Sunday 17 February 2013

Babble On

If you come across someone citing Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons as a credible source, run like the wind.

Moreso when a writer - particularly one living alongside the rest of us in the twenty-first century - calls it "densely researched and thoroughly documented," as James McBride, a Church of God minister in the United Kingdom, does in this article.

The Two Babylons was a piece of creative anti-Catholic invective written in an age when certain sects of Protestantism could hardly bring themselves to regard Catholicism as Christian.  The final edition appeared in 1919, though it first appeared as a pamphlet as far back as 1853.

Fifty or so years ago an American evangelist named Ralph Woodrow vigorously promoted Hislop's arguments through his own 'evangelistic association'. Then the unthinkable happened. Someone confronted his dogma with a few pertinent facts. Woodrow, to his everlasting credit, did a 180 degree turn, withdrawing his popular 1966 book, Babylon Mystery Religion. He wrote:
"As a young evangelist, I began to preach on the mixture of paganism with Christianity, and eventually I wrote a book based on Hislop, titled Babylon Mystery Religion (Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Assn., 1966). In time, my book became quite popular, went through many printings, and was translated into Korean, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and several other languages. Hundreds quoted from it. Some regarded me as an authority on the subject of "pagan mixture." Evan the noted Roman Catholic writer Karl Keating said, "Its best-known proponent is Ralph Woodrow, author of Babylon Mystery Religion".

"Many preferred my book over The Two Babylons because it was easier to read and understand. Sometimes the two books were confused with each other, and once I even had the experience of being greeted as "Reverend Hislop"! As time went on, however, I began to hear rumblings that Hislop was not a reliable historian, I heard this from a history teacher and in letters from people who heard this perspective expressed on the Bible Answer Man radio program. Even the Worldwide Church of God began to take a second look at the subject.  As a result, I realized I needed to go back through Hislop’s work, my basic source, and prayerfully check it out.  As I did this, it became clear: Hislop’s "history" was often only an arbitrary piecing together of ancient myths."
It seems some modern writers have still to catch up with Ralph Woodrow.

Wikipedia even has an entry on The Two Babylons, and while Wikipedia may not always be the best place to go for a serious discussion of theological issues, it has a very fair summary in this case.
"It has been generally regarded by scholars as discredited, with one calling it a "tribute to historical inaccuracy and know-nothing religious bigotry" with "shoddy scholarship, blatant dishonesty" and a "nonsensical thesis"...

"Although scholarship has shown the picture presented by Hislop to be based on a misunderstanding of historical Babylon and its religion, his book remains popular among some fundamentalist Protestant Christians. The book's thesis has also featured prominently in the conspiracy theories of racist groups..."
It speaks for itself that an organisation like Chick Publications continues to sell this discredited material, even labelling it "a classic." In other words, Hislop is the refuge of dilettantes, and there is zero excuse for anyone, conservative Bible believers included, lending credence to nonsense of this sort.


  1. Heh. Chick Publications. Those funny little comics left in train and bus station bathrooms, in bars and restaurants as tokens of personal evangelism. There was even a parody of them in National Lampoon back in the 1970's.

    One of the things that grieves me most about the Hislop thingie is that back in 1965 when I was a Junior in High School, my Dad was reading "The Two Babylons". A year later, Woodrow's second opus came out, and one would have thought that error would have been exposed and corrected. Yet, Hislop continued to be lauded by WCG as totally credible during my brief two years ('66-'68) at Ambassador College, and right up until I left the church following the Great Disappointment of 1975.

    Things never change in Armstrongism. British Israelism is still one of the cornerstones, and look at how many ways that has been debunked just in the past ten years since the mapping of the human genome.


  2. Reported due to a glitch earlier in the day.

    Corky has left a new comment on your post "Babble On":

    The same "Hislop" method is used in Bart Ehrman's book, "Did Jesus Exist?" - which doesn't prove anything except the author's own presumption.

    Hislop knew "the truth", so he had no qualms about bending and twisting things a bit to show it.

    One thing is for sure, Rome is not the city called "Mystery Babylon" because it is where the prophets were killed - which makes Jerusalem "that great city".

    Flies in the ointment...Ehrman has flies in the ointment too. One of those flies is that if his thesis was true, Paul the apostle would have converted to Christianity 3-7 years before Jesus was even crucified. 44 - 17 = 27, not counting how long Paul was in Arabia or how many years Galatians was written before the famine.

    But, rest assured, the "false prophet" in the Apocalypse of John is not the Pope. Instead of a prophecy that was "shortly" to come to pass because the time was "at hand" - it never came to pass at all - except for the destruction of Jerusalem, which had already happened (or was happening) when the book was written. "Behold, I come quickly" doesn't mean "quickly", it means thousands of years. I wonder why John didn't say so...

  3. I recall that when I first began attending the WCG back in the Sixties, one could order Hislop's book through the local WCG. It was considered by many to be a companion to the Bible much like Hoeh's Compendium. It either rooted or strengthened in the WCG the idea of pervasive pagan influence in our lives. I know of people who would not wear wedding rings because they were pagan. People who regarded the paisley design to be pagan. When many of the religion nerds could not find a conspiracy that nobody knew about but them to occupy their time, they could fill in their free moments by finding new places that paganism had found inroads into our lives. Hislop was a "chuch father" to these people. Oddly, WCG women every year went out and took advantage of post-Christmas sales, a consequent of a pagan observation. I guess you don't want to take things too far.

    -- Neo

    1. Everything is "Pagan"; from the paisley design on your shirt to your wedding ring to the names of the days of the week to the names of the months of the year. But, it's not really "pagan" because pagan only means the ignorant and illiterate country folks of ancient times. "Heathen" is the correct word for the religions other than Judaism and Christianity. Unless, of course, you happen to be Muslim - then "heathen" also means Christians.

      In other words, the "pagans" didn't influence anybody, the pagans were influenced by everybody else.

  4. Yes, what kind of arrogance makes Hislop/Protestants/Adventists.., think their beliefs are unique and owe nothing to previous speculations/superstitions. The evidence says otherwise.(Hislop making a very dubious differential with his Roman brethren).

  5. The production of Religious mythology was prolific in Babylon & Egypt, then much of this stuff was rejiggered by post-exilic Jews. And then this rejiggered bunkum was re-rejiggered by Saul of Tarsus (would incite 1600 yrs of bloodshed).

    Mythological productivity slowed dramatically after the Enlightenment with its emphasis on science/evidence, but still found fertile ground in the American colony - with extreme fanatics like Ellen White & Joseph Smith.

  6. Hislop was doing well publishing the final version of his book in 1919 when he had been dead for fifty years! Perhaps he is not the only person guilty of 'historical inaccuracy' and 'shoddy scholarship'. Have you read the book?

    1. Read it, owned it. The 1919 edition is the one still in print, though obviously it was produced after Hislop's death.