Response to Paher: Economic Status of Babylon

This is my response to part two of Stanley Paher’s review of my book, Who Is This Babylon?. In his part two, Paher argues that the description of Babylon, contained in Revelation 18, does not fit first century Jerusalem, due to the economic prowess of the city described there.

As I state in my response to part 1, Stanley Paher is my friend. However, he and I differ sharply on the identity of Babylon of Revelation.

Paher claims that, advocates of "the A.D. 70 doctrine focus almost exclusively upon the world in front of the text,’ relying on interpreting Greek word meanings and constructing alleged parallels involving similar scriptural figures and language as necessarily referring to the same event. (A.D. 70). This narrowly defined approach places final authority almost exclusively upon the express words of scripture, internal considerations." (P. 1)

To this "accusation" I can only plead guilty as charged. What Paher is saying is, the advocates of the A.D. 70 view accept the testimony of scripture as the final authority to settle questions such as the identity of Babylon in Revelation. Well, my response to that is, what is wrong with accepting the internal testimony of scripture?

Does this present scribe rely on the definition of Greek words to support my argumentation? Yes. What Bible student does not do that? In Paher’s part one, he attempted to argue from the definition of the Greek word thlipsis, that the persecution in Revelation was different than that found in Acts and the epistles. However, I showed that the word is not used in Revelation to speak of a persecution distinctive from that in Acts and the epistles. Was Paher wrong to appeal to the definition of thlipsis? He certainly seemed to be relying on the definition of that Greek word, the very practice for which he condemns me.

Does this scribe rely on the consistent usage of Biblical language, including figures of speech, to help interpret Biblical passages? Yes, and virtually all commentators with which I am familiar — including Stanley Paher — utilizes this principle in the identical way.

Paher cites the works on Biblical Hermeneutics by Berkhoff and Milton Terry to prove that an interpreter must allow both external and internal considerations to lead one "toward a non-forced interpretation of a literary text." (P. 1). He presents these quotes to imply that advocates of Covenant Eschatology eschew these principles in a headlong and single-minded rush to justify their position.

What Paher overlooks, in the main, is that every advocate of Covenant Eschatology, at least everyone that I am familiar with, 1.) Operates on the principles of interpretation set forth in the standard works on hermeneutics, 2.) Came from a different theological background than Covenant Eschatology. This means that they changed their views, often radically, from those taught them in their respective fellowships. Speaking personally, I came to my current understanding of eschatology, not because I changed my hermeneutical approach to scripture, but because I began applying my hermeneutical principles more consistently. In short, I began applying consistently the principles that I found in the books on hermeneutics.

Furthermore, whereas Paher chides preterists for "constructing alleged parallels involving similar scriptural figures and language as necessarily referring to the same event" it is fascinating to examine Paher’s writings.

In his book Matthew 24: First Century Fulfillment or End-Time Expectation, Paher examines the Day of the Lord language of Matthew 24:29-31, that is, the language of the darkening of the sun, the moon turning to blood, the stars falling from the sky, etc. and says, "The last part of this prophecy climaxing with ‘the day of the Lord,’ by the interpretative principle of correspondence must be properly applied to the same era, certainly within a generation. Fulfillment is therefore in the fall of Jerusalem." (Matthew, 137) Please take careful note of what Paher is saying.

Paher goes to the Old Covenant prophetic language, and sees there that the language of "de-creation," the destruction of creation, and the coming of the Lord is invariably metaphoric. Further, he sees that in Matthew 24, Jesus is utilizing that language. Thus, by the interpretative principle of correspondence, Paher concludes that the language of Matthew 24:29-31 cannot be literalized to speak of a yet future end of time. Well, guess what? That is precisely the hermeneutical principle that advocates of Covenant Eschatology use to conclude that the language of 1 Corinthians 15:50-51, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 2 Thessalonians 1:4f, etc. is also metaphoric.

Paher uses the interpretive principle of correspondence as a valid and sound principle in Matthew. However, he rejects its use in Romans, Corinthians, Thessalonians and other texts, demanding that the "long established apocalyptic language" (Matthew, 140), no longer applies in these texts.

What is the Authority?
Where Paher and I differ, sharply, is that he considers external, i.e. non-Biblical, evidence to be of almost equal authority as the Biblical (internal) evidence. I unashamedly reject this principle. In my view, if the Bible and a "historical" source differ, I will take the testimony of scripture as determinative and final any day. Paher and I have discussed this many times, and I simply cannot bring myself to accept position that the patristic writers should be honored in the same way as the Bible. While I respect the early Christian writers, they were not inspired by the Holy Spirit, and were prone to not only historical errors, but were, in many instances, simply prejudiced in their presentations.

