IIRC, the idea was to reach the skies, pass (somehow) the firmament and fight G-d above. That is only possible if G-d is right above the Earth, which suggests the Flat Earth worldview.

If they knew the world is spherical, they would find it troublesome to determine G-d's exact location.

Is the story of the Tower of Babel, that the Torah tells, a proof that the ancients held the Earth is flat?

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    I don't think a belief that you can build a tower up to the firmament is necessarily or even probably linked to a belief the earth is flat...the scientists behind this space elevator en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator, which on some level is the same idea, are unlikely to believe the earth's surface is flat – Josh K Nov 4 at 6:53
  • @JoshK Space elevator wasn't designed to fight with G-d. But those who built the tower were sure that G-d is right above the Earth, meaning in one place. – Al Berko Nov 4 at 11:52
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    @AlBerko That doesn’t have anything to do with flat Earth though. – DonielF Nov 4 at 12:03
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    @AlBerko If that’s what you want to ask, then ask it. I don’t see what flat Earth has to do with anything. – DonielF Nov 4 at 12:09
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    Why does "right above the earth" mean "in one place"? (per your comment above.) Do you have some support for the idea that they thought Gd was only in one spot, right above this valley in Shinar? If not - if they just think He's "in the heavens" - that works just as well whether they thought the earth was flat or round or some other shape. – Rish Nov 4 at 20:25

Did the ancients think the world was flat?

Many people were primitive in those days and might have thought the world was flat. This does not mean the Bible or even Moshe felt the same. For starters, it is speaking from a human perspective, much like Joshua is speaking from a human perspective when he commands the sun to stand still. We wouldn't say that Joshua is literally saying the earth is flat and that the sun revolves around the earth. How much more so, should we understand other parts of Scripture in this light. That the ancient pagans felt the world was flat but that had they reached the top (studies have shown that it was possible to build a tower to the hight the Bible describes) would have realized that the world is round. Indeed, it is mentioned in the Bible, in Job, that the world is a circle and hangs on nothing, round.

Was the story of the tower of Babel literally?

Is it possible that people really felt they could reach heaven? Could this be another example of hyperbole? A parable. It is not a literal story since the tower of Babel “reached into the heaven” is not understood literally. Some historians think it was possible for the tower to reach the height as described in the Bible. Nevertheless, they strived against G-d's command. Genesis 1:28 tells us that G-d commands us to replenish the earth. Abraham Ibn Ezra felt that the builders wanted to rebel against this command. Rabbi Samson R. Hirsch felt it was a community, not for a spiritual purpose though. Thus G-d punishes them with “confusion of speech” (Genesis 11:9). But this barrier, the inability to communicate with a different language provided much societal alienation. It makes for linguistic and cultural diversity or, is it possible that G-d never punished them. Perhaps the confusion of languages was the natural result of their behavior? Perhaps it is wrong to have “one language and one way of speaking.”

Historians think differences in languages are a result of different cultures. People came from Africa and spread around the globe, each with his own unique language and culture. Nevertheless, will the day arrive when the world reverts to “one language and one speech” and people stop erecting Towers of Babels? The prophet Zephaniah says, “a pure language that they may all call upon the name of G-d to serve Him unitedly” (Zephaniah 3:9).

All things considered, it seems that the generation of the Tower of Babel was not punished in the same way Noah's generation was punished. G-d leniency stemmed them because their society was relatively peaceful compared to Noah's generation which was full of violence and corruptness. Perhaps language diversity is a good.

  • Thank you for your effort, but, again, the question is not about people, it's about the Torah. Why would G-d care if somebody builds a space elevator to fight Him? I'm trying to understand the Torah, not the people. Maybe I'll edit the question again. – Al Berko Nov 5 at 13:12
  • @AlBerko Could it be as Rabbi Ishmael said, that “the Torah [which is intended for humans] speaks in human language.” Which is to say, that G-d, when writing the Torah knew the earth was round and wrote this particular passage from the perspective of humans. – Jonathan Nov 5 at 13:42
  • I'm familiar with this excuse: "G-d knew the truth but He lied to make the book more appealing to the stupid masses". I don't buy it and I think nobody should buy it, because if you say "g-d's lies are also true" we have a situation and the Torah is meaningless. – Al Berko Nov 5 at 13:48
  • @AlBerko Rabbi Ishmael didn't mean that G-d was lying. He meant that the Torah was written for humans, not G-d, and thus contains repetitions, poet language, and hyperbole, etc, etc. What you are referring to I think is called necessary beliefs. It is the approach that says the masses cannot understand the philosophy and so a tradition was attempted by the elite to modify or hide their thinking. But this is not the case in regards to the tower of babel story. G-d is telling us this story from a human perspective. Note how the people say, “Let us ascend to heaven and worship our idols.” – Jonathan Nov 5 at 16:31
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    In his Bible commentaries, Rashi says in Genesis 11:5, where: “God came down to see the city and the tower that the people built [the Tower of Babel].” Rashi adds, “This teaches judges that they should not decide cases where life is at stake unless they have seen the evidence.” Does G-d need to see? Isn’t He all-knowing? G-d is everywhere, so why does G-d need to “come down?” – Jonathan Nov 5 at 16:31

Maybe they thought that once they got up to the next level they could walk on it, and get around everywhere. Maybe it shows that people who want to fight Omnipresence have not understood their own nature relative to G-d.

  • Why do you think it's important for the Torah to emphasize their stupidity? – Al Berko Nov 5 at 16:49
  • I edited, it is more clear as to what I intended to say. @AlBerko – gamliela Nov 6 at 14:09

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