Today, the never-completed Tower of Babel remains a symbol of how a divine, otherworldly power can enter into and change the course of human history.
Dr. Robert L. Bonn, a sociologist, delves into how the biblical story of the Tower of Babel has influenced history in his fascinating book The Unfinished Tower of Babel. His work offers a non-conventional view of the biblical tale. He purports that the biblical account is actually a myth and symbolizes the Babylonian Empire. Using this theory he analyzes other empires and argues that history proves that empire building can only have one result: collapse. Each empire was doomed to fail because every single one set moral against material power. Yet each collapse has aided social change throughout history.
This concise book does not skimp on facts and stays true to his theory. Dr. Bonn writes that the Tower of Babel is actually a ‘metaphorical structure that was never to be completed, if it were ever begun.’ This point is key to understanding his book. He uses this theory to evaluate other empires throughout Western history. Starting with ancient history he explains how each empire fell and how and why the myth has changed over the centuries.
Empire builders were never able to succeed since their goals were illusive from the start. ‘Instead of securing a “whole earth (of) one language and the same words,” they are left with a world of such confusion” that they find it necessary to “leave off building the city,” with their tower unfinished.’ Further proof, according to Bonn, is the fact that even The Church was unable to succeed when it began its empire.
Ironic though it may appear, The Church—the very organization that, acting in the name of God, set out to build a kingdom of heaven here on earth—would fall far short of completing its ambitious task. More than that, although widely believed in, its idealistic moral order, based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, would collapse into “confusion” and “scattering” when judged by the standard of logical reasoning and empirical reality.
His insightful analysis spans centuries and continues until the present day. While he may not convince all readers to believe his reinterpretation of the Tower of Babel it’s hard not to be impressed by his research and his understanding of Western history. Some readers may be intimidated by the subject matter, however it’s presented in simple terms and many may be surprised by how much they already know. Dr. Bonn doesn’t delve too deeply into history and most of the names and places will ring a bell, such as Columbus, Henry VIII, Voltaire, and Charles Darwin to name a few. In fact, it’s amazing how much history he was able to cram into this work that’s only 96 pages without overwhelming the reader completely.
This is an ambitious book that synthesizes thousands of years of history easily without losing focus on his theory. He constantly brings it back to his belief that empire builders, in the past and today, forget their “humanity and act as if we are gods.” This forgetfulness has destroyed all empires and threatens today’s society as well. Whether readers believe his theory or not, it does provide much food for thought.