For instance, Robert Grant, has written, "In ancient and modern times, Eusebius of Caesarea has found severe critics of his historical reliability, but there is a question whether or not these critics have gone as far as they should go. It seems highly probable that under the influence of his apologetic purposes Eusebius suppressed, neglected, or falsified a good deal of the historical information available to him."[1][i] Now, when such things can and are said of the greatest of the early church fathers, one should be extremely cautious about accepting their testimony as almost of equal authority as Paul, Peter, John, etc..

Thus, in my consideration of the evidence for the dating of Revelation, I make no apologies for saying that the internal evidence far outweighs, authoritatively, the external evidence of the patristic writers, or Roman historians. If Paher wishes to ridicule this attitude then so be it. To paraphrase Luther from long ago, "Unless convinced of by scripture that I am wrong, here I stand. I can do no other."

Citing the Authorities
Paher says, "Preston constantly relies on carefully picked, rather obscure modern religious ‘authorities’ in interpreting the Babylon symbol of Revelation as Jerusalem." (P. 3). This is a ludicrous claim that can easily be falsified by anyone reading my book! And, interestingly, Paher, in the context of condemning my citation of these "carefully picked, rather obscure modern religious ‘authorities’" alludes to my citation of Joachin Jeremias.

Now, anyone even remotely familiar with the scholarly world would hardly call Jeremias "obscure." He is one of the most recognized Biblical scholars of modern times, and acknowledged as a world class authority on the Jewish world of the first century. His work, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, is hardly considered obscure, or unreliable. The problem is, Paher has a troubling tendency to denigrate any authority that does not agree with his views. This is a good debater’s trick, but is hardl
y becoming anyone seeking to establish credibility.

Further, Paher uses another debater’s trick when he says, "Preston cites a solitary contemporary source — Josephus — as an ancient who recorded the fact that Jerusalem’s maritime places ‘extend as far as Ptolemias.’" Well, is not one contemporary source worth more than many sources 1900 years removed from the time? The historical reliability of Josephus has been confirmed time and again. Yet, because Josephus’ testimony is an emphatic denial of Paher’s views, Paher seeks to discredit Josephus’ testimony.

Paher’s depreciation of Josephus’ testimony is all the more strange considering that in his work on Matthew 24, Paher cites Josephus repeatedly to substantiate his claims about the occurrences of A.D. 70. Why does Paher cites Josephus so many times in his work on Matthew 24 if he does not think him to be a good first century contemporary authority?

Paher is adept at making specious claims, claims that must be read carefully to see the sleight of hand that is taking place. He says that because Ptolemias, referred to by Josephus, was "a scant few miles away" from Jerusalem, that this proves that, "Jeremias errs in saying that first century Jerusalem’s foreign trade extended to Greece, India, etc." (P. 3). I am amazed at my friend’s lack of logic here.

Just how does the fact that Ptolemias was near to Jerusalem prove that Jerusalem could not have had commercial ties with Greece, India, etc? This is the worst sort of presuppositional thinking. That is akin to saying that because Cuba is so close to the US, that America could, therefore, not have international trade ties with India? Where is the logic in such an assertion?

Further, Paher reasons that because Josephus, "makes no mention of the merchants of the earth" (p. 3) that this means that Revelation 18:3 must refer to Rome and not Jerusalem. Argumentation from silence can be, and sometimes is, significant. However, to argue that Josephus’ silence implies a denial of Jerusalem as Babylon, is fruitless and carries no weight. For this argument of silence to carry any weight at all, one must demonstrate that Josephus should have used the term.

What we are saying here is that Paher has a very dubious and troubling habit in regard to the citation of authorities. He depreciates the testimony of a first century eye-witness, and then labels as obscure, one of the most prominent New Testament historians of the day in order to mitigate the power of his testimony. Such tactics are troubling indeed.

Jerusalem and Commerce
Paher says, "Jeremias wildly asserts that foreign trade to Jerusalem consisted of precious metals, luxury goods." (P. 3). Is it a wild assertion on the part of Jeremias to say that Jerusalem imported precious metals and luxury goods?

Eminent Jewish Christian scholar Alfred Edersheim, author of, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, says shops in Jerusalem offered the best of everything, including the "rarest of articles from the remotest parts."[2][ii] Paher indicates that the 29 items in Revelation 18 indicates such a vibrant economic situation that it could not describe Jerusalem of the first century. In spite of Paher’s claims, Edersheim says, "Ancient Jewish writings enable us to identify no fewer than 118 different articles of import from foreign lands, covering more than even modern luxury has devised. Articles of luxury, especially from abroad, fetched enormous prices." (Life, 116)

We would also take note the Edersheim says Jerusalem imported goods, "Exquisitely shaped, curiously designed and jewelled cups, rings and other workmanship of precious metals; glass, silks, fine linen, woolen stuffs, purple, and costly hangings; essences, ointments, and perfumes, as precious as gold; articles of food and drink from foreign lands — in short, what India, Persia, Arabia, Media, Egypt, Italy, and Greece, and even the far-off islands of the Gentiles yielded, might be had at the bazaars." (Life, 116) Here, Edersheim flatly contradicts Paher’s contentions and denials. Edersheim says that Jerusalem imported the very items listed in Revelation 18! Will Paher attempt to relegate Edersheim to the "obscure" file?

