Babylonian Captivity

Contents


Chronology

Table based on Rainer Albertz, "Israel in exile: the history and literature of the sixth century BCE", p.xxi. Alternative dates are possible.

Year Event
609 BCE Death of Josiah
609-598 BCE Reign of Jehoiakim (succeeded Jehoahaz, who replaced Josiah but reigned only 3 months)
598/7 BCE Reign of Jehoiachin (reigned 3 months). Siege and fall of Jerusalem.
First deportation, 16 March 597
597 BCE Zedekiah made king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon
594 BCE Anti-Babylonian conspiracy
589-7 BCE Siege and fall of Jerusalem.
Second deportation July/August 587
582? BCE Gedaliah the Babylonian-appointed governor of Yehud Province assassinated.
Many Jews flee to Egypt and a possible third deportation to Babylon
562 BCE Release of Jehoiachin after 37 years in a Babylonian prison.[2] He remains in Babylon
539 BCE Persians conquer Babylon (October)
538 BCE "Decree of Cyrus" allows Jews to return to Jerusalem
520-515 BCE Return by many Jews to Yehud under Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest.
Second Temple built

The biblical history of the Exile

In the late 7th century BCE, the kingdom of Judah was a client state of the powerful Assyrian empire. In the last decades of the century Assyria was overthrown by Babylon, an Assyrian province with a history of former glory in its own right. Egypt, fearing the sudden rise of the Neo-Babylonian empire, seized control of Assyrian territory up to the Euphrates river in Syria, but Babylon counter-attacked and in the process Josiah, the king of Judah, was killed, although the circumstances are obscure (609 BCE). Judah became a Babylonian client, but in the following years two parties formed at the court in Jerusalem: one pro-Egyptian and the other pro-Babylonian.

In 599 BCE, the pro-Egyptian party was in power and Judah revolted against Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem,[3] and Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, died in 598 BCE with the siege still under way.[4] He was succeeded by his son Jeconiah, aged either eight or eighteen.[5] The city fell about three months later,[6] on 2 Adar (March 16) 597 BCE, and Nebuchadnezzar pillaged Jerusalem and its Temple and took Jeconiah and his court and other prominent citizens (including the prophet Ezekiel) back to Babylon.[7] Jehoiakim's brother Zedekiah was appointed king in his place, but the exiles in Babylon continued to consider Jeconiah as their Exilarch, or rightful ruler.

Despite the strong remonstrances of Jeremiah and others of the pro-Babylonian party, Zedekiah revolted against Babylon and entered into an alliance with Pharaoh Hophra of Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar returned, defeated the Egyptians, and again besieged Jerusalem. The city fell in 587. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city wall and the Temple, together with the houses of the most important citizens, and Zedekiah was blinded, and taken to Babylon, together with many others. Judah became a Babylonian province, called Yehud Medinata (Yehud being the Babylonian equivalent of the Hebrew Yehuda, or "Judah", and "medinata" the word for province), putting an end to the independent Kingdom of Judah.

The first governor appointed by Babylon was Gedaliah, a native Judahite; he encouraged the many Jews who had fled to surrounding countries such as Moab, Ammon, Edom, to return, and took steps to return the country to prosperity. Some time afterwards, however - it is not clear when, but possibly 582 BCE - a surviving member of the royal family assassinated Gedaliah and his Babylonian advisors, prompting a rush of refugees seeking safety in Egypt. Thus by the end of the second decade of the 6th century, in addition to those who remained in Yehud (Judah), there were significant Jewish communities in Babylon and in Egypt; this was the beginning of the later numerous Jewish communities living permanently outside Judah in the Jewish Diaspora.

According to the book of Ezra-Nehemiah, the Persian Cyrus the Great ended the exile in 538 BCE, the year in which he captured Babylon.[8] For reasons not explained in the biblical history nothing was done at the time, and the Exile ends with the return under Zerubbabel the Prince (so-called because he was a descendant of the royal line of David and Joshua the Priest (a descendant of the line of the former High Priests of the Temple) and their construction of the Second Temple in the period 520-515 BCE.

The Babylonian captivity had a number of consequences on Judaism and Jewish culture, including changes to the Hebrew alphabet and calendar and changes in the fundamental practices and customs of the Jewish religion. This period saw the last high-point of Biblical prophecy in the person of Ezekiel, followed by the emergence of the central role of the Torah in Jewish life.[9] This process coincided with the emergence of scribes and sages as Jewish leaders (see Ezra and the Pharisees).

Exilic literature

The Exilic period was a rich one for Hebrew literature. The Hebrew historians of the Exile include Jeremiah 39-43) (who saw the Exile as a lost opportunity); the final section of 2 Kings (which portrays it as the temporary end of history); 2 Chronicles (in which the Exile is the "Sabbath of the land"); and the opening chapters of Ezra, which records its end. Other works from or about the Exile include the stories in Daniel 1-6, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, the "Story of the Three Youths" (1 Esdras 3:1-5:6), and the books of Tobit and Book of Judith.[10]

Significance in Jewish history

The Babylonian Captivity and the subsequent return to Israel were seen as one of the pivotal events in the biblical drama between Yahweh and his people of Israel. Just as they had been predestined for, and saved from, slavery in Egypt, in the logic of the Bible it had been prophesied that the Israelites would go into captivity to the Babylonians for their idolatry and disobedience to Yahweh, and then be delivered once more. The Babylonian Captivity had a number of serious effects on Judaism and the Jewish culture. For example, the current Hebrew script was adopted during this period, replacing the traditional Israelite script.

This period saw the last high-point of Biblical prophecy in the person of Ezekiel, followed by the emergence of the central role of the Torah in Jewish life; according to many historical-critical scholars, it was edited and redacted during this time, and saw the beginning of the canonization of the Bible, which provided a central text for Jews.

This process coincided with the emergence of scribes and sages as Jewish leaders (see Ezra). Prior to exile, the people of Israel had been organized according to tribe; afterwards, they were organized by clans, only the tribe of Levi continuing in its 'special role'. After this time, there were always sizable numbers of Jews living outside Eretz Israel; thus, it also marks the beginning of the "Jewish diaspora", unless this is considered to have begun with the Assyrian Captivity of Israel.

In Rabbinic literature, Babylon was one of a number of metaphors for the Jewish diaspora. Most frequently the term "Babylon" meant the diaspora prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. The post-destruction term for the Jewish Diaspora was "Rome", or "Edom".

References

  1. Lawrence Heyworth Mills (1906). . Open Court. pp. 467. http://books.google.com/books?id=uU8XAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA457&dq=influence+of+achaemenids+on+Persians&hl=en&ei=v6IXTaiTJ8P58Aa7h-iwDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  2. 2 Kings 25:27
  3. Geoffrey Wigoder, The Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible Pub. by Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. (2006)
  4. Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Hebrew Bible, Continuum International, 1996, page x. ISBN 0-304-33703-X
  5. http://www.rbvincent.com/BibleStudies/captivit.htm Bible Studies website
  6. Philip J. King, Jeremiah: An Archaeological Companion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), page 23.
  7. The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ed. by Michael D Coogan. Pub. by Oxford University Press, 1999. pg 350
  8. http://www.biu.ac.il/js/rennert/history_4.html
  9. According to historical-critical scholars, it was edited and redacted during this time, and saw the beginning of the canonization of the Bible, which provided a central text for Jews.
  10. Rainer Albertz, "Israel in exile: the history and literature of the sixth century BCE" (Society for Biblical Literature, 2003) pp.4-38