Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Genesis 10-11: Setting Tounges A Wagging

Confusion of the tongues by Gustave Doré (1865)

This part provides us with a whole load of begatting, however, (alas) those events are not illustrated in any Bible of which I am currently aware, which makes it into a fairly dry account of which tribes came from whose loins. I defy any pastor to do a homily chapter 10 without dwelling on the only interesting figure found therein: Nimrod. Thanks to him we have the ancient idiomatic expression "as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD" a turn of phrase by which one could render praise. Later extrabiblical folktales were to tarnish his name quite a bit, which may help explain why it is currently considered a term of abuse in American English.

Next we have the old and familiar folktale about the confounding of the languages of man by the gods. According to Josephus, this unprecedented tower was commissioned by King Nimrod, and may well have come in on time and under budget, if only the king wasn't being such an impious tyrant, setting his face and his followers against the gods.

This particular tale really makes one wonder why Allah is allowing the all those ludicrously tall structures to remain standing in Dubai. Can anyone gaze upon the Burj Khalifa for more than a moment or two without immediately recalling the artistic depictions of Babel? Possibly the Arabs are just pious enough as a people to get away with these architectural shenanigans without having their language split apart into various mutually incomprehensible dialects.

Speaking of how languages naturally evolve into dialects, why is it that the science of comparative linguistics is not constantly under attack from the religious right? Not unlike the clever biologists, these cunning linguists are making scientifically testable claims about the gradual evolution of new forms over aeons, and in the process directly contradicting the literal interpretation of how these forms arose suddenly via divine intervention. I'd expect that the Biblical literalists should at least try for equal time in the science classrooms wherever modern linguistics are being taught in lieu of ancient folktales. Perhaps a disclaimer sticker on undergraduate linguistics books? Probably I'd best stop giving them ideas now.

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