On the forehead of the prostitute in Revelation 17 is the title “Babylon the Great.” Here’s some historical background on that city.
It was the capital of the Babylonian Empire, which conquered much of the Middle East. Known for its magnificent palaces and temples, Babylon was home to the famous Hanging Gardens, which the ancient Greeks considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Now in ruins, ancient Babylon is located in Iraq, about 60 miles south of modern-day Baghdad.
Babylon would always be like a fish bone stuck in the throats of the Jewish people, because it was the military power that destroyed Jerusalem and brought the Southern Kingdom of Judah to an end. Nebuchadnezzar’s troops surrounded Judah’s capital, and the siege continued for 18 months until the starving, entrapped Jewish population was driven to cannibalism.
Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 4:10, “With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed.”
In 587 B.C., the city’s fortifications were breached, and foreign warriors stormed in to claim their victory. The city walls were destroyed, and the temple and palace were stripped of their silver and gold, then burned.
Thousands in Jerusalem were slaughtered by the sword, while many of the more prominent and educated people were rounded up and deported to Babylon. That’s where the stories of Daniel, along with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego later unfold.
Eventually the Babylonian Empire was defeated by the Persians (present-day Iran). Under the new ruler Cyrus a contingent of Jews would be allowed to return to their homeland to rebuild Jerusalem. But as you can imagine, for the Jews, no city carried with it the baggage that Babylon did.
By the time Revelation was written, the real Babylon was weak and in decline, and that additional word “MYSTERY” on the prostitute’s forehead hints that in this passage, “Babylon” is symbolic, not literal.
We will continue this discussion in the next blog post.
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