Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Speech. Probably Hebrew; in which language we have the most ancient book in the world, the work of Moses. This language has been preserved ever since, though with some alterations. Most of the oriental languages are but like dialects from it, as French, Italian, &c. are from Latin. The arguments which are brought to prove that other languages are more ancient, because the names of men, &c. have a proper significance in them as well as in Hebrew, do not invalidate the right of the latter. The most respectable authors have, therefore, always declared for it. (Haydock)
Ver. 2. The East: Armenia, which lies to the eastward of Babylonia, whither they directed their course in quest of provisions for themselves and cattle, being now grown pretty numerous. (Menochius)
Ver. 3. Each one: not that every individual joined in this undertaking, considered, at least, as a rash and presumptuous attempt to save themselves from a second deluge. Some might innocently give in to it, meaning only to leave a monument to their common origin and friendship, before they separated into distant countries. Slime: literally bitumen. (Haydock) — The Hebrew, chomer, means also slime, or mortar. Stone is very scarce in that country, but the earth is fat, and very proper to make brick; it also abounds in naphtha, bitumen, &c.: hence the ancients notice the brick walls of Babylon. (Calmet)
Ver. 4. Famous before; Hebrew lest, &c.; as if they intended to prevent that event. (Haydock) — Their motive appears to have been pride, which raised the indignation of God. Nemrod, the chief instigator, might have designed the tower for a retreat, whence he might sally out and maintain his tyranny. (Menochius)
Ver. 6. In deed. This seems to be spoken ironically; though the effects of weak mortals, the sons of Adam, when pursued with vigour and unanimity, will produce great effects. These builders had conceived an idea of raising the tower as high as possible, hyperbolically, to touch heaven. (Haydock)
Ver. 7. Come ye, &c. As men seemed bent on taking heaven by storm, like the ancient giants, God turns their expressions, as it were, against themselves, and shews them an example of humility, let us go down. He acts the part of a judge, and therefore will examine all with the utmost diligence, as he denotes by these expressions; being really incapable of moving from place to place, on account of his immensity. (Haydock) — He seems nearer to men, by the effects or punishments which he inflicted. The address which he here makes is directed, not to the angels, but to the other co-equal powers of the Blessed Trinity. (Menochius)
Ver. 9. Babel, that is, confusion. This is one of the greatest miracles recorded in the Old Testament; men forgot, in a moment, the language which they had hitherto spoken, and found themselves enabled to speak another, known only to a few of the same family (Calmet); for we must not suppose, that there were as many new languages as there were men at Babel. (Menochius) — The precise number of languages which were then heard, cannot be determined. The learned commonly acknowledge the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Teutonic, Sclavonian, Tartarian, and Chinese languages, to be original. The rest are only dialects from these. English is chiefly taken from the Teutonic, (Calmet) with many words borrowed from the Greek and other languages. (Haydock)
Ver. 12. Sale, or Cainan. See Chap. x. 24; Chronicles[1 Chronicles?] i. 18, in the Septuagint. The variation in the years of the Patriarchs, between this ancient version and the Hebrew, is here again very considerable, and perhaps unaccountable. (Haydock)
Ver. 20. Sarug: in whose days St. Epiphanius places the origin of idolatry; but Eusebius (Pręp. i. v. & 9.) thinks it began in Egypt, among the posterity of Cham. (Calmet)
Ver. 27. Abram, the youngest of the three, being born only in the 130th year of Thare, ver. 32, and chap. xii. 4. He is placed first, on account of his superior dignity in the church of God, in like manner as Sem, Moses, &c. In his youth, he is supposed to have followed the idolatrous worship of his fathers. (St. Augustine, City of God x. chap. ult.[last chap.]; Genebrard, A.M. 1949[the year of the world 1949].) (Calmet) — But being soon enlightened by God, he becomes a glorious witness of the truth, and, according to many, is preserved miraculously, when thrown into the fire by the Chaldees, ver. 31. (Haydock)
Ver. 29. Jescha, whom many confound with Sarai, as if both Nacher and Abram had married the daughters of their brother Aran. But why then does Moses mention Sarai before, and then call her Jescha in the same verse? It seems as if he intended to designate two different women. (Haydock) — In effect, Abram himself says, Sarai was truly his sister, born of the same father, chap. xii. 13. See chap. xx. 12, where we shall give the reasons that seem to prove that she was the daughter of Thare, and not Aran. (Calmet) — Jescha does not accompany her grandfather, preferring, perhaps, to stay with Nachor, or to marry in her own country; if she were not already dead when Thare departed from Ur, a city of the Chaldees. (Haydock) — This city is probably Ura, in Mesopotamia, not far from Nisibis, which the Scripture often mentions as a part of Chaldea. (Acts vii. 2, &c.) (Calmet) — It is not, however, certain that the rest of Thare’s family remained behind; if they did, they removed soon after into the country about Haran, or Charrę, on the Chaboras. (Chap. xxix. 4; Josephus, Antiquities 1. 6.) (Haydock)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The tower of Babel. The confusion of tongues. The genealogy of Sem down to Abram.