Paher argues that the 29 items listed in Revelation had to be items of trade not consumption (p. 4). However, just where in Revelation does it make such a distinction? This is another debater’s trick. Set up a straw man, blow it over, and declare victory. The truth is that Revelation makes no distinction between trade goods and consumable goods. Read the text for yourself. Significantly, a source that Paher (and I, in Babylon), attempts to use backfires on him. He claims that Revelation speaks of trade goods, not consumables, and further claims that Jerusalem was not a major importer or exporter. Yet, Safari says of Israel and Jerusalem, "The only metal the country possessed was copper in the Araba and Transjordan, hence the import of all necessary metals in the second temple period."[3][iii] Thus, Paher’s own source contradicts him. We can only wonder if he will now relegate it to the "obscure" file?

In Babylon, I state, "Every item in Revelation 18 was an integral part of the vibrant, important and influential commercial traffic of Jerusalem." Paher responds, "In his dreams! No foundation in patristic authorities whether Jewish or Gentiles buttresses such a bold assertion." (P. 4) Yet, as one can see from Edersheim, and another of the several "obscure" scholars that I quote, Carrington, it is not dreaming to claim that Jerusalem did indeed have a vibrant and influential commerce. And, the fact that the patristic writers do not confirm this is no disproof at all. As a whole, the patristic writers were not concerned with Jerusalem’s history. Few of them deal with her mundane day to day history.

Another subtlety of Paher is, when he cites an Anchor Bible commentator to the effect that Jerusalem was removed from major trade routes. He is trying to get his readers to reason thusly: If Jerusalem was far removed from the major trade routes, then Jerusalem could not have engaged in any major trade and commerce. Unfortunately, this is logic that only sounds good, but it will not hold.

I have never argued that Jerusalem was centrally located on major commercial routes. What I have and do argue is that due to its significance and importance as the heartbeat of the nation, Jerusalem commanded commercial attention. We might ask what seems to be a simple yet important question: Where do merchants go? Answer: They go where the market is.

The product demands of the almost 70 years of constant construction of the Temple were enormous. Was there a market in Jerusalem for gold and precious goods for that construction? Or did all the gold, precious stones, fine linen, lumbers, etc. demanded by such a huge project just suddenly appear miraculously? Were no "merchants of the land" involved in bringing these goods to Jerusalem? Were all of these goods indigenous to Judea, or were they imported, perhaps by the merchants of the sea? Can we suppose that none of these merchants were made wealthy by trading with Jerusalem, or did they do their commerce for gratis? Safari — one of Paher’s favorite sources, and thus, one we can assume he does not count as "obscure" — says, "The country was apt to be dependent on external agricultural produce in the sabbatical years or in times of drought, and always for metals, several raw materials and craft products, and for a number of luxuries (fine clothing furniture, etc.). In the available records, items of imports exceed exports." (People, 679). Paher is simply ignoring history to suggest that Jerusalem was not a commercial center, her inconvenient location notwithstanding.

Paher even tries to distort this situation by claiming, "In the A.D. 60s, Jerusalem’s economy was
driven not by trade; its wealth was derived from Herod’s building projects and the half-shekel tax levied on the Jewish communities around the world." (P. 5). However, this does not detract from the identification of Babylon as Jerusalem. Revelation 18 does not suggest, does not even hint, at the purposes for which the finery that is mentioned was involved in commerce. And what would it matter?

All that Revelation 18 says is that the merchants of the land lamented the destruction of Babylon, because they had grown rich by dealing with her. The text does not say they were saddened at the loss of commerce by people consuming the goods as opposed to people trading for the goods. Paher implies that because the Temple was religious, it could not, or did not generate economic clout. This is simply false. And, would the "merchants of the earth" care whether the goods they sold were used for religious or trade purposes? Their bottom line is the only thing that matters.

Revelation does not say that merchants of the sea sent products from Jerusalem, as Paher seems to indicate that it must to satisfy him (p. 5). It makes none of the fine distinctions that Paher attempts to make. Paher attempts to make far too many such fine distinctions, and winds up denying plain historical facts. He argues that the great Harlot, Babylon, traded precious wares, but in Jerusalem these were mostly connected with worship, not trading.

When he discusses some of the specific items listed in Revelation 18, Paher says, "There is no New Testament association of Jerusalem with the pearl, yet the harlot was decked with precious stones and pearls, and glittered with gold." (P. 6). Then, Paher calls attention to the fact that in first century Roman writings, Rome is documented as a consumer of pearls. This is very subtle.

