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I'm not finding a coherent explanation of the ENTIRE timing issue of the Tower of Babel. That I'm seeing the issue talked about so little baffles me, as the basic math from a plain reading doesn't seem to work. I have searched for answers and tried to figure it out and am getting nowhere.

This is all in relation to Genesis 11 and 12.

According to the genealogy given in the text, Peleg (named thus "for in his days the earth was divided", Gen 10:25, 1 Chron 1:19) was born 101 years after the end of the flood, a descendant of Shem. The Tower of Babel story is inserted in the middle of 2 genealogy listings. All of Noah is before, then Babel, then a further genealogy of Shem, giving years which calculate to the 101 years.

1. How was there a big enough population in 100 years to not only survive, but begin building a city/tower? I have seen calculations and the estimates from both YEC and OEC sites have calculated a population of around 1,000 people in 100 years, many of whom would be children and ostensibly, half women who wouldn't be much help as they'd be caring for children, food, etc. This is a very generous estimate, by the way, and I'm not sure it accounts for any deaths. This is pushing normal fertility windows pretty hard.

2. The timeline as given makes Noah still alive during the building of the tower. The problems with them doing this under him as the living patriarch are obvious.

3. How did they have the technology and means to make fired bricks in only 100 years? Even if they had the knowledge through Noah's family previously, they are starting from scratch after the flood, with only what is on the ark to work with. They would need food, clothing, shelter, etc - and they're building kilns and a city complex already?

4. The text says building the tower was to make a name for themselves. Who were they trying to impress if they were all one family in one area, the flood survivors and their descendants?

I do believe the Creator God of the Bible is true and I believe the Bible is true (as intended, not always literally). I know Bible readers through the years have been able to do basic math - surely even Moses would have known this is not adding up. How has it been there in Genesis all this time without a proper understanding of this text? There must be an answer - or at least possible answers - but I can't figure it out. Please help me work through this.

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  • God could have guided it so a lot more females than men were born. And that twin births was a normal occurrence. Add polygamy to that mix and it might be possible to get a nuclear chain reaction in the population growth. Commented May 28 at 23:32
  • @Constantthin I had considered those possibilities for the population. I also consider this for the rapid re-population of animals so there were enough to eat AND spread all over the world AND make new species of the kinds. Perhaps God even shortened gestation times or they were shorter then as a rule. I don't think it states 9 months in the Bible for people or lengths for animals...
    – Jodi W
    Commented May 28 at 23:38
  • Which formula did you use in your calculation? How often did women give birth etc? Commented May 29 at 0:01
  • @Constantthin I looked at others' work. YEC website link and OEC website link Interestingly, the OEC site is more generous but doesn't give their calculations as the other site does..
    – Jodi W
    Commented May 29 at 0:05
  • You read the Bible and the math doesn't work? I mean, seriously? Commented May 29 at 14:05

8 Answers 8

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The question appears to be based on several assumptions that are questionable. But first the chronology according to Gen 11:

  • V10: Arphaxad was born two years after the flood
  • V12: Shelah was born when Arphaxad was 35. This is 37 years after the flood
  • V14: Eber was born when Shelah was 30. This is 67 years after the flood.
  • V16: Peleg was born when Eber was 34. This is 101 years after the flood.
  • V17: Peleg lived to the age of 239. This is 340 years after the flood.
  • 10, 11: Shem lived 502 years after the flood - long enough to see Abraham. [There is an ancient, unverifiable Rabbinic tradition that Shem was Melchizedek.]
  • Gen 9:28 - Noah lived 350 years after the flood. That is, he outlived Peleg!

Now to the assumptions in the question:

  1. The rebellion exemplified by the construction of the Tower of Babel could not have occurred while Noah was still alive. This is simply untrue - Noah was neither perfect nor the governor of all the earth - despite his possible pleadings, some people decided to rebel.

  2. Large enough Population. If we assume a quite credible population growth rate of 5% per year (it was likely much faster with almost zero death rate at that time because of great ages), 150 years after the flood, starting with 8 people gives a total population of 12,000 people. However, of we assume a growth rate of 7% (this has occurred previously), the 150 years gives a total population of 200,000. [1000 people in 100 years corresponds to a grown rate 4.94% p.a. However, the actual growth rate is like much higher and the time much longer.]

