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In the New Testament the city of Babylon is mentioned a few times. Notably in the book of Revelation:

6Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” 8 A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.” 9 A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus. (Revelation 14:6-12, NIV, emphasize mine)

See also 14:8, 16:19, 17:5, 18:2, 18:10, 18:21.

What does Babylon refer to? If there are diversity among scholars I love to hear about different opinions. But I only want answers that argue from the text itself and it's historical situation.


There is another question that touches on the subject. But I want this to be more specific and go deeper.

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Much of this question is its own answer. You should consider moving the section beginning with "Most scholars..." into an answer. –  Bruce Alderman Jan 3 at 14:35
    
@NiclasNilsson-I will respond to this question when I get to my references, but from both a Hermeneutical and Historical context, it cannot be Rome. When one makes the adjustment from Literal to Figurative, one cannot mix literal and figurative interpretations to suit your interpretation, any more than you can 'mix' wool and cotton, or wheat and barley. That Peter called Rome "Babylon" is a matter of record, but that doesn't explain Babylon the Great. –  Tau Jan 4 at 13:03
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@user2479 I'm looking forward to an exciting exegesis (not eisegesis) :-) –  Niclas Nilsson Jan 4 at 13:13
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@NiclasNilsson-That's why I need to get to my resources-I usually do it at night. –  Tau Jan 5 at 1:43

4 Answers 4

Contemporary Jewish Apocalypses

2 Esdras is a Jewish apocalypse with later Christian additions. One chapter, written by the original Jewish author, has the following:

In the thirtieth year after the destruction of the city, I was in Babylon — I, Salathiel, who am also called Ezra. I was troubled as I lay on my bed, and my thoughts welled up in my heart, because I saw the desolation of Zion and the wealth of those who lived in Babylon. (2 Esdras 3.1-2, NRSV)

'Then I said in my heart, Are the deeds of those who inhabit Babylon any better? Is that why it has gained dominion over Zion? For when I came here I saw ungodly deeds without number, and my soul has seen many sinners during these thirty years. And my heart failed me, because I have seen how you endure those who sin, and have spared those who act wickedly, and have destroyed your people, and protected your enemies, and have not shown to anyone how your way may be comprehended. Are the deeds of Babylon better than those of Zion?' (2 Esdras 3.28-31, NRSV)

According to this text, 'Ezra' is writing thirty years after the 587 BC destruction of Jerusalem. Internally, this would date the book to c.557 BC, a full century before the biblical Ezra was even active, which is simply not feasible. Among other telltale signs that this was not written by the Ezra, the book is accordingly dated to thirty years after the second destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in 70 AD. Thus, 2 Esdras 3.1-2 was written c.100 AD by a Jewish author who cast Rome in the role of 'Babylon'.

The same appears to be the case in 2 Baruch, an apocalyptic book written about the same time, where the author assumes the name of the biblical Baruch, writing about the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem as if it was the 587 BC destruction. Consequently, 2 Baruch 10.1–3, 11.1, and 67.7 have the author writing about 'Babylon', which are considered once more to be references to Rome.


The Sibylline Oracles

The Sibylline Oracles (not to be confused with the non-extant Sibylline Books), a large set of apocalyptic visions, were added to by Jews, Christians, and Gnostics over several centuries. (The theology in different passages conflicts, and represents the various editors.) Book 5.187-205, written c.130-160 AD, very clearly equates Rome with Babylon when it puts the blames for the temple's destruction on Nero (the 'mighty king' who 'laid his hands upon the womb', i.e. murdered his pregnant wife):

When one from Italy shall smite the neck
Of the isthmus, mighty king of mighty Rome,
A man made equal to God, whom, they say,
Zeus himself and the august Hera bore
He, courting by his voice all-musical
Applause for his sweet Songs, shall put to death
With his own wretched mother many men.
From Babylon shall flee the fearful lord
And shameless whom all mortals and best men
Abhor; for he slew many and laid hands
Upon the womb; against his wives he sinned
And of men stained with blood had he been formed.
And he shall come to monarchs of the Medes
And Persians, first whom he loved and to whom
He brought renown, while with those wicked men
He lurked against a nation not desired
And on the temple made by God he seized
And citizens and people going in,
Of whom I justly sang the praise, he burned
(Sibylline Oracles, Book 5.187-205, Milton S. Terry revised translation)

Why Call Rome 'Babylon'?

