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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/304

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Before the simpler laws of astronomy were known, the sun was supposed to be trundled out into the heavens every day and the stars hung up in the firmament every night by the right hand of the Almighty. Before the laws of comets were known, they were thought to be missiles hurled by an angry God at a wicked world. Before the real cause of lightning was known, it was supposed to be the work of a good God in his wrath, or of evil spirits in their malice. Before the laws of meteorology were known, it was thought that rains were caused by the Almighty or his angels opening "the windows of heaven" to let down upon the earth "the waters that be above the firmament." Before the laws governing physical health were known, diseases were supposed to result from the direct interposition of the Almighty or of Satan. Before the laws governing mental health were known, insanity was generally thought to be diabolic possession.[1]

So, in this case, to account for the diversity of tongues, the direct intervention of the Divine Will was brought in. As this diversity was felt to be an inconvenience, it was attributed to the will of a Divine Being in anger. To explain this anger, it was held that it must have been provoked by human sin.

Out of this conception explanatory myths and legends grew as thickly and naturally as elms along water-courses; and of these the earliest form known to us is found in the Chaldean accounts. We see it first in the Chaldean legend of the Tower of Babel.

The inscriptions recently found among the ruins of Assyria have thrown a bright light into this and other scriptural myths and legends; the deciphering of the characters in these inscriptions by Grotef end, and the reading of the texts by George Smith, Oppert, Sayce, and others, have given us these traditions more nearly in their original form than they appear in our own Scriptures.

The Hebrew story of Babel, like so many other legends in the sacred books of the world, combined various elements. By a play upon words, such as the history of myths and legends frequently shows us, it wrought into one fabric the earlier explanations of the diversities of human speech and of the great ruined tower at Babylon. The name Babel (bab-il) means "Gate of God" or "Gate of the Gods." All modern scholars of note agree that this was the real significance of the name; but the Hebrew verb which signifies to confound resembles somewhat the word Babel, so that out of this resemblance, by one of the most common processes in the history of myth formations, came to the Hebrew


  1. Any one who wishes to realize the mediæval view of the direct personal attention of the Almighty to the universe, can perhaps do so most easily by looking over the engravings in the well-known Nuremberg Chronicle, representing him in the work of each of the six days, and resting afterward.