  • For what it is worth, my opinion is that the event probably occurred about 200 years after the flood; and given a population growth of 7% p.a. this gives a total population of about 6 million.
  1. No technology - the post-flood people would have had knowledge of advanced technology from before the flood. That with their (then) superior intellects and strength would have permitted them to develop technology quickly.

  2. More than 100 years? The assumption that that the Tower of Babel occurred at the birth of Peleg is again not necessarily true. People often had their names changed well into adulthood. Thus, it is quite probable that Peleg's name occurred when he was an adult, not at birth and this gives well over 100 years (perhaps even 200 years) after the flood for this to occur.

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  • On point 2: I believe the text states that Noah had no other children as everyone descended from the 3 sons on the ark. Genesis 9:18 - "The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth." That decreases the number of starting people and, therefore, population. On point 3: You don't see them scrabbling for survival during this time, but starting with 'civilization'? Where did the clothing and food for all come from? Miracles?
    – Jodi W
    Commented May 28 at 23:40
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    @Jodi W, Genesis 6:21-22 reads, "Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him." The flood covered the earth for about five months. What if Noah and his family actually took along a lot of food (maybe a year's worth), clothing, raw materials, and tools. Their knowledge of pre-flood technology was also available to them. It's not like they had to re-invent cell phones and automobiles. They probably already new how to catch fish and what plants could be eaten.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 29 at 1:47
  • @Dieter I did look at that. I believe it was a year before they came off the ark. But I suppose if they knew the Earth was being destroyed, they would have brought a TON of stuff. I know I always over-pack. And maybe chickens and rabbits and other edible animals were multiplying on the ark. I would also guess that God would provide, even if it was miraculously. I'm not opposed to miraculous provision, I think it almost had to be a part of providing food, direction, and protection as people and animals traveled around the world. Maybe He even multiplied animals and moved humans as they slept.
    – Jodi W
    Commented May 29 at 2:24
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    @Jody W, You're right in the sense that an average American does eat about a ton (~2,000) pounds of food in one year. This would also be the weight of a large horse. For eight people, it would take up the volume of about eight horses for the year, 16 horses for two years. The length of the ark was about 1.5 football fields, about 85% of the width of a football field, and stood about the height of a four story building (it had multiple floors). Maybe the eight people took another ton of tools and clothing. It would still be a tiny fraction of what the ark could carry.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 29 at 4:05
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The key is in the words of the OP: the Bible should not always be understood literally. And if not always literally in terms of narrative and poetry, then not always literally in terms of time. With regard to genealogies, in some case only notable figures are included. An example is the genealogy of Jesus which reports 13 more generation between David and Jesus in the Gospel of Luke than in the Gospel of Matthew.

If we apply a similar formula to the issue of the Tower of Babel, we could easily be speaking of 200 years instead of 100. And of course, if we apply the formula of Gen. 1 (where the seven days of creation are often understood to be seven epochs of creation), or the standard of 2 Peter 3:8 (to the Lord, a thousand years is like one day), then virtually any amount of time is possible during the supposed 100 years.

My personal approach is to look at generation counts prior to the time of Abraham as listing only providentially significant generations. In other words, the actual amount of time involved is not particularly important. Looking at Gen. 10, Noah's sons branch out and establish seventy nations and build major cities. As the OP points out, all of this can hardly have been done in 100 years. We are dealing here with mythic time, not literal years.

