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In the book of Revelation, chapters 14, 16, 17 and 18 mention a “Babylon”. But really what is that Babylon, and where, and when? Also, what does secular history tell us about the ancient kingdom of Babylon? Further, what are the “beasts” which are mentioned in the books of Daniel and Revelation?
This article takes a closer look at those things.
Genesis 10:8 And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord. 10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, 12 And Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city. (KJV1769, highlighting added)
In verse 10, the Hebrew text has babel. “Babel” and “Babylon” are the same. The Hebrew text of the Old Testament contains the word babel in around 262 passages, but many bible-translations render it as “Babel” only in a of couple places and as “Babylon” in the others. This is because in the Greek Septuagint version (LXX), Babel was spelled Babulon, which in the Latin Vulgate version then became “Babylon”.
Please note that Babylon was not a “church” or anything like that. It was a town and a kingdom, and later, in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, an empire, a financial, political and military “superpower” of its day and age.
The apostle John saw a vision which included something that was called “Babylon”.
Revelation 17:1 And there came one of the seven messengers, who were having the seven vials, and he spake with me, saying to me, ‘Come, I will shew to thee the judgment of the great whore, who is sitting upon the many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth did commit whoredom; and made drunk from the wine of her whoredom were those inhabiting the earth;’ 3 and he carried me away to a wilderness in the Spirit, and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of evil-speaking, having seven heads and ten horns, 4 and the woman was arrayed with purple and scarlet-colour, and gilded with gold, and precious stone, and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and uncleanness of her whoredom, 5 and upon her forehead was a name written: ‘Secret, Babylon the Great, the Mother of the Whores, and the Abominations of the earth.’ 6 And I saw the woman drunken from the blood of the saints, and from the blood of the witnesses of Jesus, and I did wonder—having seen her—with great wonder (YLT, highlighting added)
A number of writers have quoted some part of Revelation 17 and used it for pointing out the Catholic Church as “Babylon”, in an effort to make their own church seem better. But, let us face the facts: That chapter does not mention churches. And, as was noted earlier, the ancient Babylon was not a church either. It was a town and a land – a military, political and economic power. The first Babylon (Babel) in the days of Nimrod was a town and apparently even a kingdom of some kind. Later, there was the Babylonian empire which was at its strongest during the reign of king Nebuchadnezzar. (A note: Nebuchadnezzar’s empire was preceded by other kingdoms, such as the Assyrian empire which covered much of the same area.)
After the fall of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon (this happened when his son or grandson Belshazzar was the ruler), there were the Median and Persian empires. Even they were “superpowers” of their own time (on the military, economic and political levels).
In a way, the Median and Persian empires could perhaps be viewed as a continuation or new periods of a Babylon-type of reign. – The latter was followed by the Greek empire by Alexander the Great; the second part of Daniel 2:39 might eventually refer to that. Even Alexander’s empire was a “superpower”; it stretched itself over a large area, from Greece to Egypt and all the way to what today is Pakistan.
Alexander’s Greek reign fell apart. Later, there came the Roman empire, yet another “superpower”. It ruled the Mediterranean area, parts of the Middle East and large parts of Europe including the area which today is called England. It could eventually be that Daniel 2:40–43 referred to that empire.
Daniel 2:40 And the fourth kingdom is strong as iron, because that iron is breaking small, and making feeble, all things, even as iron that is breaking all these, it beateth small and breaketh. 41 As to that which thou hast seen: the feet and toes, part of them potter’s clay, and part of them iron, the kingdom is divided: and some of the standing of the iron is to be in it, because that thou hast seen the iron mixed with miry clay. 42 As to the toes of the feet, part of them iron, and part of them clay: some part of the kingdom is strong, and some part of it is brittle. 43 Because thou hast seen iron mixed with miry clay, they are mixing themselves with the seed of men: and they are not adhering one with another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. (YLT) [a]
That was the fourth of the kingdoms that were described to Daniel.
The two-part Roman empire could perhaps also be viewed as a “Babylon”. – Please note that just as ancient Babylon, even the Roman empire was an economic, political and military “superpower” of its day and age, and not a “church”.
After a time, even that empire came to its end. The western part, called Rome, fell in year 476. The eastern part, often called Byzantium, continued for a much longer period. Some decades after the western empire’s fall, the eastern empire (Byzantium) conquered a small part of the areas of the former western one, including what today is Italy, and ruled over that area for a while. – The last remains of that eastern empire fell in 1453 when Moslems took its capital Constantinople (Byzantium, today Istanbul).
