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An 1800s Russian engraving depicting the Whore of Babylon riding the seven-headed Beast (a Sirrush).

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The Whore of Babylon or "Babylon the great" is a Christian allegorical figure of evil mentioned in the Book of Revelation in the Bible.


William Blake (1809) The Whore of Babylon. London, British Museum; pen and watercolor over pencil, 266 x 223 mm

The Whore is associated with the Antichrist and the Beast of Revelation by connection with an equally allegorical kingdom. The Whore's apocalyptic downfall is prophesied to take place in the hands of the beast with seven heads and ten horns. There is much speculation within all Christian religious perspectives on what the Whore and Beast symbolize as well as the possible implications for contemporary interpretations.

The “great whore”, of the biblical book of Revelation is featured in chapters 17 and 18. Many passages define symbolic meanings inherent in the text.

17:4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
17:6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
17:9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth [King James Version; the New International Version Bible uses "hills" instead of "mountains"].
17:10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.
17:11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.
17:12 And the ten horns which thou saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
17:15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
17:18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.

Revelation 17:4-18 (various))


Late 15th century German print from a woodcut.

Rome and the Roman Empire

Many Bible scholars[1] agree that "Babylon" is an allegory of Rome; perhaps specifically at the time to some aspect of Rome's rule (brutality, greed, paganism), or even a servant people that does the bidding of Rome. The Roman Catholic commentary of the Jerusalem Bible, the evangelical Protestant commentary of the New International Version Study Bible, the Rastafarians and the liberal Protestant commentary of the Oxford Annotated Study Bible all concur that "Babylon is the symbolic name for Rome" and that [1st century] Rome was the "type of place where evil is supreme" (Jerusalem Bible, commentary to Rev. 17).

Elsewhere in the New Testament, in 1 Peter 5:13; some speculate that "Babylon" is used to refer to Rome. This is bolstered by the remark in Rev. 17:9 that she sits on "seven mountains" (the King James Version Bible-the New International Version Bible uses the words "seven hills"), which could be the seven hills of Rome. "Rome" would therefore be the 'new Babylon' and all of the symbolism characterizing Babylon as a wanton "whore," would be transferable to Rome, according to this view.

There are a number of smaller symbolic clues that some see as suggesting a link between Rome and Babylon — the Roman Empire in its military occupation of Israel, its repression of the Jewish nation and religion, its destruction of Jerusalem following Jewish revolts in 70 AD and 135 AD, and its persecution of Christians, would lend meaning to the imagery of the 'whore, drunk with the blood of martyrs,' as a wantonly violent and bloodthirsty entity.

In Rastafarian ideology both Babylon and Rome are also equated with the modern world in which we live. The Rastas have popularized the name Babylon to refer to what they see as the fundamentally evil modern society.

Earthly Jerusalem

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts (1850).

Many Biblical scholars[2] and theologians point out that although Rome was the prevailing pagan power in the 1st century when the Book of Revelation was written, the symbolism of the whore of Babylon refers not to an invading infidel of foreign power, but to an apostate false queen, a former "bride" who has been unfaithful and who, even though she has been divorced and cast out because of unfaithfulness, continues to falsely claim to be the "queen" of the spiritual realm.[3] This symbolism did not fit the case of Rome at the time.

The first to see Jerusalem in Revelation's Babylon were the French Jesuit Jean Hardouin (1646-1729) and the French Calvinist Firmin Abauzit (1679-1767). Abauzit suggests that the "seven mountains" in Rev 17:9 are the seven hills on which Jerusalem stands[4] and the "fall of Babylon" in Rev 18 is the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.[2]

Several Old Testament prophets referred to Jerusalem as being a spiritual harlot and a mother of such harlotry (Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:1-11; Ezekiel 16:1-43; Ezekiel 23).[5] Some of the these Old Testament prophecies as well as the warnings in the New Testament concerning Jerusalem are in fact very close to the text concerning Babylon in Revelation, suggesting that John may well have actually been citing those prophecies in his description of Babylon.[5]

For example, in Matthew 23:34-37 and Luke 11:47-51, Jesus himself assigned all of the bloodguilt for the killing of the prophets and of the saints (of all time) to the Pharisees of Jerusalem, and, in Revelation 17:6 and 18:20,24, almost identical phrasing is used in charging that very same bloodguilt to Babylon. This is also bolstered by Jesus' statement that "it's not possible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem." (Luke 13:33, see also Rev 11:8).[5]

In Jeremiah 13, Judah is warned that because of her whoredom, the cups of all of the people will be "filled with wine," they will be "made drunk," and the nation will be suddenly destroyed. This is identical to the scenario in Revelation 17-18; it also correlates with the warning of Jesus that Jerusalem would be suddenly invaded and destroyed just prior to his return to earth in Luke 21:20-22. So, according to this view, John's prophecy about Babylon was merely a detailed repetition of warnings already given by many Old Testament prophets and by Jesus himself in Matthew 23:37-38 and Luke 19:41-44.