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  • So you don't think the ages of the fathers of the sons from Genesis 11:10 and beyond is literal years? It appears to show the continuous line along with their ages.
    – Jodi W
    Commented May 28 at 23:43
  • @Dottard I think this is under the wrong reply but I don't think that matters. I'm just commenting to clarify that point. But where did all the food come from to start with? Was everybody eating plants and it was super fertile there?
    – Jodi W
    Commented May 29 at 0:09
  • @JodiW... Correct; I don't take the timeline literally. I think it must have taken thousands of years for these nations to develop. I also think there is plenty of evidence for the existence of many languages prior to the establishment of Babylonian civilization (which is what the Tower of Babel story is about). Beside the archaeological evidence, the Bible itself states in Gen. 10: "These are the descendants of Japheth by their lands, each with its own language, according to their clans, by their nations." -- and this is prior to the story of Babel. Commented May 29 at 0:49
  • @Dan Fefferman That's where the trouble comes in. IF the Babel story is not taking place close after the flood, it resolves the problems for the most part. That works easily for genealogies that just give names because it could skip many generations. But what trips me up is the age of the fathers when they have the sons. Is it possible that this event was something that happened much later and inserted here in Genesis to go with the 'language' theme? Or that it was allegory and not an actual event? True in its teaching about man and God but not a historical event?
    – Jodi W
    Commented May 29 at 1:05
  • @Dan Fefferman I will add that the great majority of what I have found, going back to the early church and even before with the Hebrews, believe that it was a literal event. They also believe it happened in history as written - Kind of a Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 situation. Laying out the overall, then going back to give more details.
    – Jodi W
    Commented May 29 at 2:32
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According to the Jewish Tradition (in Seder Olam Rabah), the Tower of Babel occurred in the last year of Peleg's life. Eber was a prophet and named his son based on a future event. If you calculate the numbers, that is 340 years after the flood.

That does give the population more time to grow (especially because a population that lives hundreds of years presumably has a much longer fertile period). If we assume a 4% growth rate (not unreasonable under the circumstances), the population would have been over 4 million at the time the Tower was built.

It is also implied from the text that the discovery of fired bricks is what allowed them to build the tower. This doesn't seem like an insurmountable technological issue.

Finally, I think it is a misunderstanding interpret "make a name for ourselves" the way that expression is used today, i.e. fame. The very next words are "lest we be scattered on the face of the whole land." The Tower was meant to keep them united. Either as a central place of worship of their Idolatry--the name is for the gods. Or, the meaning is a "monument" as we find in Isaiah 56:5:

וְנָתַתִּ֨י לָהֶ֜ם בְּבֵיתִ֤י וּבְחֽוֹמֹתַי֙ יָ֣ד וָשֵׁ֔ם I will give to them in my house and in my walls a hand and a name

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“May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem” (Gen 9:27)

For God to enlarge Japheth making him bigger than either of the other two brothers God would have to see to that Shem gave birth to an unproportional bigger number of daughters over sons. Given that Japhet gave birth to an even proportion of sons and daughters the added mix, together with polygamy would probably be able to give population growth that extra push to create a nuclear chain reaction like result. Because even though polygamy later on was outlawed God allowed it throughout the earlier part of history.

It could also have been that the father picked who he wanted to be his first born son. Like Jacob did when he put Ruben a side for one of the other younger sons. Thus, "first born" could be more of a title than actual birth order. It seems that this stems from Adam's choice of Set over the older Cain. There are probably other examples in the Bible too. This, of course, would mean that the progenitor would have given birth to several children before the listed "first" son.

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    I guess I was looking at the previous ages of 'first' son and thinking 30 was already so young comparatively. But maybe that happened a lot that the chosen the 'heir' was not the first born - or not the line that they are following in the genealogy. Or to get more people faster, they had kids earlier. Good point on the daughters. For these 3 couples to populate the Earth and travel everywhere, it would take a lot of people at first. So God could have worked that out and not made it 50/50 like the population projections assume.
    – Jodi W
    Commented May 29 at 2:30
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Tower of Babel, in biblical literature, structure built in the land of Shinar (Babylonia) some time after the Deluge. The story of its construction, given in Genesis 11:1–9, appears to be an attempt to explain the existence of diverse human languages. According to Genesis, the Babylonians wanted to make a name for themselves by building a mighty city and a tower “with its top in the heavens.” God disrupted the work by so confusing the language of the workers that they could no longer understand one another. The city was never completed, and the people were dispersed over the face of the earth.

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  • Hello Marie - Welcome and thanks for joining the group. Please remember (if you have not already) to take the site tour (link bottom left) to better understand how this site is different.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 29 at 3:11
  • @Marie I appreciate the comment. However, it does not answer any of my questions. I am aware of the story, it's the timeline of how these events could happen so soon after the flood that I am asking for.
    – Jodi W
    Commented May 29 at 8:59
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Other versions of the Old Testament offer alternative chronologies.

The Septuagint has many of the patriarchs being older (mostly by 100 years) when having their firstborn son compared to the Vulgate and the Masoretic Text which most western Bibles are based on. That makes for a significantly longer chronology. Particularly, that makes Peleg born around 500 years after the Flood.

