Ancient city and kingdom in southern Mesopotamia. In the NT (1 Pet. 5: 13 and Rev. 18: 2 where ‘Babylon’ is an uncomplimentary reference to Rome) and in Christian spirituality (‘And Sion in her anguish with Babylon must cope’, from St Bernard's hymn ‘Brief life is here our portion’) Babylon is synonymous with a state or place of exile, of longing for release, even therefore of a kind of hope. The Exile of the Jews to Babylon after the capture of Jerusalem in 586 BCE dominates the Bible (cf. Ps. 137: 1; Isa. 14: 4), as Babylon itself dominated the Near East during her brief period of imperial expansion.

But there was a long history before, and after, that: King Hammurabi, who died in 1750 BCE, formulated his famous Law Code and there were other cultural achievements, including an interest in astronomy. In the 8th cent. BCE the kings of Assyria also ruled Babylonia (situated on the River Euphrates, and corresponding to modern southern Iraq) and when Hoshea the king of Israel joined Egypt against King Shalmaneser V of Assyria in 724 BCE, Samaria was besieged and captured in 722 BCE; and some of the inhabitants (27,000 according to Assyrian claims) were deported to Assyria after Shalmaneser's death by Sargon II (2 Kgs. 17: 6).

In 626 the Babylonians (known also as Chaldeans) threw off the Assyrian yoke and, with the Medes, captured the Assyrian city Nineveh in 612. Babylonian triumphs continued up to the borders of Egypt, and during the conflict between Babylon and Egypt Jehoiakim, king of Judah, ignoring the advice of Jeremiah (Jer. 27: 9–11), supported Egypt and suffered the consequences when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem in 597 BCE. The young King Jehoiachin (Coniah in Jer. 22: 24), who had succeeded his father Jehoiakim, reigned only three months before the city was captured and the king and many leading citizens were taken into exile. Zedekiah was installed as governor of Jerusalem; but when he rebelled, Nebuchadnezzar returned to the city, destroyed the Temple, and deported most of the remaining population to exile in Babylon (586 BCE, 2 Kgs. 24: 10–25: 21). In Babylon, where there were magnificent buildings and roads, the famous Hanging Gardens, and a ziggurat to Marduk, the Jews eventually settled down with prayer and circumcision and engaged in trade and agriculture (Jer. 29: 7). Some of their number returned to Jerusalem by permission of Cyrus, the Persian conqueror of Babylon, in 538 BCE. Those who remained became increasingly independent of Palestinian Judaism. The Babylonian Talmud is testimony to the strength of Jewish religious and social life in the country of the Exile, and it is no surprise that when Jews in Palestine revolted in 66–70 CE and again under Bar-Kochba in 132–5 CE, they got no support from Babylon.