• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Hysteria over Plans to Protect Archaeological Remains of Babylon

(Revised)

US Christian Right website OneNewsNow strikes an apocalyptic nerve for its readers with the following headline:

U.S. pledges $700K to rebuild Babylon

A short report attributed to the AP follows.

As is widely known, the Bible presents “Babylon” as kind of anti-type to all that is true and decent, and the word is used in the Book of Revelation to represent pagan Rome. With sledgehammer biblical literalism, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind novels has the anti-Christ move the UN from New York to Babylon, and needless to say the headline is now popping up on discussion boards and blogs as evidence of the Last Days.

Strangely, the headline appears only on OneNewsNow, and the story does not appear on the AP website. Further, although there are few details about the “U.S. pledge” the author does find space to tell us that:

In the Bible, Isaiah prophesies that Babylon “will never be inhabited, nor will it be settled from generation to generation.”

Therefore what? This is a story about archaeology, not Biblical prophecy. Would the AP end a story on evolutionary biology or cosmology with the note that “In Genesis, God creates the world in six days?”

In fact, of course, no-one is planning to “rebuild” Babylon – it would be pointless to do so and it would destroy the integrity of the archaeological site. The headline shows a profound ignorance about what archaeological research and conservation involves. As reports elsewhere explain, what is actually planned is a restoration of the site following damage from looters and soldiers and from Saddam Hussein’s botched “re-building” of the 1980s (a development which at the time led US “prophecy experts” to rush out paperbacks on the apocalyptic significance of Saddam). The site is of priceless archaeological significance and must be protected, and it is hoped that the restoration will help to revive Iraq’s tourist industry.

And if you’re going to mention Isaiah 13 you need to give the proper context – that this chapter is a poem written at the end of the Exilic period concerning the Persian invasion of Babylon. In fact, however, despite the Biblical author’s glee at the total destruction of the city the prophecy did not come true: the Persians instead took over the city and although it lost much of its significance after Alexander the Great it remained inhabited for more than a thousand years after the claim it “will never be inhabited”. Rather than being dramatically struck down by God, Babylon slowly declined and disappeared for economic reasons.