1 And the earth was of one tongue,* and of the same speech.
2 And when they removed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Sennaar, and dwelt in it.
3 And each one said to his neighbour: Come, let us make brick, and bake them with fire. And they had brick instead of stones, and slime instead of mortar:
4 And they said: Come, let us make a city and a tower, the top whereof may reach to heaven; and let us make our name famous before we be scattered abroad into all lands.
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of Adam were building.
6 And he said: Behold, it is one people, and all have one tongue: and they have begun to do this, neither will they leave off from their designs, till they accomplish them in deed.
7 Come ye, therefore, let us go down, and there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
8 And so the Lord scattered them from that place into all lands, and they ceased to build the city.*
9 And therefore the name thereof was called Babel, because there the language of the whole earth was confounded: and from thence the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all countries.
10 These are the generations of Sem:* Sem was a hundred years old when he begot Arphaxad, two years after the flood.
11 And Sem lived after he begot Arphaxad, five hundred years, and begot sons and daughters.
12 And Arphaxad lived thirty-five years, and begot Sale.
13 And Arphaxad lived after he begot Sale, three hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters.
14 Sale also lived thirty years, and begot Heber.
15 And Sale lived after he begot Heber, four hundred and three years: and begot sons and daughters.
16 And Heber lived thirty-four years, and begot Phaleg.
17 And Heber lived after he begot Phaleg, four hundred and thirty years: and begot sons and daughters.
18 Phaleg also lived thirty years, and begot Reu.
19 *And Phaleg lived after he begot Reu, two hundred and nine years, and begot sons and daughters.
20 And Reu lived thirty-two years, and begot Sarug.
21 And Reu lived after he begot Sarug, two hundred and seven years, and begot sons and daughters.
22 And Sarug lived thirty years, and begot Nachor.
23 And Sarug lived after he begot Nachor, two hundred years, and begot sons and daughters.
24 And Nachor lived nine and twenty years, and begot Thare.
25 *And Nachor lived after he begot Thare, a hundred and nineteen years, and begot sons and daughters.
26 *And Thare lived seventy years, and begot Abram, and Nachor, and Aran.
27 And these are the generations of Thare: Thare begot Abram, Nachor, and Aran. And Aran begot Lot.
28 And Aran died before Thare his father, in the land of his nativity in Ur of the Chaldees.
29 And Abram and Nachor married wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai: and the name of Nachor’s wife, Melcha, the daughter of Aran, father of Melcha and father of Jescha.
30 And Sarai was barren, and had no children.
31 *And Thare took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Aran, his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, the wife of Abram his son, and brought them out of Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Chanaan: and they came as far as Haran, and dwelt there.
32 And the days of Thare were two hundred and five years, and he died in Haran.
1: Wisdom x. 5.
8: Year of the World about 1800, and Year before Christ 2204.
10: 1 Paralipomenon i. 17.
19: 1 Paralipomenon i. 19.
25: 1 Paralipomenon i. 26.
26: Josue xxiv. 2.; Nehemias ix. 7.
31: Judith v. 6.; Acts vii. 2.