Exile, Babylonian

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EXILE, BABYLONIAN , exiles of Judah to Babylonia, sixth–fifth centuries b.c.e. Although Babylonia was not the only destination of former Judahites, it was the Babylonian deportees and their descendants whose perspectives inform the Hebrew Bible. Modern scholarship has adopted their perspective in dividing Israelite/Jewish history into "pre-exilic," "exilic," and "post-exilic" periods. The destruction of the Assyrian empire brought only temporary respite to the kingdom of Judah. The newly established Chaldean (Neo-Babylonian) dynasty (626 b.c.e.), which together with Media and the Ummanmanda (Scythians?) destroyed Nineveh (612), quickly established its own rule (604) in "the land of Hatti" (Syro-Palestine). Although the prophet *Nahum rejoiced over Nineveh's fall and Habakkuk was stunned by Babylon's rise (Hab. 1:1ff.), Jeremiah foretold that Babylonian rule would last "70 years" (Jer. 25:12; 29:10) and counseled submission. The setback that Babylon suffered at the hands of Egypt (601), however, encouraged King *Jehoiakim to rebel (ii Kings 24:1). The uprising was crushed by Nebuchadnezzar himself (598–597), but the statement that Jehoiakim was led into exile (Dan. 1:1ff.; i Esd. 1:39ff.; cf. ii Chron. 36:5–6) is probably unhistorical. It is likely that he died in Jerusalem, reviled by Jeremiah (cf. ii Kings 24:6; Jer. 22:13–19; 36:30–31), and that the city was surrendered by his son Jehoiachin on March 16, 597 b.c.e. (ii Kings 24:8ff.; ii Chron. 36:9ff.). As punishment for the rebellion, Nebuchadnezzar sent into exile the young king and his family, royal officials, warriors, artisans, and other distinguished people from Jerusalem and Judah, and took much spoil from the Temple and palace (ii Kings 24:12ff.; Jer. 13:18–19; ii Chron. 36:9–10). The number of exiles is reported in round numbers once as 10,000 exclusive of artisans (ii Kings 24:14) and once as 7,000 "mighty men" and 1,000 artisans (ii Kings 24:16). Probably because Jehoiachin surrendered in time, Nebuchadnezzar did not destroy Jerusalem. He took the exiled king's uncle Mattaniah, made him a vassal king, and changed his name to Zedekiah (ii Kings 24:17; Ezek. 17:11ff.). Jehoiachin, however, retained his royal status, and a Babylonian tablet of 592 reports that he and his five sons, along with other exiles, were allotted rations by Nebuchadnezzar. The seal impressions "Eliakim steward of Yaukin," discovered at Tell Beit Mirsim, Beth-Shemesh, and Ramat Raḥel, may indicate that his royal estates were preserved intact.

In the eyes of Jeremiah, the exilic community was, metaphorically, a basket of excellent figs and would ultimately be restored to the land, while the remaining population were bad figs and would experience further destruction (Jer. 24:1–10). Ezekiel, settled among the exiles, provides evidence that events were dated according "to the exile of King Jehoiachin" (Ezek. 1:2). Despite the continuous preaching of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, prophets in Judah such as Hananiah son of Azzur (Jer. 28:1ff.) and in Babylonia such as Ahab son of Kolaiah, Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, and Shemaiah the Nehelamite (Jer. 29:21ff.) encouraged the rump state of Judah to believe that deliverance was at hand. Relying upon Egypt (Jer. 37:5; Ezek. 17:15; 29:6–7), Zedekiah rebelled. This time the city was destroyed (586 or 587) and the Temple burned. For breaking his oath of allegiance Zedekiah was blinded, exiled to Babylon, and his sons were executed. Other leading officials were likewise put to death. The Temple vessels were taken as booty, and all but the poorest were sent into exile (ii Kings 25:1–21; Jer. 39:1–10; 52:1–27; ii Chron. 36:11–21; cf. also Dan. 5). Whereas excavation shows clear evidence of destruction at this time in several Judahite sites, e.g., Tell Beit Mirsim, Lachish, Beth-Shemesh, Beth-Zur, etc., the evidence thus far is that Benjamin remained untouched. (On the archaeological situation see C. Carter, O. Lipschits, A. Zertal, and J. Zorn, apud Lipschits and Blenkinsopp in Bibliography.) Appointed governor by the conquerors, *Gedaliah son of Ahikam resided in the Benjaminite town of Mizpah until he was assassinated by *Ishmael son of Nethaniah of the royal family (ii Kings 25:22–25; Jer. 40:7ff.). The people then fled to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them (Jer. 41–43), and in 582 a third group was carried off into Babylonian exile (Jer. 52:30). The same source which reports this last small exile of 745 Judahites gives figures of 3,023 and 832 for the exiles of Jehoiachin and Zedekiah respectively (Jer. 52:28–30). It is not clear how these figures are to be reconciled with those cited earlier.