A note: One must not confuse the western part of the Roman empire which came to its end in 476, with the so-called “Holy Roman Empire” which came on the scene around year 962. The latter was not really a “Roman” kingdom. It was a predominantly German kingdom in central Europe, from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean. Smaller remains of that German “empire” survived, in one way or another, all the way to 1806.
a Some writers have caused people to believe that the “legs” and “toes” of Daniel 2 refer to things of our day, or to something that is still in the future. But, it is obvious that those “legs” and “toes” refer to things and kingdoms which no longer exist. Clarification: When the in Daniel 2:40–43 recorded prophecy was given, it was spoken in the future tense. But, then that prophesied thing happened, and so, it became a fact of history, a thing of the past.
Then, regarding the “Babylon” of the book of Revelation.
Revelation 17:4 And, the woman, was arrayed with purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stone and pearls, – having a cup of gold in her hand, full of abominations and the impurities of her lewdness; 5 and, upon her forehead, a name written, a secret: Babylon the great, the Mother of the Harlots and of the Abominations of the earth. (EB)
A note regarding the “secret” of verse 5, or “mystery” as some translations have it: The Greek text has mustêrion which simply meant “secret”, referring to something that is not known to all.
Again, we read:
Revelation 17:5 and, upon her forehead, a name written, a secret: Babylon the great, the Mother of the Harlots and of the Abominations of the earth. (EB)
Regarding that verse and the translation “mother of all harlots” – let us consider certain things in the Greek text of that passage. Where the above-quoted EB has “harlot”, the Greek text has the noun pornê which came from the verb pernemi which meant “to sell”. Literally, a pornê was a woman selling herself, but of course, the phrase “mother of all harlots” in verse 5 does not refer to a literal woman with daughters but rather to such things as cities or nations. That passage probably refers to political and financial “prostitution” (corruption), such as in covert ways selling oneself or one’s city or country into the service of some power or interest-group. Cities and nations, or their rulers, submitting themselves to a secret “Babylon” power system which runs and controls a part of this world.
Please keep in mind that that passage does not in any way mention churches. It talks about powers and kingdoms. See also the next point, below.
Checking who will lament the coming fall of the last “Babylon”, gives some clues in regard to its actual nature.
Please read all of this scripture-quote, slowly and with thought, point for point. It talks about a still future time when the “Babylon” system will fall.
Revelation 18:3 For all the nations have drunk the wine of her passionate immorality. The rulers of the world have committed adultery with her, and merchants throughout the world have grown rich as a result of her luxurious living.” 4 Then I heard another voice calling from heaven, “Come away from her, my people. Do not take part in her sins, or you will be punished with her. 5 For her sins are piled as high as heaven, and God is ready to judge her for her evil deeds. 6 Do to her as she has done to your people. Give her a double penalty for all her evil deeds. She brewed a cup of terror for others, so give her twice as much as she gave out. 7 She has lived in luxury and pleasure, so match it now with torments and sorrows. She boasts, ‘I am queen on my throne. I am no helpless widow. I will not experience sorrow.’ 8 Therefore, the sorrows of death and mourning and famine will overtake her in a single day. She will be utterly consumed by fire, for the Lord God who judges her is mighty.” 9 And the rulers of the world who took part in her immoral acts and enjoyed her great luxury will mourn for her as they see the smoke rising from her charred remains. 10 They will stand at a distance, terrified by her great torment. They will cry out, “How terrible, how terrible for Babylon, that great city! In one single moment God’s judgment came on her.” 11 The merchants of the world will weep and mourn for her, for there is no one left to buy their goods. 12 She bought great quantities of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple dye, silk, scarlet cloth, every kind of perfumed wood, ivory goods, objects made of expensive wood, bronze, iron, and marble. 13 She also bought cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, horses, chariots, and slaves—yes, she even traded in human lives. 14 “All the fancy things you loved so much are gone,” they cry. “The luxuries and splendor that you prized so much will never be yours again. They are gone forever.” 15 The merchants who became wealthy by selling her these things will stand at a distance, terrified by her great torment. They will weep and cry. 16 “How terrible, how terrible for that great city! She was so beautiful—like a woman clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens, decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls! 17 And in one single moment all the wealth of the city is gone!” And all the shipowners and captains of the merchant ships and their crews will stand at a distance. 18 They will weep as they watch the smoke ascend, and they will say, “Where in all the world is there another city like this?” 19 And they will throw dust on their heads to show their great sorrow. And they will say, “How terrible, how terrible for the great city! She made us all rich from her great wealth. And now in a single hour it is all gone.” (NLT96, highlighting added)
Are churches or anything religious mentioned in that prophecy? No. – Just as it was with the ancient (first) Babylon, it appears that even the final revival of “Babylon” is a political, financial and military superpower (or, its main city). – It is run by a secret system which ensures temporal riches to those who control that system.
