“Future of Babylon” Project Preserves History to Some, Ushers in “End Times” to Others

On April 10, 2003, one day after U.S. forces established control over Iraq, a number of Iraqis took to doing, to paraphrase Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “what a free people do”; running amok and looting whatever wasn’t permanently nailed in place. One of the hardest hit targets was Baghdad’s Iraq Museum. When asked about the looting, Rumsfeld—then enjoying matinee idol-type status—made light of the situation, saying: “the images you are seeing on television… it’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, ‘My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?’”  

“Despite the presence of American troops nearby,” Hugh Eakin recently wrote in his review of Lawrence Rothfields’s ‘The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum,’ the looting “lasted three days and resulted in the theft of some 15,000 objects, among them some of the most extraordinary remains of the early history of world civilization.”    

While the pillaging of the Iraq Museum was covered extensively by the media, the destabilization of antiquities in Babylon, where U.S. forces built a military base, Camp Alpha—received much less media attention. In January 2005, the Boston Globe reported that according to a report by John Curtis, keeper of the British Museum’s Near East department, “US-led troops using the ancient Iraqi city of Babylon as a base have damaged and contaminated artifacts dating back thousands of years in one of the most important archeological sites in the world.”

A year later, the Independent reported that the “Archaeological cost of invasion” included: The setting up of Camp Alpha; soldiers filling protective sandbags with sand containing ancient artifacts; the crushing of 2,600-year-old pavements by military vehicles; the landing of helicopters causing structural damage to some of the city’s ancient buildings and the sandblasting of fragile bricks in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar; and the contamination of key sites by the gravel brought in to build car parks and helipads.  

Now, four years later, the State Department and the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage have established a project aimed at preserving the remains that still exist, and developing a major tourist attraction. For conservative Christian evangelicals Joel Rosenberg and Tim LaHaye, the project could move us all one step closer to the “End Times.”  

On Wednesday, July 1, the Iraqi military arguably assumed the major responsibility for maintaining security in Iraq. While thousands of U.S. trainers and advisors will remain in place, “many Iraqi troops will indeed be on their own,” the New York Times’ Rod Nordland recently reported. While many Iraqis will be applauding the pullback of U.S. troops, some observers question whether the Iraqi military is up to the task—especially considering the recent up tick in violence.  

Meanwhile In Babylon, the city-state of ancient Mesopotamia that is near the city of Al Hillah, plans are underway to convert that city’s historic past into a must-see stop for tourists.    

Stars and Stripes recently reported that “the rapidly improving security situation in surrounding Babil province has persuaded the U.S. State Department and the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage to embark on the preservation project, dubbed the Future of Babylon Project.” The project intends to preserve “the remains of what was once the greatest city in the world,” and by doing so, develop a local tourism industry.  

“Soldiers with the 172nd Infantry Brigade are exploring the ruins as part of a U.S.-Iraqi effort to preserve the ancient city and plan for the return of Western tourists,” Stars and Stripes reported.  

Gina Haney and Jeff Allen, “two people with expertise developing tourism plans for historic sites in third-world nations,” are running the U.S. side of the project, Stars and Stripes reported. “You could throw money at it and do all this work, but unless you can create a sustainable situation, your opportunities for tourism will run out,” Allen said. “The idea is to develop something that is going to be here 30 to 40 years from now and has benefits for the local people. We don’t want something that will only benefit outsiders.”  

“If you have 200,000 people a year coming to this site, you will have people staying at hotels, visiting restaurants, buying souvenirs,” Allen said. “The site is in some ways a revenue generator for the local community.”  

Joel Rosenberg, the best-selling author of several apocalyptic novels about the Middle East, sees the path to the “End Times” going through the rebirth of Babylon. In a recent blog post Rosenberg wrote that, “Bible prophecy says the ancient city of Babylon, Iraq will be rebuilt and become the greatest center of wealth, commerce and power in the ‘last days’ of history.” According to Rosenberg, “The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Revelation are explicit on this subject.” While “Skeptics and cynics” may disagree, “the fact is Babylon is being rebuilt right now, in part with U.S. taxpayer funds [and] Iraqi leaders hope that eventually millions of tourists will come to visit…”         

In a post at Examiner.com, Marianne Davis pointed out that in Tim LaHaye’s book, Revelation Unveiled, the co-author of the mega best-selling Left Behind series of apocalyptic novels, also discusses the question of Babylon as it relates to “Bible prophecies that foretell the end of the world.” “According to LaHaye’s interpretation, ‘the city of Babylon will be rebuilt and become the commercial center of the world’ and the center of the Antichrist’s kingdom:  

“Ever since the days of Nimrod, human beings have tried to rule the world. To do so they must control the economy. During the Tribulation Antichrist will rule the world, not only by an army but also by controlling commerce. People will not be able to buy or sell without his permission except on the blackmarket.”  

Davis added that “According to LaHaye’s explanation of Revelations 16:18-19, the city of Babylon will be destroyed at the end of the Tribulation, a time Jesus said would be worse than anything known in human history (Matthew 24).”  

Regardless of Rosenberg’s gushing, the rush to fully open the ancient ruins to the public is not without its critics.

According to a late-May report by the Art Newspaper’s Martin Bailey, “Iraq’s state board of antiquities and heritage is opposing the move, on the grounds that the site needs further protection and investigation before being reopened.”