According to this view, "the great city, Babylon" in Rev. 17:18 which is also "the great city where their Lord was crucified" in Rev 11:8, the earthly Jerusalem is opposed (cf. Acts 8:1, 1 Thes. 2:14-16, Gal 4:22-31, Rev. 2:9-10,3:9) to the spiritual, heavenly, new Jerusalem, which is the Christian Church of the faithful of Jesus (the bride): "And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." (Rev 21:2)

The scholars who defend this position believe that earthly Jerusalem "riding the seven-headed beast" refers to Jerusalem being controlled and subjected to the overlordship of the scarlet beast Rome in the 1st century (cf John 19:15). Some see it as an evil relationship between the harlot, apostate Jerusalem, and the scarlet beast Rome on whom she is seated to crucify Jesus and persecute the Christians. This evil alliance is confirmed in the Book of Acts (Acts 4:26-28, 12:1-3). The beast Rome later hated the harlot Jerusalem and burned her with fire in 70 AD. (see also abomination of desolation)

And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire.
— Rev 17:16 NASB

Roman Catholic Church

Whore of Babylon wearing a papal tiara from a woodcut in Luther's translation of the New Testament

Historicist interpreters commonly used the phrase "Whore of Babylon" to refer to the Roman Catholic Church. Most Reformation writers and all Reformers themselves, from Martin Luther (who wrote On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church), John Calvin, and John Knox (who wrote The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women) accepted this association.[6][7] The "drunkenness with the blood of saints and martyrs," by this interpretation, refers to the inquisition and the veneration of saints and relics and the Sunday sacredness, were viewed by Reformers as idolatry and apostasy. This interpretation continues to be taught in churches arising from the Adventist movement and it is kept alive by contemporary figures such as Ian Paisley and Jack Chick.

The Catholic Church denies the claim that it is being referred to by the Book of Revelation as the Whore of Babylon. Catholics argue that in Rev 17:10, it states that the seven heads of the Beast are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while (Rev. 17:9–10) "If five of these kings had fallen in John’s day and one of them was still in existence, then the Whore must have existed in John’s day. Yet the Vatican City did not even exist at that time."[8]

Among conservative Protestants, historicism was supplanted in the 19th century by futurism, with the rise of dispensationalist theology.[9][10][11]

Other views

The Apocalypse: The Woman of Babylon by Albrecht Dürer.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the Whore of Babylon symbolizes the world empire of false religion,[12] including, but not limited to, Christendom, a term they use to refer to merely professed "Christianity" as opposed to "true Christianity".[13][14] Among John's visions recorded in the book of Revelation appear pronouncements of judgment against “Babylon the Great,” as well as a description of her and of her downfall.[15]

Since the book of Revelation describes the woman with the name “Babylon the Great” written on her forehead as a "harlot" sitting on “crowds and nations” and since no literal woman could do this, Jehovah's Witnesses believe the term "Babylon the Great" must be symbolic. (Revelation 17:1, 5, 15)

At Revelation 17:18, the same figurative woman is described as “the great city that has a kingdom over the kings of the earth.” They believe the Bible indicates that the term “city” can mean an organized group of people. Since this “great city” has control over “the kings of the earth,” the woman named Babylon the Great is believed to be an influential organization that must be international in scope - a world empire.

