The Possible Significance of Gen. 11:2 -- Does it provide us with
a clue as to where the Ark landed?
Prior to the Confusion of Tongues, all of Noah's descendants formed one
united group. They had travelled to Shinar (Mesopotamia) from wherever the ark had landed
and there built the tower of Babel. To the careful reader, undoubtedly familiar with the
popular belief that Noah's ark landed on Mt. Ararat (or, for that matter, on another peak
in what was ancient Ararat or Urartu), the following verse should seem strange: "And
as men migrated FROM the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled
there." (Gen. 11:2, RSV)
Would they not have come from the north? Mt. Ararat is north of the site of ancient
Babylon, so why would the text describe the migrants as coming from the east? To answer
this question, we must consider the nature of the Ancient Hebrew language and the role
that the various ancient translations have had in shaping our understanding of the text.
Hebrew is a very simple language compared to Indo-European tongues, such as Sanskrit,
Greek, Latin, and even English. Although, for the beginner, there are a fair number of
noun inflections and verbal conjugations to remember, the overall structure of the
language is incredibly simple and a fairly small number of words are used to convey a
variety of meanings. It is absolutely crucial that this be understood in order to
appreciate what an art translating the Old Testament is. For example, there are only 2
tenses in Biblical Hebrew (a Perfect and an Imperfect, the former expressing a completed
action and the latter, an incompleted action). There is not even a verb meaning "to
have." The sentence "Abraham had a son" would read in Hebrew as "There
was to Abraham (a) son."
Let us now look at the word "qedem," which is the word translated
"east" in the verse above. Its primary meaning is "in front." The
compass direction is a secondary meaning. According to "A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic
Lexicon of the Old Testament," other meanings include: "before,"
"earlier," and "ancient times." In Deut. 33:27, the God of Israel is
referred to as "the eternal God." The words used in Hebrew are "elohe
qedem." In context, the meaning must be "ancient times." But it would not
always be easy for scholars to know the true, idiomatic meaning in Hebrew if it were not
for ancient translations, such as the Septuagint and Vulgate. Every modern translation of
the Bible has been either directly or indirectly indebted to these early Greek and Latin
In Gen. 11:2, the preposition before "qedem" is "min," and the Hebrew
reads "miqqedem." "Mi(n)" means "out of/away from." It
should not surprise us, then, that the Greek version of Gen. has the preposition
"apo," which means "away from." The Vulgate, or Latin translation,
has: "Cumque proficiscerentur de oriente..." = And when they were setting out
from (de) the east." So did they come from Iran? Did the ark land on a peak to the
east of modern-day Iraq?
One might dismiss Mt. Ararat as a possible landing-place if it were not for one thing [along with the alleged eyewitnesses]. In
Gen 2:8, we read: "And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east..."
The word group translated "in the east" in the RSV is "miqqedem" --
the exact same preposition + noun that we found in Gen. 11:2. Perhaps, then, we might
translate Gen. 11:2 as "And as men migrated in the east"? From the perspective
of the writer of Genesis, whether the verse as it stands was written by Moses (who would
have penned Genesis in the Sinai Peninsula) or by a writer in Jerusalem, Babel and the
Plain of Shinar would have been in the east. This translation is only a suggestion.
Perhaps someone can point out a reason why the ancient translators (whose work is
reflected in the Greek and Latin versions) may have been correct.
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