Sunday, September 27, 2009

Manhunter analysis - part 17: The Whore of Babylon and the Beast of Revelation


Whore of Babylon (colored woodcut from Luther's bible translation for Revelation 17). [Image: public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

In part 15 of the analysis, we discussed how Manhunter makes reference to the biblical book of Revelation by its use of William Blake's painting, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun.[a] Later, in part 16, we explored the use of contrapasso in the movie, including that regarding the death of Mrs. Leeds. We can make a connection between these two aspects of the movie if we go back to Lecktor's 'book code', in particular, to Revelation 18:7 (in part 13, a breakdown of the entire book code was given). Revelation 18:7 reads [New International Version], "Give her as much torment and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, 'I sit enthroned as queen. I am not a widow; I will never mourn.'" The first part of the verse is obviously suggestive of contrapasso, but then we must ask, who is referred to by "she" and "her"? Who is this woman whom the bible says lived luxuriously, and now must suffer torment and grief?

To answer this question, we must first provide ourselves with some background knowledge by going to the beginning of Revelation 17, which falls under 'The Great Whore and the Beast'. Below are quoted verses 1-6 of Revelation chapter 17 [New International Version]:

1. One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. 2. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries." 3. Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. 5. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: babylon the great the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth. 6. I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God's holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished.

Babylon was an actual city which existed during the time the author of Revelation lived. It was the capital of Babylonia, a civilization in Lower Mesopotamia, and has long held a place in Abrahamic religions as a symbol of excess and dissolute power. Many references are made to Babylon in the bible, both literally and allegorically. The mentions in the Old Testament tend to be historical or prophetic, while New Testament references are more likely figurative, or cryptic references possibly to pagan Rome, or some other archetype.[b] The important thing to note here is that in the book of Revelation, Babylon is mainly an allegorical kingdom. In the above passage, the woman on the beast is The Whore of Babylon, a Christian allegorical figure of evil. The Whore's apocalyptic downfall is prophesied to take place in the hands of the beast with seven heads and ten horns.

There is much speculation within all Christian religious perspectives on what the Whore and Beast symbolize, but for our current purposes, it is sufficient to simply say that the Whore represents Babylon itself. We then need to determine whether there is a character in the movie who represents the Whore, and then see what Babylon itself represents within the context of the movie, i.e., which allegorical interpretation(s) of Babylon is/are being used by the movie-makers. As mentioned above, ancient Rome is one possible interpretation. Many protestant and non-catholic churches interpret the Whore of Babylon to be the Catholic Church which is in union with the pope. Also, one preterist interpretation of the Whore is that she represents Earthly Jerusalem. Many Biblical scholars and theologians point out that although Rome was the prevailing pagan power in the 1st century when the book of Revelation was written, the symbolism of the Whore of Babylon refers not to an invading infidel of foreign power, but to an apostate false queen, a former "bride" who has been unfaithful and who, even though she has been divorced and cast out because of unfaithfulness, continues to falsely claim to be the "queen" of the spiritual realm. This symbolism did not fit the case of Rome at the time. Proponents of this view suggest that the "seven mountains" in Rev 17:9 are the seven hills on which Jerusalem stands and the "fall of Babylon" in Rev 18 is the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The dress of the Whore of Babylon is similar to the Jerusalem High Priest in Exodus 28:6.

Several Old Testament prophets referred to Jerusalem as being a spiritual harlot and a mother of such harlotry (Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:1–11; Ezekiel 16:1–43; Ezekiel 23, Galatians 4:25). Some of these Old Testament prophecies as well as the warnings in the New Testament concerning Jerusalem are in fact very close to the text concerning Babylon in Revelation, suggesting that John of Patmos, author of the book of Revelation, may well have actually been citing those prophecies in his description of Babylon.

For example, in Matthew 23:34–37 and Luke 11:47–51, Jesus himself assigned all of the bloodguilt for the killing of the prophets and of the saints (of all time) to the Pharisees of Jerusalem, and, in Revelation 17:6 and 18:20,24, almost identical phrasing is used in charging that very same bloodguilt to Babylon. This is also bolstered by Jesus' statement that "it's not possible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem." (Luke 13:33)[c]

Mrs. Leeds represents the Whore of Babylon in Manhunter. For it is Francis Dollarhyde who killed Mrs. Leeds, and he represents a 'Satan figure', as does the Beast of Revelation (the beast described in the passage above; as an aside, note that both this beast, and the red dragon from Revelation 12, have seven heads and ten horns). We know this beast caused the death of the Whore of Babylon, because Revelation 17:16 [New International Version] says, "The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire."

According to idealist eschatology, the beast represents the kingdoms that will bear rule over the world from Adam till the second coming of Christ. While in the spirit, this beast is seen as a personality as in Revelation 19:20, in the physical sense he is represented at different ages throughout the period of human existence as different kingdoms. The import of this interpretation is that as the Whore - Mystery Babylon (in Revelation) - is seen to be riding this beast, the beast is in other words the seat of operation of the whore from where she is expressed, and by whom her dominion is exercised. This corresponds to Revelation 13 where the power exercised by this beast was completely that of the dragon. This brings to light the scriptural fact that the government of the nations are puppets in the hands of this beast consistent with the truth that the whole world system is under the dragon, the god of this world.[d]

a. Improperly identified by Dollarhyde as 'The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Rays of the Sun'.
b. Wikipedia, 'Babylon'. Web, n.d. URL =
c. Wikipedia, 'Whore of Babylon'. Web, n.d. URL =
d. Wikipedia, 'The Beast (Revelation)'. Web, n.d. URL =


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