I want to offer some thoughts, once again, on the Harlot of Babylon from Revelation ch17.
I find her a comples figure, as I've said before. Most of the details in this picture look like metaphors about her religious activities.
I've considered this woman in terms of the unfaithfulness of God's people-
"The other woman"
And I've considered this woman in terms of the attractions of other religions-
"Mother of abominations"
But the name "Babylon", in the Old Testament, has political overtones that are inescapable (I know, because I tried to escape them).
There must be a political dimension to this figure, as well as a religious dimension.
In the context of John's time, that means the Roman state.
So I'm going to be asking the question; what's the connection between Babylon and Rome?
Babylon and Rome in the Old Testament
There's no getting away from the fact that Babylon, in the Old Testament, is the name of an empire, based on a city.
It's listed by Arnold Toynbee among the empires which can be called "Universal States", because they fill the complete extent of their own
The city was the centre of political and economic power, as well as being the focus of a religious culture which the Jewish religion found
This was the state which destroyed the Temple and the rest of the city of Jerusalem, and took the Jews into exile.
As an empire and city, Babylon is denounced by the prophets for its treatment of Judah and other nations.
As an empire and city, Babylon is threatened by the prophets with a destruction sent by God.
This is the kind of hostile power which the Harlot must be representing.
Rome itself does not appear in the Old Testament, except perhaps in the prophecies of Daniel.
The Romans may make a brief appearance in the story of ch11;
We're told that the king of the north goes into the south, "but ships of Kittim shall come against him, and he shall be afraid, and withdraw, and
shall turn back and be enraged and take action against the holy covenant"- Daniel ch11 v30.
This is thought to be an allusion to an episode in the career of king Antiochus Epiphanes, when the legate Pompilius Laenas, with all the brutal
bluntness of a man backed by the Senate, obliged him to abandon his invasion of Egypt. The "circle in the sand" story.
There may be references to both empires in the vision-sequence of the "beasts from the sea" in Daniel ch7.
These are understood to represent four kingdoms, and we can identify most of them with reasonable certainty.
The "winged lion" is one of the characteristic sculptures of Babylon, and probably represents that empire.
The empire of the Medes and the Persians was politically lop-sided (most of the original power and territory had come from the Medes), and would be
well represented by the bear which was "raised up on one side".
Alexander's empire came into existence with legendary speed, and then fell apart into four kingdoms. So that would be a natural match for the winged
and four-headed leopard.
The common factor is that these were all states which dominated their own world..
Then we come to the fourth beast, which was "different from all the beasts that were before it2, in the extent of its power, being "terrible and
dreadful and exceedingly strong".
If the fourth beast is to be understood as the immediate successor of the first three, then the obvious candidate is Rome.
The reign of the fourth beast is brought to a close by the arrival of "one like a son of man", coming to receive "dominion and glory and kingdom".
If the fourth beast is Rome, there's a case, from the Christian viewpoint, that this prophecy was at least partly fulfilled in the first
of Christ, who named himself the Son of Man, and introduced a kingdom which outlived the pagan Roman empire.
But Christians also understand this passage as a reference to the return of Christ in judgement.
If the beast destroyed on that occasion continues to be understood as "the Roman empire", then it needs to have some kind of continuing existence
during the interval
But the fourth beast is radically different from any of its predecessors, and we may not think that the Roman empire properly matches the description.
If it is permissable to understand a time-gap, instead of continuity, between the first three beasts and the fourth, then the fourth beast could be a
completely new kingdom, coming to power in the period before Christ's return.
Babylon and Rome in the New Testament
The Roman power of John's time resembled the Babylonian city of the Old Testament in two very important respects.
They had a similar place in the world (at the political centre)
And they were both dangerous to God's people.
The Roman empire, like the Babylonian empire, can be found on Toynbee's list of "Universal States". At its full extent, it incorporated a complete
Rome was the centre of political and economic and military power, as well as being the focus of an important part of the religious culture. Apart from
the imperial cult, there was also the stone identified with "the Mother of the gods", which had been imported from Pergamum in 204 B.C.
And they were becoming dangerous to God's people.
The most obvious parallel to Babylon is the destruction of the Temple and city of Jerusalem (though John Robinson, in "Redating the New Testament",
dates Revelation before this event)
More to the point, in a Christian book, is that they were becoming dangerous to Christians.
This really began when Nero made them the scapegoats for the burning of Rome.
The danger continued, because the Christian religion was not legally recognised.
Thus Peter warns the church not to be surprised at "the fiery ordeal which comes upon you"- 1 Peter ch4 v12.
And the same kind of tribulation is in the background of the early chapters of Revelation- "The devil is about to throw some of you into prison"-
Revelation ch2 v10.
The church of the time recognised a similarity between Rome and Babylon, as shown by some of the allusions in the New Testament.
Peter's message that "She who is in Babylon salutes you" (1 Peter ch5 v13) is normally understood as an oblique reference to the church in Rome.
We're told that the woman in this chapter, named as "Babylon the great", sits on "seven mountains",which are commonly identified with the seven
ancient hills of Rome.
She's also described, at the end of the chapter, as "the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth", which seems to settle the
On the other hand, Rome is also the most obvious model for the first "Beast" of ch13, which comes out of the sea, like the beasts in Daniel's vision,
and clearly represents the same kind of state.
But we're told, at the end of this chapter, that the Beast and its allies "hate the Harlot; they will make her desolate and naked and devour her flesh
and burn her up with fire".
How is it possible to find "Rome" in both parties?
I think the various characters need to be disentangled in this way;
Harlot Babylon = Rome, the city
Beast from the sea = Rome the empire
Beast from the land = the Roman Emperor, the imperial office.
Then this chapter portrays the metropolis, supported by, but finally abandoned by, the strength of the remainder of the empire.
So the connection between Babylon and Rome is that "Babylon" has become a metaphor depicting the kind of hostile
power, which, in John's time,
can be associated with Rome
(continued in Supplement)
edit on 28-11-2010 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)