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Babylon was a city in ancient Mesopotamia, situated in what is now Iraq around 50 miles from modern Baghdad. At one time, the Babylonian Empire was one of the most important powers in what is now called the Middle East, covering large parts of Mesopotamia and the Levant. Today the Babylonian civilisation is best known for its early code of laws, for the beautiful Hanging Gardens of Babylon and for its role in Jewish history.

In the Bible

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In the Old Testament, Babylon comes to prominence a few centuries after the reign of David as a mighty power in the area and a threat to the Jewish kingdoms. Finally, as recounted at the end of the book of Chronicles, the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Kingdom of Judah (the northern Kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians some time before) and took all its inhabitants into exile in and around Babylon. This is known as the Babylonian Captivity and is a central event in Jewish history - for example, the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew measures time by three important dates - the time of Abraham, the reign of David and the exile to Babylon (Matthew 1:12).

Several other books of the Old Testament deal with the Babylonian Captivity:

  • Jeremiah prophesies the conquest of Judah by the Babylonians and then laments the event in Lamentations.
  • Ezekiel prophesies during the exile.
  • Daniel tells of events that happened at the Babylonian court during the exile.
  • Ezra and Nehemiah tell of the triumphant return from exile and the re-establishment of the Jewish people in Israel.

In addition, the Captivity is of such great importance that 'Babylon' is often used as a symbol for any hostile or morally iniquitous power. This can be seen in the Book of Revelation, where Babylon is denounced even though it had fallen to the Persians and Greeks many centuries before; many scholars believe that this is in fact a coded reference to Rome, which was persecuting the early Christians at the time. An example is Revelation 18:2. This symbolism has even survived into the present day: for example, reggae musicians often talk about Babylon in a similar way as a symbol of hardship or immorality.

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