The Roots of Babylon.
"We know where we're going
We know where we're from
We Leaving Babylon-
We goin to our Father's Land....."
(Robert Nesta Marley, Exodus)
The concept of Babylon plays a central role in Rastafarian Ideology: There is only one other word Rastafarians use with more frequency and passion, and that is the name of their Majestic Ruler, Haile Selassie. People who have even a mild interest in reggae understand what"Babylon"means, yet the roots of the word"Babylon"remain unknown to the masses. To gain a better understanding of this term, it is necessary know the full history of Babylon, which starts 6000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia.
The popular use of the word"Babylon"can be difinitively traced to Marcus Garvey's teachings, which liken the Afro-Caribs in the West to the Jews Exile into Babylon. The institution of slavery created tremendous suffering for those that were enslavedin both of these cases. Many people in Jamiaca are still suffering, due to the successor of slavery, which is racism and poverty. The Bible contains many stories of slavery that describe the hardship that was endured in acncient times, as well as the eventual emancipation from the hardship. Rastas have found much applicable meaning from within the Bible, and it is only natural that they identify with the Jews in Babylon, who faced much of the same obstacles that they themselves face. By labeling the source of their own oppression as"Babylon", the Rastas shed more light on the fact that opression is in fact taking place. This definitive name gives the oppression that they face a center, or a heart, which can be targeted easier. Instead of saying"Injustice must fall","Poverty must be alleviated", or"Jamaican legislation must represent its people", a Rasta need only say"Babylon must fall". When this centralized, encompassing word is used, it provides the Rasta with a target to be passionately against, and increases his sense of unity with his people.
The word Babylon is by no means an arbritary word that is used to describe oppression. Babylon was one of the first cities to ever stand on Earth. It is quite clear that there is much to be learned about this mythical city that will help us to better understand the modern"Babylon system". I believe that the modern definition of Babylon describes a type of mentality that is common to all the institutions that are labeled as being"Babylon". However, the essence of what this midframe is can be most closely encountered through the study of the real Babylon as it grew, prospered and fell thousands of years ago.
In a valley in the dry dessert region of the world that is now Iran, Babylon not only grew to a formiddable size, but also thrived, even amidst many changing factors. Babylonia was located between two rivers- the Euphrates, and the Tigris (hence the rivers of Babylon). Through simple irrigation, the Sumerian people of the desert were able to make use of the otherwise desolate land for some basic agriculture. Agriculture proved to be succesful, but the Sumerians desired more than just sustenance. Trade with other peoples became a very strong influence in the development of the city. To trade with foregn peoples was a very difficult and dangerous task. As a general rule, the larger the trading caravan was, the safer it was. This tendecency is one of the factors that promoted the growth of villages into cities. The resources and securities of a large and centralizated population were viewed as desirable. The first people in the area were the Sumerians, who had been living in bands. These Sumerian people developed the first Monarchy to ever exist, along with the first written language (Cuneiform). A complicated legal system, religion, and culture subsequently developed under the monarchy. Their first City States formed between 4000 and 3000 BC. These City-States went through various stages of conflict and collaboration. But within the next hundred years, a people called Akkadians migrated up the Arabian penisula. The Akkadian people battled the Sumerian peoples, and eventually they controlled all the City-States. This forceful take-over is particularly interesting, because of the high degree of Sumerian influence that remained after they were conquered. The Sumerian Cities were taken by the Akkadians, yet the Akkadians ended up absorbing much of the Sumerian culture, laws, and religion, and letting go of their own culture. It has been theorized that this was the case because the Sumerian peoples system of operating a city was effective, and much of its culture was complimentary to the oprations of the city.
The original"Babylon system"is exposed to us as something was somewhat self-perpetuating. These bold new cities in Babylon couldn't possibly function without Beaurocracy. Beaurocracy was a new concept. In order to the feed the city people who worked, but didn't produce their own food, there needed to be middle men. These middle men had the task of figuring out the ammount of food that needed to be grown, etc. And this is where written records became of high importance. The writing style began as heiolyphic-like pictures, and quickly evolved into cunieform- a letter system consisting of wedge shaped scrapes. This new field that emerged; the field of record keeping and beaurocracy, can be considered to be the most influential role in creating what we call the"Babylon Mentality". The Babylonians saw this element of calcuting and coputing as a most important pursuit, and it quickly became a predominant mentality in the cities_. The Babylonians avidly pursued facts, numbers, measurements, workings, etc. They developed a complicated astrologocal charts, and detailed anatomony charts through observation.
