The Fall of Babylon:
A Problem in Prophetic Interpretation
James E. Smith
Professor of Old Testament
Florida Christian College

Volume XVII --  Number  1
Fall, 1970
pp. 3-23
(C)opyright 1970
All Rights Reserved
The Cincinnati Bible College & Seminary

    IN comparison with their treatment of other foreign nations Isaiah and Jeremiah had a great deal to say about the fall of Babylon.1 As regards the fulfillment of these prophecies two schools of thought have arisen. One view is that ancient Babylon will be restored, become once again the center of sin, and then be destroyed finally by eschatological judgments. This view might be called the futuristic view. Another view is that Babylon was destroyed once and for all and will never be restored. This might be designated as the historical view. The purpose of this article is to answer this question: Is the fall of Babylon as prophesied by Isaiah and Jeremiah an historical event of the past, or does it await a future fulfillment?

    There are far-reaching involvements in the resolution of the question about to be considered. The ultimate issue underlying this whole discussion is: How literally are Old Testament prophecies to be interpreted? Some insight into this basic hermeneutical issue can be gained by presenting the arguments for and against the futuristic and historical views of the fall of Babylon.
 
 

THE FUTURISTIC VIEW OF BABYLON'S FALL

    The view that the destruction of Babylon is yet future is defended by Newton,2 Pember,3 Seiss,4 Newell,5 and others. Five lines of argument are offered in support of this position.

The Argument from Eschatology

    It is the contention of the futuristic school of interpretation that in context the fall of Babylon is directly related to an eschatological setting. Certain passages relate the fall of Babylon to the Day of the Lord and to the Millennial Kingdom.

    Babylon's fall and the Day of the Lord. The futuristic interpreters insist that Isaiah 13:6, 9, 13 definitely establish the setting for the fall of Babylon as the Day of the Lord. To these interpreters the Day of the Lord is always an eschatological event. Since in Isaiah 13:2-16 the terminology "Day of the Lord" appears these verses must have a future fulfillment. But if these verses have a future fulfillment then it would seem to be impossible to interpret verses 17 through 20 which describe the overthrow of Babylon as having been fulfilled in the past.6The conclusion is therefore offered that since the fall of Babylon as prophesied in Scripture is to take place in the setting of the Day of the Lord; and since the Day of the Lord is yet future, then it follows that the destruction of Babylon yet awaits fulfillment.

   Babylon's fall and the Millennial Kingdom. The futuristic interpreters point out that the prophecy of Babylon's fall not only relates to the Day of the Lord but also to the events which mark the beginning of the Millennium. The passage which most clearly supports this contention is Isaiah 14:1-7.7 James Gray argues that there are at least three things in these verses concerning Israel's history which have not come to pass:

(1) God has not yet set them in their own land (14:1);
(2) Israel does not yet possess the peoples of the earth for servants and handmaids (14:2);
(3) Israel has not yet taken them captive whose captives they were, nor ruled over their oppressors (14:2).8
It is asserted that those who regard the fall of Babylon as historically complete must spiritualize these verses or pass over them completely. The futuristic interpreters categorically reject the suggestion that these promises of peace, prosperity and power have been fulfilled in the history of Israel.9

    Thus Scripture makes Babylon's fall contemporaneous with two concurrent events - the forgiveness of Israel and the coming Day of the Lord. Even if it could be shown that the desolation of Babylon and its land has reached a point which adequately answers to predictions of Scripture respecting it, a revival of Babylon would still be necessary in order for Scripture to be accomplished. Newton summarizes the argument when he writes "Babylon can only be finally destroyed at the time and under the circumstances specified in the Scriptures."10

The Argument from History

    A second line of argument used to support the futuristic view of Babylon's fall is the argument from history. It is affirmed that the record of history and the prediction of Scripture are at variance with one another if the fall of Babylon is an event of the past. Scriptural prophecy is alleged to contradict the historical record on at least two points:

(1) the suddenness of Babylon's fall.
(2) the catastrophic nature of Babylon's fall.
    The suddenness of Babylon's fall. The futuristic interpreters argue that the Scriptures indicate a sudden destruction of Babylon whereas history records no such sudden destruction by which that city became a desolation. Isaiah 47, for example, indicates that the "mistress of kingdoms" would suffer loss children and widowhood "in one day". Both the loss of commercial relationships with other nations and depopulation would come upon Babylon suddenly and completely ("in their full measure"). But the continuous history of Babylon can be traced through many centuries subsequent to the capture of that city by Cyrus. This fact seems to contradict the prophetic picture of Babylon's fall as given by Isaiah 47. Furthermore, Babylon will be destroyed "as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah" (13:19).11  The destruction of these cities was not protracted through many centuries, but was the result of a supernatural stroke. So Babylon's destruction is to be brought about suddenly and the weapons of judgment are to be largely elemental.  The heavens and earth will become disordered and water will swallow up the site upon which the city stands (Isaiah 13:13, Jeremiah 51:42).12 Because Babylon did not suddenly become a desolation, the futuristic interpreters argue that the prophecies concerning the fall of this city must await fulfillment in the future.

