In our last article, we began a discussion of the Babylon = Rome theory. In this study, we will discuss several other arguments often made to establish the theory.
It is maintained that, "Babylon's adornment fits Rome best because the colors of purple and scarlet portray her as a Royal and Harlot city." This may be correct but it does not prove Babylon is Rome. Jerusalem was described in this fashion in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 4:30). The tabernacle and temple were made with these things (Exodus 25-26; 35-39; 2 Chronicles 2). God was Israel's king and the Temple's location in Jerusalem made it the Royal city. Though Jerusalem turned harlot (Isaiah 1:21), she was still decked in her attire.
The argument is made that, "Babylon symbolized Rome because she sat closer to the sea than Jerusalem." This explanation ignores what John said. John explained that the "many waters" were "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues" (Revelation 17:15). To ignore John's explanation in favor of our own is to create an unscriptural characteristic. John was not talking about literal waters! He was talking about people from the nations.
Some contend that, "Babylon must be Rome because she was THE world famous market and consumer of all the products mentioned and was known world wide for this." You would think from these assertions that Babylon was the world's greatest market and consumer in that day. Where did this idea come from? John did not say that. All he said was that this great market would be shut down.
The advocates of the Babylon = Rome theory like to talk about how small Jerusalem was compared to Rome and other cities. They say that Jerusalem with a population of 120,000 or less could not compare to these much larger cities and that it would be unreasonable to think that Jerusalem was Babylon the Great.
Jerusalem was small when compared to Rome, Alexandra, Ephesus, Antioch and others. All these cities had many more inhabitants than Jerusalem but, all of them together, did not have the tourist trade Jerusalem had. Three times a year Jerusalem's loyal subjects were commanded to go up to Jerusalem to worship. Josephus indicates that some years as many as 3,000,000 people came to Jerusalem just for one of those feasts. Think about that! They went three times a year by commandment! On top of that there were other feasts and memorial days established by the Jews for which they journeyed to Jerusalem. Did they carry all of their needed provisions with them? Of course not. The business community of Jerusalem provided for these things.
Today, many of our large cities get into biding wars for conventions. A convention of 10,000 means millions of dollars. Think about three a year with 3,000,000! Josephus tells us there was enough grain stored in Jerusalem to have fed the millions caught in the city for several years but one of the rebels burned it (Josephus, Wars, 5, 1, 4). How did it get there? Surely many merchants were involved.
Furthermore, while Jerusalem's local population was small, every Jew considered himself a citizen of Jerusalem (cf.Isaiah 48:1,2). It has been estimated that 12 to 14 million Jews lived in the world of that day and most of them made such a claim. This means that Jerusalem's citizenry reached out into all the communities of the world. There was no city in the world like it. Of this, Titus, Jerusalem's destroyer, said, the Romans "permitted you to live, either by yourselves, or among others, as it should please you: and, what is our chief favor of all, we have given you leave to gather up that tribute which is paid to God... till at length you became richer than we ourselves" (Josephus, Wars, 6, 6, 2). So, while Jerusalem's local population was small, her spiritual citizenry was world wide.
It is often asserted that, "Babylon was predominately a sea trading power." Where did anyone get that idea? Sure, the shipmasters, ships and sailors are mentioned in association with how Babylon got many of her products but there is nothing in the text that warrants the word predominate. John does not describe Babylon as the world's greatest sea trading power. John simply points out that those who depended upon the sea for trade with Babylon lost that market.
It is reasoned that, "Jerusalem sat up in the mountains and was land-locked and any thing they got from the sea had to be hauled over land." So what? The fact is, Jerusalem depended upon the sea. Solomon opened up the seas for trade nearly 1000 years B.C. (1 Kings 9:26-28; 2 Chronicles 8:18; 9:21, cf.2 Chronicles 2:16; Ezra 3:7). Josephus also points out that Jerusalem depended upon the sea for trade (Wars, 3, 3, 6). While I would not contend for a moment that Jerusalem was the world's greatest sea trader, she did get products from far by way of the sea. None of us know the extent of that trade. All John said was that Babylon as a market for sea trade would be shut down. He said nothing about her being the world's greatest sea trading power. This has simply been asserted as if it were fact. To assert something into a text in Revelation that is not there is dangerous, friends! (Revelation 22:18,19).
It is contended that, "The merchandise found in Babylon was especially appropriate for Rome." Yes, and for nearly every city on earth. All of these things were found in Jerusalem and this is admitted by those who advocate the Babylon = Rome theory. They even admit that slaves were found there. John was not measuring how much or many of these things existed in Babylon but was pointing out that as a market for these things Babylon would cease to exist. Permit me to remind you that Rome has never been shut down.
