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The Merchandise of Babylon

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By Duncan - Posted on 11 February 2006

by Duncan McKenzie
Why are we being bored with this listing of the merchandise of Babylon? What exactly is the purpose of giving us the details of these materials and products?Why are we being bored with this listing of the merchandise of Babylon? What exactly is the purpose of giving us the details of these materials and products?The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming book (hopefully in 2006) entitled The Antichrist and the Second Coming by Duncan McKenzie, Ph.D.

Despite all its complexities, the basic subject of Revelation is relatively simple. Revelation is showing us two women, the harlot and the bride. These two women represent two cities, Babylon and New Jerusalem. These two cities are also two wives. While it is obvious that the bride is a wife (Rev. 21:9) it is easy to miss that the harlot is also a wife, a widowed wife (Rev. 18:7; she became a widow when she had her husband, Jesus, killed). She denies this claiming that she is still a queen (cf. Matt. 21:5), that she is still God’s wife (cf. Hosea 2:2-4). The widowed wife (the harlot) is judged and destroyed in Revelation chapters17 and 18 and then God marries his new covenant bride in Revelation chapter 19. There is an almost exact parallel to this in Galatians 4 that deserves careful consideration. In Galatians 4:21-31 we are told of two women who are two wives (Hagar and Sarah) who correspond to two cities (physical Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem which is what the New Jerusalem of Revelation is, Rev. 21:10). We are told that these two women/cities are symbolic of two communities of people, those under the old covenant and those under the new covenant.

“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewomen. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar- for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children- but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all…But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” Galatians 4:21-31 emphasis added

Revelation is talking about the exact same subject as Galatians; both books are contrasting two “cities” (physical Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem in Galatians, Babylon and the New or heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation) that are two “wives” (Hagar and Sarah in Galatians, the widowed harlot and the bride in Revelation). These two women of Galatians and Revelation represent two communities, those of the old and new covenants. Notice that while the city of Jerusalem is mentioned in Galatians, it is representing all those under the old covenant not just the city of Jerusalem (“which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants”). Similarly, it is important to understand that Babylon doesn’t just represent 1st century Jerusalem, it represents all those of the old covenant who were rejecting Jesus.

In the book of Revelation, as in Galatians (4:29), one woman persecutes the other (i.e. the harlot persecutes the bride, Rev. 17:6). Similarly in Revelation, as in Galatians, one of the two women is cast out (and destroyed Rev. 18:21) while the other woman receives her inheritance (i.e. the Lord takes her as His bride). This explains why the very next subject in Revelation after Babylon is destroyed is the wedding of the bride (Rev. 19:1-10). God deposes of His unfaithful old covenant wife (who irrevocably broke her covenant of marriage with God and became a widow when she had Jesus killed) and then marries His faithful new covenant bride. This sequence parallels Matt. 21:33-43 where God’s unfaithful old covenant people are destroyed and the kingdom of God is given to God’s new covenant people.

Again, harlot Babylon is not simply a symbol of Jerusalem; she is a symbol of the unfaithful old covenant community that was centered in Jerusalem. Saying the harlot is Jerusalem is like saying that Uncle Sam is Washington D.C. While Uncle Sam is centered in Washington D.C., he is a symbol of all of America not just the city of Washington D.C. So it is with harlot Babylon; she was centered in Jerusalem (in the Temple) but she is a symbol of all of unfaithful Israel not just the city of Jerusalem. Thus when God tells His people to come out of Babylon (Rev. 18:4), he is telling them to come out of (to break with) old covenant Judaism. He is not telling the seven churches of Asia to come out of Jerusalem; they were already out of that city; they lived in the province of Asia. One needs to be consistent with the symbolism of Revelation. Just as the New Jerusalem, the bride, is not a literal city but a symbol of the new covenant community, so Babylon, the harlot, is not a literal city but a symbol of the unfaithful old covenant community. For more on this see my article “Babylon was not Jerusalem.” This brief introduction and clarification on Babylon brings me to the subject of this article, the merchandise of Babylon.