    The catastrophic nature of Babylon's fall. The catastrophic nature of Babylon's fall is indicated in the following verses:

Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is taken shall fall by the sword. Their infants also shall be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be rifled, and their wives ravished (Isaiah 13:15-16).
    The language of these two verses is the most descriptive that could be employed to picture the total, pitiless and barbaric slaughter of the inhabitants of Babylon. The argument is advanced that "nowhere in the history of Babylon's downfall did a destruction of human life occur in an degree comparable to that which is pictured by these verses."13

    A second passage indicates the catastrophic nature of the destruction of the city itself.

Come against her from the utmost border; open her store-houses; cast her up as heaps, and destroy her utterly; let nothing of her be left (Jeremiah 50:26).
This verse probably means that all the property found in Babylon would be collected and then burnt with the city. But such a catastrophic destruction has not been literally fulfilled by any of Babylon's conquerors.14

    From the futuristic view point the prophecies of a sudden and yet complete destruction and desolation of Babylon have not been fulfilled. History reveals that Babylon never was the object of such a judgment but on the contrary has persisted as a commercial center and political community even to the present.15  In view of this argument from history Newell concludes "it appears impossible that the great prophecies co ncerning Babylon's final overthrow. . have been finally fulfilled.

The Argument from the Present

    The third line of evidence advanced to support the futurity of Babylon's fall is the argument from the present. It is affirmed that many passages which refer to Babylon's desolation present a picture which seems to contradict the existing condition of the city. The following excerpts from the Babylon prophecies make clear what the existing state of Babylon should be if the prophecies have been fulfilled.

    It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall shepherds make their flocks to lie down there. For out of the north cometh a nation against her, which shall make her land desolate, and none shall dwell therein: they are fled, they are gone, both man and beast. And they shall not take of thee a stone for foundations; but thou shalt be desolate for ever, saith the Lord (Isaiah. 13:20;Jeremiah 50:3: 51:26).
    The futuristic interpreters do not feel that the present condition of the site of ancient Babylon corresponds to this prophetic picture of desolation. To be sure Babylon has experienced widespread ruin and damage and these interpreters do not wish to undervalue or hide the extent of the ruin. But thus far only "premonitory blows" have fallen against Babylon.17 Seiss maintains that "Babylon, in all the deep calamities and desolations which have come upon her, never yet experienced all that has been thus prophesied."18

    In contradiction to the prophecies of the perpetual desolation of Babylon flourishing villages exist today on the site of that metropolis. One city of more than ten thousand population probably lies within the walls of the ancient city.19 Larkin argues that it has never been true that "neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there" (Isaiah 13:20). Nor can it be said "and they shall not take of thee a stone for a corner, nor a stone for foundations" (Jeremiah 51:26) for many towns and cities have been built from the ruins of Babylon. Hillah was entirely constructcd from debris of the city, and even in the houses of Bagdad Babylonian-stamped brick may be frequently noticed.20 Newton emphasizes the fact that the LAND of Babylon has never yet experienced the desolation predicted and he cites numerous travelers who attest to the fertility of the LAND of Babylon.21

    The futuristic interpreters feel that the prophecies concerning the destruction of Babylon have not yet passed into history. This being the case, they argue, three alternatives are left to the interpreter:

(1) he can deny the inspiration of the prophets themselves;
(2) he can boldly deny the facts and argue against realities;
(3) he can speak the truth and say that Babylon has not yet received its final blow.22
Whether or not this exhausts the possible alternatives must be decided after the case for the historical view of Babylon's fall is heard.

The Argument from Revelation 17-18

    A more positive argument supporting the futuristic interpretation is found in Revelation 17-18. It is important to note that most of those who hold that Babylon is yet to be destroyed expound this view is exegeting Revelation 17-18.23 The argument is that two Babylons are described in the Book of Revelation -- mystical Babylon and literal Babylon. Literal Babylon will be restored at the end of time and then destroyed by eschatological judgments.

