Capital of the Neo-Babylon Empire of the mid-first millennium b.c. Babylon has both a historic role and a theological role in the Bible. Certain themes become associated with it. In the Book of Revelation, these themes culminate in the image of the whore of Babylon. As a result of this biblical imagery, Babylon has transcended its historical significance to become synonymous with sin and pride in Western art and literature.
Babylon first appears in the Bible under the guise of the tower of Babel ( Gen. 11 ). The Hebrew word for "confused" in verse 9 is babal, which sounds like babel [l,b'B] (Babylon). The great evil of the tower builders is their sinful pride against the rule of God. This theme will reappear in the prophetic writings against the city.
During the reign of Hezekiah, envoys from Babylon came to Jerusalem ( 2 Ki 20:12-19 ). The prophet Isaiah chastised the king for showing off the treasures of Judah and predicted that Babylon would some day carry these riches off. This was a startling revelation, for Assyria was the great power of the day and seemingly unassailable. The visit was probably an attempt by Babylon to foment problems for Assyria in the west, thereby diverting attention from Babylon. The postexilic reader would have seen the roots of the destruction of Jerusalem in the foolish pride of Hezekiah and in the greed of Babylon.
The prophets describe Babylon as a city of pride and idolatry. Yet the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon presents the prophets with a dilemma. If God is sovereign and makes use of Babylon to punish Judah, can Babylon as a tool in the hand of its Master be blamed for its behavior? Isaiah addresses this problem by portraying Babylon as a woman, the queen of kingdoms ( 47:5 ), who should be tender and delicate but is not. God gave his people over into her power, but rather than caring for them she has shown them no mercy. This is a result of her overweening pride, evidenced in her statement that "I am, and there is none besides me" (v. 8). Although the conquest of Jerusalem is in keeping with the will of God, the brutality and greed of the conquerors the fruit of Babylon's idolatry and failure to recognize the kingship of God are not. Because of Babylon's pride, she will be destroyed. Psalm 137 personifies Babylon as a woman who is doomed to destruction and whose infant children will be savagely killed.
Jeremiah sees the future destruction of Babylon as a punishment because the Babylonians rejoiced at the destruction of Judah and ruthlessly plundered the people of God ( 50:11 ). Babylon herself will become a "heap of ruins" ( 51:37 ). Daniel reinforces the picture of Babylon as full of pride and defiance toward God. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, is punished with madness because he denied God's control over "Babylon the Great" ( 4:30 ).
Centuries after the destruction of the Neo-Babylonian state by Cyrus of Persia, Babylon reappears in a dramatic role in the Book of Revelation a role marked by numerous references to Old Testament imagery. Pride, idolatry, cruelty, and greed are associated with the city.
The dominant image of Babylon in Revelation is the city's personification of a rich woman, the "mother of prostitutes" ( 17:5 ). Babylon is a great city that rules over the earth.
Babylon, the historic oppressor of God's people, represents the new oppressor of Christ's church. Like the Mesopotamian city, the "great city" (Rome) will be judged and will become a desolate wilderness. The metaphor extends beyond the physical Rome to the entire world, "intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries" ( 17:2 ). The people of God, however, will be delivered from the grasp of the prophetic Babylon just as Ezekiel foretold for the exiles held captive in the historic Babylon.
Thomas W. Davis
Bibliography. J. M. Ford, Revelation; R. E. Clemens, Jeremiah; G. E. Wright, The Book of Jonah.
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the Greek form of BABEL; Semitic form Babilu, meaning "The Gate of God." In the Assyrian tablets it means "The city of the dispersion of the tribes." The monumental list of its kings reaches back to B.C. 2300, and includes Khammurabi, or Amraphel (q.v.), the contemporary of Abraham. It stood on the Euphrates, about 200 miles above its junction with the Tigris, which flowed through its midst and divided it into two almost equal parts. The Elamites invaded Chaldea (i.e., Lower Mesopotamia, or Shinar, and Upper Mesopotamia, or Accad, now combined into one) and held it in subjection. At length Khammu-rabi delivered it from the foreign yoke, and founded the new empire of Chaldea (q.v.), making Babylon the capital of the united kingdom. This city gradually grew in extent and grandeur, but in process of time it became subject to Assyria. On the fall of Nineveh (B.C. 606) it threw off the Assyrian yoke, and became the capital of the growing Babylonian empire. Under Nebuchadnezzar it became one of the most splendid cities of the ancient world.
After passing through various vicissitudes the city was occupied by Cyrus, "king of Elam," B.C. 538, who issued a decree permitting the Jews to return to their own land (Ezra 1). It then ceased to be the capital of an empire. It was again and again visited by hostile armies, till its inhabitants were all driven from their homes, and the city became a complete desolation, its very site being forgotten from among men.
On the west bank of the Euphrates, about 50 miles south of Bagdad, there is found a series of artificial mounds of vast extent. These are the ruins of this once famous proud city. These ruins are principally (1) the great mound called Babil by the Arabs. This was probably the noted Temple of Belus, which was a pyramid about 480 feet high. (2) The Kasr (i.e., "the palace"). This was the great palace of Nebuchadnezzar. It is almost a square, each side of which is about 700 feet long. The little town of Hillah, near the site of Babylon, is built almost wholly of bricks taken from this single mound. (3) A lofty mound, on the summit of which stands a modern tomb called Amran ibn-Ali. This is probably the most ancient portion of the remains of the city, and represents the ruins of the famous hanging-gardens, or perhaps of some royal palace. The utter desolation of the city once called "The glory of kingdoms" (Isa.13:19) was foretold by the prophets (Isa.13:4-22; Jeremiah 25:12 ; Jeremiah 50:2 Jeremiah 50:3 ; Daniel 2:31-38 ).
The Babylon mentioned in 1 Peter 5:13 was not Rome, as some have thought, but the literal city of Babylon, which was inhabited by many Jews at the time Peter wrote.
In Revelation 14:8 ; 16:19 ; 17:5 ; and 18:2 , "Babylon" is supposed to mean Rome, not considered as pagan, but as the prolongation of the ancient power in the papal form. Rome, pagan and papal, is regarded as one power. "The literal Babylon was the beginner and supporter of tyranny and idolatry...This city and its whole empire were taken by the Persians under Cyrus; the Persians were subdued by the Macedonians, and the Macedonians by the Romans; so that Rome succeeded to the power of old Babylon. And it was her method to adopt the worship of the false deities she had conquered; so that by her own act she became the heiress and successor of all the Babylonian idolatry, and of all that was introduced into it by the immediate successors of Babylon, and consequently of all the idolatry of the earth." Rome, or "mystical Babylon," is "that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth" ( 17:18 ).
same as Babel
in the Apocalypse, is the symbolical name by which Rome is denoted. ( Revelation 14:8 ; 17:18 ) The power of Rome was regarded by the later Jews as was that of Babylon by their forefathers. Comp. ( Jeremiah 51:7 ) with Reve 14:8 The occurrence of this name in ( 1 Peter 5:13 ) has given rise to a variety of conjectures, many giving it the same meaning as in the Apocalypse; others refer it to Babylon in Asia, and others still to Babylon in Egypt. The most natural supposition of all is that by Babylon is intended the old Babylon of Assyria, which was largely inhabited by Jews at the time in question.