“”How many miles to Babylon?
Three score miles and ten.
Can I get there by candle-light?
Yes, and back again.
If your heels are nimble and light,
You may get there by candle-light
Babylon (Arabic: بابل, Bābil; Akkadian: Bābili(m); Sumerian: KÁ.DINGIR.RAKI; Hebrew: בָּבֶל, Bāḇel; Ancient Greek: Βαβυλών Babylṓn; Old Persian: Babiru), and its associated territory, Babylonia, was a Semitic city-state in Mesopotamia[note 1], located in the fertile wetlands of the Euphrates River. It was the location of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
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According to Diodorus Siculus, Babylon was founded in 2286 BCE by Bel or Belus, who reigned as king there for 55 years. It was briefly the capital of a Babylonian Empire in the 1800s BCE, founded by the lawgiver Hammurabi; his empire dissolved after his death, and the city fell into Assyrian hands, though its loyalty to the Assyrian state was perpetually in some doubt. Later, from 628 to 539 BCE, the city once again achieved independence and became the capital of a Neo-Babylonian Empire whose most widely remembered monarch was Nebuchadnezzar I.
Eventually, the city was conquered and became a part of the empire of Alexander the Great, who died there in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar. After Alexander's empire collapsed, the city was fought over by his surviving generals and their heirs. Exhausted by the constant warfare over the city, it went into decline, and was mostly empty by 275 BCE, though occasional glimpses of activity can be found after that.
A symbol of evil
In the minds of Biblical writers, Babylon became the type or model of a wicked pagan city, surpassing its chief competitors - Nineveh (a real and standing city), the destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and the nation of Egypt. All of these cities and nations held up as examples of evil were at one time enemies or captors of the Jews in the Biblical narrative.
Babylon decisively influenced Judaism during the Babylonian captivity, a period when, according to the Bible, Nebuchadnezzar of the Neo-Babylonian empire deported the remaining Hebrew people (those not already deported by the Assyrians as the Ten Lost Tribes in the 8th century BCE) from the Kingdom of Judah to Babylon. This "Babylonian Captivity" period traditionally lasted from 598 until 532 BCE, when Cyrus the Great of Persia, who had conquered Babylon in 539 BCE, gave the Jews leave to return to Palestine. As a result of their contacts with Babylonia, the Judeans picked up and developed (syncretized) some exotic ideas, such as Zoroastrian monotheism and eschatology and Mesopotamian creation-mythology.
The New Testament portrays Babylon as the pre-eminent example of a wicked city or capital; this use of Babylon is almost always considered to be a metaphor for the city of Rome and the Roman Empire. A "Whore of Babylon" figures strongly as an apocalyptic figure in the Book of Revelation.
The Tower of Babel
The Whore of Babylon
“”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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.
The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.
And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.
And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.
And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.
And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.
These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.
For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.
And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
This is somewhat obscure, as apocalyptic prophecies in allegories tend to be. As such, the identity of the Whore of Babylon has been a subject for lively speculation throughout Christian history. Because several Old Testament prophets used prostitution or fornication as a metaphor for idolatry or the following of other gods besides Yahweh, a historical consensus makes the Whore of Babylon represent a false, evil, but tempting religious system.
Since Babylon is generally agreed to represent Rome, and the seven hills of Rome are alluded to in the text (albeit as seven mountains), one perennial interpretation identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon. This identification, though strongly associated with the Protestant reformers, of the 16th century, in fact precedes them; for example, it appears in Dante's Divine Comedy (written between 1308 and 1320). The Roman Catholic Church officially denies being the Whore of Babylon. A shocking position for them to take, we know.
The Reformation rhetorical tradition of identifying the Roman Catholic Church with the Whore of Babylon persisted quite a long time, and appears in dispensationalist sources such as the Scofield Reference Bible, but the rhetorical tradition tended to die back a bit during the 20th century, though figures such as Ian Paisley still remember it.
In fact, it seems certain that the author of the Book of Revelation intended the the Whore of Babylon to represent the Roman Empire specifically, not necessarily the Roman church. In fact, the entire Book of Revelation presupposes the existence of a pagan Roman Empire. That Empire was the superpower and hegemon of New Testament times; in the first century CE, its decline and fall seemed unimaginable. This is in fact the source of daffy dispensationalist beliefs that the European Union represents a revived Roman Empire, whose destiny is to impose "Mystery Babylon" as its state religion and to start persecuting Christians in its name. I would have expected more... efficiency from Romans. So it goes.
Occultist Aleister Crowley, personally identifying himself with the Beast 666, named several of his girlfriends the "Scarlet Woman", an allusion to the Whore of Babylon. These lucky ladies included Rose Edith Crowley, his first wife, Mary d'Este Sturges, Jeanne Robert Foster, Roddie Minor, Marie Rohling, Bertha Almira Prykryl, Leah Hirsig, and Leila Waddell; these last two proved to be the most permanent of Crowley's confidantes. Crowley preferred the spelling "Babalon" for obscure kabbalistic reasons.
In other words, it's the Roman Empire, specifically before the reign of Trajan, since, naturally, the Optimus Princeps was a liberal (by Roman standards... which is more liberal than American standards).
In other news
Several other people believe that the U.S. is Mystery Babylon as well.
- Babylon - Ancient History Encyclopedia
- Aleister Crowley's Scarlet Women
- Hunting the Whore of Babylon - Catholic Answers
- A Woman Rides the Beast - Jack Chick Publications. You've got to hand it to Jack. This has to be one of the most fetching titles for a work of literature to come out of the twentieth century.[note 2]
- Six or eight thousand years ago, they laid down the law.
- The titles of Christian fundamentalist screeds are frequently made of the purest awesome, and credit is due to them for that much. Consider Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World, John Knox's The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, or even Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth.
- See the Wikipedia article on Babylonian captivity.
- L. Michael White, Understanding the Book of Revelation, PBS Frontline
- See, e.g. Ezekiel, passim
- Bilhartz, Terry D.. Urban Religion and the Second Great Awakening. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. p. 115. ISBN 0-8386-3227-0.
- Edwards, Jr., Mark. Apocalypticism Explained: Martin Luther, PBS.org.
- Inferno, canto 19: Di voi pastor s'accorse il Vangelista, quando colei che siede sopra l'acque puttaneggiar coi regi a lui fu vista; quella che con le sette teste nacque, e da le diece corna ebbe argomento, fin che virtute al suo marito piacque.
- Revived Roman Empire, raptureready.com
- Aleister Crowley, The Law Is For All
- Babylon, OED