    The two Babylons of Revelation. The key point in the argument from the Book of Revelation is that John is describing two Babylons. In Revelation 17 John speaks of a "woman" called "Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth." In chapter 18 John speaks of a city called "Babylon the Great." Pember argues that the "woman" and the "city" cannot symbolize the same thing because what is said of the one does not apply to the other. The ''woman'' is destroyed by the "ten kings," (17:16) while the "kings of the earth" in the next chapter "bewail and lament" (18:9) the destruction of the "city" which is not destroyed by them but by a sudden visitation by God in the form of a fire and earthquake. Furthermore, the first verse of chapter 18 ("after these things") indicates that it is after the destruction of the "woman" that the destruction of the "city" occurs.24 Newell adds the following distinction: The particular sin of Babylon in chapter 17 is Spiritual fornication; of Babylon in chapter 18, evil commercialism.25 By such lines of argument the conclusion is reached that the "woman" and the "city" are not one and the same. Pember states that "whatever may be intended by the Babylon of the seventeenth chapter, it is, at least, something altogether distinct from that of the eighteenth."26 These interpreters make a distinction between "Mystic Babylon" and "Literal Babylon" (Newell); "Ecclesiastical Babylon" and "Eschatological Babylon" (Bloomfield) ; "Mystical Babylon"and "Commercial Babylon" (Larkin). Mystical Babylon is the Devil's church through the ages; commercial Babylon is the ancient city on the Euphrates restored.

    The restoration of literal Babylon. According to the futuristic school, Revelation 18 describes the reconstructed Babylon of the last days. In Chapter 17 John dealt chiefly with symbols and an angel added an explanation. According to this view, no symbols are used in chapter 18 and no explanation is therefore needed. Govett insists that this means the chapter must be taken literally.27 Larkin contends that since symbolical Babylon was destroyed in chapter 17 the city of chapter 18 must be literal Babylon. Since no such city exists today, the city of Babylon must be rebuilt at some point in the future.28 The last world-monarchy, with Antichrist at its head will make the restored city the seat of its government and the center of a federation of the God-defying nations of the earth.29 The final destruction of Babylon. According to the futuristic interpreters, Revelation 18 also describes the overthrow of the future metropolis of restored Babylon. The chapter begins with the angelic announcement of doom: "Fallen, Fallen is Babylon the great." God's people (in this case, godly Jews) are warned to flee out of Babylon.30 The direct and catastrophic nature of Babylon's final fall is indicated. Babylon's destruction will come in "one hour" (v.10) and in that one hour the city shall be made desolate (v. 19). The city will be destroyed by fire (vv. 8, 9, 18) which harmonizes with Isaiah 13:19 "As when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah." The awful, perpetual curse of desolation that will follow the execution of the judgment is announced (vv. 2, 22, 23). The kings and merchants oft he earth mourn over the destruction of the great commercial metropolis (vv. 9-11; 15-19).

    Little harmony exists among the interpreters as to who will destroy eschatological Babylon. Seiss believes that the final judgment upon great Babylon is so miraculous and direct from heaven that earthly agents have but little to do with it, if anything.31 Govett believes the judgment will be executed by Israel just before that nation is swallowed up by God.32 Bloomfield, on the other hand, feels that the city will be destroyed by the soldiers of Anti-christ probably by means of an atomic bomb.33

    Such then is the argument from the Book of Revelation. After the fall of ecclesiastical Babylon, literal Babylon will be rebuilt, will become a great commercial center, and will be destroyed by eschatological judgments.

The Argument from Zechariah's Vision

    Another line of positive testimony which is brought forth in support of the futuristic interpretation is Zechariah's vision of the woman in an ephah (5:5-11). The prophet sees a woman called "wickedness" sitting in an ephah (symbol of commerce) carried to the land of Shinar by two winged women. According to Bloomfield the woman symbolizes a wicked, universal system or Satan's church.34 This prophecy was delivered subsequent to Babylon's captivity and at least half a lifetime after Babylon had been conquered by the Medes and Persians. Newell supposes this vision to portray the final concentration of wickedness in the reconstructed Babylon in the land of Shinar.35 This passage is regarded as "confirmatory proof that the ancient city of Babylon is to be rebuilt and become the commercial center of the world."36

    The strength or weakness of these five lines of argument offered by the futuristic school of interpreters must be evaluated in the light of the case put forward by the historical school of interpretation.
 
 

THE HISTORICAL VIEW OF BABYLON'S FALL

In contrast to the futuristic view of Babylon's fall the historical school holds that the Old Testament prophecies relating to the fall of Babylon have already been fulfilled. Among the advocates of this view are Alexander,37 Franz Delitzach,38 Ironsides,39 and George Adam Smith.40 In order to appreciate this view it will first be necessary to set forth concisely the hermeneutical frame-work within which these scholars interpret the Babylon prophecies.