In the book of Daniel and in the book of Revelation, the different “superpowers” are in many English bibles called “beasts”. In Daniel 7, the word is cheyva (Aramaic for “animal”), and in the book of Revelation thêrion (Greek for “animal”).
“The animal” is what the Bible calls those successive “superpowers”.
The apostle John wrote, describing symbols which he had seen in a vision:
Revelation 13:1 Then, as I stood on the sand of the sea-shore, there rose out of the sea before my eyes an animal with seven heads and ten horns. There were diadems upon its horns and blasphemous names upon its heads. 2 The animal which I saw had the appearance of a leopard, though it had the feet of a bear and a mouth like the mouth of a lion. Then the dragon gave it his own power and throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads appeared to have been wounded to death but the mortal wound had healed. The whole earth followed the animal with wonder, 4 and they worshipped the dragon because he had given authority to the animal. Then they worshipped the animal, too, saying, “Who is like the animal? Who could make war against it?” 5 It was allowed to speak monstrous blasphemies and to exert its authority for forty-two months. 6 So it poured out blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling-place and those who live in Heaven. 7 Moreover, it was permitted to make war upon the saints and to conquer them; the authority given to it extended over every tribe and people and language and nation. 8 All the inhabitants of the earth will worship it—all those whose names have not been written in the book of life which belongs to the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (PH72, highlighting added)
Verse 4, “Who could make war against it?” – As you can see, that beastly animal is a major military power.
Many bible-translations have in Revelation 13:2 a “dragon” which gives power to the “animal” or “beast”.
“Dragon”? We all know that there are no “dragons”. – The Greek text has drakôn which simply means “a snake”. Some bible-versions use the Latin-based noun “serpent”, but even it means “snake”.
Revelation 13:2 The beast that I saw was like a leopard. Its feet were like bear’s feet. Its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The serpent gave its power, kingdom, and far-reaching authority to the beast. (GWV, highlighting added)
So, what is this snake which gives power to the “animal”? Consider this: In the Bible, the snake is often used as a symbol pointing to Satan, from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation. Examples:
Revelation 12:9 The huge serpent […] That ancient snake, named Devil and Satan […] (GWV)
Revelation 13:4 They worshiped the serpent because it had given authority to the beast. […] (GWV)
It appears that the “animal” or “beast” which John saw in his vision (and which received its power from the old snake Satan) was a symbol for consecutive empires/power-systems. The different revivals of that “animal” – those consecutive empires – have produced horrible destruction and suffering, filling mankind’s history with slavery, blood and horror.
It appears that in the future, Satan will come more personally on the scene and will once again empower the “animal”. But when Jesus returns, this time as the Lord of lords, he will trample and crush the head of that old snake, for the last and final time. Even the “animal” which that snake empowers, will come to its final and total end.
(The article nda040.htm contains a study on what the Scriptures say about Satan, mankind’s arch-enemy.)
As was noted earlier, the Scriptures show that even the “Babylon” of the book of Revelation is a political, financial and military superpower. Now, it could be that just as it was with the ancient Roman Empire, people who live in areas which the final revival of that “Babylon” controls, will be demanded to pay allegiance to that power-system and revere its symbols and hail its leader. (That is actually being done today, in many countries.) And then, that power may also have its “mark” (sign, symbol) on coins and bills, and perhaps in some way even in connection with other means of payment.
A note: Many people have been caused to think that there will come a “new monetary system”, in connection with an “Antichrist”. [b] But, there have been wicked, occult symbols on money, for centuries. That is the case even today. It is only that most people do not recognise those symbols.
This passage describes a part of the apostle John’s vision regarding the “animal” or “beast” and its “image” and “mark” or “sign”:
Revelation 13:15 and there was given to it to give a spirit to the image of the beast, that also the image of the beast may speak, and that it may cause as many as shall not bow before the image of the beast, that they may be killed. 16 And it maketh all, the small, and the great, and the rich, and the poor, and the freemen, and the servants, that it may give to them a mark upon their right hand or upon their foreheads, 17 and that no one may be able to buy, or to sell, except he who is having the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. (YLT)
Verse 15, “image” – in the Greek text of that verse, the word is eikôn. Here is an example of where an eikôn often appears:
Matthew 22:19 show me the tribute-coin?’ and they brought to him a denary; 20 and he saith to them, ‘Whose is this image [eikôn] and the inscription?’ 21 they say to him, ‘Caesar’s […] (YLT, highlighting and comment added)
Simply: The denarius-coin which those people showed to Jesus, had the image or picture of the ruler, the caesar. (Even today, the coins and bills of many countries have on them an image of some ruler.)