While we do not know when exactly the symbolic name was attached to Rome (certainly after 70 AD, but possibly not until the 80s or 90s), the reason behind the identification of Rome with Babylon in all of the above instances is clearly because Rome, like Babylon, was responsible for the destruction of a temple in Jerusalem.


Rome and 1 Peter 5.13

As has been pointed out, there is no known tradition in early Christian history that places Peter at the actual city of Babylon in the middle east. In the first century, Babylon was in ruins, so any excursion there would have been pointless to the evangelistic efforts otherwise described for Peter.

The earliest implication that Peter traveled to Rome is 1 Clement 5. The author, a church overseer (i.e. bishop) writing from Rome c.95 AD, groups the death of Peter and Paul into a single paragraph.

The first explicit reference that Peter was associated with Rome, is Ignatius to the Romans 2.6, written c.100-110 AD.

Between the earliest known Christian traditions that Peter went to Rome, and that 'Babylon' was a regular codename for Rome, it is highly probable that 1 Peter 5.13 also refers to Rome.


Rome and the Revelation

While extra-biblical evidence is helpful, it is still necessary to examine the internal evidence of the Revelation, to see if the book truly does have Rome in mind when it speaks of 'Babylon'.

Clear Evidence

Revelation 17 identifies Babylon as 'the great city', saying she sits on 'seven mountains' or 'hills'.1 John was writing c.95 AD, and has identified his primary audience as Christians living in Asia, so we are well within the realm of the Roman empire. Historically, it is most probable this 'city of seven hills' was a clear identification of Rome, since the city was widely known by such a nickname.2

Adding directly to this, imperial coins minted c.71 AD depicted Roma, the goddess personifying Rome, as seated on the city's seven hills. Taking the Revelation in its historical context, the prostitute seated on seven hills is likely a criticism of the image. View the coin here: iCollector.com.

Circumstantial Evidence

Understandably, there is a lot of disagreement on what the Revelation exactly is trying to describe because of just how difficult the book is to interpret. But because the following points have been raised by commentators at all, I will include them for consideration.

The most famous piece of circumstantial evidence is the 'number of the beast' (666). It has widely been suggested to be gematria of the name 'Neron Caesar', the first Roman emperor to engage in (non-official) persecution of Christians, having made them the scapegoat of the Great Fire of Rome (64 AD).

Revelation 1.16,20, 2.1, and 3.1 describe Jesus as holding seven stars in his right hand. This is widely thought to reference imperial coins minted c.95 AD, which depicted the son of emperor Domitian seated on the globe of the earth on the reverso, holding seven stars over his head. View the coin here: Wikimedia Commons.

Revelation presents God sitting on his throne in heaven. The author states that God resembled jasper and carnelian (4.2-3), two stones that are often a deep red. Immediately after this, the author describes Jesus as a victorious conqueror (5.5) who presents a sacrifice before the throne (5.6). Later still, Jesus is shown riding on a white horse in conquest (19.11ff). This imagery is altogether reminiscent of a triumph ceremony for generals in Rome, who would ride a white horse to the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus of the Capitoline Hill, where a sacrifice would be offered before the red-colored statue of Jupiter.3

There are several other possible anti-Roman symbols in the Revelation, but the above is sufficient to make the point.


Conclusion

Bearing in mind the historical context, the agreement of contemporary sources, and internal indications, it is very certain 'Babylon' refers to Rome, in both 1 Peter and the Revelation.


Notes

1 The Greek noun, ορος, most often means 'mountains', but can rarely be used for 'hills'. Source: Perseus Digital Library.

2 Cicero to Atticus, letter 6.5; Virgil, Georgics 2.535; Virgil, Aeneid 6.781-783; Sextus Propertius, Elegies 3.11.55-57; Horace, Secular Hymn 7,11; Ovid, Tristia 5.69; Martial, Epigrams 4.64; Sibylline Oracles 2.19; 11.145-154; 13.61; 14.138.

3 Pliny the Elder, Natural History 35.157; Johnston, Religions of the Ancient World, p. 618; and McDonald & Walton, Greek and Roman Theatre, p. 186.

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Great answer. It might be worth noting that there are still people arguing for an earlier date though I'm not among them. –  Niclas Nilsson Jan 4 at 9:20

The following text was originally part of my question. But it was pointed out that I really was answering my own question. What I really want is that this answer is to be supplemented with other views that from an academic point of view argue that this might be referring to something else than Rome.