Hermeneutical Perspective of the Historical School

This historical view of Babylon's fall is set forth within a very different hermeneutical framework from that of the futuristic view. Three important principles govern the interpretation of the Babylon prophecies by those who hold the historical view.

    The principle of generic prophecy. One principle which is employed by the historical school is that predictive prophecy is sometimes generic. Alexander speaks of the difficulty of harmonizing all the details of the Babylon prophecies with the capture of that city by Cyrus. He then adds:

The true solution of this difficulty is that the prediction is generic, not specific; that it is not a detailed account of one event exclusively, but a prophetic picture of the fall of Babylon considered as a whole, some of the traits being taken from the first, and some from the last stage of the fatal process, while others are indefinite or common to all.41
On this principle of an ideal event the historical school feels itself under no obligation to demonstrate a complete coincidence of prophecy and history in regard to the fall of Babylon.

    Principle of perspective shortening. A second rule of interpretation employed by the historical school is the principle of perspective shortening. According to this principle events which are widely separated in time are sometimes blended as though they were continuous. Naegelsbach believes that the Babylon prophecies are "an example of that prophetic gaze which, as it were, sees in one plain that which in reality is extended through many successive stages of time."42 The prophet brings together in one paragraph, and sometimes one verse, the conquest, destruction, and desolation of Babylon "whereas in reality these were accomplished in the course of centuries."43 Because of this principle the historical school does not feel compelled to find the fulfillment of every detail of the prophecies of Babylon's fall in the capture of Cyrus or any one particular calamity which befell the city.

    Principle of poetic license. A third principle which undergirds the historical interpretation of Babylon's fall is this: Allowance must be made for imagery, hyperbolic expression, and poetic diction in predictive prophecy. This must be the case, for instance, in such passages as Isaiah 13:10-- "For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in its going forth, and the moon shall not cause its light to shine." This must be understood as metaphorical because the revolutions and destructions of nations are often represented in the Scriptures under this image.44 It is therefore considered to be unfair for anyone to argue that the prophecy of Babylon's fall is unfulfilled because there was no celestial disruption when the city fell to the Medo-Persian armies. Hyperbolic elements might be also found in the prophecies that Babylon will become an uninhabited desolation; that not a stone from the city will be used in building; that the fall of the city will be accompanied by a slaughter of men, women and children.

Rebuttal to the Futuristic Arguments

    It is necessary now to ask this question: What rebuttal does the historical school of interpretation have to offer to the five lines of argument advanced by the futuristic school?

The eschatological argument. The futuristic school holds that since the fall of Batylon is prophesied in connection with the Day of the Lord and the Millennial Kingdom it must be a future event. The historical school argues in reply that the Day of the Lord as described in Isaiah 13:2-16 is not an eschatological event. The prophet is relating "the burden of Babylon" (13:1) in these verses. Hence the logical inference from context is that the language "Day of the Lord" as here used refers to the calamity of Babylon's fall. As for the Millennium the historical interpreters would simply insist that such passages as Isaiah 14:1-7 refer to the return from Babylonian captivity and not to any eschatological restoration of Israel.

The argument from history. The historical school of interpretation contends that the prophecies regarding Babylon's fall do not relate to one specific historical situation but to an ideal fall of the city. These interpreters feel that when the principles of generic prophecy, perspective shortening, and hyperbolic utterance are applied to the Babylon prophecies it is evident that they have been fulfilled as much as they shall ever be. The definite historical beginning of the ideal fall of Babylon is indicated in the prophecies of the coming of the Medes (Isaiah 13:17; 21:2, 3; Jeremiah 51:11, 28). Cyrus is named as the leader in the expedition against Babylon (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). Because of these definite historical allusions the historical school of interpreters cannot see how the fall of Babylon could be an eschatological event.45

Argument from the present. The futuristic school argues that the existing condition of the site of ancient Babylon does not completelyfulfill the picture of utter desolation described by the prophets. The historical school grants that there are some predictions against Babylon which have not been literally fulfilled but this they consider unnecessary. Cheyne contends that the veracity of prophecy is not dependent upon "circumstantial fulfillment."46 The following statement of Orelli reflects the general attitude of the historical school toward the town of Hillah which is located on or near the site of Babylon.

