Tower of Babel and the ‘Genesis’ of Translation: Walter Benjamin’s and Jacques Derrida’s Readings of the Old Testament


  • Amir Ali Nojoumian


This article is a close reading of perhaps the most famous stories (‘narratives’) in the history of mankind: 1) God’s creation of the world and the act of naming (appellation), 2) human being’s eating off the tree of knowledge and the expulsion from the garden of Eden, and 3) the building of the tower of Babel, its destruction by God, the dispersal of mankind and languages, and consequently the inevitability of translation. These stories are narrated in the light of the readings of two leading figures in the contemporary critical theory: Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida. Through recounting these three stories, I intend to narrate the ‘genesis’ of language and translation in three phases: Appellation: The first phase of language signifies God’s word. In this phase, God’s creation is synonymous with his Word: “In the beginning was the Word”. Human being’s act of naming other creatures becomes an imitation of God’s creation. At this stage, words (or better to say ‘names’) have no communicating quality. They only represent themselves. Tree of Knowledge: In the second phase of the story of language, knowledge, judgement, or outside values enter the realm of language. This is the first ‘fall’ of language. Words are now only vehicles or tools for communicating things outside themselves. They lose their sacred immanent essence. They are no longer ‘names’. Tower of Babel: The third phase or the second ‘fall’ of language occurs when human being’s aspiration to ‘singularize’ languages becomes frustrated. At this stage, by the dispersal of languages and the ever-increasing creation of new ‘tongues’, human beings can no longer understand one another. They now need translation. This article, by going through the above three narratives, intends to explain the basis of the biblical philosophy of language and translation.



How to Cite

Nojoumian, A. A. (2005). Tower of Babel and the ‘Genesis’ of Translation: Walter Benjamin’s and Jacques Derrida’s Readings of the Old Testament. Translation Studies Quarterly, 3(11). Retrieved from



Scientific Research Paper