Jock McSporran recently requested I write a post on the other suggestions for Babylon the Great’s identity, so here is a further scattering (for the one on Saudi Arabia https://jessicahof.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/babylon-an-alternative-view/). Apologies to those who are tired of my eschatology, but I still maintain it’s wise to be aware of different opinions on the matter. As ever, I continue to state that I am open-minded on this question: I am not committed to any particular view. The identifications given below are all cities, but there is a school of thought that says Babylon the Great stands for economic and spiritual harlotry in general.
New York (etc)
There’s not a lot I can say on this option, except that it appeals to those who have a guilty conscience about America’s political and economic influence in the world. Some have seen New York (or other prominent Western cities) as Babylon the Great because of the wealth that the West has amassed over the centuries by means of industry, financial ingenuity, trade and – dare I say it – colonialism. Chapter 18 has a clear economic/wealth quality with the references to what Babylon buys from ‘the merchants of the earth’ (Revelation 18:11-19). Her destruction is observed from the sea, and since New York is on the coast, it would be plausible for ships to witness her end. Babylon’s fornication with and influence over the ‘kings of the earth’ (Revelation 17:1-2, 18; 18:9) is seen by some as a reference to America’s influence over other countries in the wake of WWII (e.g. American support for the Shah of Persia; American support for Hamid Karzai; American support of Western Europe against USSR; American support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria etc.) Babylon’s spiritual fornication and persecution of martyrs (Revelation 17:4-6) is thus interpreted as apostasy from true Christianity, and people who hold to this view use a perceived spiritual decline in America to support this notion, speculating that in the future the government will round up Christians and execute them. New York is held up as a symbol of sin and apostasy in this context, interpreters pointing to gangs, murder, drugs, prostitution, and financial greed (Wall Street) as the obvious sins.
I personally do not hold to this interpretation. To be sure, America and New York have their problems, but so do all the major cities of the Gentiles. The time of American influence over the earth is waning, and she never had complete dominance (China, USSR etc). To read America into Babylon the Great is to miss the Middle Eastern focus of Biblical eschatology. I do not see America in such prophecies, except maybe in the ‘Seven Shepherds’ raised up against Antichrist (Micah 5:5) and a possible dual fulfilment of the ‘Ships of Chittim’ (Romans) that came against Antiochus Epiphanes (Daniel 11:30); for more details, see Walid Shoebat’s book, God’s War on Terror.
Istanbul (Constantinople); Amman; etc
In the wake of the Muslim Antichrist theory, which has been promoted by Joel Richardson and Walid Shoebat among others, many have suggested that Babylon the Great will be the capital or important city of a revived Islamic Caliphate. This theory builds upon the idea that the Bible is generally focussed on Israel and the Middle East in general (without denying the universality of the Gospel and the Church). The nations that are singled out for judgement in eschatological passages referring to Christ’s Return are all middle eastern (excepting maybe Magog/Rosh – see my post https://jessicahof.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/gog-the-land-of-magog/). Taking Antiochus Epiphanes’ Seleucid Empire as a type of Antichrist’s, and taking the nations of Ezekiel 38-39 as Antichrist’s (Gog’s) coalition, interpreters point to Babylon the Great as the city that rides this middle eastern empire. Some even suggest that the seven heads/mountains of Revelation 17:9-10 are seven hills on which Constantinople or Amman or Mecca or some other middle eastern city is built.
I certainly think a middle eastern city is a possibility because of Babylon’s connection to the Beast, but that city must clearly meet all the criteria: she must persecute the saints and prophets; she must trade in luxury goods; she must rule over the Ten Kings who eventually destroy her (Revelation 17:16-18).
Literal Babylon or Baghdad
This theory builds upon the connection between Revelation 17-18 and Isaiah 13, 14, 34, 47 and Jeremiah 50-51. It centres around a few of verses:
- Isaiah 13:19-22
- Jeremiah 50:3, 40; 51:8, 26, 29, 58
- Revelation 18:17, 19
These verses all indicate that Babylon will be utterly destroyed (like Sodom and Gomorrah), never to be inhabited again, and all in a short space of time (conceiavbly a day). Isaiah 13:19-22 would appear to be eschatalogical because it earlier in the passage it refers to the sun, moon, and stars not giving their light, a sign that precedes the return of Christ (Matthew 24:29-31). The problem is that Herodotus’ account of Babylon’s capture by Cyrus the Great (Histories 1.189-191) does not portray a city that was utterly destroyed never to be inhabited. Babylon was captured and continued to be inhabited until later on when it was abandoned because the river silted up. Thus adherents of the literal Babylon view suggest the city will be rebuilt under the Antichrist and at that time it will be completely destroyed, never to be inhabited again, all in the course of a day. They point to Saddam Hussein’s efforts to rebuild Babylon as a starting point, and cite Zechariah 5:5-11 as a prophecy that spiritual wickedness (false religion) will return to Shinar (Mesopotamia/Iraq) in the end times. They say that false religion began in that land with the Tower of Babel, Nimrod, Semiramis, and Tammuz (Genesis 10:8-12; 11:1-9). A further argument is that Revelation, Jeremiah and Isaiah all mention Babylon, so that is the simplest reading, rather than taking Babylon as a codeword for another city.