In sight of the ruined plains of Babylon it would be petty dogmatism to point to the present settlements there which are only important through their contrast to the former greatness and splendor of the imperial capital.47
    Even more straightforward is the contention of Newman, a nineteenth century visitor to the site of Babylon.
In no sense is the Moslem town of Hillah, with its ten thousand inhabitants, the restoration of the ancient city. The walls, the temples, the palaces, the dwellings of Babylon, have not been rebuilt. The once proud city is a desolation without an inhabitant. 48
    Babylon in the Book of Revelation. While the futuristic interpreters distinguish between the Babylon of Revelation 17 and that of chapter 18 the historical interpreters, as a rule, do not. Whatever interpretation is given to the harlot of Revelation 17 is also given to the metropolis of chapter 18. Among the interpreters who reject any reference to literal Babylon in Revelation, three views prevail. Some hold that Apocalyptic Babylon is the figurative application of that name to a totally different city, viz., Rome.49 Others hold that Apocalyptic Babylon is the apostate church.50 A third group holds that the term Babylon in Revelation applies to a system or civilization rather than to any specific geographical center.51

    However diverse their explanations of the Apocalyptic Babylon may be, these interpreters are convinced that no reference to literal Babylon is intended by the Patmos Seer. They feel that the notion that literal Babylon is to be rebuilt is in conflict with the Old Testament prophecies which indicate Babylon is to be destroyed and never again inhabited.52 Furthermore, Apocalyptic Babylon is contrasted with that of the Chaldees in that the latter was built upon a plain while the former is characterized by the seven mountains on which it sits.53 For these reasons the literalistic interpretation is rejected and a symbolical application for the name Babylon in the Book of Revelation is suggested.

    Zechariah's vision. The futuristic interpreters understand the vision of the woman in an ephah to indicate that the land of Shinar will become a great center of evil commercialism. The historical interpreters regard this vision as simply an illustration that iniquity is now removed from the Holy Land to Babylonia. Shinar in this passage is a symbol of the antitheistic world which wars against the truth, viz., Satan's kingdom of wickedness.54
 
 

THE HISTORICAL DECLINE OF BABYLON

    Because of considerations of space only a brief outline of the stages in the decline of Babylon can be given here.

A. The Persian Period

    1. The capture of Babylon by Cyrus (539 B.C.). The armies of Babylon were crushed at Opis on the Tigris. The seizure of  Babylon itself was relatively peaceful. The city remained a great metropolis.

    2. The capture of Babylon by Darius (522-21 B.C.). Herodotus (III. 151-159) reports a siege of almost two years. Darius destroyed one of the three broad walls which guarded the city and tore down the hundred gates of which Babylon was so proud.

    3. The capture of Babylon by Xerxes (482 B.C.). The temple E-sagila was torn down. Quarters of the town that had been pillaged remained uninhabited and fell into ruins. Commerce dwindled; industry flagged. So thoroughly did Xerxes ravage Babylon that barely a hair-dozen tablets have survived from the remainder of his reign over that city. Babylonia lost its identity through incorporation with Assyria and was henceforth ferociously taxed.55

    4. Under the later Persian kings Babylon experienced a brief revival but was not completely restored.

B. The Greek Period

    1. Alexander the Great attempted to restore Babylon in 331 B.C. With the death of that great king the project was abandoned.

    2. In the twenty-five years after the death of Alexander Babylon was sacked and put to the torch at least seven times.56

    3. The founding of Seleucia sometime between 307 and 300 B.C. by Seleucus Nicator I (312-281 B.C.). The new city, some ninety miles away from Babylon, was populated with colonists from Babylon.

    4. Between 160 and 140 B.C. the city was taken by rival armies at least four times.57 With the capture of the city by the Parthian king Mithridates I, the period of Greek dominance in Babylonia came to an end.

C. The Parthian Period

    1. Nine years after the Part hians gained control of Babylonia the city fell once again, this time into the hands of Antiochus VII Sidetes (130 B.C.).

    2. In 127-26 B.C. Babylon was conquered by Hyspaosines, the fifth conquest of the city since July 141 B.C.

    3. Between 126 and 123 B.C. Himeros, a Parthian, dealt a death blow to the ancient city. He burned the marketplace of Babylon and some of the temples and completely destroyed the better part of the city. Many of the inhabitants were sent to Media as slaves.