First he says that there is no New Testament association of pearls and Jerusalem, and then he says that Roman historians document that Rome did import pearls. He shifts his demand for proof from the Bible to Roman historians. If the fact that the NT does not specifically mention pearls in association with Jerusalem disproves the Babylon-Jerusalem posit, then most assuredly it also disproves the Babylon-Rome posit. The New Testament most assuredly does not mention Rome in association with pearls either.

And yet, in spite of this denial, Safari — and remember this is one of the sources employed by Paher — says that according to the evidence, trade in pearls, and precious stones was active in Jerusalem "and continued to the end of the first century" (People, 671). Furthermore, Paher says, "The harlot was also arrayed in fine linen (18:6), a product neither exported nor imported into Jerusalem." (P. 6). However, again, Safari contradicts Paher saying, "It should not be deduced, however, (as Paher does, DKP!) that some extraneous articles were not available for those with money; among such were…the fine linens of Pelusium and India worn by the High Priests." (People, 671).

The subtlety of Paher’s arguments is very disturbing at times. For instance, he considers the reference to Babylon as one who traded in the souls and bodies of men in Revelation as a clincher against the Babylon-Jerusalem argument. He once again cites Safari, "we have no concrete example of a Jewish slave" (People, 629), and concludes, "Human livestock was the province of Rome and other large Gentile cities, not among the Jews." (P. 7) What Paher failed to tell his reader was that while Jewish slaves in Jerusalem were virtually unknown, slaves, that is, non-Jewish slaves, as a whole were common merchandise.

Paher has smoothly altered the argument. For his argument to be valid, Revelation 18 would have to say that Babylon dealt with Jewish slaves. Then, Rome, and not Jerusalem, would have been more of a candidate, because Rome did not care about the nationality of slaves, all were candidates. However, the Jewish religion virtually mandated against enslaving a fellow Jew.

So, what do the sources say about Jerusalem and slavery? Jeremias says, "The import of slaves was important; in Jerusalem there was a stone on which the slaves were displayed for auction."[4][iv] Stern, (i.e. Safari, DKP) says of the slave trade in Jerusalem, "One may assume that slaves played a significant part of the economy."[5][v]

At this juncture, Paher attempts another ploy. On the one hand, he attempts to negate the Babylon-Jerusalem identification by examining the slave issue. On the other hand, he then chides my Babylon, saying, "In Where (sic) Is This Babylon" the agenda-driven Don Preston picks and chooses sources, gleaning friendly evidence to the total disregard of hostile information. For instance, he quotes Jeremias who writes that ‘the import of slaves was important.’ But the focus of Babylon/harlot was on trade. Far better would Preston be if he would furnish primary sources to buttress his assertions that Babylon-Jerusalem, but he obviously has none." (P. 7) Please notice.

Paher says I carefully choose quotes, "gleaning friendly evidence." In this review, I have shown how Paher simply distorts the evidence from the sources. I have taken the sources he cites, and shown how he has distorted the evidence. Further, Paher implies that the issue of slavery is unrelated to the issue of trade. Yet, he is the one that introduced the issue. I have simply shown how he misrepresented the data from his own source (Safari). And, would not the selling of slaves fall under the heading of trade? Once again, Paher is guilty of sleight of hand.

Finally, Paher says I cite no primary sources. Of course, this is false, for I cited Josephus — a first century, eye-witness source — in Babylon. Yet, what are Paher’s references? Every one of the sources he cites in his review are 20th century sources.

Summary and Conclusion
In this response to Paher’s Review (part two) of my Who Is This Babylon?. We have discovered a troubling willingness on the part of Paher to make false claims and to distort his sources. I have shown how he very subtly changes the issue in midstream to make a case where there is, in fact, no case at all. He is very effective at building straw men. This kind of argumentation might convince the unwary, but raises very serious concerns about Paher’s tactics.

Paher says I cite no primary sources when, in reality, I cite one of the most verified and trustworthy of all, Josephus. He says that I use "obscure" scholars, yet, I relied heavily on the very source that he attempts to utilize. (Safari) And, as shown, the names of Jeremias, Edersheim, et. al., can hardly be deemed as obscure.

Paher makes statements that even his own sources flatly contradict. He claims that I sift hrough the documents to find friendly quotes, when in fact, he does this very thing. I have shown repeatedly that he distorts the evidence from his own source, Safari.

It is simply a rejection of historical fact to deny that Jerusalem was a commercial power in Palestine. Mind you, Revelation does not say that Babylon was the commercial center of the world, it simply says that the merchants of the land had gotten rich from her.

We conclude therefore, with a quote from Babylon, "Every item in Revelation 18 was an integral part of the vibrant, important and influential commercial traffic of Jerusalem." Paher may ridicule this, but it stands true nonetheless.