Our text gives the etymology for Babel, but the experts say that this is not the true etymology. They are doubtlessly correct. But if it is an error linguistically speaking, it does make perfect sense in terms of the myth. That is exactly what the myth has in mind, that is the truth it must express. The name “Babel” is therefore symbolic of the whole story.
—Jacques Ellul, The Meaning of the City, 18
“Babel,” whispers the eminent etymologist. He sits in the dust of a library surrounded by lexica: Chaldee, Sanskrit, Akkadian.
“Babel!” Cries the prophet from his cave high in the mountains, remote and alone.
“Babel,” says the soundless darkness, and the sea whispers back the name.
No etymology we can discern? No, no! No books however dusty, no long distances of searching, no voyages of thought within our power can discover whence the term.
But in the remotest regions of the universe, behind an impenetrable curtain of dark unknowing lives a company of mighty angels whose entire being is consumed in an unending liturgy of such meaning as would crack our earth to bear it. And in that liturgy that spans an age before it is taken up again and repeated endlessly, there is once muttered a dark word that means confusion. Like a black hole within the dazzling splendor, like a dissonance of chaos is that small sound in that region of pure radiance. At the lowest point of a solemn dance like the majestical dance of the planets, like a clock whose simplest cycle comprehends a million years, at the lowest point of that galaxy of moving beings one burning foot touches on a desolate shore and in the immemorial liturgy the word we cannot fathom is uttered: babel.
One day the long liturgy will cease, the pieces of the mechanism of that elaborate clock will wing beyond the veil at the words: Ecce nova facio omnia.