Once again, I'm detaching these observations from the OP, because they'll be wandering away from the direct support of the text.
We've established that the Rome of John's time resembled the Babylon of the Old Testament in the sense that they were both centres of hostile power.
And that would explain why the woman in this picture should be named as "Babylon", evoking the memory of Rome's predecessor in the role.
The next task is to consider how this picture can be applied in later times, for the benefit of a later church.
One approach has been to assume that the later equivalent of Rome would be Rome itself. The identification is taken to be continuous, from John's reference to the Rome of his own time, and also from the fourth beast of Daniel's vision.
On that basis, a long-standing Protestant tradition understands the woman in this picture as a reference to the Roman Catholic Church.
At the same time, though, Protestant tradition has identified the Papacy as "the Antichrist"- that is to say, as one of the Beasts of ch13.
But this double identification does not really allow for the conflict between Beast and Harlot at the end of the chapter, and I'm not sure that those who adopt this approach have found a good way to explain it.
Another line of thought, more recently, finds the continuity of "Rome" running through the Holy Roman Empire, vis the Treaty of Rome, into the European Union. To the extent that this interpretation concentrates on Rome as "the Beast", it avoids the objection just mentioned.
But I would question this focus upon continuity, and I think we need to be looking, instead, for similarity.
The two theories just quoted look for the later equivalent of John's Rome by following the name and location of Rome.
But these were not the points on which John's Rome was identified with Babylon.
As already discussed, the resemblance was based on two kinds of similarity;
It was partly because they had a similar dominant position in the world
And it was partly because they had a similar hostility towards God's people.
There was certainly no identity between them in name and location, and those two points did not enter into the comparison.
The Rome of John's time was "Babylon" only in a metaphorical sense.
So perhaps the later equivalent of that power would be "Rome" only in the same, simply metaphorical, sense that Rome had been "Babylon".
If that power is to be found in the current state of the world (though this cannot be taken for granted), then the most obvious candidate would be the United States. Not yet a "Universal State", in the Toynbee sense, but it might be argued that economic and cultural globalisation has a simlar effect.
The suggestion that "America is Babylon", which I've seen on these forums, would be inaccurate, strictly speaking, because "Babylon" seems to represent the metropolis. It would have to be identified with Washington/New York, perhaps in conjunction with San Francisco/Los Angeles, thus combining the centres of political and economic and cultural power.
But this theory, too, has a very important flaw, because the United States only meets one of the two criteria. The Biblical "Babylon-Rome" represents hostile power, from the viewpoint of God's people.
The United States has much of the power, but where are the signs of hostility?
In the absence of state hostility to the church, we cannot yet say that "Babylon" has emerged into view.
A final possibility is that "Babylon" remains in the future.
That would certainly follow if the Beast itself (as I've argued elsewhere) remains in our future, because the Harlot cannot be separated from the Beast.
The Beast seems to emerge after the world-crisis represented by the "Four Horsemen" of ch6.
I've suggested that the Beast would be able to rise to power on the strength of leading the world into recovery from that crisis.
We're told in ch13 that the Beast had previously suffered "a mortal wound", and we're told in this chapter that the Beast "was and is not" in the time of the earlier "sixth king".
So it seems plausible to me, from these hints, that the power which led the world into recovery from that crisis would NOT be the power which was leading the world when the crisis began.
This possibly rules out the United States, but certainly makes it impossible to identify the Beast, with any certainty, before the events of ch6 have taken place.
If we cannot identify the Beast, with certainty, then we cannot identify the metropolis of the Beast.
Which means that we cannot identify that "Babylon" aspect of the Harlot.
But we should be better able to recognise Babylon, in that sense, when she arrives.
She would be seen as a central power, dominating the world, and acting in hostility to God's people.
edit on 28-11-2010 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)