The continuing carnage in Iraq is reflected in many readers’ letter to me. The “Land Between the Rivers” is where civilization began, where Abraham began his actual and spiritual journey, where the story of Man and his gods began. The questions I am asked are not only about the antiquities that are destroyed, not only about the past, but also about the future: Is there anything in the biblical prophecies that foretells where it is all leading?
Breaking Apart to Repeat History?
The conflict involves a host of issues – democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights stand out. A core issue that divides the three main religious-political-ethnic groups is the extent of autonomy that each will have – the majority Shiites in the south, the distinct Kurds in the north (both in oil-producing regions) and the minority Sunnis in the central region (which includes Baghdad but no oil). The concern is that the greater the autonomy, the greater the chances that Iraq will break up into three parts and will no longer be one national state.
Whether such an outcome is desirable or need be prevented at all costs can be argued pro and con. The arguments should not ignore the fact that “Iraq” is an artificial entity created after World War I by Britain and France when they divided the remnants of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire. How far in history should one go in untangling the ethnic-religious issues? It is a fact that Saddam Hussein saw himself as a reincarnation of the famed Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and envisioned Iraq as a great New Babylon; and it is a fact, even if little noticed, that the Shiites of southern Iraq intend to call their autonomous region or independent state Sumer!
The Biblical Prophecies
Old Testament Prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel – predicted both the sacking of Jerusalem and its Temple by Nebuchadnezzar as well as the subsequent downfall and destruction of Babylon; both prophecies came true, in 586 B.C. and 539 B.C.
In the New Testament, Babylon and its fate are the main subject of three chapters in the Book of Revelation (“The Apocalypse of St. john”). Those prophecies of wrath against Babylon have posed a problem for both biblical scholars and theologians, since when the Book of Revelation was written, “Babylon” had already long been forsaken and in ruins for centuries. Most scholars therefore believe that the book was composed after the start of the persecution of Christians in Rome and that “Babylon” was a code word for Rome.
But if one believes that Revelation is indeed a book of prophecies – of events to come – and that it says what it means and means what it says, then “Babylon of the future” is a “code word” for today’s Iraq! And if so, what Revelation prophesied becomes both intriguing and relevant.
The Merchants of Evil
The future fall of “Babylon,” according to Revelation, will follow and will be hastened by a period of “harlotry,” during which “merchants of the Earth… have committed fornication with her… and waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies” (chapter 18:2). Applying this to current events, one can easily find here an allusion to Iraq’s main “delicacy” – oil – and the parallel to the “Food for Oil” program of the United Nations through which “merchants of the Earth,” committing ethical and business “adultery,” enriched themselves while providing the Iraqi dictator with funds to stay in power and commit more atrocities.
But when the judgements were pronounced upon Babylon, “the Mother of Harlots” with whom “the kings of the Earth have committed fornication,” those very beneficiaries of the trade abandoned her, stood aside when the destruction began:
The merchants of these things, who were made rich by her,
shall stand far off for fear of her torment,
weeping and wailing, and saying:
Alas, alas that great city that was clothed in fine linen
and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold…
For in one hour so great riches is come to naught;
And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships,
and as many as trade by sea,
stood far off, and cried when they saw the smoke
and her burning, saying:
Alas, alas that great city… for in one hour is she made desolate.
The Breakup Into Three Parts
Once the destruction of “Babylon” was so swiftly carried out, the seventh angel “poured out his vial into the air, and there came a great voice out of the Temple of Heaven, from the throne, saying: IT IS DONE.”
And the great city was divided into three parts…
And great Babylon came in remembrance before God
to give unto her the cup of wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
Revelation 16:17, 19
As events in Iraq unfold, we will see whether they will follow the prophetic script to its cataclysmic conclusion.
— Z. SITCHIN, 2005