Fortress Press

Babel: Political Rhetoric of a Confused Legacy


Political Rhetoric of a Confused Legacy

Samuel L. Boyd (Author)


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In Babel: Political Rhetoric of a Confused Legacy, Samuel L. Boyd offers a new reading of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. Using recent insights on the rhetoric of Neo-Assyrian politics and its ideology of governance as well as advances in biblical studies, Boyd shows how the Tower of Babel was not originally about a tower, Babylon, or the advent of multilingualism, at least in the earliest phases of the history and literary context of the story. Rather, the narrative was a critique against the Assyrian empire using themes of human overreach found in many places in Genesis 1-11.

Boyd clarifies how idioms of Assyrian governance could have found their way into the biblical text, and how the Hebrew of Genesis 11:1-9 itself leads to a different translation of the passage than found in versions of the Bible, one that does not involve language. This new reading sheds light on how the story became about language. Boyd argues that this new understanding of Babel also illuminates aspects of the call of Abram when the Tower of Babel is interpreted as a story about something other than the origin of multilingualism. Finally, he frames the historical-critical research on the biblical passage and its reception in ancient Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sources with the uses of the Tower of Babel in modern politics of language and nationalism. He demonstrates how and why Genesis 11:1-9 has become so useful, in often detrimental ways, to the modern nation-state. Boyd explores this intellectual history of the passage into current events in the twenty-first century and offers perspectives on how a new reading of the Tower of Babel can speak to the current cultural and political moment and offer correctives on the uses and abuses of the Bible in the public sphere.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506480671
  • eBook ISBN 9781506480688
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 325
  • Publication Date June 20, 2023


Samuel Boyd's refreshing new study of the Tower of Babel, one of the literary jewels of the Bible, is astonishing in its scope and originality. It is a tour de force: a demonstration of how much interpretive novelty may still be achieved when all of a dynamic scholar's many areas of expertise are brought to bear on even the most familiar of texts.

Joel Baden, Yale Divinity School

It's rare that a scholar can navigate so deftly from the ancient settings of a biblical text's composition through the many stages of its reception, including our contemporary moment. But that is exactly what Samuel Boyd does in this absorbing and readable account of the Tower of Babel story. Moving among language, religion, politics, art, popular culture, and more, Babel accomplishes precisely what it intends: to explain the enduring influence of a biblical story and what that influence reveals about its many interpreters. This is a book for anyone interested in the Bible and its continued relevance.

Jeffrey Stackert, University of Chicago Divinity School