“Babel,” “Babylon,” and esotericism

The Hebrew word for “Babylon” is actually babel—as in, the “Tower of Babel.”  Most English translations of the Old Testament translate babel as “Babylon,” but the English word “Babylon” is of Greek derivation (the Greek word is babylōn or babulōn, depending on how you choose to transliterate it).  That means that whenever an Old Testament prophet thundered against “Babylon,” what he actually had in mind was “Babel”:  the very same “Babel” that we all associate with the “Tower of Babel” and the “confusing of language” or “confusion of tongues” that purportedly took place there.

Furthermore, since much of the language and symbolism in the Book of Revelation is taken from the Old Testament prophetical writings, that suggests that when the author of the Book of Revelation wrote about “mystery Babylon” or “secret Babylon,” what he actually had in mind may have also been the “Babel” that we associate with the “Tower of Babel”—and, in turn, with a “confusing of language” or “confusion of tongues.”

That this is indeed what the author of Revelation had in mind is suggested by Revelation 17:1, in which the famous “great harlot” of Babylon is described as “sitting upon many waters.”  (Why “many”?)  Then, in Revelation 17:15, the angel says to the author, “The waters that you saw where the harlot sits are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.”  Compare this to Genesis 11:6-9.

The Bible is a deeply esoteric book.  But it is my position that the Bible is not only an esoteric book—it is also, from beginning to end, and more than anything, a book about esotericism.  Moreover, I believe that the enormous importance of the symbol of “Babylon” in the Bible is due to its association with the notion of a “confusion of tongues”—which I think is really another way of saying:  Esotericism.  In other words:  Riddles.  Enigmas.  “Dark sayings.”  Cryptic parables.  Encoded meanings.  Allegorical symbols.  Gibberish.

The Bible is one of the most paradoxical books ever written, because, even while being so thoroughly esoteric, it is my belief that the Bible’s most central and important “inner meaning” is that it is completely opposed to all esotericism.  When a person makes an effort to look for evidence of this particular “inner meaning,” it is actually not all that hard to find.  While it’s true that the authors’ understanding of that meaning must have been partly unconscious, I nonetheless believe that this was the most central “inner meaning” that they wanted to convey to the reader.  It was a meaning that some “part” of each of their unconscious minds was, through the use of obscure symbolism, trying to “smuggle past” the “guards” set up by some other “part” of each of their own unconscious minds—the same kind of psychological “part” that could also be found in many of their readers.

In short, there is reason to think that the symbolic “fall of Babylon” should be regarded as signifying the end of esotericism.  My own position is that religous esotericism is actually just a form of lying—in fact, an exceedingly dangerous form of lying, one which has had a catastrophic impact on humanity.  And there is reason to think that the author of the Book of Revelation—whether consciously or unconsciously—agreed with me, since it seems he believed that when symbolic “Babylon” fell and the “new Jerusalem” came into being, the Lie itself would come to an end as an active force in the world.  As proof, notice the special and repeated emphasis that the author gives to lying and liars in Revelation 21:8, 21:27, and 22:15.

If you’re interested in learning more about these arguments and ideas, a good place to start would be to read Part I of my essay, Against the Lie, in which I address these and related ideas.