Revelation 18:11-13

11 And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore:
12. merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble;
13. and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men.

First; why is John providing so much detail about Babylon’s merchandise? How does it add to what he is telling us? It is my position that this list of items is another example, one of the most extensive in Revelation, of physical referents being given in the midst of a symbol to aid in the identification of that symbol. As I have stated earlier, Babylon was not a literal city (not Jerusalem and certainly not Rome). It was a symbol of a community of people, a symbol of God’s unfaithful old covenant community. This community is being represented by images associated with the Temple and the priesthood. If Babylon were a literal city this list of items would add little to the story being told here. If on the other hand Babylon is a symbol of unfaithful Israel then all of a sudden this merchandise makes much more sense. Quite simply, the “merchandise” of Babylon is the merchandise of the Temple.

Carrington wrote the following on the goods of Babylon, “The long list of merchandise in 18:11-13 is surely a catalogue of materials for building the Temple, and stores for maintaining it.” [Phillip Carrington, The Meaning of Revelation, (London: Society for Promotion Christian Knowledge, 1931), 287]. The list of articles in Rev. 18:11-13 is for the most part too luxurious to be the merchandise of a literal city. Rather, it is the merchandise of the Temple, a place where the best of everything was the norm. The Temple was the house of God and as such everything in it had to be exquisite (cf. Mark 12:1). Ford had the following comments on the merchandise of Babylon and its relation to the Temple.

The second lament is sung by the merchants. These people were not dissociated from the temple in Jerusalem, for merchants were employed both in the building of Herod’s temple and in its maintenance. According to B. Mazar [The Mountain of the Lord, (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1975)] items of worship were purchased at the shops. Most commentators suggest that the text is influenced by Ezek 27:12-24, the oracle against Tyre. However, while there is some association, the wares cited differ considerably; those cited below appear to be more in keeping with those which would be used for the temple and its services. Of the items which are listed in Rev 18, gold and silver, precious stones, fine linen, purple, silk (for vestments) scarlet, precious wood, bronze, iron (cf. Deut 8:9), marble cinnamon (as an ingredient of the sacred anointing oil), spices, incense, ointment, frankincense, wine, oil fine meal (Gr. Semidalis, used frequently in Leviticus for fine flour offering), corn, beasts, sheep are all found in use in the temple. Ivory and probably pearls were found in Herod’s temple. Although horses and chariots do seem to be incongruous, the Greek word for chariot is rhede, a four-wheel chariot, a fairly rare word which appears to come from the Latin name. The author may be insinuating that Roman ways were introduced into the sacred city.[ J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, The Anchor Bible, vol. 38, eds. William R. Albright and David N. Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1975), 304-305]

The four wheeled chariots (or carriages as Aune translates rhede) may allude to the wealthy aristocracy that had arisen around the current and former high priests.

The listing of merchandise in Revelation 18 is similar to the listing of the merchandise of Tyre in Ezekiel 27:12-24, as is the lamenting by those who got wealthy off the respective cities (Ezekiel 27:28-36). In Ezekiel 27 the city of Tyre is pictured as a ship (vv. 5-9) that sinks at sea (vv. 26, 32, 34). In Revelation 18 the Temple system of unfaithful Israel is pictured as a city that is overthrown. As Ford noted, the items in Revelation 18 are considerably different with those of the (literal) city of Tyre. Only fifteen of the twenty-seven items in Revelation 18:12-13 are the same as the thirty eight items listed in Ezekiel 27:12-24. [The count changes by an item or two depending on what translation one uses and whether one counts “bodies and souls” as two items or one (i.e. “slaves, the souls of men” RSV)] There is, however, a connection between the commerce of the Temple and that of Tyre. The currency of Tyre was the only currency allowed in the Temple. Thus Revelation 18’s allusion to the commerce of Tyre may contain an allusion to the commerce of the Temple. Jeremias wrote the following on the temple currency.