It is asserted that, "It was appropriate for Rome to be called the great city but not Jerusalem." This is a big assertion because Jerusalem is identified in the scriptures as a great city while Rome is not (cf.Jeremiah 22:8; Revelation 11:8). This does not mean that Rome was not a great city, it was, but it does mean that God recognized Jerusalem as a great city whether we do or not. Furthermore, the great city is mentioned nine times in the Apocalypse and one time John identifies her as the city "where our Lord was crucified" (Revelation 11:8). Surely no one thinks Jesus was crucified in Rome!
It has been argued that, "Since saints rejoiced over the fall of Babylon, she could not be Jerusalem because in the Old Testament the saints always wept when Jerusalem was punished." Of all the arguments I have heard for Babylon's identity, this is the weakest. Indeed, the people living in Jerusalem wept when she was destroyed. Jesus even indicated they would weep in 70 A.D. (Luke 23:28-30).
So, what is wrong with the argument? In the Apocalypse, those told to rejoice were martyred (dead) saints. They were martyred for their faith by Babylon the Great (cf.Revelation 6:9-11; 17:6; 18:20,24). They were promised vengeance and when it came they could rejoice. They did not die in vain. There was plenty of reason for the apostles and prophets to rejoice at the fall of Jerusalem. Jesus held Jerusalem responsible for the deaths of both apostles and prophets. We can prove this by the scriptures. Can you prove by the scriptures that Rome was responsible for the deaths of any apostles or prophets? If you hold to the Rome theory, you are duty bound to prove that Rome was responsible for the deaths of at least two apostles and two prophets?
It is contended that, "The absence of any references to Babylon's idolatry or of her having turned away from God is proof that Babylon is not Jerusalem." Evidently these people have not read Revelation 17. Babylon is a whore and "The Mother of Harlots, and Abominations of the Earth" (Revelation 17:1,5). Why is she a harlot? Harlots are not born. They are made by the practice of whoredom when they turn away from what is morally right.
Babylon is also portrayed as the mother of Harlots. The harlots are the children of the mother harlot. Both, Isaiah and Ezekiel, picture Judah and Jerusalem as the mother of harlots (Isaiah 57:3-12; Ezekiel 16). Paul says, "Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children." The priests and the rulers in Jerusalem departed from the Lord and lead the people into spiritual whoredom. The Old Testament is full of Israel's abandonment of God for idols. The gods with whom they committed whoredom were called abominations (Deuteronomy 29:17; 32:16; Ezekiel 5:1-11). So, reference is made to Babylon's (Jerusalem's) apostasy and idolatry.
It is suggested that, "Many of the statements made in chapter 18 are taken from Old Testament descriptions of pagan cities and therefore could not be descriptions of Jerusalem." While arguing this, they admit that some of the descriptions do come from judgment passages upon Jerusalem. By admitting this, they defeat their whole argument. If the description drawn from Old Testament references to pagan cities proves Babylon is not Jerusalem, then those descriptions derived from references to judgment upon Jerusalem proves that Babylon is not Rome either. This point is pointless.
I recently heard a lecturer contend that one of the reasons for accepting the Babylon = Rome view is, "The Babylon = Jerusalem view ultimately misses the point." Nothing that was said on this point was worth mentioning because the point missed was the lecturer's own personal evaluation of the book. He formulated his view of the book and then decided that if another view does not support his view then it misses the point. It might miss that person's point, but missing the truth is another thing. Whatever the point is in Revelation must be determined by scripture and not by someone's think so's. Incidently, I believe the Babylon = Rome view misses the main point. I think it misses many points but that is from my point of view and does nothing toward proving the Babylon = Jerusalem view.
In concluding this part of our studies in the Apocalypse, let me remind you who hold to the Babylon = Rome theory that there are three things you must contend with.
(1) Jesus said, "It cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem" (Luke 13:33). He also held that generation responsibile for "the blood of all the prophets" (Luke 11:50). Since the blood of prophets was found in Babylon (Revelation 18:24), you must explain how Rome could be destroyed to avenge the blood of the prophets without questioning the veracity of Jesus.
(2) God avenged the blood of apostles and prophets on Babylon (Revelation 18:20). Since you contend that Babylon symbolizes Rome, you are required to prove that Rome was responsible for the deaths of at least two apostles and two prophets. Can you prove this?
(3) Babylon was to be destroyed, wiped out, never to exist again. You are responsible to prove that Rome was destroyed according to your view. There is much talk about the fall of Rome but no one can explain when it took place. Physically, nothing has ever happened to Rome! It is still the "eternal city"! It has never been destroyed! There is no fulfillment of John's prophecy if Babylon = Rome!
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This page was last updated on Thursday, May 28, 1998.