    4. In 122 B.C. Mithridates II recaptured the city.

    The preceding survey has indicated that subsequent to the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. that city suffered innumerable sieges, captures and calamities. No fewer than eighteen times did Babylon "fall" to an enemy. With few exceptions each successive conqueror treated the mighty metropolis with more severity than did his predecessor. At 10 B.C. all primary information about the city of Babylon disappears. From this time on classical historians, geographers, naturalists, travelers and commentators must supply the information concerning the city of Babylon. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus in the first century B.C. relates that only a small part of ancient Babylon was inhabited in his day (11.9.9). Strabo the Greek geographer (63 B.C. - 19 A.D.) describes Babylon as being "in great part deserted" (XVI. 1.5). Pausanias the Greek traveler and geographer of the second Christian century declares that nothing remained of Babylon except the temple of Belus and the walls of the city (VIII. 33.3). Lucian (ca. 129-180 A.D.) the Greek sophist and satirist says that Babylon will soon have to be searched for like Nineveh of which not a trace remained on his day.58

    Among the Latin writers the testimony concerning the condition of Babylon is similar. Pliny (23-79 A.D.), the Roman polymath, states that while the temple of Bel is still standing "in all other respects the place has gone back to a desert."59 The Roman historian Dio Cassius describes Trajan 's visit to Babylon in which he found only "mounds and stones and ruins."60

    Jewish sources confirm the picture of the desolate state of Babylon in the first centuries B.C. and A.D. Josephus describes how the Jews at Babylon were subjected to persecution by the natiye people and abandoned the city in the middle of the first Christian century (Ant. XV. 9.8, 9). The Talmud prescribed certain benedictions which one was to utter when he saw the ruins of Babylon (Berakoth 57b).61

    In Christian literature Babylon is mentioned in I Peter 5:13. This passage has been used to prove that Babylon in the first century was a thriving city with a Jewish population sufficiently large enough to demand the ministry of the apostle Peter. For a number of reasons 62 it is best to reject the literal interpretation of Babylon in this passage and to regard "Babylon" here as a cryptogram for Rome. The only Christian reference to Mesopotamian Babylon is found in Jerome's commentary on Isaiah.63 He makes reference to the fact that Babylon in his day had been made a game preserve by one of the Parthian kings.
 
 

CONCLUSION

    Upon the basis of the evidence heretofore presented the conclusion is reached that the fall of Babylon as prophesied by Isaiah and Jeremiah has already taken place. The conclusion that Babylon has fallen once and for all time has much in its favor:

    1. The view that Babylon has fallen in fulfillment of prophecy is based upon sound principles of prophetic interpretation. The entire problem of whether the fall of Babylon is past or future is a hermeneutical one in which the factor of literality is a major issue. In the final analysis each individual must decide how literally he is going to understand these Babylon prophecies. But examples of prophetic interpretation by inspired New Testament writers seems to indicate that the principles of generic prophecy, perspective shortening, and poetic imagery must be taken into account in properly understanding predictive prophecy.

    2. The opinion that Babylon has once and for all time fallen avoids a slavish but inconsistent literalism. The futuristic interpreters while insisting on a literalistic interpretation for such phrases as "none shall dwell therein," "shall not be inhabited," "they shall not take of thee a stone for a corner" do not so interpret other passages in the prophecies. They do not, for example, insist that the eschatological conquerors of Babylon must be Medes, ride on horses, and attack the city with the bow and spear. In fact they talk of Babylon being destroyed in the future by an atomic bomb or by a supernatural stroke from heaven. This is entirely foreign to the picture of besieging armies presented in the Old Testament prophecies. The view that the destruction of Babylon has taken place recognizes all the numerous points where the prophecy was literally fulfilled but at the same time does not insist that every detail must have had circumstantial fulfillment before the prophecy against Babylon can be viewed as accomplished.

    3. The view that the prophecies of Babylon's fall have been fulfilled is justified in the light of the' historical evidence. It is difficult to understand how anyone acquainted with the history of Babylon between the years 538 and 10 B.C. could say that the things prophesied against Babylon have never come to pass. The city changed hands again and again and with each new conquest suffered untold damage. 'Certainly it was literally true that "many kings" (Jeremiah 50:42) took part in accomplishing God's will against Babylon.

    4. The opinion that Babylon has fallen is consistent with the testimony of the ancient writers. A careful study of the Greek and Roman writers in regard to the condition of Babylon subsequent to the first century B.C. reveals that they unconsciously employ the language of the prophets in describing the desolate condition of Babylon in their day. Diodorus Siculus described the city as in ruins." Strabo calls it "a great desert." Pausanias says that it has been "reduced to nothing." Pliny says "the place has gone back to a desert." In the light of these statements it is difficult to see how it could be affirmed that what has already befallen Babylon is but a "premonitory blow."

