Yes, I realize it’s the whore of all the earth, the cipher not only for vermin-infested Rome but for the Great and Abominable Church itself. The ubiquitous symbol, for thousands of years, of all that is unholy and despicable. The locus from which we flee, internally, as a way of approaching God.
But I have to ask: what exactly does God have against Babylon?
We’ve all heard the tales: Babylon is the hellhole where sacred prostitutes ply their evil trade in that most noisome counterfeit to proper religious ritual. Or at least, Herodotus gave some indications along those lines–never mind that the indigenous evidence is considerably less clear on the subject.
In any case, those willfully wicked Babylonians undeniably practiced divination. (Aside from economic documents, more omens have been found in ancient Babylonia than any other type of text). But is it really so terrible to manipulate objects in an effort to understand the will of the gods? Misguided, some might contend, but morally wrong? Not so far off from a Urim and Thumim, or an ephod, really.
Of course, it is the Babylonians who are credited with fracturing the world’s linguistic unity by constructing perhaps the most famous religious eyesore in history–the Tower of Babel. (“Babel” is a transliteration of the Hebrew name of the city, where “Babylon” comes from the Greek version; the two are identical.) Apparently they believed that through their temple complexes they were able to approach deity. Is that really such a far-out, offensive notion?
Regardless, they were known among pious Israelites as idol-worshippers, deluded religious nuts so irrational as to attribute divine characteristics to icons they made with their own hands. And yet, is their enemies’ characterization of their concept of divinity really fairminded? Constructing a physical object and infusing it with sacred energy is not all that out of place among the nation who marched into battle behind the Ark of the Covenant. And, as with the Israelites, we have every reason to believe the Babylonians understood their gods to transcend their physical representations.
History has not been kind to the Vandals. Some historians attempt to rehabilitate our attitudes toward the Vikings, or the Huns, or the Ostrogoths. Why not reexamine our view of Babylonia, that culturally rich corner of the globe where, it seems, civilization first arose and where writing was first invented?
Flee to Babylon, I say! O Babylon, O Babylon, I bid thee hello!
- 15 September 2006