In Revelation 18, John the Prophet writes of the destruction of Rome, i.e., Babylon. In the process, John harangues Rome for its lust for power and for its greed:
“For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury” (Rev 18.3; NRSV).
John says that after Rome’s destruction the merchants of the earth who did business with Rome will raise a great lamentation:
“And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives” (Rev 18.11-13; NRSV).
John however was not the only Second Temple Jew, and even the only denizen of the Graeco-Roman world that hated Rome’s lust for power and money. Take as evidence the following excerpts from literary sources.
First, according to the Babylonian Talmud, in a conversation between several rabbis that took place c. 135 CE, one rabbi commented on the greatness of Roman market places, bridges, and baths. In response, another rabbi corrected his companion: “All that [i.e., market places, bridges, and baths] they [i.e., Romans] have instituted only for their own needs. They have instituted market places to place harlots in them; baths, for their own pleasure; bridges, to collect toll” (Sabbath 33b; Translation from Lewis and Reinhold, Roman Civilization, 2.333-34).
Second, according to Cassius Dio, a queen of Briton is reported to have said c. 61 CE of Rome: “Among the rest of mankind death frees even those who are in slavery to others; only in the case of the Romans do the very dead remain alive for their profit. . . . We have . . . been despised and trampled underfoot by men who know nothing else than how to secure gain” (Cassius Dio, Roman History LXII.3.1-4; Translation taken from Lewis and Reinhold, Roman Civilization, 2.334).
Third, according to Tacitus, another Briton leader noted in 83-84 CE: “Not East, not West has sated [the Romans]; alone of all mankind they covet riches and poverty with equal passion. They rob, butcher, plunder, and call it ‘empire’; and where they make a desolation, they call it ‘peace’” (Tacitus, Agricola, 29-30; Translation taken from Lewis and Reinhold, Roman Civilization, 2.335).
Finally, a document that was composed by Jews (with possibly Christian redaction) in the last portion of the second century CE indicates of Rome: “Near at hand is the end of the world, and the last day and judgment of immortal God for such as are both called and chosen. First of all, inexorable wrath shall fall on Rome . . . and no more under slavish yoke to [Rome] will either Greek or Syrian put his neck, . . . [God] shall give until [Rome] repays all” (Sibylline Oracles 7; translation adapted from Lewis and Reinhold, Roman Civilization, 2.336).
While the Roman Empire may have been great for some of the denizens of the Graeco-Roman world, it is clear that not everyone appreciated Rome’s insatiable thirst for power and money. Especially, when it came at the cost of the lives and livelihood of others. This is the type of corruption that John addresses in his Revelation.