    5. The theory that Babylon has been destroyed in accord with prophecy is most consistent with the long silence of history respecting Babylon. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, Babylon and Nineveh were only names. People read about them in the Bible, but no visible trace remained. Some were even skeptical that such places ever existed except in the imagination of ancient scribes.64 Robert Lowth could write in 1778

Upon the whole, Babylon is so utterly annihilated that even the place where this wonder of the world stood, cannot now be determined with any certainty. 65
    Babylon was for centuries a desolate heap of ruins. Hillah is not Babylon. Even if it were built upon the site of the ancient city, Hillah would not be Babylon. Babylon, the city, ceased to exist in the first century A.D. or shortly thereafter.

    The Babylon passages, if already fulfilled, have a definite apologetic value. The believer can direct the attention of the skeptic to these prophecies as a concrete example of fulfilled predictive prophecy. The amazing detail in which these Babylon prophecies were fulfilled centuries after they were recorded can be explained only on the hypothesis that "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."


Endnotes

1. Isaiah 13-14; 21:1-10; chaps. 40-48; Jeremiah 25:12-14, 26; 27:7; chaps. 5O-51.
2. Benjamin Wills Newton, Babylon: Its Future History and Doom (third edition; 1890), pp.1-144.
3. G. H. Pember, The Antichiist, Babylon, and the Coming of the Kingdom, (second edition, 1888), pp.67-124.
4. J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse (eight edition, 1901), III, 107-212.
5. Wiliam R. Newell, The Book of Revelation (1935), pp.263-281.
6. Harry Goehring, "The Fall of Babylon - Historical or Future?" Grace Journal, II (Winter, 1961), 29.
7. Other pasasges alleged to support this relationship are Isaiah 48:14, 20; Jeremiah 50:~5; 1820;Habakkuk 2:14,20.
8. James M. Gray, Prophecy and the Lord's Return (1917), p.114.
9. Goehring, op. cit., p.30.
10. Newton, op. cit., p.29.
11. Pember (op. cit., pp.87-88) argues that the reference here is to the act ofdestruction, not to its permanent effects.
12. Herbert Mackenzie, "The Destruction of Bab?lon," Bibliotheca Sacra, XCII (1935), p.228.
13. Goelrring, op. cit., pp.25-26.
14. Ibid., p.27.
15. Clarence Larkin, The Book of Revelation (1919), p.157; and Pember, op. cit., p.94. Cf. Goehring (op. cit., p.27) who grants that Babylon did come to an end about 1100 A.D. but eels that this gradual decline is not in accord with the prophecies of the fall of the city.
16. Newell, op. cit., p.265.
17. Newton, op. cit., p.11.
18. Seiss, op. cit., III, 141.
19. Goehring, op. cit., p.28.
20. Larkin, op. cit., pp.157-58.
21. Newton, op. cit., p.53. Cf. Jeremiah 50:1; 51:2, 29, 43.
22. Newton, op. cit., p.29.
23. Cf. A. C. Gaebelein, The Revelation (1915), pp.97-8. Gaebelein denies that Babylon described in Revelation is literal Babylon but strn holds that ancient Babylon will be rebuilt because the Old Testament prophecies haye not yet been literally fulfilled.
24. Pember, op. cit., pp.71-74.
25. Newell, op. cit., pp.263-64.
26. Pember, op. cit., p.97.
27. Robert Govett, The Apocalypse Expounded by Scripture (1920), p.466; Cf. Seiss, op. cit., III, 147; "there is no intimation whatever that this city of Babylon does not mean the city of Babylon."
28. Larkin, op. cit., p. 155.
29. Gray, op. cit., pp. 111-119.
30. Newell (op. cit., p.267) argues that Jeremiah must have been speaking of this final destruction when he warned his people to flee out of the midst of Babylon (51:45, 46, 50) for when Cyrus took the city the Jews did not flee.
31. Seiss, op. cit., III 172.
32. Govett, op. cit., p.474.
33. Arthur E. Bloomfield, All Things New (1959, p.231. According to Bloomfield the angel in verse 21 acts out the scene as "he drops a bomb from the sky." The torment which the kings are afraid of (vv. 9-10) may be fall out.
34. Bloomfield, op. cit., p.229. He also believes the two carrying women to represent a church. Ba~ylon will be rebuilt by a church.
35. Newell, op. cit., p.268.
36. Larkin, op. cit., p.161; cf. Newton, op. cit., pp. 62-80.
37. Joseph Addison Alexander, Commentary on the Prophedes of Isaiah. Two volumes in one. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1953. A reprint from 1847.
38. Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah. Trans. James Martin. Two vols. Grand Rapids: Eredmans, 1950.
39. H. A. Ironsides, Expository Notes on the Prophet Isaiah. New York: Loizeaux, 1952.
