That last passage pretty much reduced me to bewilderment.
However, it makes a little more sense as translated in the New English version, in which our king who was, and is not, and is to climb out of the bottomless pit on its way to perdition… becomes one who has died, vanished that is into the pit of nonexistence, but will be resurrected to Get His as of the Judgment.
According to Malina & Pilch’s _Social Science Commentary_ it makes lots of sense in astrological terms, ie as Jupiter, = Baal/Adonis, who “annually disappears during the dry season, only to emerge with the autumn rains,” his reappearance being a marvel to “his devotees, that is those persons not listed in the scroll of life ‘from the foundation of the world.’ Those listed in the scroll of life are not astonished, since they know the God of Israel who raised Jesus from the dead is in charge.”
There’s also a mention of a mysterious eighth planet, the Ogdoad, for whatever that may be worth. It “marks completion, fullness, totality.” A website I just meandered through describes this as like an eighth note to the scale that is somehow a recurrance of the first. In any event “…The destruction of the cosmic Sea Beast marks completion of whatever process is going on.”
The significance for the writer is not just what’s in the astrological sky, but what that implies for God’s doings on Earth. We’re getting not just allegory about his contemporary rulers, but an impression of something archetypal, a How Things Are in a wider sense. Thus Malina&Pilch see this whole section (back through the Plagues) as being about the Flood & its aftermath. “The link with the pre-Flood period is the founder of Babel/Babylon, Nimrod, a post-Flood giant.” They quote the Targums about Nimrod as “‘a man mighty in sin and in rebellion against the Lord on the Earth’…. “And thus began Babel’s harlotry, a code word for blasphemous idolatry.”
Anyway, the upshoot of all this is a vision of Venus, patron diety of Babylon in the Hellenistic period, female both as an evening star, and as a personification of a city. Her Canaanite version, Anatu, was a fierce war goddess, appropriately called “drunk with blood” as was commonly said of conquerers (God in at least one passage) as the protective diety of Babylon. Her cup, raised in a toast, was a common depiction of dieties bestowing their blessings, and the “abominations” associated with it “of course were essential elements in the worship” of that goddess.
Can we take “Babylon” as code for “Rome,” as Jews of this period were known to diplomatically put their opinion of that city? Probably, but the fact that this can resonate in my mind with “Washington” is another sign that we’re talking about a recurring theme.
There are differences. In their chapter ‘The Ancient City’, Malina & Plilch say:
“It is difficult, if not impossible, for most modern Bible readers to understand what the ancient city was. The reason… is that Euro-American society is a global society, rooted in urbanized countries. The ancient world was always rural, and ancient cities were ruralized central places…. The first century Mediterranean civitas or polis… was really a large, central place in which properly pedigreed, well-born farmers and ranchers displayed and employed their unbelievable wealth in competition for honor among each other. Largeholders… found it in their interests to live near other largeholders in central places that likewise provided them with organized force (an army) to protect their interests from the vast masses of other persons….
“Imperial central cities were always characterized by violence against the surrounding majority from whom elites sought to extract taxes. This was a subsistence economy, so there was no surplus. All taxes were a form of extortion. No taxes ever really benefitted the taxed population. The Roman architectural contribution revealing the city’s dedication to violence against the outgroup was the amphitheater–a structure built solely for the ingroup’s enjoyment of physical pain, torture, mutilation and death of the outgroup…”
Another difference, even from Rome, is that a “Greco-Roman City” was differently conceived by its inhabitants than a “Middle Eastern City” like Babylon or Jerusalem. A Greco-Roman city was founded by a hero or group of heros, by marking off its territory. Deities, though they belonged in the picture, might be invoked, but the public liturgies would honor exemplary citizens. Residents were held together by a contractual set of legally binding duties, their taxes were for the benefit of the city elite and the purpose of it all was “the well-being of the citizenry.”
A Middle Eastern city would be founded by a diety, by the establishment of the appropriate temple. “Political religion is dependent on the diety taking up residence at a given place with his chosen servants… “Residents are those dedicated to the deity, that is, servants of the deity and slaves of the deity, with the king as main representative and (son) servant of the diety.” Government was theocratic, for the well-being of the central deity.
It seems to me that in Jerusalem you had a Middle-Eastern city with a compassionate and ethical diety, concerned for the well-being of the inhabitants. The city elite liked the Greco-Roman idea of it all being for their benefit–but to the pious and the not-so-elite the more humanistic concept was intrinsically blasphemous, especially when the rulers of Rome took up deification as an alternate way of combining the two urban concepts.
And us, today? Back to Babel with Greco-Roman ideology. A plague of microNimbrods. Courts of “due process.” “For the people” long translated to “government of the non-elite, by the elite, now shamelessly for the elite.” Public projects carried out by people who know they can’t perform their supposed function. A vast secular priesthood devoted to instilling the worship of material wealth and destructive power. Elimination of any place for a subsistence existence–that much difference from “the Ancient City”–but the defacto difference may be roughly that between being a chicken in a traditional chicken yard, and living in a nice modern cage facility.
When I saw her I marveled greatly.
But the angel said to me, “Why marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.
“The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is to ascend from the bottomless pit and got to perdition. And the dwellers on Earth whose names have not been written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, will marvel to behold the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.
“This calls for a mind with wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen. One is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while.
“As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to perdition. And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast.
“These are of one mind, and give over their power and authority to the beast. They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.
Then one of the angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters, with whom the kings of the Earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on Earth have become drunk.”
And he carried me away in spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication, and on her forehead was written a name of great mystery: “Babylon the Great, Mother of Harlots and of Earth’s Abominations.”
And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.
The seventh angel poured his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the Temple, from the Throne, saying, “It is done!”
And there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such had never been since men were on the Earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell–and God remembered great Babylon, to make her drain the cup of the fury of His wrath.
And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found! And great hailstones, heavy as a hundredweight, dropped on men from heaven, till men cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague.
The sixth angel poured his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the East.
And I saw, issuing from the mouth of the Dragon and from the mouth of the Beast and from the mouth of the false prophet, three foul spirits like frogs–for they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great Day of God the Almighty. (“Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed.!”)
And they assembled them at the place which is called in Hebrew ‘Armageddon.’
So the first angel went and poured his bowl on the Earth, and foul & evil sores came upon the men who bore the mark of the beast and worshipped its image.
The second angel poured his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a dead man, and every living thing died that was in the sea.
The third angel poured his bowl into the rivers and the fountains of water, and they became blood. And I heard the Angel of Water say, “Just art Thou in these Thy judgements, Thou who art and wast, o Holy One! For men have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink! It is their due.”
And I heard the altar cry, “Yea, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are Thy judgments!”
The fourth angel poured his bowl on the Sun, and it was allowed to scorch men with fire; men were scorched by the fierce heat; and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues–but they did not repent and give Him glory.
The fifth angel poured his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was in darkness; men gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of Heaven for their pain and sores, but did not repent of their deeds.