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.