40. George Adam Smith, The Book of Isaiah, The Expositor's Bible. Two vols. London: Hodder and Stoughton, n.d.
41. Alexander, op. cit., I, 267.
42. C. Edward Naegelsbach, Isaiah, Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, p. 181.
43. C. von Orelli, The Prophecies of  Isaiah (1895), p. 376.
44. Albert Barnes, Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (1950), I, 252, Cf. Isaiah 34:4; Ezekiel 32:7, 8; Amos 8:9.
45. Cf. Wiliam Richard Foster, "The Eschatological Significance of the Assyrian," (unpublished Doctor's Thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1956), pp. 164-65. Foster maintains that the Medo-Persian empire represents in prophecy "the Messianic kingdom which overthrows the kingdom of antichrist an allows the remnant of God's people to return in restoration of their national economy." Goehring (op. cit., pp. 3-31) goes so far as to say that the term Mede "cannot refer to the historical Medes under Cyrus."
46. Cheyne, Isaiah, op. cit., I, 550.
47. Orelli, Isaiah, op. cit., p. 377.
48. John P. Newman, The Thrones and Palaces of Babylon and Nineveh (1876), p.175. It should be noted however that Newman places Hillah in the very center of the ancient site of Babylon (p.163) and admits that this town was built from the ancient ruins of Babylon (p.148).
49. R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John (1920). II, 54; Friedrich Dusterdieck, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Revelation of John (1887). p.428; Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (1954). p.226; Edward A. McDowell, The Meaning a nd Message of the Book of Revelation (1951). pp. 166-174; Charles M. Layman, The Book of Revelation (1960), pp. 11-123.
50. The Papal Rome interpretation: J. C. Encell, The Exiled Prophet (1898), p.215; B. W. Johnson, A Vition of the Ages (fifth edition; 1915), p.282; H. C. Williams, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (1917), pp.289-97. The apostate church in abstracto: A. Plummer, Revelation, Pulpit Commentary, p.413; Wiliam A. Spurgeon, The Conquering Christ (1936), pp. 24-41; J. L. Martin, The Voice of the Seven Thunders 1870y, p. 250.
51. Philip Mauro, The Patmos Visions (1925), pp.243-44; Merrill C. Tenny, Interpreting Revelation (1957), pp.82-83; C. H. Little, Explanation of the Book of Revelation (1950), pp. 17-190; W. Hend'riksen, More Than Conquerors (1961), pp.199-220; M. R. DeHaan, Revelation (1946), pp. 21-231.
52. C. I. Scofleld, The Scofleld Reference Bible, Comments on Revelation 18; Cf. Tenny, op. cit., p.86.
53. William Kelly, An Exposition of the Book of lsaiah (fourth edition; 1947), pp.164 ff.
54. E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets (1885), II, 368-69; Cf. Theodore Laetsch, Bible Commentary: The Minor Prophets (1956), p.434; C. F. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Twel"e Minor Prophets (1951), II, p.285; and Charles H. H. Wright, Zechariah and His Prophecies (1874), pp.111-120.
55. A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire (1948), pp.236-37.
56. S. A. Pallis, The Antiquity of Iraq (1956), pp.26-29.
57. Ibid., pp. 32-35.
58. Charon or Inspectors, p. 443 of Vol.11 of Lucian's works in the Loeb Classical Library.
59. Natural History, Vi. 30.
60. History of Rome, LXVIII. 30.
61. Certain passages in the Talmud which seem to picture Babylon as a thriving city are best regarded as referring to Sara which was in the neighborhood of the old Babylon.
62. That "Babylon" in I Peter 5:13 is the famous Mesopotamian city is unlikely for the following reasons: (1) Peter is nowhere else associated with this region; (2) the Eastern Church did not until a late period claim any association with Peter in its church origins; (3) the area itself was very sparsely popuiated, especiallyinthe period subsequent to the migration in A.D. 41 and the resultant massacre oflarge numbers of Jews at Seleucia; (4) Mark who is present with Peter in "Babylon" is connected with Rome in Paul's letters and with Peter in Rome by early Christian tradition; (5) Widespread tradition exists that Peter worked in Rome; (6) the term Babylon was used as a mystical designation for Rome by the Jews before it was inherited by the Christians; (7) until the time of Calvin no writer suggested that Babylon in I Peter 5:13 referred to the city on the Euphrates.
63. Commentary on Isaiah, XIII. 2O~22; XIV. 22~23. In Vol. XXIV of J. P. Migne, Patrologia Latina.
64. David Masters, The Romance of Excavation (1923), p.119.
65. Lowth, op. cit., p.220.

 Scanned: Michael Riggs
Corrected: Daniel Dyke