We have already come across fish merchants and other traders from Tyre, who displayed their goods for sale in the northern part of the city (Neh. 13:16). Tyre, like Sidon, was noted for its precious glassware, and also for the costly purple dye. There is also evidence of commerce with Tyre in the frequent equivalents drawn between the Jerusalem money and the Tyrian. According to T[almud], Ket[uboth] xiii.3 and elsewhere, the Jerusalem standard of currency was the same as the Tyrian. The prevalence of the Tyrian standard is explained not only by the brisk trade which went on, but also because in the Temple only Tyrian currency was allowed. [Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, trans. F. H. and C. H. Cave (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975, copyright SCM Press 1969), 36.]

Again, the currency of Tyre was the currency of the Temple.

The items listed in Revelation 18:2 are the following: gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, fine linen, purple, silk, scarlet, every kind of citron wood, precious wood, bronze, iron and marble.

Precious metals were used throughout the Temple. Josephus had the following description some of the precious metals used for the doors of the inner court of the Temple, “Of the gates, nine were completely overlaid with gold and silver, as were the posts and lintels, but the one outside the sanctuary was of Corinthian bronze and far more valuable that those overlaid with silver plates and set in gold. [Josephus, The Jewish War, 5, 5, 3, trans. Gaalya Cornfeld (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 356.] Gold was everywhere in the sanctuary as I have stated even the spikes to keep the away the unclean birds were made of gold. Much of what wasn’t precious metal was beautiful marble.

"Herod built the Temple with blue, yellow, and white marble, the sections not in a straight line, but alternately projecting and receding. He wanted to cover it with gold overlay but was advised by the rabbis not to do so because it looked better as it was, having the appearance of a surging sea. It was said that he who had never seen the Temple of Herod had never truly seen a beautiful structure." [Judah Nadich, The Legends of the Rabbis, vol. 1: Jewish Legends of the Second Commonwealth (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, 1994), 106.]

I have already mentioned the gold, fine linen, purple and scarlet that were used in the high priest’s garments (the high priest’s attire also containing precious stones, cf. Ex. 28) as well as the furnishings of the Temple (cf. Ex. 26:1). As we are repeatedly reminded (Rev, 17:4; 18:12, 16) this is the attire of the harlot-city. Beale had the following comments on this connection.

"The religious facet of the economic system is also expressed in the description of the woman’s clothing. The LXX repeatedly describes the high priest’s garments and part of the sanctuary as adorned with ‘gold, purple, scarlet, linen, and [precious] stones.’ This combination of words has already been used to describe the Babylonian harlot’s attire in Rev. 17:4 and 18:16 (though ‘pearls’ is omitted from the LXX lists and ‘linen’ does not occur in Rev. 17:4…). Three of the twelve commodities not included in Ezek. 27:12-24 but mentioned in Rev. 18:12-13 (‘linen, purple, scarlet’ appear in the LXX’s descriptions of the priest’s garments (though they do also appear in Ezek. 27:7 and in Targ. Ezek. 27:16-24). In this light, it appears likely that the repeated OT portrayal of the priest’s attire has influenced the selection of items from 18:12-13 that are now applied to the harlot." brackets in the original [G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, eds. I. Howard Marshall and Donald Hagner, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 912.]

Revelation 18:13 consists mostly of items that were used in the sacrifices and offerings of the Temple: cinnamon, incense, fragrant oil, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep.

The incense of the Temple included cinnamon and frankincense (Ex. 30:34). Wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep were used in the Temple offerings. Consider the components of what Sanders refers to as the ideal sacrifice, “Sacrifices were conceived as meals, or better, banquets, The full and ideal sacrificial offering consisted of meat, cereal, oil and wine (Num. 15.1-10; Antiquities of the Jews. 3.23f.)” emphasis added [E. P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 BCE-66CE (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992), 104.]. Of Babylon’s merchandise, cattle and sheep fit in the category of a meat offering, wheat and fine flour in the category of a cereal offering.