This theory is compatible with the Islamic Antichrist theory. Historically Baghdad. was the seat of the Abbasid Caliphate, and at least one Islamic tradition (Hadith) prophesies that al-Mahdi will rule from Baghdad/Iraq. Some see the Biblical prophecies as referring to Baghdad, which isn’t too far from Babylon; others insist on actual Babylon rebuilt.
Problems with this view are that Iraq is currently a mess – it would take an awful lot to transform it into a workable capital for a revived Caliphate. Furthermore, dual fulfilment/typology might account for the two Babylons. The Babylon of Iraq was conquered by Cyrus as an immediate fulfilment of prophecy and as a sign that the end times fulfilment would also happen, just as Isaiah’s child Immanuel was a sign that the true Immanuel, Christ, would be born according to God’s Word. For those who argue that Babylon’s defeat was not quite as the Bible described, we might counter that it was close enough. Babylon was removed as a city of power: the capital was moved to Susa and then Persepolis by the Persians. Babylon’s army was destroyed and Babylon itself – albeit eventually – was depopulated: nowadays it really is a ghost-town partially rebuilt by Saddam Hussein. As for the code-word objection, Jeremiah himself uses ‘Sheshach’ as a codeword for Babylon (Jeremiah 51:41) – so why shouldn’t ‘Babylon’ be a codeword given to John for some other city?
This section could conceivably be mis-construed as anti-Semitic, so I will first of all say that I am a Christian Zionist.
This identification is popular not only among Preterists but also among some Futurists. Preterists see Jerusalem as meeting the requirements of the passage: she persecuted the saints (Old Testament prophets and Christ, Stephen, James the Less et al); she engaged in spiritual harlotry by denying Christ-YHWH; she had luxury in that the city and the Temple were beautified by Herod the Great (aka Herod the King); she was destroyed according to God’s wrath by the ‘kings of the earth’ (Romans and allies) in a short space of time (70 AD). Aside from the general difficulties of Preterism, which I do not intend to discuss here, one of the problems of this theory is that Jerusalem of the first century and Old Testment times did not rule over the ‘kings of the earth’ as Revelation 17:18 specifies.
Here is a video study (it’s very long) that argues for a futurist identification of Babylon as eschatological/end times Jerusalem:
The study points to spiritual harlotry and abominations (idols) as crimes committed by Israel and Jerusalem in the past (cf. Ezekiel 8, 23 etc) and suggests that Jerusalem is being referenced in Revelation 17-18 also, where her crimes is worship of the Antichrist in place of Christ her true Lord and Husband, with the Abomination of Desolation as a physical manifestation of that. An interesting parallel can be found in 1 and 2 Maccabees where wicked priests – in particular the High Priest Menelaus – supported Antiochus Epiphanes. Thus at the time of Maccabees not all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were loyal to the true God of Israel. Similarly, some passages in the Bible suggest that not all of the inhabitants of Jerusalem will flee when Antichrist desecrates the Temple. If many of Jerusalem’s inhabitants are deceived by the Antichrist, then we can see how that city could be considered a harlot by God, worthy of judgement. Likewise, the cry, ‘Come out of her My people!’ (Revelation 18:4) would be consistent with Christ’s command to flee Jerusalem when her inhabitants see the Abomination of Desolation (Matthew 24:15-20).
Further reasons given why end times Jerusalem might fulfil the prophecy are the colours of the Harlot: scarlet and purple. Many point to these as colours of royalty and prostitution – which may well be true. But they are also two of the three colours of the Tabernacle and High Priest’s vestments. What is missing from the Harlot is the blue of heaven – thus the colours may be indicative of apostate religion. Just as the 666 comes short of God’s perfect number 7, so the two colours come short of the triad proscribed for Divine Worship in the Torah.
Furthermore, while Jerusalem didn’t rule over the ‘kings of the earth’ in the past, if she were captured and turned into Antichrist’s capital city then she would do, and this would also be consistent with the Islamic Antichrist theory.
A textual argument in favour of Jerusalem is that Babylon is referred to as ‘the great city’ at Revelation 17:18. At Revelation 16:18-19 ‘the great city’ is split by a massive earthquake into three parts; other passages say that a great earthquake will befall Jerusalem in the end times (e.g. Zechariah 14:1-7). That ‘great city’ is contrasted with ‘the cities of the nations/Gentiles’, which might imply it’s Jewish. Revelation 11:8 identifies end times Jerusalem as ‘the great city’ and compares her to Sodom and Egypt – an unfavourable comparison.
