Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

A Psycho-Biblical Response to Death Anxiety: Separation and Individuation Dynamics in the Babel Narrative

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

A Psycho-Biblical Response to Death Anxiety: Separation and Individuation Dynamics in the Babel Narrative

Article excerpt

Compared to other biblical narratives, the well-known account of the lower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) has been underreprescnted in the psychological analysis of the Bible. Although the Babel narrative has conventionally been understood as a tale cautioning against the perils of rebelling against authority, on the one hand, and as an explanatory legend concerning the origins of linguistic and societal diversity, on the other--in this paper we maintain that the psychological relevance of the Babel narrative runs substantially deeper than what is to be found in these standard interpretations, and in fact offers interpretations, offering a sophisticated solution to the universal condition of death anxiety. Since the development of the Western mental health establishment has been largely underwritten by Classical Greek attitudes and values, the Hebraic worldview has been suppressed if not completely ignored within the development of psychoanalytic metatheory. The Greek myths of Phaeton and Icarus are examined to illuminate the contrast between the Classical Greek and biblical views of rebelliousness and individuation as it relates to assuaging death anxiety. Once interpreted through Hebraic optics, the Babel narrative can be appreciated as a story wherein a loving Deity (father figure) acts according to the best interests of His children (the Multitude), facilitating their emotional maturity and psychological individuation and consequently providing the space to mobilize their death anxiety into a vitalizing, life-affirming sense of self.

Compared to other biblical narratives, the well-known account of the Tower of Babel has been underrepresented in the psychological analysis of the Bible. This lack of attention can perhaps be attributed to the fact that unlike other highly analyzed biblical narratives, the Babel episode lacks a clearly defined protagonist. It is therefore understandable why those who have undertaken to psychologically analyze the Babel narrative have primarily done so emphasizing group dynamics. The Babel narrative has conventionally been understood as a tale cautioning against the perils of rebelling against authority, on the one hand, and as an explanatory legend concerning the origins of linguistic and cultural diversity, on the other. While these are certainly important and unmistakable themes, in this essay we maintain that the value of the Babel narrative 4 runs substantially deeper than what is to be found in these standard interpretations. As Jacob Arlow's (1961, 1964) seminal work on psychoanalytic myth interpretation demonstrated, along with supporting the assimilation of societal mores, cultural narratives serve the dual function of promoting the psychic organization and psychological maturity of die individual. More recently, research by McAdams and associates (2006, 2008) have similarly found that ones "narrative identity" is constructed within the cultural milieu within which an individual is reared and supported, to a substantial degree, by cultural legends, myths, and tales. It seems warranted then, if not overdue, to examine what psychological value the Babel narrative offers the individual reader of the Bible. We maintain that by approaching the Babel narrative from this alternative perspective, elemental developmental dynamics of the individuation/separation process comes into full relief, offering the discerning reader of the Bible a psychologically sophisticated etiology for and solution to the universal condition of death anxiety.

  "And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. And
  it came to pass1 as they journeyed from the east, that they found
  a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they
  said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them
  thoroughly. And they had brick for  stone, and slime had they
  for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a
  tower, u'hose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a
  name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face oft/n' whole
  earth. … 
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