An empire can be political, commercial, or religious. The Witnesses believe the "woman" is not a political empire because Revelation states that “the kings of the earth,” (which they believe symbolize the political elements of the world) “committed fornication” with her. (Revelation 17:1, 2; James 4:4)

Babylon the Great is not believed to be a commercial empire because the “merchants of the earth,” (which the Witnesses believe represent the commercial elements of the world) will be mourning her at the time of her destruction. Since both kings and merchants are described as looking at Babylon the Great from “a distance” they conclude that Babylon the Great is, not a political or a commercial empire, but a religious one. (Revelation 18:3, 9, 10, 15-17)

They believe the religious identity of Babylon the Great is further confirmed by the statements in Revelation that she misleads all the nations by means of her “spiritistic practice.” (Revelation 18:23) and that she is “a dwelling place of demons.” (Revelation 18:2; Deuteronomy 18:10-12) The harlot is also described as persecuting “prophets” and “holy ones" and murdering “the witnesses of Jesus.” (Revelation 17:6; 18:24) Hence, Jehovah's Witnesses believe this woman named Babylon the Great represents a world empire comprising all religions they deem as being in opposition to Jehovah God.[16]

They also look to historical features of literal Babylon on the Euphrates, for further clues as to the identity of the symbolic city of John's vision. The Bible lists Babel first when giving the ‘beginning of Nimrod’s kingdom.’[17] Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures the ancient city of Babylon is positioned as the enemy of Jehovah God and his people.[18][19][20]

Though Babylon became the capital of a political empire in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E., it was known during its entire history as a religious center from which religious influences radiated in many directions.

Professor Morris Jastrow, Jr., The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (1898, pp. 699-701)
In the ancient world, prior to the rise of Christianity, Egypt, Persia, and Greece felt the influence of the Babylonian religion. . . . In Persia, the Mithra cult reveals the unmistakable influence of Babylonian conceptions; and if it be recalled what a degree of importance the mysteries connected with this cult acquired among the Romans, another link will be added connecting the ramifications of ancient culture with the civilization of the Euphrates Valley.” In conclusion he refers to “the profound impression made upon the ancient world by the remarkable manifestations of religious thought in Babylonia and by the religious activity that prevailed in that region.

Babylon's religious influence is traced eastward to India.[21]

archaeologist V. Childe, "New Light on the Most Ancient East" (1957, p. 185)
The swastika and the cross, common on stamps and plaques, were religious or magical symbols as in Babylonia and Elam in the earliest prehistoric period, but preserve that character also in modern India as elsewhere.[21]

Thus, ancient Babylon’s religious influence spread out to many peoples and nations, much farther and with greater potency and endurance than did her political strength.

Like mystic Babylon, the ancient city of Babylon, in effect, sat on the waters, located, as it was, astride the Euphrates River and having various canals and water-filled moats.[22][23] These waters served as a defense to the city, and they provided the thoroughfares upon which ships brought wealth and luxuries from many sources. Notably, the water of the Euphrates is depicted as drying up prior to Babylon the Great's experiencing the wrath of divine judgment.[24]

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible
It is not sufficient to identify Rome and Babylon. Babylon embraces more than one empire or culture. It is defined rather by dominant idolatries than by geographical or temporal boundaries. Babylon is coextensive with the kingdom of that beast which has corrupted and enslaved mankind...[25][26]

Latter Day Saint movement

In the Latter Day Saint movement, which accepts the Bible as scripture, additional books within its canon describe the Whore of Babylon as a "great and abominable church". According to the religion's Book of Mormon, the great and abominable church was formed soon after the life of Jesus and is responsible for the Apostles' deaths and the Great Apostasy (1 Ne. 13:5-6). The church was said to be instrumental in corrupting the Bible and removing from it "the most plain and precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb" (1 Ne. 13:34).

Although some followers of the religion's founder Joseph Smith, Jr.—including prophets and apostles of the LDS faith—have understood the great and abominable church to refer to the Catholic church or Protestantism, the book states that there are "two churches only": one that follows Jesus, and another that follows the devil (1 Ne. 14:10-11); therefore, many adherents understand the references in the Book of Mormon to refer metaphorically to all followers of Satan.

Idealist view

The Idealist view identifies the Prostitute of Babylon as a counterpart to the Beast based upon the Revelations 17 vision. She is seen riding the Beast and, like him, is responsible for shedding the blood of the saints. However, she and the Beast are antagonists since in vs. 16 "The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin." In the Idealist view she is not defined as a specific entity but as a recurring theme in history. She is usually associated with the love of money, materialism, the apostate world, and secular humanism. Many Idealists also adopt the Futurist idea that the ultimate fulfillment of the Fall of Babylon will occur just prior to the return of Christ.