There are, of course, objections to this identification. One is the overall picture of the conversion of Israel in the end times and the presence of Jerusalem/a holy city in Israel during the Millennium. I think that this may be reasonably countered by referrence to Maccabees and by consideration of the Millennial city. In Maccabees the picture is of some Jews bravely fighting to preserve the Torah and piety against both foreign and domestic foes. In other words, some Jews supported Antiochus. Jerusalem may be worthy of judgement again if she – at least in part – supports the Antichrist. As for the Millennial city, Ezekiel’s description (chapter 45) has dimensions different from the current city and other passages hint at a purification that takes place before the Millennial Kingdom is inaugurated. In other words, the old, defiled city is destroyed to make place for a new Holy City, that will not commit spiritual harlotry – perhaps the ‘beloved city’ of Revelation 20:9 or its ‘camp of the saints’.
Lastly, there’s the economic part of the picture. I don’t particularly associate wealth with Jerusalem, rather with the West, Shanghai and Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia. That being said, elsewhere the Lord refers to Jerusalem as decking herself in finery, so perhaps I am not seeing things through His eyes.
Rome: Pagan or Papal or Neo-Pagan
This section is potentially offensive to Catholics, so I will firstly say that it is presented to complete the options given in this post. To pass over this identification, which is held by many Christians, would be to distort the overall picture.
The pagan Rome identification is held by some Preterists and I believe by some Historicists. Ancient Rome meets many of the requirements of the passage: she was the capital of the current Beast Empire (Rome); she imported luxury goods; she ruled over the ‘kings of the earth’ as the capital of the Empire; she persecuted the saints (Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome according to tradition). As for her destruction, this is harder to fit into the passage. She was Christianised under Constantine and his successors which eventually destroyed her overtly pagan quality. But it’s hard to find a destruction/sack that meets the requirement of the passage, except maybe Constantine’s defeat of Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge. The later sacks (410 et al) are surely inadmissable, since the city was Christian in those days.
Papal Rome was an identification promoted by Luther and subsequently many Protestants – see Dave Hunt’s A Woman Rides the Beast in book form or on YouTube as uploaded by his ministry here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUFhGQ4Do9s
The main reasons given for this identification are:
- Catholic persecution of Protestants
- Papal alliance with and power over rulers of nations in the distant and more recent past
- Wealth in the form of ornate Catholic churches and Catholic land holdings and other financial assets
- Identification of the False Prophet with the Pope (‘like a lamb’s horns’ taken to mean ‘pseudo-Christian’
- Spiritual harlotry in the form of pagan practices and non-Biblically compliant doctrines and praxes
- ‘Babylon’ taken as a codeword for ‘Rome’ in Revelation and 1 Peter 5:13
- Seven Mountains (Revelation 17:9) taken to mean the ‘Seven Hills of Rome’
The Neo-Pagan theory comes in a number of varieties. Some think the Catholic Church will somehow gather all the Christian denominations under her banner and maybe other religions too. Some Catholics, following a version of the Marian Fatima disclosures, believe that the true Pope will be forced to flee Rome in the last days, walking past bodies of slain faithful priests, Rome having been taken by the Antichrist.
The Roman identification is popular among Futurists who still hold to the ‘revived Roman Empire’ theory. They hold that the Antichrist will rule over a revived Roman Empire, and Rome will be his capital and the Catholic Church will promote him until he turns on it when he demands to be worshipped as God.
I myself do not follow the revived Roman Empire theory or the identification of Babylon the Great as Rome – but I freely admit that I did in the past. The reasons given above can be tempting at first glance.
Revelation 17-18 has rightly been called one of the hardest passages in the Bible to interpret. While I believe Revelation speaks ultimately of a future, defined eschatological period, I also believe it has spoken a message to every generation of Christians – Babylon the Great has captured the essence of spiritual harlotry and oppression in many generations, whichever foe believers faced.
We need to be aware of the nuances of this passage and the care with which it must be connected to other end times passages in the Bible. Most scholars see a religious quality in Babylon, but the word ‘religion’ isn’t mentioned here; we infer religion from her ‘harlotry’ and her ‘abominations’, which are metaphors for idol-worship and false religion in the Bible. Her persecution of the saints adds to this picture. What is difficult to work out is where this religion fits in with the worship of the Antichrist, the Desolation of the Temple, the False Prophet, and the Destruction of Babylon. We know why God will destroy Babylon (Revelation 17:6, 18:5-8), but why do the Ten Kings destroy her? Does she refuse to worship the Antichrist? Do they think she is corrupt (e.g. Islamists thinking Saudi Arabia is in bed with the West)? What is her relationship to Jerusalem – are they rival cities or the same city?
There is also the economic side of Babylon and her fornication with the ‘kings of the earth’. Any identification of Babylon has to take into account her wealth, her imported goods and her economic and political influence in the world (at the end of the age).
As always, something to think about.