fact, the Hebrew words for brick and stone have the same root. But brick is regular, and stone irregular. As Lapin explained to Beck, stones are a metaphor for individuals, with individual differences and liberties, while brick is a metaphor for conformers, who subordinate and strive to eliminate their differences. This recalls this line, spoken by The Leader in the episode “The Eye of the Beholder” of The Twilight Zone:
It is important, not only that we have a norm, but that we conform to that norm! Differences weaken us!
Lapin also points out that the Hebrew for mortar and matter were similar. Indeed they are the same word. (For that matter, the words for asphalt and mortar share the same consonants.) Thus Lapin says that the modern Nimrods hold their subjects together through materialism, which could take the form either of the pursuit of material prosperity or the acceptance of a material theory of the origin of the universe, the earth, and life.
Lapin has also observed that the Hebrew for tower (migdal) and great (gadol) are almost identical. This, Lapin says, is deliberate: no “small” project would do for a recruiting tool for the society that Nimrod strove to build.
The original Babel story ended when God introduced language variation in a single moment in the Tower workforce. Nimrod’s kingdom collapsed, and the people migrated away from the region. (Noah had probably journeyed much further east and founded the nation called China, or literally “The Path.”) Lapin hastens to say that this was not a curse, but a rescue. God was not being against all cities, but He did cause Nimrod’s conformists to revert to their individualistic ways—or to become stones once more instead of bricks.
In the last segment, Lapin and Beck displayed the original Pieter Bruegel painting of the Tower of Babel to a more modern structure: the Louise Weiss Building, the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Alsace-Lorraine, France. Those structures look alarmingly similar—and though European Union officials have denied that the designer deliberately sought to evoke the Tower, or even the Pieter Bruegel painting, several observers have found and displayed images of an original poster (“Europe: Many Tongues, One Voice”) showing a workforce building a crude structure that superficially resembles the Tower as Bruegel depicted it.
How the modern Babel story will end is impossible to predict. The European Union is coming under strain, but its goals remain unaltered. Lapin intends his message as a warning: do not conform to a project of that kind.
This article is part of the Tower of Babel series.
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