Whore of Babylon

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An 1800s Russian engraving depicting the Whore of Babylon riding the seven-headed Beast (a Sirrush)

The Whore of Babylon or Babylon the Great is a Christian figure of evil mentioned in the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Her full title is given as "Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth." (Greek: Βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη, ἡ μήτηρ τῶν πορνῶν καὶ τῶν βδελυγμάτων τῆς γῆς; transliterated Babylōn hē megalē, hē mētēr tōn pornōn kai tōn bdelygmatōn tēs gēs.)

Passages from Revelation[edit]

The “great whore”, of the biblical book of Revelation is featured in chapters 17 and 18.

17:1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
17:2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. ["Fornication" is interpreted/translated as "idolatry" in the Amplified Bible (AMP), the New American Bible mentions "harlotry"]
17:3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
17:4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
17:5 And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. [King James Version; the New International Version uses "prostitutes" instead of "harlots"].
17:6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
17:9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. [King James Version; the New International Version Bible and the New American Bible use "hills" instead of "mountains"].
17:10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he comes, he must continue a short space.
17:11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goes into perdition.
17:12 And the ten horns which thou saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
17:15 And he said unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
17:18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.
— Revelation 17:4–18 (various)
See also: Revelation 17:1, Parallel Translations

Symbolism[edit]

The whore of Babylon as illustrated in Hortus deliciarum by Herrad of Landsberg, 1180.

The Whore is associated with the Antichrist and the beast of Revelation by connection with an equally evil kingdom. (The word "Whore" can also be translated metaphorically as "Idolatress").[1] The Whore's apocalyptic downfall is prophesied to take place in the hands of the beast with seven heads and ten horns. There is much speculation within Christian eschatology on what the Whore and beast symbolize as well as the possible implications for contemporary interpretations.[2][3][4][5][6]

Preterist interpretations[edit]

Rome and the Roman Empire[edit]

See also: Dea Roma

Many Biblical scholars[7][8] believe that "Babylon" is a metaphor for the pagan Roman Empire at the time it persecuted Christians, before the Edict of Milan in 313: perhaps specifically referencing some aspect of Rome's rule (brutality, greed, paganism). Some exegetes interpret the passage as a scathing critique of a servant people of Rome who do the Empire's bidding, interpreting that the author of Revelation was speaking of the Herodians - a party of Jews friendly to Rome and open to her influence, like the Hellenizers of centuries past - and later, corrupt Hasmoneans, where the ruler of Jerusalem or Roman Judea exercised his power at the pleasure of the Emperor, and was dependent on Roman influence, like Herod the Great in the Gospel according to Luke.

In 4 Ezra,[9][10] 2 Baruch[11] and the Sibylline oracles,[12] "Babylon" is a cryptic name for Rome.[13] Reinhard Feldmeier speculates that "Babylon" is used to refer to Rome in 1 Peter 5:13.[14] In Revelation 17:9 it is said that she sits on "seven mountains",[15] typically understood as the seven hills of Rome.[16][17][18][19][20] A Roman coin minted under the Emperor Vespasian (ca. 70 AD) depicts Rome as a woman sitting on seven hills.[21]

According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, "The characteristics ascribed to this Babylon apply to Rome rather than to any other city of that age: (a) as ruling over the kings of the earth (Revelation 17:18); (b) as sitting on seven mountains (Revelation 17:9); (c) as the center of the world's merchandise (Revelation 18:3, 11–13); (d) as the corrupter of the nations (Revelation 17:2; 18:3; 19:2); (e) as the persecutor of the saints (Revelation 17:6)."[22]

Earthly Jerusalem[edit]

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts (1850)

Alan James Beagley, David Chilton, J. Massyngberde Ford, Peter Gaskell, Kenneth Gentry, Edmondo Lupieri, Bruce Malina, Iain Provan, J. Stuart Russell, Milton S. Terry[23] and theologians[who?] point out that although Rome was the prevailing pagan power in the 1st century when the Book of Revelation was written, the symbolism of the whore of Babylon refers not to an invading infidel of foreign power, but to an apostate false queen, a former "bride" who has been unfaithful and who, even though she has been divorced and cast out because of unfaithfulness, continues to falsely claim to be the "queen" of the spiritual realm.[24][25][26] This symbolism did not fit the case of Rome at the time. Proponents of this view suggest that the "seven mountains" in Rev 17:9 are the seven hills on which Jerusalem stands and the "fall of Babylon" in Rev 18 is the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD[27] The dress of the whore of Babylon is similar to the Jerusalem High Priest (Exodus 28:6)[citation needed].

