Giancarlo Biguzzi, «Is the Babylon of Revelation Rome or Jerusalem?», Vol. 87 (2006) 371-386
The Babylon of Revelation 17–18 has been interpreted as imperial Rome since
antiquity, but some twenty interpreters have rejected such a solution in recent
centuries and have held that Babylon instead should be Jerusalem. This is not a
minor question since it changes the interpretation of the whole book, because Rev
would become all of a sudden an anti-Jewish libel, after having been an anti-
Roman one. This article discusses the pros and cons of the two interpretations and
concludes that the traditional one matches both the details and the plot of the book
much more than any other.
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Is the Babylon of Revelation Rome or Jerusalem?
The interpretation of the Babylon spoken of in Rev 16â€“18 conditions
the reading of the whole book of Revelation itself, since Babylon,
along with the Beast rising from the sea, is the target of Johnâ€™s attacks.
The interpretations given so far through the centuries are reducible to
(1) Babylon is the historical city situated on the river Euphrates in
(2) Babylon is the civitas diaboli of every epoch of human
(3) Babylon is the city of the Antichrist in the eschatological
(*) Paper read at the 8-12 July 2001 International Meeting of the Society of
Biblical Literature at the Pontifical Gregorian University â€” Pontifical Biblical
Institute, Rome, Italy.
(1) K.M. ALLEN, â€œThe Rebuilding and Destruction of Babylonâ€, BibSac 133
(1976) 19-20: â€œThe city of Babylon will be rebuilt, will become one of the centers
of operation of the coming Antichrist, and will be destroyed during the day of the
Lord (â€¦). This doctrine honors the literal method of interpretation (â€¦) against
(â€¦) the non-literal method of interpretationâ€; C.H. DYER, â€œThe Identity of
Babylon in Revelation 17-18â€, BibSac 144 (1987) 449: â€œThe identity of Babylon
in Revelation 17â€“18 is the future rebuilt city of Babylon on the Euphrates. It will
once again be restored and will achieve a place of worldwide influence only to be
destroyed by the Antichrist in his thirst for powerâ€.
(2) Tychonius and Augustine of Hippo spread this interpretation in antiquity.
For modern times cf. M. RISSI, Die Hure Babylon und die VerfÃ¼hrung der
Heiligen. Eine Studie zur Apokalypse des Johannes (Stuttgart â€“ Berlin â€“ KÃ¶ln
1995) 58: â€œ[Babylon is] die weltumfassende Gemeinde der VerfÃ¼hrten und
VerfÃ¼hrer, das Kontrastbild zur Gemeinde der Heiligen, des Neuen Jerusalemâ€;
G.K. BEALE, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI, 1999) 885-886:
â€œâ€˜Babylon the Greatâ€™ is the entire corrupt economic-religious system (â€¦).
Though most past commentators have tended to identify Babylon solely with
ungodly Roman culture, or the apostate church, or apostate Israel, it is better to
see these identifications as not mutually exclusiveâ€.
(3) Th. ZAHN, Die Offenbarung des Johannes (Leipzig â€“ Erlangen 1926) II,
450: â€œâ€¦ die aus dem Meer aufsteigende erste Bestie der Antichrist der Endzeit
istâ€; J. SICKENBERGER, â€œDie Johannesapokalypse und Româ€, BibZeit 17 (1925-
1926) 280: â€œDie Hauptfeindin Israels, das alte Babylon, lebt in den HauptstÃ¤dten
der folgenden gottfeindlichen Reiche weiter und kommt am Ende der Zeiten zu
besonderer BlÃ¼teâ€; E. LOHMEYER, Die Offenbarung des Johannes (TÃ¼bingen