It is not clear what the mention of a “speaking” eikôn or image in Revelation 13:15 actually refers to. But, it could be that that simply refers to what we today know as video – TV-broadcasts and the like.
In Revelation 13:16–17, the word which many translations render as “mark”, is in the Greek text charagma, referring to something that is engraved or inscribed. An example of old Greek usage: To charagma tou nomismatos meant “the impress on the coin”.
b The meaning of the word antichristos which appears in the Greek text of 1 John 2:18, 2:22 and 4:3 and 2 John 7, has been widely misunderstood. Likewise, the “timing” of the antichristoi (plural) which the apostle John wrote about, has been misunderstood. Those who check what John actually wrote in his letters, will see that the “antichrists” whom he mentioned, were already on the scene when he wrote those letters. In the first century. The article noa020.htm has more on this.
Revelation 13:17 And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. 18 Wisdom is needed to understand this. Let the one who has understanding solve the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666. (NLT96)
In some Greek manuscripts, the number in verse 18 is spelled out in words, as hexakosia hexêkonta hex which means six hundred sixty-six, but some have only the letters chi, xi and sigma (χξς). That letter-combination, when used as a number, is said to have summed up to 666. Apparently, there have been some manuscripts that had instead chi, iota and sigma (χις) which would have signified the number 616. And, some say that the letters were chi, xi and stigma, χξϛ. (The letter stigma was a ligature combined of sigma and tau.)
In short: We have no certain knowledge of the original wording and lettering of that passage. Nor do we know its meaning. Those are the facts. But, some churches and preachers have invented various kinds of “calculations”, in order to point the finger at others, so that they could make themselves look better.
A note: If one invents one’s own rules of “calculation” – which is what some have done – then one can count almost any word or name to a final result of “666”.
Some have used a counting-system which is found in the occult work Kabbala, for calculating words and names into numbers. That is quite strange. Should one try to interpret the Bible, by the help of superstitious, occult writings?
It is better to face the facts: The Bible does not tell us how to “calculate” that name or number. We simply do not know how to do that. And again, we do not even know what the original wording or lettering (number) actually was, not to mention its meaning. Consequently, it is not meaningful to try to make calculations in that regard.
Some preachers and writers, perhaps especially American ones, have caused people to think that Europe would for some reason be an especially wicked or powerful “power-base”, a “Babylon” or something similar. But, the Bible does not even mention the word or concept “Europe”.
(All know where the power lies in this world today. It is not in Europe.)
From the apostle John’s vision:
Revelation 17:9 “This calls for a mind that has wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; also, they are seven kings (NRSV)
In the Bible, the word “mountain” often symbolises a nation or a kingdom (and, sometimes, even a city).
The above-quoted Revelation 17:9 states that those seven “mountains” are seven kings (rulers). It appears that this refers to seven kingdoms or powers. Perhaps, seven successive “revivals” of a power-system of a “Babylon” type.
In that connection, let us keep in mind that that “Babylon” has been located in different places, during its consecutive revivals.
It would seem that after the Babylonian and Median and Persian empires, Alexander’s Greek empire could be seen as another, major “revival of Babylon”, and after that the Roman Empire. The main cities of those ancient empires were “financial centres” of their day. – Since then, there have been other financial superpowers, among them the British empire. (For a long time, London was this world’s “financial capital”. Today, New York has that role.)
Regarding those seven “mountains” and the seven rulers connected to them – in the vision which the apostle John saw, it was this way:
Revelation 17:9 “This calls for a mind that has wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; also, they are seven kings, 10 of whom five have fallen, one is living, and the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. (NRSV)
Regarding John’ vision – we do not know its time-frame. In other words: We do not know when the status was, or was to be, that five rulers are “fallen”, one “is” and one is “yet to come”. So, it is hard to say what Revelation 17:11 might mean and refer to, for instance in regard to our day and age.
A note: It appears that the “animal” or “beast” which the book of Revelation mentions, is sometimes “personified” in its ruler, but that sometimes, the word “animal” refers to the entire system.
Another note: Again, there have been several revivals of that old “animal” or “beast”. It is important to keep in mind that many of the “beast”- and “Babylon”-related things which are mentioned in the book of Daniel and in the book of Revelation, refer to something that has happened in times past, during the different revivals of that “beast”.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
What does the Bible say about Satan the Devil? A study on what the Scriptures tell us about mankind’s arch-enemy. → nda040.htm
What does the Bible say about the antichrist or antichrists? On the meaning of the words antichristos and pseudochristos in the Greek text of the New Testament. → noa020.htm
Are the rulers and governments of this world appointed by God? The so-called “divine right of kings” – is there such a thing? → nwa021.htm
What does the Bible say about the “great tribulation”? On Matthew 24:21 and Revelation 7:14. → nta040.htm
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