Several Old Testament prophets referred to Jerusalem as being a spiritual harlot and a mother of such harlotry (Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:1–11; Ezekiel 16:1–43; Ezekiel 23, Galatians 4:25). Some of the these Old Testament prophecies as well as the warnings in the New Testament concerning Jerusalem are in fact very close to the text concerning Babylon in Revelation, suggesting that John may well have actually been citing those prophecies in his description of Babylon.[28]

For example, in Matthew 23:34–37 and Luke 11:47–51, Jesus himself assigned all of the bloodguilt for the killing of the prophets and of the saints (of all time) to the Pharisees of Jerusalem, and, in Revelation 17:6 and 18:20,24, almost identical phrasing is used in charging that very same bloodguilt to Babylon. This is also bolstered by Jesus' statement that "it's not possible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem." (Luke 13:33).[29]

Historicist and idealistic interpretations[edit]

Pre-Reformation (Catholic) view[edit]

For medieval Spanish Catholics, the Whore of Babylon (Revelation, 17.4-5)[30] (a Christian allegory of evil) was incarnated by the Emirate of Cordoba.

Dante equated the corruption and simony in the office of the Papacy with the Whore of Babylon in Canto 19 of his Inferno:

Di voi pastor s'accorse il Vangelista,
quando colei che siede sopra l'acque
puttaneggiar coi regi a lui fu vista...
(Shepherds like you the Evangelist had in mind when he saw the one that sits upon the waters committing fornication with the kings.)

Reformation view[edit]

Whore of Babylon wearing a papal tiara from a woodcut in Luther's translation of the New Testament

Historicist interpreters commonly used the phrase "Whore of Babylon" to refer to the Roman Catholic Church. Reformation writers from Martin Luther (1483–1546) (who wrote On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church), John Calvin (1509–1564), and John Knox (1510–1572) (who wrote The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women) taught this association.[31][32]

Most early Protestant Reformers believed, and the modern Seventh-day Adventist Church teaches, that in Bible prophecy a woman represents a church.[33][34] "I have likened the daughter of Zion To a lovely and delicate woman." (Jeremiah 6:2 nkjv) A harlot, it is argued, is representative of a church that has been unfaithful:

"Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry
And children of harlotry,
For the land has committed great harlotry
By departing from the LORD.” (Hosea 1:2 nkjv)[35]

They also believed that the primary location of this unfaithful church is stated in the same chapter.

"And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth." (Revelation 17:18)

The connection noted above on the seven hills of Rome is argued to locate the church.[36][37][38]

Identification of the Pope as the Antichrist was written into Protestant creeds such as the Westminster Confession of 1646. The identification of the Roman Catholic Church with the Whore of Babylon is kept in the Scofield Reference Bible (whose 1917 edition identified "ecclesiastical Babylon" with "apostate Christendom headed by the Papacy").

Sedevacantist (Catholic) view[edit]

Some traditionalist Catholics who hold the position of Sedevacantism, most notably the Most Holy Family Monastery, believe that a counterfeit bride – a Counter-Catholic Church – will arise in the end times in order to deceive faithful Catholics; they teach that this counterfeit Church is the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council.[39]

Seventh-day Adventist view[edit]

Adventist believe that the fallen state of traditional Christianity can be seen especially in the Roman Catholic Church, which they teach is the great whore in prophecy as seen in Rev 17:1-5, a false church. Her harlot daughters are interpreted as other false churches which adopt Catholic Church's many non-biblical doctrines. They hold that the persecution of the true believers prophesied in Rev 17:6 is fulfilled in the persecution of Waldensians and the Inquisition.

Seventh-day Adventists interpret Rev 17:18 as a prophecy of the false church which has power over the kings of the earth. They consider the Papacy to be in apostasy for allowing pagan rituals, beliefs and ceremonies to come into the church, having those who pointed out its apostasy persecuted and killed and never repenting of or fully admitting the true extent of its actions. They see the Papacy stepping in after the Roman Empire as fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2:7 which says "For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way."

Ellen Gould White in her book The Great Controversy wrote that "Spiritual Babylon" would have worldwide influence, affecting "all nations", that Imperial Roman Empire could not meet the criteria, as she wrote that it only had influence in the Old World. Like many reformation-era Protestant leaders, her writings too describe the Catholic Church as a fallen church and it plays a nefarious eschatological role as the antagonist against God's true church and that the pope is the Antichrist.[40]

His word has given warning of the impending danger; let this be unheeded, and the Protestant world will learn what the purposes of Rome really are, only when it is too late to escape the snare. She is silently growing into power. Her doctrines are exerting their influence in legislative halls, in the churches, and in the hearts of men. She is piling up her lofty and massive structures in the secret recesses of which her former persecutions will be repeated. Stealthily and unsuspectedly she is strengthening her forces to further her own ends when the time shall come for her to strike. All that she desires is vantage ground, and this is already being given her. We shall soon see and shall feel what the purpose of the Roman element is. Whoever shall believe and obey the word of God will thereby incur reproach and persecution.