The following quotation from the Mishnah shows the use of wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep in the offerings for the Temple. I have underlined the relevant items (the brackets are in the original).

MENAHOT 12:3 A-C [He who says,] “Lo, I pledge myself [to bring] a meal offering made of barley.” [in any case] must bring one made of wheat. [He who says, “Lo, I pledge myself to bring a meal offering made] of meal,” must bring one made of fine flour. [He who says, “lo, I pledge myself to bring a meal offering] without wine and frankincense,” must bring one with oil and frankincense… 13:4 A-B [He who says,] “Lo, I pledge myself [to bring] gold” [for the upkeep of the Temple] should not [bring] less than a golden denar. [He who says, “Lo, I pledge myself to bring] silver” should not [bring] less than a denar of silver… 13:6 D [He who says, “I expressly said that I should offer a beast] of the cattle but I do not know what I expressly said” must bring a bullock, a calf, a ram, a goat, and a lamb. [The Mishnah: A New Translation, trans. Jacob Neusner (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 760-763.

The word translated as cattle( Gr. ktenos) in Revelation 18:3 refers to domestic animals, especially of the flocks and herds; the Mishnah's listing of a bullock, calf, ram, goat and lamb would fit into this category.

The last two items that are mentioned in harlot Babylon’s list of merchandise are translated by the NKJV as the “bodies and souls of men.” (Rev. 18:13). I don’t think this translation adequately conveys the emotional impact of this culmination of Babylon’s merchandise. The Greek word “body” (soma) was a Greek idiom for a slave. Thus “bodies” is better translated as “slaves” here (as it was translated in the old King James Version). Thayer said the following about this, “Since according to ancient law in the case of slave the body was the chief thing taken into account, it is a usage of later Grk. to call slaves simply somata [bodies]; once so in the N.T.: Rev. 18:13 where the Vulg. correctly translates by mancipia (A.V. slaves). [Joseph Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1889), 611.]

I think the Revised Standard Version gives a much better translation of the shocking end of the list of Babylon’s merchandise “… and slaves, that is, human souls” (Rev. 18:13 RSV). The Phillips Modern English translation also conveys this same sense (“…slaves, the very souls of men” Rev. 18:13 PME). In the merchandise of Tyre, slaves are mentioned early in the list (Ezek. 27:13); there is nothing unusual about an ancient city having slaves. The slaves of harlot Babylon on the other hand form the climax of its merchandise; the slaves of this “city” were the very souls of men. Jesus had accused the Jewish leadership of enslaving men’s souls by preventing them from entering the kingdom of God.

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matt. 23:13, 15).

In Galatians 4:24-25 Paul tells how those under the old covenant were enslaved, as opposed to those under New Covenant who were free (Gal. 4:26-27). This gets back to the parallel between the two women/cities of Galatians 4:21-31 and the two women/cities of Revelation. Just as the “other woman” in Galatians had children who were enslaved (those staying under the old covenant, Gal. 4:24-25) so harlot Babylon had her slaves. The slaves of Babylon were the very souls of men.

In conclusion, Revelation’s treatment of the fall of Babylon is not a failed prophecy of the destruction of Rome. Rather, it is a true prophecy talking about the soon coming (cf. Rev. 1:1,3; 22:10) destruction of the old covenant system (Rev. 17-18) and subsequent full establishment of the new covenant kingdom (Rev. 19-20). Again, the slaves of the “city” of Babylon were the very souls of men. The leaders of the Jewish temple system were enslaving men’s souls by turning them away from Jesus and attempting to keep them under the old covenant. The Temple hierarchy had been in bed with Rome (so much so that Rome even appointed the high priest). The Roman beast was about to turn on the harlot and destroy the whole old covenant system. Harlot Babylon (the old covenant Temple system of unfaifhful Israel) would go up in flames with the Temple (and subsequent slaughter of the priesthood by Titus) in the holocaust of AD 70.

atavistadvocate's picture

Dr. McKenzie,
A truly great article! Thanks! Is it possible for you to give us a peak at your interpretation of the scarlet colored beast this Babylon rode upon? I think if it is any different from the,IMO, flawed Roman Beast view, we could have energetic discussions. The reason I say so is because when Babylon is destroyed, not long afterwards, so is the Sea Beast and the False Prophet. This would seem to eliminate Nero, who died before the Destruction of Jerusalem, or the Roman Empire, which fell almost five hundred years later. Your thoughts and comments are appreciated.


