No, it’s not my idea. It was Jonathan Eibeschuetz, the “heretic rabbi” of 18th-century Prague, who came up with it.
I discovered this a few months ago, while surfing the Hebrew-language Web. I came upon an article by one Noah Zevuluni, published in an Israeli newspaper in August 1962–right about when the US-USSR “space race” was at its height. “Did the generation of the Tower of Babel send a spaceship to the moon?” the headline demands. The article relies for its (tongue-in-cheek?) affirmative answer upon the Torah commentary Tiferet Yehonatan, first published in 1825, some 60 years after Eibeschuetz’s death.
In earlier posts, I’ve depicted Eibeschuetz as a pioneer of universal brotherhood, gender equality, what we’d now call “marriage equality,” and sexual liberation in general. Now space travel?
The passage from Tiferet Yehonatan has never before been translated from the Hebrew, as far as I know. So I’ll do the honors.
Eibeschuetz’s starting point is Genesis 8:21. God resolves He’ll never send another Flood upon the earth. He prefers, however, not to make this public knowledge; fear of an all-destroying cataclysm is a useful deterrent for human misbehavior.
But humans, as always, prefer not to live under the shadow of catastrophe. If only one could find a place where a Flood would be impossible …
“This is what the Tower of Babel was all about. They planned to build a tower that would reach up to heaven–which cries out for explanation. Were they really such fools? Such a thing would have required, by structural necessity, a foundation wider than the earth’s globe!”
Far from being fools, says Eibeschuetz …
“… their reasoning was wholly scientific: All rain is the effect of gases and vapors, the watery element, rising from the earth. Thus are clouds formed; thus does water rain down. From heaven itself no water can fall. They calculated from observation that the clouds, which are the thick vapors that rise from the earth, go no higher than five miles at the very most. It necessarily follows that the more delicate vapors composed of water particles can go no higher than this. If they did, the thicker clouds would also be found at the higher altitudes. Hence their plan was to build a tower higher than those clouds, a place where rain could never again fall upon them.”
And thus no more Floods. No more need to behave themselves.
“When they spoke of ‘its top in heaven’ [Genesis 11:4], this was an exaggeration. Yet it is a known fact that the moon is a sphere no less inhabitable than the terrestrial globe; and they had already discovered through experiment that flight can be achieved through the spreading out of a sail over a stretch of ground. It seemed to follow that the wind–indeed all the winds–ascend from the earth in an upward direction. … In theory, therefore, if a flying machine were placed so the wind could blow into its sail, that machine would be lifted higher and higher by the force of the wind and would never return to the ground.
“But it does return, and this is why: the atmosphere near the ground is thick and heavy, and thus weighs upon the object and propels it downward.
“Engineers have therefore experimented with the gunpowder that they call [in German] ‘Pulver,’ putting it in a gun barrel and using it to propel a bullet placed there to ever greater heights, until at last they found that the bullet did not fall back down at all. (For they found no bullet on the ground, although in the natural course of events it would have been expected to fall close by.) From this they drew the conclusion that the bullet had for the first time been driven by the gunpowder’s force up above the thick, turbulent atmosphere, and, once above that atmosphere, was afterward prevented by it from coming down.
“If, therefore, it were possible to bring some flying machine to a point above this thick atmosphere, it would be able to go ever upward by wind power until it reached the moon. The wind would carry it ever higher, growing continually more powerful the higher it went. Books have been written on this subject, how to build such a ship that could travel to the moon. The essential point, however, is to first get that ship above this turbulent atmosphere.
“This was the intent of the builders of the Tower. They wanted to establish their dwelling on the moon, where they would be safe from any future Flood. They thought to achieve this by means of such a [space]ship–but how could they get their ship above the turbulent atmosphere? They decided to build a tower high enough to be outside that atmosphere, from which they could sail in their ship through the [upper] atmosphere until they reached the moon.”
Of course their plan failed. Genesis tells us that. We never will know how their moon colonies would have fared.
But it’s interesting to reflect on the illustration done by Albert K. Bender–the researcher who supposedly discovered the truth about UFOs, and then was frightened into silence by the Three Men in Black–for the cover of the November 1953 issue of his friend Gray Barker’s magazine “The Saucerian.” Writing a few years afterward, Barker found himself wondering whether Bender had “consciously or subconsciously put some of the theory he had evolved into the illustration … whether the strange scene, picturing a large construction rising from a crater, with saucers using its apex for a landing base, represented a scene on the moon, some other planet, or on the earth.”
Or a design for the Tower of Babel?
by David Halperin
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