Unlike Sir Thomas Browne, many seventeenth-century readers of Genesis 11 were happy to take Josephus as their guide. In the opening chapter of A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities, Richard Verstegan (originally Rowlands) (fl.1565–1620) used Josephus’s work to argue that all three sons of Noah and their descendants were reluctant to leave the mountains around Ararat, and had to be admonished by God to do so and to people the world. This divine reproof led them to fear a second Flood, and consequently to accept Nimrod’s leadership when he offered them the chance of protection through the building of the Tower of Babel.
However, Verstegan was less interested in the events which had taken place at Babel, than in the dispersion of peoples which followed from them. He argued that seventy-two national or linguistic groups had been created by the confusion of tongues, and that they spread themselves across Asia, Africa, and Europe. Verstegan’s main concern lay with the line of Japhet, whose descendants moved into Europe, and, in particular, with Japhet’s son Gomer and his son and grandson, Ashkenaz and Tuisco, from whom, he argued, the Germanic nations were descended. For this part of his argument, Verstegan was heavily dependent on Annius of Viterbo’s spurious amplification of the history of Berossos. The bulk of A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities, however, was devoted to the Saxon ancestry of the English people, and its influence on the language and customs of Britain.
A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities was first published in Antwerp in 1605. Although Verstegan’s choice of sources was not always particularly original, his work was remarkable for rejecting the idea of a Trojan, or even British, origin for English customs, and for asserting the Germanic heritage of the English people. During the course of the seventeenth century, there were many other writers who, whilst differing from his conclusions, followed Verstegan in seeking the origins of the people of Britain in the line of Gomer. Verstegan’s work, strikingly illustrated with cuts engraved by the author himself, was reprinted frequently. It helped to establish the image of the Tower of Babel as the point of origin for modern nationhood, even for the inhabitants of far-flung islands off Europe’s western shore.
A. F. Allison and D. M. Rogers, The Contemporary Printed Literature of the English Counter-Reformation between 1558 and 1640 (2 vols, Aldershot, 1989–94), vol. 2, p.151; Graham Parry, The Trophies of Time (Oxford, 1995), pp.49–69; Stuart Piggott, Ruins in a Landscape (Edinburgh, 1976), pp.55–76.