XXX. (156) What, then, is the proof that they had not entirely completed this building? First of all, the manifest notoriety of the fact. For it is impossible for even so slight a portion of the earth to touch the heaven, by reason of the cause beforementioned, that no centre can ever touch the circumference; in the second place, because the aether aitheµr is sacred fire and an unquenchable flame, as its very name shows, being derived from aithoµ, to burn, which is a synonymous word with kaioµ. (157) And we have a witness in our favour in one portion of the heavenly system of fire, that is in the sun, who, though he is at such a distance from the earth, sends his beams down into his inmost recesses, and sometimes warms and at times even scorches the earth itself, and the air which reaches from earth up to the heavenly sphere, though it is by nature cold; for, all those things which are removed to a distance from his rapid course, or which are in an oblique direction, one side of it only warms; but those which are near to him, or in a direct line from him, is violently burnt up. If, then, these things are so, was it not necessary that those men who were endeavouring to mount up to heaven must have been stricken with thunderbolts and burnt up, their high-minded and proud designs being unaccomplished by them? (158) This is the meaning which Moses appears to intend to convey, figuratively, by the expressions which follow: “For they ceased,” says, he, “to build the city and the Tower.”{47}{genesis 11:8.} Not, indeed, because they had finished their work, but because they were prevented from accomplishing it by the confusion which supervened. Nevertheless, they have not escaped blame for their actions, inasmuch as they had decided on them and attempted to carry them out.

XXXI. (159) At all events, the law says that that soothsayer and diviner who was led into folly in respect of his unstable conjectures (for the name, Balaam, being interpreted, means unstable), “cursed the people that Saw;”{48}{#de 23:4.} and that, too, though as far as his words go he uttered only words of good omen and prayers. The law here looking not at the words he uttered, which, through the providence of God, did change their character, becoming good money instead of base coinage, but having regard to the intention in which injurious things were resolved in preference to beneficial ones. But these things are, by nature inimical to one another, conjectures being at variance with truth, and vain opinion with knowledge, and prophecy, which is not dictated by divine inspiration, being directly opposed to sober wisdom. (160) And even if any one, rising up as it were from his ambush, were to try, but to be unable, to slay a man, still he is none the less liable to the punishment due to homicides, as the law which is enacted about such persons shows. “For if,” says the law, “any one attacks his neighbour, wishing to slay him by treachery, and escapes, thou shalt apprehend him, even at the altar, to put him to Death.”{49}{#ex 21:14.} And yet the thing condemned is the attacking with intent to kill, not the actual killing, but the law looks upon the intention to slay as equal in guilt to the actual slaying; on which account it does not grant pardon to such a man even if he supplicates for it, but bids one drag the man who has cherished so unholy a design even from the temple itself. (161) And such a man is unholy, not merely because he has plotted slaughter against a soul which might have lived for ever through its acquisition and use of virtue, making an attack on it through the agency of wickedness, but also because he blames God as the cause of his ungodly audacity; for the word, “escapes,” has such a meaning as this concealed under it. Because many men wish to escape from accusations which are brought against themselves, and think it fitting that they should be delivered from the punishments due to the offences which they have committed, and so they attribute their own iniquity to him who is the cause of no evil, but of all kinds of good, namely, to God; for which reason it was accounted as no violation of divine law to drag such men even from the altars themselves. (162) And it was an excessive punishment which was then denounced against the reasons which were thus built up and put together for purposes of impiety; which, however, perhaps some foolish persons will look upon not as injury, but as a benefit. “For,” says Moses, “there shalt not fail to them any one of the things which they have endeavoured to Do.”{50}{#ge 11:6.} Alas for their unlimited and interminable misery! All the objects which the most insane intention fixes its desires upon shall be successfully carried out, and shall obey its will, so that nothing whatever shall fail, either small or great, but everything shall, as it were, make haste to meet and to anticipate their requirements.