Markos Mountjoy

Duncan2's picture

Thanks for the positive comment Markos.

I can say I don't see the beast of Revelation as being Jewish (if that is where your questioning is going). I see the sea beast of Rev. 13 as being Roman and the beast from the Land (of Israel) as being Jewish. The land beast is later referred to as the false prophet.

Even though I see the sea beast as being Roman, I do not simply see it as the Roman Empire. You are entirely right in noting the problems that that interpretation brings up; the Roman Empire was not destroyed at AD 70. You can see more on my view of the beast in my article comparing the little horn of Dan. 7 with the beast of Rev. (Just click on my name on the columnists list located down and to the left). In that article I discuss such things as the individaul vs corporate aspects of the beast.


Duncan2's picture

Hey one whole person took the time to vote on this article and they gave me a 3. That is like a C. Give me a 5 (an A) or a 1 (an F) but not a 3 (a C); this article is not average!

NB9M's picture

Duncan, when I see work like this, I get excited all over again about this movement. It's like pulling back a rock, revealing a bunch of gold nuggets. Well done!

Only one thing: I think quoting from the Mishnah can be counter-productive, because of where it came from (and what it evolved into.)


Duncan2's picture


Thanks for the comment. I think the Mishnah quote serves its purpose, which is simply to show that these are materials that were associated with the Temple.

dkpret's picture

Duncan, you have brought forth some very good additional resources for study. Not trying to say, "I said that first," by any means, but, I do cover most of this material in my Who Is This Babylon book (sold out, but under revision). In the revision I have taken note of some of your references that I had run onto in my revising research. I think that the a priori approach to Revelation 18 and the identification with Rome has blinded many people to the covenantal nature of the language, and the entirely appropos application to the temple cultus.

BTW, I think your statement that Babylon is not a city, but a people is well stated, with one caveat, it is the referent to the literal city that lets us know that it is the covenant community in the cross hairs. Without the city, the covenant identity is virtually lost. These two identities go hand in hand inseparably. Far too many people however, are too hung up on the physical edifices of that city, (And "big deal" if a Jewish city was destroyed!), and miss entirely the covenantal significance of her destruction.
Good stuff and well stated!
Don K

Duncan's picture

Thanks Don,

High praise indeed coming from you. You wrote,

"without the city, the covenant identity is lost."

Actually the references to Babylon are more percisely directed at the Temple, without the Temple the covenant identity is lost. The whore is dressed in the garb of the high priest, the merchandise is that of the Temple, the stone thrown away (Rev. 18:21) is probably the foundation stone of the Temple, etc. That God's people are being told to come out of Babylon is God telling them to make a final break with the temple cultus (not to come out of Jerusalem). Babylon was never to be found again (Rev. 18:21) Jerusalem has come back as a city; the old covenant system of the Temple has not.

Ultimately Bablon was not Jerusalem it was the unfaithful old covenant community that was centered in the Temple being represented by a great city. Similarly the New Jerusalem is not a literal cube city in the sky but a symbol of the new covenant bride (Rev. 21:9-10, which of course includes the old covenant faithful, cf. Rev. 21:12,14). I know I am preaching to the choir here (you know all this), but I think we need to be precise as possible. One usually makes a mistake in Revelation when they slip into literalism. We need to constantly remember that Revelation is communicating by way of symbols.

So when is your revision of Who is this Babylon? coming out. Will the new edition be that much different or just more refined?


psychohmike's picture

You know Duncan...I was going to go this direction in a paper as a follow up to the last article I wrote. You just saved me a bunch of time.

