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Confusion of tongues

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Confusion of Tongues

Gustave Doré's interpretation of the confusion of tongues.

The confusion of tongues (confusio linguarum) is the initial fragmentation of human languages described in the Book of Genesis 11:1–9, as a result of the construction of the Tower of Babel.

It is implied that prior to the event, humanity spoke a single language, either identical to or derived from the "Adamic language" spoken by Adam and Eve in Paradise. In the confusion of tongues, this language was split into seventy or seventy-two dialects, depending on tradition. This has sometimes been interpreted as being in contradiction to Genesis 10:5,

Of these were the isles of the nations divided in their lands, every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.

This issue only arises, however, if Genesis 10:5 is interpreted as taking place before and separate from the Tower of Babel story, instead of as an overview of events later described in detail in Genesis 11. It also necessitates that the reference to the earth being "divided" (Genesis 10:25) is taken to mean the division of languages, rather than a physical division of the earth (such as in the formation of continents).[1]

During the Middle Ages, the Hebrew language was widely considered the language used by God to address Adam in Paradise, and by Adam as lawgiver (the Adamic language) by various Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholastics. Dante in the Divina commedia implies however that the language of Paradise was different from later Hebrew by saying that Adam addressed God as I rather than El.

Preceding the acceptance of the Indo-European language family, these languages were considered to be "Japhetite" by some authors (e.g. Rasmus Rask in 1815; see Indo-European studies). Beginning in Renaissance Europe, priority over Hebrew was claimed for the alleged Japhetic languages, which were supposedly never corrupted because their speakers had not participated in the construction of the Tower of Babel. Among the candidates for a living descendant of the Adamic language were: Gaelic (see Auraicept na n-Éces); Tuscan (Giovanni Battista Gelli, 1542, Piero Francesco Giambullari, 1564); Dutch (Goropius Becanus, 1569, Abraham Mylius, 1612); Swedish (Olaus Rudbeck, 1675); German (Georg Philipp Harsdörffer, 1641, Schottel, 1641); and among the candidates for Adamic language itself were: Hebrew (see Middle Ages); Proto-Indo-European[2] (Anne Catherine Emmerich, 1790). The Swedish physician Andreas Kempe wrote a satirical tract in 1688, where he made fun of the contest between the European nationalists to claim their native tongue as the Adamic language. Caricaturing the attempts by the Swede Olaus Rudbeck to pronounce Swedish the original language of mankind, Kempe wrote a scathing parody where Adam spoke Danish, God was a Swede, while the serpent was a francophone.[3]

See also


  1. Northrup, Bernard (1979). Continental Drift and the Fossil Record. Repossess the Land (Minneapolis: Bible Science Association, 1979), pp. 165–166.
  2. Anne Catherine Emmerich, Life of Jesus Christ And Biblical Revelations (1790).
  3. Olender, Maurice (1992). The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion, and Philology in the Nineteenth Century. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674510526.

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