In Genesis we are told that following the confusion of tongues the people were scattered across the Earth (11:7-9). Many people have traditionally assumed that the scattering, or dispersion, was caused by the divergence in languages. Ether says that although the Lord spared the Jaredites from the confounding of tongues they were still worried about being driven from the land. Jared asked his brother to plead with the Lord once more:
“Go and inquire of the Lord whether he will drive us out of the land, and if he will drive us out of the land, cry unto him whither we shall go. And who knoweth but the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth? And if it so be, let us be faithful unto the Lord, that we may receive it for our inheritance” (Ether 1:38).
Again the Lord had compassion and told the Jaredites that he would lead them to a choice land where they would become a great nation (Ether 1:38-43).
As explained in a previous issue, the ancient city of Babel would have been located in the territory known as Mesopotamia — which is roughly modern Iraq. Mesopotamia, which means “between two rivers” (the Tigris and the Euphrates), was the ancient locale for different empires (during different epochs) including the Summerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian and more. There is scholarly disagreement as to the date for the Tower of Babel, but we know that Mesopotamian ziggurats (or temples) were built from as early as the fourth millennium B.C. until the sixth century B.C. Most scholarly suggest that the event took place between approximately 3000 B.C. and 2000 B.C. Their estimates are based on extra-biblical texts, archaeology and clues from the bible (such as baking bricks [Genesis 11:3]). Decades ago, Hugh Nibley pointed out that, according to several ancient traditions (not found in the Bible), the Tower of Babel was destroyed by ferocious winds. The early Christian historian Eusebius, for instance, cites other early chroniclers who claimed that “winds came to the aid of the gods, and threw down the structure around them.”
According to the early Jewish book of Jubilees, “the Lord sent a mighty wind against the tower and overthrew it upon the earth.” Perhaps not coincidentally, the book of Ether tells us that the barges they used to sail to the New World were built to withstand “furious winds” and “fierceness of the wind” that did “never cease to blow towards the promised land” (Ether 6:5-8).
Citing the Persian antiquary Tha’labi, Nibley explains that “the people were scattered from the tower by an awful drought, accompanied by winds of such velocity as actually to blow down the tower.” What do winds have to do with drought? When soil dries up because of a lack of moisture, strong winds can further erode the topsoil making the conditions even worse for growing vegetation. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s prairie lands of American and Canadian was an example of such a problem. Winds also affect the weather patterns of rain and can cause drought if rain is not carried by winds to the right places.
When a people are hit by drought, they often have to “scatter” or vacate the land in search for food. In fact, chronic drought seems to be the biggest disaster-related reason why groups of people would make permanent migrations to other lands. As one non-LDS researcher observed: “In cases of prolonged drought, people are forced to abandon their land and move elsewhere … In underdeveloped countries, the consequences can include famine, migration of large populations, social and political upheaval, and war.”
No wonder the people of Jared’s day were scattered and why the Jaredites prayed for a new “choice” land.
Years ago, Nibley pointed out that winds, droughts and migrations were often found hand in hand in the history of ancient civilizations. In 1993 an American-French archaeological team uncovered evidence that in about 2200 B.C. the Akkadian empire (Mesopotamia) was beset by a drought that caused the empire to collapse abruptly as well as the abandonment of Akkadian cities. Dr. Harvey Weiss, a Yale archaeologist and leader of the team said:
“This is the first time an abrupt climate change has been directly linked to the collapse of a thriving civilization.”
While scholars don’t know for certain what caused the drought “the scientists … suggested that changing wind patterns and ocean currents could have been factors.” Weiss contends that this incident might have been “the first abrupt climate change in recorded history that caused major social upheaval.”
If this is true, it seems likely that the Jaredites remembered (even if through a “glass, darkly” — 1 Corinthian 13:12) the basic elements — perhaps in mythical form — of an original account either based on the fall of the Akkadian empire or a similar event.