"For these observers, whose knowledge was deeply rooted in primitive ideas, the heavenly bodies which they studied over the centuries were living gods, whose ordered movements in space, correctly interpreted, could be used as a guide in the daily activity of men."(Babylon-The old Babylonian era)
The Babylonians were solely concerned with the material aspect of living, and the way that they practiced religion mirrors this tendency. The first records of any written language are traced back to about 5000 BC in Mesopotamia. This language was originally used for accounting purposes and continued to develop throughout the era in which Babylon stood. The scientific, logical mentality that governed their lives, extended into, as well as received from, their religion. They were, in fact, a very religious and superstitous people, but the deities they believed in had concrete ties to the realm of physicality. Babylonian people believed in Polytheism. To believe in multiple Gods seems slightly absurd to the modern person. However, the effect it had on its people is similar to the increasingly popular modern religion known as Atheism. It becomes apparent how the"Babylon Mentality"of the modern Rastafarian vocabulary has a truthful synonomity with the Ancient Babylon's way of thinking.
It is important to look at the context in which the kingdom of Babylon stood in order to better understand what it stands for and what its final outcome was. The era surrounding about 1600 BC serves as a good point by which the different Empires of the past can be understood in relation to eachother. Many other great Narions grew powerful soon after Babylon did. In the 1600's BC:
-Babylon was already large and powerful nation, under King Hamurabi's rule
-The Mycennean (Greek) Empire was growing to significant power.
-Rome did not yet exist, nor did the Mesoamerican civilizations (such as the Mayans)
-Ancient Egypt was at that the beginning of its great empire, already with Pharoahs, pyramids, and hyroglyphics.
-It was at this time that the Jews wandered from their homeland to Egypt due to famine, and were taken by the Egyptians as slaves.
Egypt has a particular relevence to the topic of Babylon. The Biblical book of Exodus is written almost solely about the Jewish enslavement in Egypt. For this reason, Egypt can be looked upon as another"Babylon". The most obvious difference between Egyptian opression and Babylon oppresion is the fact that the Jewish people came to Egypt on their own accord, but in the Babylonian scenario, the Jews were captured and brought into slavery. Looking at both cases, it becomes apparent that ancient Egypt was just as oppresive as the ancient Babylon. However, there is one quality that makes Babylon different from this other great nation that like Babylon, rose, prospered, and fell. Babylon valued the pursuit of knowledge of the world, where the subjective perception of the individual is secondary. This mentality promotes the creatrion of efficiency and innovation. Also, this non-acknowledgement of the self can in fact create a superficially unified (but unified non-the-less) people. City life creates changes in the way that its residents think, and view themselves. This is the same tendency that is later seen in Mycennean culture, as well as Roman culture.
The term Babylon is used in Rasta terms with much negative connotations. It is something that they are radically opposed to. Corruption, politics, police, laws, and cities are often reffered to as"Babylon". Although it is possible to see these mechanisms as having qualities that are detrimental to the well-being of any society, there are elements of oppresion that take shape through these various creations of civilization. These mechanisms were created out of neccesity, else civilization would fall apart. (Note: It is quite possible that there are benefits of living in more natural, smaller bands of people, but we will assume that in the Mesopotamian era, people valued the security and various facilities of city life.) There are oppressive aspects of police, politics and laws that cause them to be labeled as Babylon, although it is not true to say that these insitutions where created with the intent of harm. The harm that is brought about stems from the institution's ignorance or insesitivity to the suffering that is created. Ignorance and insensivity are not always syncronous with evil and malice- many times they are the necessary first steps to wisdom and higher intuition. However, it is not my intention to defend these mechanisms of civilization, because it can be argued that these institutions are still oppressive, 4000 years later.
The materialistic nature of Ancient Babylon provides us with sharp contrasting element to the Rastafarian Ideology. Rastafarian religion places high value on the natural world as something that should be lived in harmony with, but not controlled. The Rastafarians believe that they should live their life as Jah intends is to be lived. The emphasis here is on the personal, subjective understanding of one's purpose in life. The ancient Babylon mentality that is prevalent today, has many contrary elements to Rastafarian ideology. For example, modern society values its members according to their wealth, and ability to work in a"professional"setting. The Babylon mentality sees daily life as serving a utility, but does not place importance on the experiential and mystical elements of living.