A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Tower of … Babylon?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 18, 2008

Hizbullah is having a busy week in Lebanon, it seems. In between calling for Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails to be repatriated and signing a MoU with “the Salafists” (which I never realized was a discrete organization. I thought it was a tendency, or an orientation – not a club.), it has been pushing to expand the upcoming national dialogue to include issues beyond national defense.

That’s all fine with me – I mean, I personally don’t support two of those activities, but I’m all in favor of hard work and a busy schedule. What intrigues me is a small aspect of the English-language media coverage of March 14 reactions’ to Hizbullah’s desire to broaden the dialogue.

According to Now Lebanon, Prime Minister Siniora said that he was against broadening the dialogue because it would create a “Tower of Babel”-like situation:

“If the participants would like to expand the dialogue, we could add some terms, but then we would be cancelling the constitutional institutions and the parliament’s role, which would lead to a situation similar to Tower of Babel,” he commented.

Now Lebanon’s command of English is nothing to write home about, at least when it comes to its news updates and “Today in Lebanon” section, but I would agree that “Tower of Babel” is the correct translation for “burj Babil”.

Naharnet, on the other hand, seems to have gone utterly off the linguistic deep end. Here’s the title of its article on the same subject:

Hizbullah Weapons into the Babylon Tower Dialogue

Oh yes – clear as mud, as they say. The article opens with back-to-back present participles and more passion than reportage:

Hizbullah appeared heading to flooding the proposed national dialogue with an expanded agenda and an expanded list of participants as Premier Fouad Saniora warned that such a trend would only end up in a “Babylon tower” disarray.

“Babylon Tower”? Does anyone know anything about this? My memory of the Tower of Babel chapter in Genesis is that both it and the city of Babylon were in the same kingdom, but were not at all the same. But “Babil” in Arabic is translated both as “Babel” and “Babylon”, so maybe the translation was an honest mistake.

Or it may be that Babylon grew over time and absorbed the old Tower site – just like Beirut grew and absorbed the formerly rural areas of Achrafiye, Zarif, and Ras Beirut.

I’m eager to know more, if anyone has information (or an opinion!) to share :).


5 Responses to “Tower of … Babylon?”

  1. del said

    basically, it is used to describe a situation where you have people in one room or place and each is speaking his or her own language. figuratively (and i’m assuming siniora used it that way), it is when each is speaking to his or her own tone, kind of. so as we say in lebanese, kolon youghani 3ala laylah (each sings to his own night, or tune), or min kil wade 3asa (a stick from each valley).

    bottom line, a medley of people and opinions that will lead to an infertile dialogue

  2. S. Worthen said

    Genesis 11: 1-9 strongly implies the tower and the city are in the same place. I like how the KJB has them using slime for mortar. (I’ll have to check on what later translations call it!)
    (2) And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
    (3) And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
    (4) And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
    (5) And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

  3. S. Worthen said

    Followup: Other editions translate whatever word “slime” original was as asphalt, tar, or bitumen.

  4. Moose said

    Oh Yah? And the garden of Eden, according to Ezekiel was somewhere near Ashrafyeh?

  5. Tantalus said

    In Arabic, the hanging gardens of Babylon are referred to as the hanging gardens on “Babel”. And the Babel tower (which, just for the record, was not actually built 🙂 ) is also referred to in Arabic as the tower of “Babel”. So what you have in the Naharnet title is a case of malapropism. Very typical around here. Think in Arabic, write in English, and this is what you’ll get 🙂

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