The Samaritan Pentateuch and the Peshitta also offer differing chronologies.

You can also check these Wikipedia articles:

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    – agarza
    Commented May 29 at 20:55
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Okay, I may have come across something here that clears it up. This is not the majority opinion on this but makes much more sense to me.

This theory is that the Babel story is actually connected to the genealogy that is listed before it. The Chapter break puts it with the genealogy that follows it, which may be an improper connection. This fixes the problem of a story about scattering languages coming after it already says the clans were split with their own languages (a commonly listed 'contradiction'). It may seem logical with the 'division' thing in the following genealogy - especially if you assume the division was Babel, which is not actually in the text - but this separation makes more sense. This frees Babel from the 'timeline' of ~100 years after the flood.

The Tower Of Babel - this post has 3 parts

Splitting Heirs: When the Land was divided (Genesis 10:25)

There is more to discuss about if the Tower was new, borrowed imagery as an illustration, etc. But the above could be the answer to the timeline problem.

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  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Commented May 30 at 3:20
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Genesis 10:6-12 provides crucial information for resolving the inquiry about the Tower of Babel Timeline. In this passage, we find details about the descendants of Ham, specifically focusing on Nimrod and his descendants, who play a central role in the construction of the Tower.

6 The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.

7 The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah and Sabteka. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.

8 Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shinar. 11 From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah 12 and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah—which is the great city.

In this passage, the name of Nimrod is intentionally separated from his brothers, emphasizing the details of the vast kingdom he and his descendants built in Mesopotamia. The Tower of Babel, constructed in Shinar, presents a unique context. During this time, the descendants of Shem and Japheth would not have been involved, nor would the descendants of Nimrod's brothers. The prevailing social structure was based on clans, and it was the clans descending from Nimrod that occupied Shinar.

The writer highlights Nimrod is likely due to his substantial power over his brothers. Genesis 10:10-11 reveals that he and his descendants possessed the skill necessary for large construction projects, making them capable of building the Tower of Babel. However, to have sufficient labor for such an ambitious project, it likely occurred during Nimrod's later years.

Genesis 10:25 describes the name of Peleg refers to a time the earth was divided. Importantly, this does not directly correlate with the moment when God interrupted the Tower of Babel construction. Instead, it could allude to the time Nimrod and his descendants moved eastward, settling in Shinar. When their population growth, Nimrod extended his influence beyond Shinar by founding Nineveh.

Considering the timeline, if Noah's descendants dispersed around the time Peleg was born, it occurred at least 100 years after the flood. Peleg lived for 239 years (Gen 11:18-19). Nimrod, as the 2nd generation of Ham, might have lived over 400 years, similar to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation of Shem, all lived over 400 years (Gen 11:12-17).

As a result, the Tower of Babel event likely took place approximately 300 years after the flood, by that time, both Peleg and Nimrod were still alive, and Nimrod's empire stood at its prime, albeit with a fanatic pursuit of achievements.

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  • Thank you! You are the first person to understand what I was saying about the timeline. I don't understand how almost all of the research I did only found people (Christian and Jew, going very far back in time) saying that the Tower was Peleg's division. I found one saying that was a division of the continents. And one saying it was the division of Peleg and his brother. And it is clearly not enough time for the kind of population needed for a big construction project. The chronology may also be telescoped to get to Nimrod, as we know sometimes 'father' just means ancestor.
    – Jodi W
    Commented May 30 at 3:30
  • Thank you! Your question prompts me to revisit the context. I am confident that the Tower of Babel event specifically affected the descendants of Nimrod. This is consistent with Genesis 10, where the descendants of Noah had already spread out into clans with their own language and territories. Therefore, the division of languages in the world did not originate solely from the Babel event. Commented May 30 at 3:45
  • I seriously have had the hardest time with this. I did put up another question specifically about the Chapter breaks. An answer there from the very patient Dottard is perhaps clearing this up because that is also tying Babel to Nimrod only and not Peleg. It seems a lot of people make the connection because of 'division' and say that is tied to Babel. But I think it must be something else being divided - who knows, it doesn't say in the text (which makes me suspect a 'helpful' copyist added that in there at some time - it seems it would have said what was divided if original.
    – Jodi W
    Commented May 30 at 4:01

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