“Too Bad, Too Bad, You Great City”
OF ALL the cities in the world that claim to be great, it would seem that none would be more entitled to do so than those considered religiously sacred. But the words “too bad, too bad” indicate that the religious city called “great” at Revelation 18:10 obviously lacks divine approval, as we will see later.
Crossing Over to Immortality?
Sacred Hindu cities in India are called tīrthas, meaning “crossings” or “fords.” Many, like Banaras (also called Benares, Kasi, or Varanasi), are located on the banks of rivers. But they are understood to be, not literal crossings, but rather spiritual fords that supposedly allow humans to cross life’s waters safely to a better life beyond.
An encyclopedia says: “Vārānasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world . . . , the first Aryan settlement in the middle Ganges valley.” It was a religious center as early as the second millennium B.C.E. Although a Hindu city, it also appears in the annals of Buddhism and Islam. During the sixth century B.C.E., while Banaras was capital of the Kingdom of Kasi, Buddha preached his first sermon nearby. Islam entered the picture in 1194, when Muslims took control of the city.
Located in northern India on the river Ganges, Banaras is one of the country’s seven most holy Hindu cities. Within its borders a symbolic place has been assigned each Hindu god and each of the other great tīrthas. Thus, The Encyclopedia of Religion calls the city “a microcosm of India’s sacred geography.” It adds: “The intensity of power that comes from the symbolic gathering of gods, tīrthas, and sages in this one place has made Banaras India’s most widely acclaimed place of pilgrimage.”
Hindus consider Banaras a most auspicious place to die. The popular phrase Kāśyām maranam muktih means “Death in Kasi is liberation.” Tradition says that anyone dying there will be instructed by Siva himself, tantamount to being carried “across the flood of samsāra to the ‘far shore’ of immortality.”*
Like rivers everywhere, the Ganges twists its way past prosperous cities, absorbing sewage and chemicals as it goes. Meanwhile, devout Hindus, as dictated by religious tradition, cast an estimated 10,000 dead bodies into the river daily. At the same time, pilgrims, oblivious to the unmistakable danger of disease, descend the steps along the riverbanks to engage in religious bathing. Is this really the way to immortality?
How Eternal Is the “Eternal City”?
Another river, possibly once called Albula in reference to the whiteness of its waters, flows through a religious city in Europe, the “Eternal City” of the seven hills. The river, having long lost its whiteness, is now known as the Tiber. And the city has long outgrown its seven hills. Nevertheless, “the heritage of the past that survives in Rome,” notes The New Encyclopædia Britannica, is “unsurpassed in any city of the West.”
Dozens of monuments and historical buildings testify to this heritage. That they have survived at all is amazing, considering the many times the city has been conquered and plundered—at the beginning of the fourth century B.C.E. by the Gauls and in the Common Era, by the Visigoths in 410, the Vandals in 455, the Normans in 1084, imperial mercenary troops in 1527, Napoleon’s army in 1798, and the Germans and the Allies during World War II.
Although the original walled city of Rome makes up only 4 percent of the total area of the modern city, it is the Rome that millions of tourists flock to see, for it is where most of the monuments are located. Another tourist attraction, at least in early 1993, was the exhibition “Sixtus V and Rome.” As pope from 1585 to 1590, Sixtus left such a lasting imprint on the face of Rome that he has been called “the father of modern town planning.” Explaining why he remodeled Rome, The European wrote: “First, to provide a solid architectural base for the affirmation of Vatican power against the Protestant threat. . . . Second, to make the city of Rome, in many ways still a provincial market town, the worthy seat of the New Jerusalem.”
Vatican City, a tiny enclave of Rome, claims to be this “seat of the New Jerusalem.” In 1929 the Fascist Italian government signed the Lateran Treaty, thereby recognizing the sovereignty of Vatican City. Since then the pope has ruled that city with absolute executive, legislative, and judicial authority. The Vatican has its own postal and telephone system and its own army, including the uniformed Swiss Guards, responsible for protecting the pope. But what tourists chiefly want to see is St. Peter’s Basilica, for centuries the largest church in Christendom. This distinction was lost in 1989 with the completion of the basilica in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire.
The New Encyclopædia Britannica says that “for 1,000 years, to be a citizen of Rome was to hold the keys to the world, to live in safety, pride, and relative comfort.” But no longer! Political corruption in Rome and religious stagnation in Vatican City prove the so-called glories of yesterday to be less than eternal.
Islam’s Holiest Place
About a billion Muslims throughout the world view the city of Mecca as “the site of divine, angelic, prophetic, and auspicious human activity since the primordial moment of creation.”* According to Islam it is where creation began, where Abraham built the first house of worship, and where he took his concubine Hagar and their son, Ishmael.
