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January 28, 1987

I read with interest Michael Ross' article on Babylon (Jan. 16). Ross refers to the "bad reviews" that Babylon receives in the Bible, and cites the Iraqi musician, Munir Bashir, as referring to the biblical critiques of Babylon as "unfair."

On that point I wish to set the record straight. The quotations in the article from the book of Revelation in the New Testament (Rev. 17:5; 18:21-22) speak of "Babylon," but in fact "Babylon" is a code name for Rome.

In Jewish apocalyptic literature of the period after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans in 70, Rome is often equated symbolically with Babylon, whose forces destroyed the first temple in 586 BC.

This parallelism lies behind such apocalypses as 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, and the name "Babylon" is used specifically to refer to Rome in the Sibylline Oracles V.143, as well as 4 Ezra 15:46 (books belonging to the so-called "Pseudepigrapha" of the Bible). The book of Revelation in the New Testament follows this pattern, referring to Rome, the "great city" (17:18) with its "seven hills" (17:9), under the code name "Babylon." The same symbolism occurs in 1 Peter 5:13.

Munir Bashir can therefore take comfort in the fact that his Babylon is not the city refered to in these biblical reproaches.


Professor of Religious Studies

UC, Santa Barbara

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