Babylon (NT)

See also Babylon

BABYLON, NT băb’ ə lən (Βαβυλὡν). Name of the world center, both literal and allegorical, which acted against God’s people.

Literal.

In the genealogy of Jesus Christ the reference is to the deportations of Judah to Babylon on the Euphrates in the 7th cent. b.c. (Matt 1:11, 12, 17). Stephen, quoting Amos 5:27 in his impassioned defense before the high priest (Acts 7:43), changes the MT and LXX “beyond Damascus” to “beyond Babylon,” since the latter was the destination of the Jews of Jerusalem in the great exile.

1 Peter.

This epistle ends with greetings from “she who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen” (Matt 1:11, 12, 17). While this could refer to Peter’s wife, one MS and some authorities read “the church which is at Babylon” (so KJV). This has understandably led to various identifications for this Babylon.

Rome.

Until the Reformation this reference was taken as Rome, it being always assumed that “Babylon” was the place in which the letter was written. Two early cursives add en Romē as explanation. There is ancient tradition that Peter visited Rome, and Mark had been summoned there by Paul (2 Tim 4:11). W. M. Ramsay argues that the epistle is full of Rom. thought (Church in the Roman Empire, 286) and with other internal evidence supporting this theory it is that currently held by the majority of scholars.

Mesopotamian Babylon.

That Babylon was still an active city during the 1st cent. a.d. is attested by dated Babylonian texts (latest a.d. 100) and by the presence of devout Jews from there at Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:1). The dispersal of Jews from Babylon as reported by Josephus (Antiq. XVIII. ix. 6-9) was of short duration, and but one of a number of persecutions there. It cannot be used as evidence for the abandonment of the city which was visited by Trajan in a.d. 115 and first reported deserted by Septimus Severus eighty-four years later. The eastern church has claimed Peter for itself on the basis of this passage, and though there is no proof that Peter ever visited Babylon (if 1 Pet 5:13 should require this interpretation) the distance is not great and it remains a possibility. This view was favored by Erasmus and Calvin in their questioning of the primacy of Rome. If “Babylon” is the place where 1 Peter was written it would seem an extraordinary coincidence for Mark and Silvanus, Paul’s companions, to have been in Mesopotamia also.

Egyptian Babylon.

According to Strabo (Geography XVII, 1:30) c. a.d. 18 there was a Rom. frontier post named Babylon after the city of its founders, either refugees from Nebuchadrezzar’s army or later exiles. It is unlikely that this would be the site of a church and there is no direct evidence of any stay in Egypt by Peter, though Mark was connected with the Alexandrine church, one of whose heretics, Basilides, claims the apostolic tradition of Peter through his interpreter Glaukias (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, VII: 17).

“Babylon” as a cryptogram.

It has been suggested (Selwyn) that for reasons of security Babylon was used to cover an unknown church center where Peter was at work. The contents of the letter would scarcely warrant this view, which is closely allied to another supposition that Babylon merely stood for the “place of exile” recalling the dispersion of 1:1 (Boismard thus finds the book to have originated in Antioch). Since Peter is conveying particular greetings these views are unlikely.

The symbolic city.


The name of Babylon is, however, clearly stated to be a mystērion, that is to be allegorically interpreted (Rev 17:5, 7). Tertullian (Adv. Marc. iii. 13), Jerome, Augustine and the majority of commentators see Rome as fulfilling all the characteristics of the Babylon of Revelation. Rome had been designated as Babylon in the Sib Oracles (v. 143), perhaps under the influence of Jewish Apoc. (2 Esd; 2 Baruch). Faced by her opposition to the kingdom of God it would be natural for Jews and Christians alike to see in the new world power of Rome a “Babylon” such as had oppressed Judah. Since God had overthrown the Mesopotamian city and delivered His people, so the downfall of the Roman empire could be envisaged.

Bibliography

G. T. Manley, “Babylon on the Nile,” EQ, XVI (1944), 138-146; M. E. Boismard, “Une liturgie baptismale dans le Prima Petri II,” RB, LXIV (1957), 181; A. F. Walls, The First Epistle General of Peter (1959), 64-66.