I really wish other futurist friends of mine could see this stuff.

Thanks pal, 8) Mike

Duncan's picture

Hey guys, thanks for the positive feedback. Let me just add this addition (another excerpt from the book related to harlot Babylon) from another post.

Ezekiel chapter 16 provides a good outline of how the harlot motif is used in Revelation 17 and 18. In Ezekiel chapter 16 God, in recounting the harlotries of Jerusalem, said the following.

You built your high places at the head of every road, and made your beauty to be abhorred. You offered your self to everyone who passed by, and multiplied your acts of harlotry. You also committed harlotry with the Egyptians, your very fleshly neighbors, and increased your acts of harlotry to provoke Me to anger. Behold, therefore, I stretched out My hand against you, diminished your allotment, and gave you up to the will of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. You also played the harlot with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; indeed you played the harlot with them and still were not satisfied. Moreover you multiplied your acts of harlotry as far as the land of the trader, Chaldea; and even then you were not satisfied. How degenerate is your heart! Says the Lord God, seeing you do all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot. You erected your shrine at the head of every street. Yet you were not like a harlot because you scorned payment. You adulterous wife who takes strangers instead of her husband. Ezekiel 16:25-32

Again, the harlot motif speaks of God’s old covenant people breaking their covenant relationship with Him (which is analogous to a marriage covenant v. 32) and going after the gods and ways of foreign nations. In Revelation 17 and 18 the foreign nation that unfaithful Israel is whoring with (the beast she is riding on) is Rome. Those who say that harlot Babylon was the city of Rome (the most common identification of Babylon by commentators) are being inconsistent with the Bible’s use of the harlot motif. Consider the following comments by Aune (who sees Babylon as referring to Rome). Surprisingly, he admits that seeing the harlot as being Rome is almost totally inconsistent with the Biblical use of the harlot motif.

"In the OT the term zana, “fornicate, be a prostitute” is frequently used in a figurative sense of Israel’s faithless behavior toward Yahweh as manifested in her frequent lapses into idolatry. This is based on the analogy of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel and marriage contracts (Lev 17:7; 20:5-6; Num14:33; 15:39; Deut 31:16; Judg 2:17; 8:27; 1 Chr. 5:25; 2 Chr 21:11; Ps 73:27), a metaphor found with particular frequency in the prophets Hosea (1:2; 2:4 [MT:6]; 4:15; 9:1), Jeremiah (2:20; 3:2,9,13: 5:7,11; 13:27), and Ezekiel (6:9; 16; 23; 43:7,9)…Considered against this OT background, the metaphor of sexual immorality appears at first sight to have little to do with the author’s condemnation of Babylon-Rome. In a very few places in the OT, however, there are instances in which the commercial trade of a city is described with the metaphor of prostitution…doubtless because economic relationships frequently led to the exchange of religious practices (Mic 1:7; Nah 3:4; 2 Kgs 9:22). In Isa 23:17, Tyre’s commercial contacts are called “prostitution,” and the profits of such trade are called “the price of a prostitute” (similar language is used of Nineveh in Nah 3:4). However, the historical context of both Isa 23:17 and Nah 3:4 suggests that neither prophet is interested in Tyre or Nineveh in themselves; rather the prophets condemn the negative influences the cities have exerted on the Near East, particularly on Israel." Aune, Revelation 17-22, vol. 52 c, 930-931.

Aune gives a convincing summation of why the harlot motif speaks of unfaithful Israel and then proceeds to disregard his own evidence! He justifies this because “in a very few places” the motif was used differently; that is not much of a justification. Even in these very few places Aune admits the references have more to do with the effects of harlotry on Israel than Tyre or Nineveh! I have already discussed how Tyre and Nineveh are not the exceptions to the harlot motif that they appear to be at first glance. (see David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance, 424)

As impressive a work of scholarship as Aune’s commentary on Revelation is (3 volumes, 1354 pages) he is making a fundamental mistake by divorcing the interpretation of the symbol of the harlot in Revelation from its predominant OT usage. To Aune’s credit, he acknowledges that the weight of scriptural evidence comes down strongly on the side of identifying the harlot with unfaithful Israel (something many commentators ignore or gloss over). Does it really make sense that one as steeped in the OT as the author of Revelation is would use the motif of the harlot in a way that is almost totally inconsistent with its OT usage? The most important way for one to stay on track in terms of the meaning of the symbols in Revelation is to stay as consistent as possible with their use in the rest of Scripture.