Many scholars take this as referring to Rome for a good reason. It also makes sense looking at 1 Peter:

13She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. (1 Peter 5:13, NIV)

NET Bible notes says:

...Although in the OT the city of Babylon in Mesopotamia was the seat of tremendous power (2 Kgs 24-25; Isa 39; Jer 25), by the time of the NT what was left was an insignificant town, and there is no tradition in Christian history that Peter ever visited there. On the other hand, Christian tradition connects Peter with the church in Rome, and many interpreters think other references to Babylon in the NT refer to Rome as well...

It's also easy to see that Rome had a lot in common with Babylon: Both the Roman and Babylonian empire was big empires. They both destroyed the temple of Jerusalem. There were a lot of wealth in them. They did bad things to the Jews etc.

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In the Christian New Testament, "Babylon" is metonymy for Gentile world power.

According to the Hebrew Bible, Babylon was the first Gentile world power to enter the stage of world history when the visible theocratic kingdom on earth ended. That is, the Shekinah Glory, which had resided in the temple up until that point of time, had been the locus of the visible kingdom of God on earth. That glory departed the temple as the Babylonian Empire emerged (compare Ezek 10:4 with Ezek 10:18 with Ezek 11:23). Thus the kingdoms of man, glorified by this head of gold (Dan 3:32-35 compared with 1 Cor 11:6-7 and Heb 2:6-7, where the head is equated with authority), had displaced the glory of God on earth. Thus Babylon began the domination of the Gentiles over the visible theocratic authority of God on the earth -- ergo, the Babylonian Captivity. The following graph depicts this development between the visible and invisible kingdoms of God and man on earth.

v

Please note that as time has gone by, subsequent Gentile world powers have entered and left the scene of world history: each of these empires, like the head of gold, are represented by other elements of the earth (iron, bronze, clay), which become more unstable with time (since the image with the head of gold is top-heavy), and therefore will one day be destroyed by the power that comes down from heaven (Dan 2:44). Note that according to the Christian New Testament, the Shekinah Glory (Spirit of God) indwells the body of those believers on Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:19-20), and so the authority of God prevails on these persons, upon whose hearts are supposed to be written the law of God according to Rom 2:14-16, 2 Cor 3:2-3, and Heb 10:16.

So to what is "Babylon" referring in the Christian New Testament? The reference is to the locus of Gentile world power with direct political and military authority over the Promised Land. At the time of the writing of the Christian New Testament, that world power was the Roman Empire, whose "capital" (or HEAD) was Rome.

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+1 from me. You drew that chart yourself? –  maj nem ɪz dæn Jan 5 at 23:31
    
The text of the Hebrew bible makes it clear that God is the master of the world and He permitted the Babylonians to destroy the temple. Babylon dominated Israel but it never dominated God; no mortals can do that according to the Hebrew bible. Plus, while I appreciate the effort you put into your picture, it contains errors and no support for your assertions. Saying that the eternal covenant was replaced doesn't make it so, and God did dwell in the temple until it was destroyed by Rome. And you're missing the third (future) temple. –  Gone Quiet Jan 5 at 23:58
    
@GoneQuiet - the Mosaic Covenant was not eternal, but temporal according to Jer 31:27-34. Please note that in Jer 31:33 the law is written on hearts. If you want to see the fourth (or fifth) temple, please click here. –  Joseph Jan 6 at 1:11
    
Jeremiah talks about a new covenant but not about God revoking the old one. It's a supplement (note that it depends on everybody already knowing God and the original law, which will be in their midst). God meant what He said when making that covenant; that Israel strayed doesn't mean it's null, just that there is (earthly) punishment in the form of the destruction of the temple. As for your picture (which I glanced briefly at), any understanding of the temple that depends on Christianity is false. –  Gone Quiet Jan 6 at 1:52
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This could be a good answer if you left out the replacement theology and focused on the metonymy. –  Bruce Alderman Jan 9 at 18:38

Of the views available, three main ones stand out in current interpretation.

Literal Babylon

First, is that Babylon refers to the literal Babylon. This seems unlikely because, as many point out, Babylon at the time of the New Testament was relatively unimportant. Certain futurist eschatologies hold that the the city will be completely re-built sometime in the future, and thus fulfill the prophesies itself.

While not particuarly backed by other Scriptures, adherents tend to take a "wait and see" approach. Their claim is that the text simply means what it says.

