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Friday, April 13, 2012

Towering Pride Gets Mankind Nowhere

This post is a response to Jack Barranger, a recent MUFON speaker, touted as author of several books, a seminary graduate in English, “a researcher on religion, spirituality, human origins, aliens & religion, Book of Enoch, The Bible and much, much more.”

In all fairness, I didn’t make it his lecture nor have I read his books. I am taking his point from a very brief summary on the MUFON flyer, which was sent out by email. It stated:

1.  Anunnaki aliens [Sumerian god-like entities who are mentioned in some of our earliest literature] gave humans religion to enslave us.
2.  The Anunnaki created us to mine gold for them.
3.  References from The Bible and The Book of Enoch were given to highlight events and fears created by the Anunnaki to keep humans obedient and unquestioning. These include ousting Adam & Eve from the Garden of Eden, destroying of the Tower of Babel, the Great Flood, and the threat of hell.

Barranger has done what many have done before him. He took an Israelite document which was written as history in order to make a clear theological point, discarded the author’s point, cherry picked through the passages, and, accepting the story as historically accurate, claimed that he had the true understanding of what happened and what it meant. Heck, I’ve probably done the same thing myself.

It reminds me of the time when I submitted a sentence in German to a language forum. I offered what I thought was a logical attempt at translation, but wanted it checked. (I am at mid-level in ability to read German.) An American who is much more advanced than I supported my translation, but two native German speakers who knew both the language and the culture jumped in and assured us both that the author meant the exact opposite of what we supposed. I think the same thing has happened with Barranger. He has so missed the author’s point in Genesis that he is proposing the exact opposite interpretation of what the stories in Genesis mean.

His first premise is not so crazy. The Enuma Elish (Tablet VI) and the legend of Atrahasis do say that the lesser gods worked hard in service to the higher gods, so they complained. Humans were created to take over the drudgery. Temples were huge and owned lots of land and cattle just for the service of the gods and denizens of the temples. These gods are very different from the OT deity in that they ate, slept, procreated, and fought each other, whereas Yahweh did none of those things. They were capricious and dangerous and needed to be mollified with sacrifices. Now whether these gods were aliens from another planet, demonic entities, mythological constructs, or a combination thereof is a question I won’t address here.

A friend recently noticed a similarity between two Genesis passages and asked me to write an expanded study of them. I think the comparison of the two stories helps to explain the whole point of the Book of Genesis.

First, Gen. 11:1-9, the Tower of Babel.

Genesis records that people came from the east (the Persian Gulf and beyond?) and settled in Shinar, which is Sumer, known as the cradle of civilization, situated between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what is now known as Iraq. There may have been different dialects in those ancient times, but there was one ‘lingua franca.’ Both the Bible and archaeology attest that at one point, Sumerian was spoken by most civilized people.

They built a grand ‘tower’ that was supposed to reach the top of the heavens. Genesis says that the bricks were fortified with bitumen and hardened by baking, which is also attested in Mesopotamian ziggurats. The baking and bitumen (asphalt) kept the bricks from turning to dust in a few hundred years. The purpose was “make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Sacrifices were undoubted offered at the top. The idea was also to reach the domain of the gods and acquire power, protection, and favor.

 The Hebrew word for tower is ‘migdol,’ which in later times when Israel was a state, was actually a cylindrical, stone tower used for military and civil logistics. They elicited no spiritual associations except that intercessors saw themselves figuratively as ‘watchmen’ on the towers of spiritual Zion. Those towers did have guards and soldiers during times of threat, but mostly they had literal watchmen.

I have no doubt that city walls in third millennia BCE Sumer, which was pre-Abraham, also had towers, but the Genesis tower was not made of stones. It was made of unique bricks that are still in evidence today in the ancient Mesopotamian ziggurats. They were undoubtedly set in forms very much like the illustration of brick making on Egyptian temple walls.

But why call it a “tower?” The root word for migdol is something like gadol, meaning greatness. So the ziggurat was the greatest thing in the region. There was nothing to compare to them in their day except maybe the great pyramids of Egypt. So it makes no sense that the Babylonian tower would be anything other than a ziggurat. Gods lived on mountains, and Sumer is a flat river plain, so the stairway to the top of the ziggurat was as close to heaven as you could get in the region.

The phrase, it touched heaven was also used idiomatically of the walls of Uruk in Sumerian literature. It just means they were really high. It’s like us saying, “I told you a hundred times to stop.” The thing that was unique about the tower was that God, or the gods, were supposed to be at the top. But… in the Genesis account He wasn’t. God came down to see what was going on and was so unwilling to acquiesce to the intent of the plan that He blew is all away. The people were scattered anyway, and languages proliferated. But why? Was it really to hold mankind back to enslave us or was there another reason? Let’s look at another story.

Gen. 28:11-17, Jacob’s Ladder.

In the story, Jacob is traveling from southern Palestine to northwestern Mesopotamia to find a wife (and to get away from his brother’s wrath). He gets as far as the little town of Luz (later Bethel) where there is already a Canaanite temple. He is tired, so he lies down on the ground and leans against a stone for a pillow. He has a vivid dream of a ladder that reaches to heaven. In the dream, God is actually at the top of the ladder and angels are ascending and descending, obviously carrying out missions to mankind at the behest of God.

God clearly identifies Himself. He promises that Jacob’s descendants will be uncountable. He renews the great promise that He made to Abraham, that the descendants of Jacob would inherit the land of Canaan. He promised to be with Jacob and watch over him wherever he went. He promised to bring him back to his native home. In other words, his diaspora will only be temporary.

Yes, the two passages are connected. One is man’s hubris thinking that with our works and ingenuity we can reach God and maybe even become god. It’s basically the promise of the ‘serpent’ in the Garden. You won’t die. God doesn’t want you to know that you can be like God and live forever. He’s holding you back.

God was not at the top of the ziggurat, but He was at the top of the ladder. The ladder might be a staircase like with a ziggurat or it might be a ladder. God Himself opened that portal while one man slept in the dirt. It didn’t go to a place in the sky, but went from one dimension to another. ‘Heaven’ isn’t ‘up there;’ it’s through the veil. It was a real supernatural pathway on which the angels came and went. The Babylonian priests would have killed to be able to wave a wand or say a chant and open such a portal. But God clearly rejected the first and initiated the second.

Sometimes even in our churches there can be a danger of leaders trying to open a pathway to God by building grand staircases in great castles. That’s why the work of the Holy Spirit is so critical in our ministries. When God opens the door, things get done. In Babylon, the ‘greatness’ was the magnificent structure. All who saw it for the first time gasped. It would have been like the Sistine Chapel of its day. In Bethel, the greatness was not any local temple. There was a common, dusty, sweaty man lying on the ground with stones for a pillow. The greatness was Jacob’s declaration that Yahweh is truly God and that he and his household would serve Him forever.

The reader will have to decide for himself or herself whether it is significant that, although in history both Babylon and Jerusalem fell to enemies and suffered catastrophic destruction, Babylon is today a half-restored ruin, whereas the descendants of Jacob are still prospering in what used to be the land of Canaan. Sadam Hussein thought that he wore the mantel of Nebuchadnezzar and was destined to raise the old city from the dust. But like the tower builders, he was unable to finish his task.

Here is the point of the Hebrew author of Genesis: Jeremiah 29:11-13

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.