As we have seen, anthropology supports the fact that humanity embraces a common history prior to the dispersal of man from a fixed point, revealed as the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Cultures as far removed from ancient Mesopotamia as the Native Americans in North, Central, and South America possess tales of a world born of water and of a later deluge of that world. It would seem from the stories of the American aborigines that they must have arrived in what the Europeans would eventually call the New World soon after the dispersal of mankind; for, many of the tribal stories of various tribes feature the introduction of their particular tribe in the Americas almost immediately after the great flood referenced in their own legends.
Certainly Biblical evidence is given for this truth. Genesis 11:8 declares that God dispersed man from ancient Mesopotamia “over the face of all the earth” (ESV). From a geological standpoint, the upheaval caused by the bursting of subterranean aquifers as recorded in Genesis 7:11 would have likely begun the process of continental drift. We understand that by the time Peleg and his brother, Joktan, were born that this process of continental drift must have been completed since it was in Peleg’s days that the “earth was divided” (Genesis 10:25 ESV). Before the complete dissolution of the ties between North America and Asia, however, a route must have existed for a period of time long enough for the ancestors of Native Americans to settle in the Americas. Remember that DNA evidence, as we have previously seen, links Native Americans to the Altay region of Siberia (Shreeves 69).
In order for God to bring about the dispersal of man, He had to introduce chaos in order to disrupt the unity that they possessed following the flood. Genesis 11:4 states that the descendants of the flood survivors decided to build a great city in order to prevent their dispersal over “the face of the whole earth” (ESV). Flavius Josephus states that this rebellion stemmed from the defiance of Nimrod, the city-builder, who thought that man could build a tower so high that God could not again destroy them by flood ( Theophilus 1). Whatever the true reason for the construction of Babel, one point is clear: man did not want to be obedient to God’s command that he “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1 ESV). In their perfect unity, God declared that “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6 ESV). Thus, God caused them to speak different languages “so that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:7 ESV). This confusion was enough for man to become dispersed from that point in the plain of Shinar (Cf. Genesis 11:2) to points all over the entire face of the globe.
What similarities to this divine revelation in the book of Genesis can be found amongst the Native American cultures that we have been investigating? Let us begin by relating the “Babel legend” of the Crow. Old Man Coyote is the culture hero of the Crow responsible for the creation of the world, animals, and man (Debelius 24). After creation, he encountered another, younger coyote named “Shirape” (25). Shirape pointed out to Old Man Coyote that the people he had created were despondent. In order to remedy this, Old Man Coyote gave man tools, tipis, fire, spears, and bows and arrows. Shirape remained displeased with Old Man Coyote’s handiwork because there was only one language. Shirape told Old Man Coyote that man needed to find glory in battle and that battle could not occur amongst people speaking the same language (25). Old Man Coyote needed further convincing that war between the people he had created was a good thing. Thus, Shirape replied:
“Oh, my respected brother…sometimes you are not thinking. War is a good thing. Say you are a warrior. You paint yourself with vermillion. You wear a fine war shirt. You sing war songs. You have war honors. You look at the good-looking young girls. You look at the young women whose husbands have no war honors. They look back at you. You go on the warpath. You steal the enemy’s horses. You steal his women and maidens. You count coup, do brave deeds. You are rich. You have gifts to give away. They sing songs honoring you. You have many loves. And by and by, you become a chief” (25).
Old Man Coyote yielded to Shirape’s “logic” and gave the people different languages. This, of course, resulted in war, horse theft, counting coup, and songs of honor (25). Such may sound strange to us in the Twenty-first Century, but we must remember the context in which this legend was created. As Shirape suggested, in a nomadic society, war would become necessary since competition for food and resources would be fierce. Not only did the Crow subsist on the buffalo, but so did their neighbors, the Sioux and the Cheyenne. War equaled the continuation of life. Therefore, it was viewed as a positive thing.
