The Tower of Babel is perhaps the most potent and enduring symbol of humankind’s refusal to accept limitations. In the days when the people of the world all spoke the same language, they set about building a great wonder: “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and make a name for ourselves…” Beholding the tower, the Lord says, “From now on nothing they have a mind to do will be beyond their reach” (Genesis 11:4–6).
In this painting by Israeli artist and noted Near Eastern archaeologist Zeev Yeivin, the Tower of Babel rises clumsily into the sky like a battered tree trunk. Golden brushstrokes lend a warm luster to the tower’s crown, but its base remains immured in darkness. The effect is a sharp contrast—or to use Yeivin’s terms, a tension—between the brilliance of worldly success and the darker desires that motivate our quest for it.
“Heaven is the goal of man’s desire,” Yeivin explains, “but it was not intended for man to reach it. The Creator decreed that man should be modest—that he should aspire but not achieve, that he should follow this path but not cross the boundary, not reach beyond the road and not reach its end.”