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Babylon (New Testament)

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La chute de Babylone

The Fall of Babylon, in a medieval tapestry

Babylon occurs in the Christian New Testament both with a literal and a figurative meaning. In the time of the New Testament, there was probably no Christian community in the actual city of Babylon. In the Book of Revelation, the city of Babylon seems to be the symbol of every kind of evil.

New Testament era

Babylon was later the nominal seat of a Latin archbishop, of a Chaldean patriarch and of a Syrian archbishop. But according to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: "Babylon" [1], there was probably no Christian community in the actual city of Babylon during the time when the New Testament books were completed (roughly, the second half of the first century). There are passing references to the historical Babylon of the Jewish past in Matthew 1:11,12,17 and in Acts 7:43, but these are literary. In 1 Peter 5:13 Babylon is designated as the place from which that Epistle was written, but this has traditionally been interpreted as an example of the figurative sense of "Babylon", as a euphemism for Rome. Peter is believed to have spent the last years of his life in Rome.

Book of Revelation

In the Book of Revelation, the destruction of 'Babylon', a city which seems to be a symbol of every kind of evil, is foretold. The connection with the actual historical city of Babylon is usually held to be metaphorical. Virtually all New Testament scholars believe that "Babylon" is here used as a metaphor, euphemism, or 'code word' for the power of the Roman Empire , which was oppressing the nascent church much as the Babylonian empire had oppressed the Jewish people in Old Testament times; with the reason given usually being that it was not considered safe or prudent to speak openly against Rome.

Elsewhere in the Book of Revelation, Babylon is the name of a whore who rules over the kings of the earth and rides upon a seven-headed beast. In one of the Bible's most famous cases of numerology, the beast is assigned the identifying number 666 (believed by a few scholars[who?] to be Nero).

Whom or what Babylon refers to in the Book of Revelation has been the subject of much speculation over the centuries:

  • As noted above, the standard scholarly interpretation is that Babylon symbolises Rome and the "Whore of Babylon" therefore either refers to the Roman emperor, or personified the power of the Roman Empire under whom many early Christians and Jews were persecuted, tortured, and marytred for their beliefs because they would not submit to the Roman Emperor as a god. Many scholars[who?] believe that the early Christians used "Babylon" as a euphemism for pagan Rome, so that their small community wouldn't be found out and persecuted even more.
  • Some Fundamentalist Protestant[which?] commentaries on the Book of Revelation treat the references to the city Babylon in Revelation as both the City of Rome and the Roman Catholic Church personified in the institution of the papacy. Some Protestant denominations today do not give credence to such arguments however.
  • Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Babylon represents all false religion (ie: that thought to be disapproved of or condemned by God).
  • A modern interpretation is that the Whore of Babylon refers to the institution of multinational corporations. (whore - one whose loyalty can be bought; rules over the kings of the earth - is more powerful than any individual secular government.)
  • In the Rastafari movement, Babylon is a key theological concept referring to any oppressive power structure that adherents believe has been responsible for keeping their people poor and oppressed for generations. However it also refers to the literal Tower of Babel, which Haile Selassie sometimes referred to in his speeches, seen as an act of human rebellion against JAH.
  • Some[who?] have referred to the United States as Babylon, and New York as its Whore.

Babylon in Popular Culture

  • Fritz Lang's film Metropolis interpreted Revelation's "Whore of Babylon" as the android Maria.
  • In William Shakespeare's play Henry V, Falstaff's dying words refer to the Whore of Babylon. This is probably a final touch of comic relief in Falstaff's career, since he intends a spiritual or Biblical meaning, while Mistress Quickly takes it to mean a literal prostitute, one he knew and she had not.
  • San Francisco is sometimes called (in varying degrees of seriousness)[who?] as "Babylon by the Bay".
  • The Avenged Sevenfold song "Beast and the Harlot" is based on the Whore of Babylon.
  • In the CLAMP work X/1999, an apocalyptic-genre manga, Tokyo is based on Babylon in that it is the center of all the world's evil.
  • Babylon is an important Rastafari term, referring to human government and institutions that are seen as in rebellion against the rule of God, or in a more general sense, to any system that oppresses or discriminates against the black race. It is a commonly used term in reggae music.

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