3.3.2. Babylon the Great
Babylon the Great, or the Whore of Babylon, is an allegorical figure of evil mentioned in chapters 17 and 18 of the Book of Revelation. Babylon the Great stirs the interest of the exegetes because it is in close relationship with the Antichrist (the beast from the sea) and it is one of the apocalyptic entities most clearly depicted. First, Babylon the Great undoubtedly refers to a city, a kingdom, or both; not only is Babylon the Great called the “great city” in Revelation 14 and 18, but there are also many textual similarities between the apocalyptic Babylon and the historical Babylon from the Old Testament (Isaiah 13:19; 21:9 or Jeremiah 25:12-17). Second, Babylon the Great will have a global influence: “that hath made all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Revelation 14:8). And third, Revelation offers a very important geographical indication regarding Babylon the Great: “Here is the mind that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth” (Revelation 17:9).
The image of the apocalyptic Babylon has been assigned to several cities and kingdoms throughout history, on more or less religious grounds, but the best-known examples are Rome and Jerusalem.
In the early centuries Christians believed that the apocalyptic prophecies were being fulfilled in their own times. Accordingly, the apocalyptic Babylon was seen as a symbol for pagan Rome or the Roman Empire. Before the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, Rome had subdued the nations of Europe and Asia with brutality, paganism and greed, sending thousands of people to death. As it is shown in Revelation, it was an absurdly violent entity, drunk with the blood of the martyrs.28 The city of Rome, at least in the flourishing period of the empire, was stretched over seven hills (mountains), being also known as the “city of the seven hills.” Peter the Apostle even names it “Babylon”: “She that is in Babylon, elect together with [you], saluteth you” (1 Peter 5:13). First-century Rome may also fulfill the role of the apocalyptic Whore due to the actions taken against the chosen people: occupying Palestine, enslaving the Jewish people, uprooting the Jewish nation and religion, destroying Jerusalem and the Holy Temple in the year 70 and scattering the Jews after suppressing the last revolt in 132 AD.29
But Babylon the Great can also stand as a symbol for Jerusalem. A large number of prophecies from the Old Testament describe Jerusalem as a spiritual whore because it killed the prophets of God (Jeremiah 2:20; 3:1-11; Ezekiel 16:1-43; 23 or Isaiah 1:21: “How is the faithful city become a harlot! she that was full of justice! righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers”). In the New Testament Jesus and the apostles rebuke the people of Israel for the same reason: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her!” (Matthew 23:34-37). Moreover, the Jews crucified Jesus Christ and persecuted the first Christians – aspects that seem mentioned by John in Revelation 11:8: “And their dead bodies [lie] in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (Revelation 11:8). Just like Rome, the city of Jerusalem is also situated on seven hills;30 and while Rome was seen by the Romans as the material center of the world, Jerusalem has been seen by Jews as the spiritual center. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple in the year 70 seems to be symbolically depicted through the collapse of the Babylon from Revelation 18. Jerusalem is like an infidel bride that, despite the fact that she was divorced and thrown away for her villainy, continues to falsely pretend that she is the queen of the spiritual dimension. The earthly Jerusalem, identified with the Whore of Babylon, represents the opposite of the new heavenly Jerusalem, which is the Christian Church or the Bride of Christ from Revelation 21:2.
In the 16th century Protestants identified again the Whore of Babylon with Rome, but this time for being the center of the Papacy and the Catholic Church. Besides the well-known argument of the “seven hills,” Catholicism was seen as the religion which corrupted the nations through evil practices such as the veneration of saints, relics and icons (idolatry and apostasy according to Revelation 17:2; 18:3 and 19:2). The “drunkenness” caused by the “blood of the martyrs and saints” from Revelation 17:6 was seen as a reference to Inquisition, crusades, killings and atrocities falsely made in the name of God. And the global influence of Babylon the Great from Revelation 17:18 and 18:3, 11-13 was linked to the influence of Catholicism over Western Europe for more than a thousand years.
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