Tower of Babel, Addendum

The Sons of Noah 

An early error in discussions of the sons of Noah was to associate the oldest son Japheth exclusively with Indo-European speakers.  “During the nineteenth century,” says Colin Kidd, “Japhetite was a common synonym for Aryan or Indo-European, and part of the success of this new philological concept appears to stem from its ease of incorporation within an established biblical genealogy for the world’s cultures and peoples.”[1] 

In my opinion, Japhetic languages included, but were not limited to, Indo-European.  The Indo-European branch of the family of Japheth was simply more successful in dominating various regions in Europe and India, just as English became the dominant North American language because of (at least in part) England’s control of the high seas during the era of new world settlement.  It does not mean local cultures receiving the onslaught of the Indo-European invasions (or migrations) were not themselves Japhetic in origin.  They would simply have been Japhetic clans who did not speak Indo-European. 

In an earlier “Tower of Babel” essay, I discussed the view that the end of the Late Uruk phase gave rise to migratory movements discernable in the beginnings of Early Bronze Age cultures.  Since the Bible says the world spoke one language at the time of the Tower incident, it follows that the Indo-European language could not have existed as a distinct language prior to the end of the Late Uruk  phase.  Thus, we could not agree with Colin Renfrew for instance, who theorized that Indo-European originated in the Neolithic period.  This would be too early for us since Neolithic comes before the Late Uruk period. 

The “homeland” of the Indo-European speaking wing of Japheth’s descendants can be traced to the Pontic-Caspian steppes (or prairies).  This area also probably saw the earliest form of the new post-Babel language of the Indo-European descendants of Japheth.  The reason these Japhetic tribes dominated non-Indo-European Japhetic tribes, as noted above, is because they were early users of the horse in warfare and herd management. 

In the earlier “Tower of Babel” essay, the focus was on Egypt, Canaan, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Troy, Syria, Assyria, Iran, and the Indus Valley.  Our question here is this: did the Tower of Babel incident have any effect on the descendants of Japheth?  Recent research may help answer the question in the affirmative.  Let us consult two books, one written by J. P. Mallory and the other by David W. Anthony.  According to Mallory, 

“But following Karanovo VI there is widespread abandonment of these tell sites and only a few reveal evidence of a later Karanovo VII phase of resettlement.  This last phase has little to do with any of the previous cultures of the tells and is regarded by many to have been the product of intrusive populations infiltrating the lower Danube region from the Pontic steppe.  These intruders initiate the Early Bronze Age of the Balkans, and in the opinion of many, they also introduce a very early form of Indo-European language among the native populations of southeast Europe.”[2] 

If we are right in seeing the Tower of Babel incident as leading to the beginnings of the Early Bronze Age, then it seems the descendants of Japheth were included in the judgment of linguistic diversification, just as were the descendants of Shem and Ham.  The above migration from the Pontic prairies into the lower Danube area, combined with the beginning of the Indo-European language, is at least what might be expected if the region was affected by post-Babel linguistic confusion.  For us, this would be an example, not of migration leading to linguistic change (as is usually the case), but rather of linguistic change leading to migration.  David Anthony confirms Mallory’s point: 

“About 3100 BCE [sic], during the initial rapid spread of the Yamnaya horizon across the Pontic-Caspian steppes, and while the Usatovo culture was still in its early phase, Yamnaya herders began to move through the steppes followed by a regular stream of people that continued for perhaps three hundred years….The migrants did not claim any Usatovo territory….Instead they kept going into the Danube valley….The largest number of Yamnaya migrants ended up in eastern Hungary, an amazing distance (800-1,300 km depending on the route taken).  This was a major, sustained population movement.”[3] 

These tribes migrated into the Danube valley at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (3100 BC in Anthony’s chronology), and eventually spread into Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Hungary.  Anthony asks “What started this movement?” and discussed various possibilities, such as shortage of pasture in the steppes, competition between elite families, development of a warrior culture, rumors of spoils in distant lands, and so on.[4]  We might suggest, however, that the judgment of God upon mankind was also of no small influence, even though not necessarily as great in Europe as it was in Mesopotamia.  It is not as if the Japhetic cultures didn’t deserve some punishment, for they committed virtually the same sin the builders of Babel did: the search for fame, glory, or a name for themselves.  Anthony says, 

“[E]arly Indo-European warfare seems from the earliest myths and poetic traditions to have been conducted principally to gain glory―imperishable fame, a poetic phrase shared between Pre-Greek and Pre-Indo-Iranian.”[5] 

The sin of the builders of Babel was the same, the quest for imperishable fame: 

“Come…let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4). 

But the chief end of man, as one of the old Reformation catechisms has it, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Or, as St. Paul says it: 

“For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 1:26-31). 


[1] Colin Kidd, The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000, 2006, p. 23. 

[2] J. P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth, 1989, p. 73; emphasis added. 

[3] David, W. Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, 2007, p. 361. 

[4] Ibid., pp. 364-65. 

[5] Ibid., p. 237.

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