—Ellen White[41]

White concluded that the true "Whore of Babylon" must be the Roman Catholic Church.[42]

Latter-day Saint view[edit]

It has been popular within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) to equate the Whore of Babylon and its Book of Mormon parallel, the "great and abominable church", with the Roman Catholic Church. However, official publications of the LDS Church have discouraged that interpretation without offering a definitive identification.[43][44]

Jehovah's Witnesses view[edit]

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the Whore of Babylon represents "the world empire of false religion",[45] referring to all elements of worldly religions that do not adhere to biblical truth as published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTS) and as interpreted and defined by the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses (the institutional and leadership organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses). This includes, but is not limited to, Christendom, a term they use to refer to "professed Christianity" (Nominal Christianity) as opposed to "true Christianity". Jehovah's Witnesses literature often mentions the Catholic religion when discussing The Great Harlot of Babylon, and the subsequent attack on her by the political powers, signaling the beginning of the "great tribulation".[46][47]

They believe that the harlot—the empire of false religion and an enemy of God—has persecuted God's prophets and people, and that 'false religion'—all religions that have dealings with governmental or commercial elements of the world;commits and has committed "fornication" with the world's political and commercial elements.[48]

Twelve Tribes view[edit]

The Twelve Tribes communities, a new religious movement that has some things in common with Christianity and Messianic Judaism but does not self-identify as Christian, views Christianity itself (both Catholic and Protestant) as the whore of Babylon.[49]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the TV show Supernatural in Season 5, episode 17, the Whore of Babylon takes on the form of a woman fulfilling a sort of false prophet role, manipulating a town into believing that it is being attacked by demons and driving the residents to commit various sins in the belief that their actions will earn them a place in Heaven. She can only be killed by a stake taken from the wood of a cypress tree from Babylon, so long as the stake is wielded by a true servant of Heaven.
  • The Whore of Babylon (as Mother Harlot) appears as a recurring boss in the Shin Megami Tensei series of role playing games, and as an equippable persona in the spin-off series Shin Megami Tensei: Persona.
  • The single Beast and the Harlot by Avenged Sevenfold is about the whore of Babylon and the fall of Babylon while comparing Babylon to Hollywood.
  • Fritz Lang's 1927 movie Metropolis features a scene where the Machine-man/false Maria dances before a crowd of rich men dressed as the Whore of Babylon, whilst Freder has fever-induced hallucinations where a monk talks about the Apocalypse; then the false Maria appears sitting on the sculpture of the Beast holding a cup in her hand, whilst Freder has a vision of Death above the city of Metropolis and the Seven Deadly Sins crowding at the false Maria's feet.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ πόρνη: From Greek. Fr. transliteration; pornē; English; prostitute/whore. 2) Metaphor; an idolatress; a) of "Babylon" i.e. Rome, the chief seat of idolatry. "Dictionary and Word Search for pornē (Strong's 4204)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996–2011. Retrieved on: 3 Nov 2011.
  2. ^ Rome or Jerusalem? A Protestant Study on the Whore of Babylon in Revelation
  3. ^ The Interpretation of Revelation
  4. ^ Hunting the Whore of Babylon. Catholic Answers
  5. ^ Ch 17: Babylon the whore. Commentary on Revelation
  6. ^ What is the whore of Babylon / mystery Babylon? Catholic Questions.
  7. ^ Women in scripture: a dictionary of named and unnamed women in the Hebrew
  8. ^
  9. ^ 2 Esdras/4 Esdras; see the article on the naming conventions of the Books of Ezra
  10. ^ 4 Ezra 3:1–2, 28–31
  11. ^ 2 Baruch 10:1–3, 11:1, 67:7
  12. ^ Sibylline oracles 5.143, 159–60
  13. ^ http://books.google.ca/books?id=KuauhZijcb4C&pg=PA69
  14. ^ http://books.google.ca/books?id=4vUkZpLbOooC&pg=PA41
  15. ^ (the King James Version Bible—the New International Version Bible uses the words "seven hills")
  16. ^ Wall, R. W. (1991). New International biblical commentary: Revelation (207). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
  17. ^ Bratcher, R. G., & Hatton, H. (1993). A handbook on the Revelation to John. UBS handbook series; Helps for translators (248). New York: United Bible Societies.