It would seem that modern scholars are so used to telling each other that Babylon is Rome that they don’t seem to feel the need for much supporting evidence. Wright noted that some are actually hostile to anyone who says Rome isn’t the harlot.

"Recent commentators (e.g. Massyngberde Ford, 1975) have suggested the great and wicked city [of Rev. 17-19] is not Rome but Jerusalem (cf. Rev. 11:8). I have discovered that this suggestion arouses anger in some circles, which is not explained simply as annoyance at an exegetical peculiarity (plenty of those are to be found in all the journals, but they merely arouse curiosity). What is at stake here, and for whom?" brackets mine. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, footnote, 358.

I am not sure what is at stake here, although if one’s life work has been spent saying Babylon is Rome, I can imagine some sensitivity to people beginning to question that conclusion. What I do know is that saying the harlot is Jewish should not be seen as an exegetical peculiarity. Given the overwhelming OT usage of the harlot in terms of God’s unfaithful old covenant people, saying the harlot is Jewish should be the starting point in one’s exegesis of Revelation 17-19 not an afterthought in search of a novel interpretation. In examining the teachings of Jesus, one of the conclusions that Wright came to is the following.

"When we read through the synoptic tradition (and John, for that matter) we find a great deal of warning of coming judgment, in all strands of the traditions, and all pointing in one direction. Jesus, I shall now argue, predicted that judgment would fall on the nation [of Israel] in general and on Jerusalem in particular. That is to say, he reinterprets a standard Jewish belief (the coming judgment which would fall on the nations) in terms of a coming judgment which would fall on impenitent Israel. The great prophets had done exactly the same. Jerusalem, under its present regime, had become Babylon." brackets mine. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 322-323

Wright noted that his “conclusion may be held by some to carry implications for the reading of Rev. 17-19.” ibid, 358


ThomasS's picture


I am not sure what to make of Wright's statement. But it seems to me that, generally, many get angry if they are introduced to a different view. For instance, when I tell "full pretersits" that I believe "Babylon the great" = Rome, they usually get very angry. So, one may indeed wonder: what is at stake here? I have never seen any scholars angry with Ford for believing that "Babylon the great" = Jerusalem, though.

Furthermore, I do think Wright should have mentioned that Ford also thought Revelation was written by John the Baptist and that she eventually has chaged her mind re: the identity of "Babylon the great".

I do hope that you will continue to publish your book here! :)

Thomas S.

Duncan2's picture

Hi Thomas,

Granted Ford's theories have their quirks. Saying Babylon is Jewish is not one of them however. Could you furnish a quote from Ford on her change of perspective on Babylon? Has she revised her commentary on Revelation?


ThomasS's picture


Actually, I am also looking for this. A friend of mine has been in touch with Mrs. Ford, but she has not written much on Revelation. He only has a note from her, which he got privately (in a letter). Unfortunatey, Mrs. Ford hasn't published much on the Apocalypse. I have a rather interesting article from 2005 (in Italian), but she doesn't go into the identity of "Babylon" there.


Thomas S.

Virgil's picture

Duncan, I have to agree....this is a great presentation. I thought I had some of these things down, but you really brought to light several things I was not aware of until now. Great research!!

Islamaphobe's picture

I do not claim to be knowledgeable about Revelation, but your presentation here is well-presented and seems very convincing.

John S. Evans

MiddleKnowledge's picture


Good work. There are some connections there to the Temple I had never considered before.


Tim Martin

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