Babylon (New Testament)

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The "Fall of Babylon" to Cyrus the Great c.539 BC, depicted in a medieval tapestry.

Babylon occurs in the Christian New Testament both with a literal and a figurative meaning. The famous ancient city, located near Baghdad, was a complete unpopulated ruin by 275 BC, well before the time of the New Testament. In the Book of Revelation, the city of Babylon seems to be the symbol of every kind of evil.

New Testament era[edit]

Babylon was later the nominal seat of Latin archbishop, of an Assyrian patriarch and of a Syrian archbishop. But according to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: "Babylon" [1], there was probably no Christian community in the actual city of Babylon during the time when the New Testament books were completed (roughly, the second half of the first century). There are passing references to the historical Babylon of the Jewish past in Matthew 1:11,12,17 and in Acts 7:43, but these are literary. In 1 Peter 5:13 Babylon is designated as the place from which that Epistle was written, but this has traditionally been interpreted as an example of the figurative sense of "Babylon", as a metaphor for Rome. Peter is believed to have spent the last years of his life in Rome.

Book of Revelation[edit]

In the Book of Revelation, the destruction of 'Babylon', a city which seems to be a symbol of every kind of evil, is foretold. The connection with the actual historical city of Babylon is usually held to be metaphorical. It may be that "Babylon" is used here as a metaphor, dysphemism, or 'code word' for the power of the Roman Empire,[1] which was oppressing the nascent church much as the Babylonian empire had oppressed the Jewish people in Old Testament times; with the reason given usually being that it was not considered safe or prudent to speak openly against Rome.

Elsewhere in the Book of Revelation, Babylon is the name of a whore who rules over the kings of the earth and rides upon a seven-headed beast. In one of the Bible's most famous cases of numerology, the beast is commonly believed to have the identifying number 666, which has been linked with Nero.[2]

Whom or what Babylon refers to in the Book of Revelation has been the subject of much speculation over the centuries:

  • As noted above, the standard scholarly[citation needed] interpretation is that Babylon symbolises Rome and the "Whore of Babylon" therefore either refers to the Roman emperor, or personified the power of the Roman Empire under whom many early Christians and Jews were persecuted, tortured, and martyred for their beliefs because they would not submit to the Roman Emperor as a god. Many scholars[who?] believe that the early Christians used "Babylon" as a euphemism for pagan Rome, so that their small community wouldn't be found out and persecuted even more.
  • Some Fundamentalist Protestant[which?] commentaries on the Book of Revelation treat the references to the city Babylon in Revelation as both the City of Rome and the Roman Catholic Church personified in the institution of the papacy. Some Protestant denominations today do not give credence to such arguments however.
  • Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Babylon represents all false religion (i.e.: that thought to be disapproved of or condemned by God).
  • A modern interpretation is that the Whore of Babylon refers to the institution of multinational corporations. (whore - one whose loyalty can be bought; rules over the kings of the earth - is more powerful than any individual secular government.)[citation needed]
  • In the Rastafari movement, Babylon is a key theological concept referring to any oppressive power structure that adherents believe has been responsible for stealing and oppressing them for generations and still today.[3][4] However it also refers to the literal Tower of Babel, which Haile Selassie sometimes referred to in his speeches, seen as an act of human rebellion against JAH.
  • Some end-time prophets (Dumitru Duduman, Tom Deckard, Steven Crowder and others) assert that Babylon refers to America or to decadent western society in general.

The considered opinions as to the identity of Babylon in the New Testament need also factor in biblical references to a geographical feature that is close-by to the historical site of Babylon; that is the "great river Euphrates", as mentioned specifically in Revelation 9:14 and Revelation 16:12.

Babylon in Popular Culture[edit]

  • Fritz Lang's film Metropolis interpreted Revelation's "Whore of Babylon" as the android Maria.
  • In William Shakespeare's play Henry V, Falstaff's dying words refer to the Whore of Babylon. This is probably a final touch of comic relief in Falstaff's career, since he intends a spiritual or Biblical meaning, while Mistress Quickly takes it to mean a literal prostitute, one he knew and she had not.
  • The Avenged Sevenfold song "Beast and the Harlot" is based on the Whore of Babylon.
  • In the CLAMP work X/1999, an apocalyptic-genre manga, Tokyo is based on Babylon in that it is the center of all the world's evil.
  • Babylon is an important Rastafari term that is used at Rainbow Gatherings, the term refers to human governments and institutions, that are seen as in rebellion against the rule of God, or in a more general sense, to any system that oppresses or discriminates against any race. It is a commonly used term in reggae music.
  • The Heptones song, "Mystery Babylon" was produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry in 1976
  • It was used to depict New York as a Babylon-like city in the 1997 film The Devil's Advocate.
  • Mystery Babylon is the title of a film produced by film company ACT 2 CAM in 2011
  • The influential hardcore punk band Bad Brains recorded a song called "Destroy Babylon." It appeared originally as a single in 1982 and then again on the Rock for Light album in 1983. To the listener, its message is of bringing down a system of corruption (i.e., a cold and heartless government that rewards profit over humanity).

The considered opinions as to the identity of Babylon in the New Testament need also factor in biblical references to a close-by geographical feature; the "great river Euphrates", see Revelation 9:14 and Revelation 16:12 for the specific references.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://old.usccb.org/nab/bible/revelation/intro.htm
  2. ^ http://www.wnd.com/2005/05/30211/
  3. ^ "Babylon". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  4. ^ "Definition of Babylon (chiefly among Rastafarians)". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 22 March 2013.