  18. ^ Davis, C. A. (2000). Revelation. The College Press NIV commentary (322). Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub.
  19. ^ Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (315). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  20. ^ Beckwith, Isbon T. The Apocalypse of John. New York: MacMillan, 1919; reprinted, Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001.
  21. ^ http://books.google.ca/books?id=2sW808jaEekC&pg=PA46
  22. ^ http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/B/babylon-in-the-new-testament.html
  23. ^
    • Alan James Beagley, The 'Stitz Im Leben' of the Apocalypse with Particular Reference to the Role of the Church's Enemies, 1987, 92–108
    • David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, 1987, 421–-66
    • J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, ed, Anchor Bible, vol. 38, 1975, 283–286
    • Peter Gaskell, Is She Jewish? Is She Roman? The Identity of the Whore of Babylon in the Book of Revelation, 2003
    • Kenneth Gentry, Four Views of Revelation, 1998, 73–79
    • Edmondo Lupieri, A commentary on the Apocalypse of John, 2006, 281
    • Bruce Malina, 1995, 206–220
    • Iain Provan, "Foul Spirits, Fornication and Finance: Revelation 18 from an Old Testament Perspective," JSNT, 64, 1996, 81–100
    • J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord's Second Coming, 1887, 482–98
    • Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ, 1898, 426–39
  24. ^ Hunting the Whore of Babylon
  25. ^ Douglas Connelly. "The Indispensable Guide to Practically Everything: Bible Prophecy and End Times". ISBN 978-0-8249-4772-9
  26. ^ http://www.thepreteristpost.com/t2-the-transformation-of-jerusalem
  27. ^ A commentary on the Apocalypse of John, Edmondo Lupieri, p.7
  28. ^ Revelation: The Apocalypse of St. John By John Drane, Richard Harries, p. 53
  29. ^ A new and original exposition of the book of Revelation, pp. 252–253
  30. ^ "And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH."
  31. ^ Bilhartz, Terry D. Urban Religion and the Second Great Awakening. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. p. 115. ISBN 0-8386-3227-0. 
  32. ^ Edwards, Jr., Mark. Apocalypticism Explained: Martin Luther, PBS.org. 
  33. ^ Commentary on Daniel and Revelation. Google Books.
  34. ^ Keys To Bible Symbols see Woman, pure and Woman, corrupt on bottom of page
  35. ^ See also "They have committed adultery with their idols" (Ezekiel 23:37).
  36. ^ Walvoord, John F. "Every Prophecy of the Bible". pg. 603–610. ISBN 978-1-56476-758-5.
  37. ^ LaHaye, Tim. "Revelation Unveiled". pg. 262–271. ISBN 978-0-310-23005-2 (softcover).
  38. ^ http://www.mystery-babylon.net/
  39. ^ "Is the Vatican II sect the Whore of Babylon prophesied in the Apocalypse?". Most Holy Family Monastery. Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  40. ^ The Antichrist and the Protestant Reformation
  41. ^ White, Ellen G. (1999) [1888]. "Enmity Between Man and Satan". The Great Controversy: Between Christ and Satan. The Ellen G. White Estate. p. 581. ISBN 0-8163-1923-5. Retrieved 2006-06-06. 
  42. ^ The Great Controversy
  43. ^ Dennis A. Wright, "Great and Abominable Church", Encyclopedia of Mormonism (Daniel H. Ludlow ed.) (Macmillan: New York, 1992).
  44. ^ Stephen E. Robinson, "Warring Against the Saints of God", Ensign, January 1988.
  45. ^ What Does The Bible Really Teach - Jehovah's Witnesses Official Web Site
  46. ^ The Watchtower, April 15, 1962, p. 229 par. 6 Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania | "Christendom Has Failed God! After Her End, What?"
  47. ^ The Watchtower, October 15, 1961, p. 229 par. 6 "When All Nations Unite Under God's Kingdom" Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania | Revelation 11:15-18:
  48. ^ What Does the Bible Really Teach? p. 219 par. 2 - p. 220 par. 3 published by Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania
  49. ^ "Who Will Play the Part?". 

Further reading[edit]

  • Harper's Bible Dictionary Paul J. Achtemeier, general editor (1985, Harper Collins), ISBN 0-06-069863-2
  • The NIV Study Bible, Kenneth Barker, general editor. (1995, Zondervan) ISBN 0-310-92589-4
  • The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible with Apocrypha, Bernhard W. Anderson, Bruce Metzger, general editors. (1991, Oxford University Press) ISBN 0-19-528356-2
  • John Coleman, Conspirators' Hierarchy, 4th ed., Carson City: Joseph Holding Corp., 2006.
  • R. A. Coombes, America, The Babylon: America’s Destiny Foretold In Biblical Prophecy, Leathers Pub, 1998.
  • Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

External links[edit]