The destruction of the state and the Temple and the exile to Babylonia were traumatic experiences that concomitantly brought forth desires for revenge and stirrings of repentance. Feelings ran strong not only against Babylon (Isa. 47; Jer. 51; Ps. 137) but also against neighboring Edom, which rejoiced at, and benefited from, the destruction (Ezek. 25:12–14; 35:1ff; Obad.; Mal. 1:3–5; Ps. 137:7; Lam. 4:21–22). Although Jeremiah and Ezekiel explained the impending destruction as punishment for moral and cultic sins, the actual destruction was a shock. It aroused strong lament (Book of Lamentations) and regular commemorative fasts (Zech. 7:1ff.; 8:18–19) and a yearning to be reconciled with God and restored to the land of Judah (Ps. 137; Lam. 3:39ff.; 5:19–21). The Sabbath and festivals continued to be observed, and names such as Shabbethai (Ezra 10:15; Neh. 8:7; 11:16; *Murashu Tablets) and *Haggai (the prophet; and a personal name in the Murashu Tablets) made their appearance. The contrast between monotheism and polytheism became sharpened (e.g., Isa. 44:6ff.), and gentiles attracted to the God of Israel were promised a share in the restored Temple if they observed the Sabbath and the Covenant, probably of circumcision (Isa. 65:1ff.). Except for the leaders who had contact with Babylonian officials – *Sheshbazzar/Shenazzar (Ezra 1:8ff.; 5:14; 6:5; i Chron. 3:18), *Zerubbabel son of Shaltiel (Ezra 3:2), Mordecai (Ezra 2:2), Bilshan (Ezra 2:2) – and were therefore given, or adopted, Babylonian names (cf. Esth. 2:5, 7; Dan. 1:5ff.), the majority of exiles in Babylonia, as in Egypt, preserved the practice of giving Hebrew names.

Economically, the exiles did not fare badly, and socially they succeeded in preserving their clan and family structure intact. A prominent position was held by King Jehoiachin, who in 561 was exalted by King Amel-Marduk (*Evil-Merodach) over the other exiled kings. The communal leaders, "the elders of Judah/Israel" (Ezek. 8:1; 14:1; 20:1, 3), maintained their traditional authority and were known as "elders of the exile (Jer. 29:1). Craftsmen and builders were engaged in the royal building projects in Babylon, and clay tablets record rations distributed in 592 to such as Semachiah, Gaddiel, and Urimelech. Many were settled on "mounds" (tel), i.e., sites that had formerly been destroyed and needed to be rebuilt, such as Tel-Melah and Tel-Harsha (Ezra 2:59; Neh. 7:61). Ezekiel had a house in Tel-Abib (Akkadian for "mound caused by the deluge"), which lay along the Chebar Canal (Ezek. 1:1; 3:15, 23; 8:1) in the vicinity of Nippur. Jeremiah had encouraged the exiles to settle down, build houses and plant gardens, lead a normal life, and preserve public security (Jer. 29:4ff.). One of the Jews receiving royal rations in 592 was "Shelemiah the gardener." The best evidence of continuity in the cultural sphere is the activity of the prophets Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah, Haggai, and *Zechariah. The first was born in Judah and was exiled with Jehoiachin. He relentlessly prophesied the destruction of Temple and state and with equal certainty delineated its reconstruction. The last two, who were doubtlessly born in exile, returned to Judah to inspire the reconstruction. The great unknown prophet who goes by the name Deutero-Isaiah (Isa. 40–66) probably knew only exile and yet foretold the restoration in the most lyric of biblical poetry.