See also


Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Whore of Babylon. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

  1. Women in scripture: a dictionary of named and unnamed women in the Hebrew
  2. 2.0 2.1 Is the Babylon of Revelation Rome or Jerusalem?, G. Biguzzi
  3. Hunting the Whore of Babylon
  4. The seven hills of Jerusalem are identified as: Scopus, Nob, Mount of Corruption, Old Mount Zion, Ophel, Rock and New Mount Zion source: Seven Hills of Jerusalem By Ernest L. Martin
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Babylon - The Great City of Revelation, Joseph Balyeat
  6. Bilhartz, Terry D.. Urban Religion and the Second Great Awakening. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. pp. 115. ISBN 0-838-63227-0.,M1. 
  7. Edwards, Jr., Mark. Apocalypticism Explained: Martin Luther, 
  8. Catholic Answers: Whore of Babylon
  9. Gerhard Hasel, 'Crossroads in Prophetic Interpretation: Historicism versus Futurism', paper presented to the 1990 World Ministers Council, July 3, 1990, Indianapolis, Indiana
  10. Francis Nigel Lee, 'John's Revelation Unveiled', 2000
  11. David Pio Gullon, 'Two Hundred Years From Lacunza: The Impact Of His Eschatalogical Thought On Prophetic Studies And Modern Futurism', The First International Jerusalem Bible Conference, June 1998
  12. The End of False Religion Is Near! - Jehovah's Witnesses Official Web Site
  13. The Watchtower, April 15, 1962, p. 229 par. 6 Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania | “Christendom Has Failed God! After Her End, What?”
  14. The Watchtower, October 15, 1961, p. 229 par. 6 “When All Nations Unite Under God’s Kingdom” Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania | Revelation 11:15-18:
  15. —Re 14:8; 16:19; chaps 17, 18; 19:1-3.
  16. based on information taken from the book - What Does the Bible "Really" Teach? p. 219 par. 2 - p. 220 par. 3 published by Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania
  17. Genesis 10:8-10
  18. "Insight on the Scriptures"-1 p. 238 Babylon *** Israel’s Age-Old Enemy. The Bible makes many references to Babylon, beginning with the Genesis account of the original city of Babel. (Ge 10:10; 11:1-9) Included in the spoil taken by Achan from Jericho was “an official garment from Shinar.” (Jos 7:21) After the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 740 B.C.E., people from Babylon and other areas were brought in to replace the captive Israelites. (2Ki 17:24, 30) Hezekiah made the mistake of showing messengers from Babylon the treasures of his house; these same treasures as well as some of Hezekiah’s “sons” were later taken to Babylon. (2Ki 20:12-18; 24:12; 25:6, 7) King Manasseh (716-662 B.C.E.) was also taken captive to Babylon, but because he humbled himself, Jehovah restored him to his throne. (2Ch 33:11) King Nebuchadnezzar took the precious utensils of Jehovah’s house to Babylon, along with thousands of captives.—2Ki 24:1–25:30; 2Ch 36:6-20.
  19. Awake01 4/8 p. 4 Cities—Why in Crisis? *** Babel, on the other hand, was a great city—a prominent center of false worship that featured a spectacular religious tower. However, Babel and its infamous tower stood in utter defiance of God. (Genesis 9:7) So according to the Bible, God intervened and confused the language of the builders, putting an end to their ambitious religious scheme. God “scattered them from there over all the surface of the earth,” says Genesis 11:5-9.
  20. Watchtower 01 2/15 p. 25 par. 9 Jehovah’s Restored People Praise Him Earth Wide ***"The inhabitants of Judah had been taken captive by mighty Babylon, with no apparent hope of ever being freed. Moreover, their land lay desolate."
  21. 21.0 21.1 "New Light on the Most Ancient East", by archaeologist V. Childe (1957, p. 185)
  22. Jeremiah 51:1, 13
  23. Revelations 17:1, 15
  24. Revelations 16:12, 19.
  25. (Revelations. 17:14)
  26. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible —Edited by G. Buttrick, 1962, Vol. 1, p. 338.

Further reading

  • Harper's Bible Dictionary Paul J. Achtemeier, general editor (1985, Harper Collins), ISBN 0-06-069863-2
  • The NIV Study Bible, Kenneth Barker, general editor. (1995, Zondervan) ISBN 0-310-92589-4
  • The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible with Apocrypha, Bernhard W. Anderson, Bruce Metzger, general editors. (1991, Oxford University Press) ISBN 0-19-528356-2
  • John Coleman, Conspirators' Hierarchy, 4th ed., Carson City: Joseph Holding Corp., 2006.
  • R. A. Coombes, America, The Babylon: America’s Destiny Foretold In Biblical Prophecy, Leathers Pub, 1998.
  • Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

External links