More recently, probably about 570 C.E., Mecca, Saudi Arabia, was where the prophet Muḥammad was born. At first his teachings met with little response. Mecca was an oasis on the caravan trade route between India and Europe, and its powerful merchants feared that his religious reforms might lead to an economic slowdown. Failing to get a foothold there, the prophet turned to Yathrib, which became known as Al-Madīnah (Medina), a city over 200 miles [300 km] to the northeast. But in 630 C.E., he returned to Mecca, captured it, and made it the spiritual center of Islam.
Today Mecca is a wealthy and cosmopolitan city, even though only Muslims may reside there. During Dhuʼl-Hijja, the holy month of pilgrimaging, millions visit to fulfill their religious duty of hajj. While in Mecca pilgrims visit the Sacred Mosque, where they walk seven times around a small shrine located near the center of the mosque’s roofless courtyard.
This shrine is the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure normally covered by a large curtain of black brocade and containing the sacred Black Stone. This stone, which Muslims believe was given to Adam for the forgiveness of sins upon his expulsion from Eden, was then supposedly white. In Muslim tradition the original Kaaba perished in Noah’s Flood, but the Black Stone was preserved and later given to Abraham by the angel Gabriel, after which Abraham rebuilt the Kaaba and restored the Black Stone to its proper place. It is in the direction of the Kaaba—according to Islam the holiest place on earth—that Muslims orient themselves in prayer five times a day.
Twenty-four gates lead into the courtyard of the Sacred Mosque, but the traditional entrance for pilgrims is the Gate of Peace, located at the northern corner. Still, things are not always peaceful during the hajj. In 1987, Islamic dissidents attempted to take control of the mosque. Order was soon restored but not before over 400 Muslims were killed and some 650 injured. Such an obvious lack of peace at the most holy of all Islamic shrines is regrettable, but Muslims gain comfort from Islamic teaching, according to which anyone who dies while on the hajj gains immediate entry to heaven.
Possession of Twofold Peace?
Jerusalem, viewed by Jews and professed Christians as the Holy City and by Muslims as the third most holy place on earth (behind Mecca and Medina), means “Possession of Twofold Peace.” From 1070 B.C.E., it was the capital city of ancient Israel, although it existed almost 900 years earlier under the name Salem. (Genesis 14:18) As the administrative center of the nation, it was strategically located, nestled among hills at an altitude of about 2,500 feet [750 m] above sea level, making it at that time one of the highest capitals in the world.
In the fourth century B.C.E., Jerusalem came under Greek control. By the second century B.C.E., it was increasingly influenced by an expanding Roman power. During the rule of Herod the Great, Jerusalem prospered. Part of the courtyard wall of the temple that he built apparently still stands, now known as the Western (Wailing) Wall. Because the Jews tried to throw off the Roman yoke, Roman armies attacked Jerusalem in April 70 C.E. Less than five months later, the city and its temple lay in ruins.
According to one reckoning, Jerusalem has been conquered 37 times. In many cases this resulted in either its partial or its total destruction. But a new Jerusalem has always arisen on top of the old. So in about 130 C.E., Emperor Hadrian ordered a new city built, one named Aelia Capitolina. No Jew was allowed to enter it for nearly two centuries. Then, in the first half of the seventh century C.E., the Muslims captured the city and later built the Dome of the Rock on or near the former temple site.
The modern State of Israel was founded in 1948, and in 1949, Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan. But in 1967, during the Six-Day War, the Israelis captured its eastern half. Since then they have modernized the city, while trying to retain its historical integrity. By 1993 its population was over half a million.
With three major world religions all viewing Jerusalem as sacred, religious tensions sometimes run high. “Of all the conflicts between Jews and Arabs, that over Jerusalem is the most complex and intractable,” notes Time. For the present there is little evidence of the twofold peace that Jerusalem’s name promises.
“Your Cities Will Become a Desolate Ruin”
The city mentioned at Revelation 18:10 symbolizes all religions displeasing to God. “Too bad, too bad, you great city, Babylon you strong city, because in one hour your judgment has arrived!” Plainly, this means that religion in opposition to Jehovah God is doomed. Despite their temples, ceremonies, and religious paraphernalia, today’s “great” cities of religion will offer no lasting protection on God’s day of judgment.
“Samsara” is understood by Hindus to mean the transmigration of an eternal, imperishable soul.
Islam: Beliefs and Teachings, published by The Muslim Educational Trust, claims that “the latest population of Muslims all over the world might nearly be 1,100 million.”
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The sacred mosque of Mecca and the Kaaba
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The Jewish Wailing Wall of Jerusalem and the Muslim Dome of the Rock (left)