As we compare the Crow legend to the actual Babel account of Genesis we see but two striking similarities. First, man was unified (i.e., there was no war between men) because all men spoke the same language. Second, the creator was responsible for giving the different languages to man. Even so, the end result is the same for the Crow as it had been for those about whom Genesis 11 is penned: Man became divided into different, sometimes competing, groups based upon the language given to him by the Creator.
An examination of the Hopi’s “Babel legend,” on the other hand, reveals a few more similarities between their story and that recorded in Genesis. After man climbed up out of the underworld through the hole in the roof of the kiva*, he continued living around the kiva (Nequatewa 1). The chief that had led the people up from the underworld did not like the fact that they continued to live near the kiva because he thought that they would be tempted to go back down into the underworld. So, the chief had several warriors take offerings towards “Patuwakachi” (i.e., the ocean). For four days, the warriors would walk back towards the place were they had laid the offerings to see if “Paso” (i.e., the roaring waters) was coming. Eventually, water did surround the kiva and cut it off from the people. Nevertheless, they continued living in the same general locale near the place where they had emerged through the kiva. This was causing problems for the people and it bothered their chief. So, he held council and asked the wise men what could be done. One of the men stated that “the only thing that he thought of was, if they only could speak different languages and learn to eat different kinds of food from one another, they might start away or become parted in many divisions” (2).
When the chief asked how they could accomplish this, another of the wise men spoke up and said that the mockingbird could teach men different languages. The chief consulted the mockingbird and asked if it could be done. The mockingbird said that he could do it over the course of one night. And so, the mockingbird went from camp to camp, taking something from the different fireplaces and burying a different object in its place. At dawn, the mockingbird brought what he had gathered from the camps to the chief in his buckskin pouch and told the chief to bury the pouch in the ground and build a fire over the spot. When the people awoke, they could not understand one another. Distressed, they came to chief who could no longer understand them. The mockingbird had to serve as the translator for all of the people. In this act, the people moved away from the kiva and settled over the different parts of the earth (3).
As previously suggested, there are a few more similarities between the Hopi “Babel story” and that recorded in the Bible. First, the people were settled in the same place just as those in the Biblical account settled together in plain of Shinar. Second, their camps were centered on a specific structure, that is, the kiva, just as the descendants of the flood survivors centered on the tower of Babel. Third, that man refused to move away from the kiva was a source of trouble to the one responsible for their emergence into the upper-world just as man’s stubborn refusal to disperse from Babel caused him to become troublesome to God. Fourth, the people were dispersed and settled different places once their languages were confounded just as the world would become populated as we know it today by the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel.
We would argue that such similarities in the Biblical account and the stories of various cultures can not be a coincidence. At one point in our distant past, mankind was privy to the same seminal events. The Jews were given the information directly through the inspiration of God. Thus, their information did not become polluted by apostasy as it did amongst those groups that “became futile in their thinking” and in whose “hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21 ESV). Those groups that moved away from God “…exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:23 ESV). Thus, rather than worshipping God, they revered “Old Man Coyote” or “Raven” or “Earth Starter.” And, they created stories that reflected their new-found beliefs in these culture heroes.
The evidence for the existence of God and His Word are everywhere. One needs only to have an honest, open heart and the determination to know His undiluted revelation to mankind.
*= A kiva is “an underground or partly underground chamber in a Pueblo village, used by the men especially for ceremonies or councils.”
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
Shreeves, James. “The Greatest Journey.” National Geographic March 2006: 69.
Jurik, Ivan. Theophilus for Windows 95/98/NT. Version 2.6.0 ACU (CD-ROM) 1997-99.
Debelius, Maggie. The American Indians: The Spirit World. The American Indians. (Alexandria: Time-Life Books, 1992) 24-25.
Nequatewa, Edmund. “Truth of a Hopi: Chapter III. How the Mocking Bird Gave the People Many Languages.” Truth of a Hopi. Sacred-Texts. 15 September 2006.
“Kiva.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language. Fourth Edition. 2000