Jerusalem

Other Eschatologies, particularly those of the preterist persuasion, hold that Babylon typifies Jerusalem. This is especially important for those holding to the "full-preterist" position, which claims that ALL Biblical prophecy is completely fulfilled already, as well as the recapitulation viewpoint, which holds that Revelation 12ff is simply repeating the same prophecy of Revelation 6-11 with different emphasis and viewpoint.

To support this view, writers often comment on the usage of the same phrase "the great city" in both Revelation 11:8 and Revelation 17:18. For those who need

Rome

And, the remaining primarily viewpoint is that Babylon is Rome. The primary Biblical rationale of this comes from Daniel 2 itself. Four successive world-ruling powers are depicted, starting with literal Babylon as the head of gold, and concluding with the legs of iron (with feet of mixed iron/clay). As many identify this fourth kingdom with Rome in some form or another, the implication is that "what you call the head, you call the foot". Since, in the dream, the four materials constituted all the same statue, with Nebuchadnezzar as the head, all four kingdoms constitute the same entity, which by way of identification, could then all be called Babylon. Hence, Babylon was Babylon, Media-Persia was Babylon, Greece was Babylon, and, finally, Rome was as well. As these constituded a single ruling power, continuous segements of a one-world government ruling over the entire Earth for the span of nearly 1,000 years, these would then be all viewed as one, symbolically and/or spiritually.

The indication of the phrase "The Great City", implicating Jersualem, however, is deemed insufficient. In Revelation 11:8, it is "the great city wherin their Lord was crucified", and in Revelation 17:18, it is "the great city that rules over the kings of the Earth". Clearly, "the great city" is not the entire phrase, and such a reduction seems ulterior.

Additionally, the typology of Revelation 17 would have been interpreted by the original audience as Rome, without much doubt. Rome was known as "the city of seven hills", and coins were minted of the "dea Roma", the goddess 'Rome' (whose name backwards spelled amor--love), with her seated upon those seven hills, beside waters (presumably, the Tiber). Additionally, according to Wikipedia, she 'personified the city', as well as 'civilization itself'. Clearly this was a type known to the time.

As this would have been the clear first-century expectation, it seems to be the plausible one, at least on the basis of this evidence (which, of course, does not inherently rule out the others).

Another Possible Variation

Hence, as another possible alternative to the meaning of Babylon. As John first sees the harlot in Revelation 17, later identified as "Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots", this could very well be an identification of this 'diety', the 'dea Roma'. As she was to be said to 'personify the city', to say that she 'was the great city that rules over the kings of the Earth', would be correct. Additionally, this would explain why she is said to be riding the beast, where the beast would have been the Emperor and/or the Empire itself.

If this were the case, Babylon is the city, but the harlot labeled as 'Babylon the Great', were this persona, it would clear up other difficulties in interpreting Revelation 17, such as how she rides the beast (the nation), why the beast hates her, and will destroy her with fire.

Essentially, this goddess would be the primary principality (heavenly ruling spirit, Ephesians 6:12) of the captial city of the then "one-world government", the Roman Empire. Quite conceivably, as all four kingdoms depicted in Daniel 2 constitute only one unit (the statue), and as this diety could be said to personify 'civilization itself', this entity could be seen as to be the common-thread between them all, first empowered through Nebuchadnezzar, ruling through Media-Persia, Greece, through Augustus, and to the end of Rome. Taking a further step out in speculative interpretation, it could be suggested that it might be the same 'woman' (called 'wickedness') from Zechariah 5, brought from Israel to Babylon. In round-about manner, then, what is "Babylon the Great" could be what many would generally term 'Jezebel' today. Deported from Israel after being enthroned, only to rule them from a higher level through the successive forms of Babylon. Hence, she truly is "mother of prostitutes and the abominations of the Earth".

This, then, allows the differentiation in the passage of why the beast and ten horns would have hated the harlot. As the 'dea Roma' was often worshipped side-by-side with the emperor himself, nothing would make a luciferian-inspired world-ruling narcissistic dictator hate more effectively, than to have a jezebellian diety worshipped along side, and often, in preference, to himself, and that in his own temples.

Aspects of this could also help to explain John's 'astonishment' at seeing her. At having the ruling spirit of the current world-government exposed, John is astonished. The angel then asks why he is astonished. As if, perhaps, by some prior introduction, he should have understood.

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