Return from Exile

Just as the greatest tragedy of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 b.c.e. was the loss of the Temple, so the first task after the return from exile was its reconstruction. As Cyrus embarked upon his conquest of Babylon, Deutero-Isaiah looked upon him as the Lord's shepherd and anointed, called upon to release the exiled Jews, rebuild the city, and reestablish the Temple (Isa. 44:28; 45:1, 13). A policy of restoration and reconstruction was pursued by Cyrus throughout the conquered territories, and he announced it proudly in his Akkadian-language cylinder inscription (cos 2:314–16). The specific permission granted the Jews was proclaimed orally throughout the Diaspora and put down in writing. As his victories and policy of restoration were attributed to Marduk in the Babylonian inscription, so in the proclamation to the Jews they were attributed to the God of Heaven, the title by which the God of Israel was generally known at that time (cf. Ezra 5:12; 7:12). No decree specifically granting permission to the exiles to return or to rebuild the city of Jerusalem has come down. Permission is granted simply to rebuild the Temple and for the exiles to return to Jerusalem for that purpose. Those not returning are encouraged to assist the repatriates financially (Ezra 1:2–4). An Aramaic memorandum deposited in the treasury archives in Median Ecbatana (Heb. Achmetha; modern Hamadan), Cyrus' summer residence, gives the dimensions and certain architectural features of the Temple, and states that expenses are to be met by the royal treasury (Ezra 6:1–5). The Temple vessels were released by the treasurer Mithredath, at Cyrus' order, to Sheshbazzar/Shenazzar, prince of Judah, who restored them to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:7–11; 5:14–15; 6:5). Sheshbazzar was given the title of governor (peḥah) and entrusted with the task of rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 16–17). Although the sources are not clear on the subject, he was apparently succeeded in this assignment by his nephew Zerubbabel, who likewise bore the title "governor" (Ezra 3:1–13; 5:1–23; Haggai 1:1; 2:1–2, 21).

Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and *Joshua son of Jehozadak, who was descended from a family of high priests, appear at the beginning of a list of 12 leaders, symbolizing the unity of Israel, who headed the groups returning from exile (Neh. 7:7; one name has accidentally been left out from the parallel list in Ezra 2:2). Besides Zerubbabel ("Seed-of-Babylon") at least three other leaders bear non-Hebrew names – Mordecai (related to a name compounded with Marduk), Bilshan (= Bab. Belšunu, "Their Lord"), and Bigvai. The last name is from Persian bagāvahyah, "through God, the better," and recurs in the first list of 17 or 18 returning families, along with such unusual names as Pahath-Moab ("Governor of Moab") and Elam (Ezra 2:6–7, 14; Neh. 7:11–12, 19). Perhaps these names refer to Israelites exiled from Transjordan (i Chron. 5:26) and to those who settled in Media (ii Kings 17:6), hence the Persian name, and in Elam (Isa. 11:11). Since most, if not all, of the place-names in the second list are located in Benjamin (Ezra 2:20 or 21–35; Neh. 7:25–38), it is likely that these 17 (18) families settled in Judah. Interestingly, exactly 17 settlements are cited for Judah in the time of Nehemiah (Neh. 11:25–30). The subsequent lists enumerate families of priests, levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple servants (Nethinim), and "sons of Solomon's servants" (Ezra 2:36–58; Neh. 7:39–60). In addition to these families, whose genealogical records were in order, there were other repatriates whose records were not. The priests among them were disqualified from the priesthood (Ezra 2:59–63; Neh. 7:61–65). At least one of these families, however, that of Hakkoz, was apparently reinstated at a later date (Ezra 8:33; Neh. 3:4). The number of members of each family and town often varies between the two parallel lists, while the total of all the figures falls far below the recorded total sum. While the difference could be made up by adding women and children, it should also be noted that the given totals are schematic numbers, formed of various combinations of seven and three: 42,360 plus 7,337 slaves (Ezra 2:64–65; Neh. 7:66–67). Despite the list's title indicating that it numbers "the members of the province who returned from exile … with Zerubbabel" (Ezra 2:1–2; Neh. 7:6–7), the origin, nature, and purpose of the list has been much debated. The first recorded act of the newly established community was the reinstitution of the regular daily ritual on the first of Tishri, and later the celebration of the festival of Tabernacles "as prescribed in the Torah of Moses." It was at the time of this festival that Solomon's Temple had been dedicated (i Kings 8:62ff.). Like that structure, the Second Temple was to be built with cedars from Lebanon, and at the foundation ceremonies, priestly and levitical choirs chanted psalms of praise and thanksgiving, "according to the order of David" and as was prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer. 33:10–11). The link with tradition is evident from the fact that while the young rejoiced, the elders, who remembered the First Temple, wept (Ezra 3:10–12).

The repatriates' ties with the past took on a strong ethnic coloring. In the neighboring provinces, particularly in Samaria, the Assyrian kings had earlier introduced an alien population which, in the course of time, came to worship the God of Israel (ii Kings 17). They now wanted to participate in the erection of the Jerusalem Temple. The repatriates felt no kinship with these elements and claimed that Cyrus' decree was for themselves alone. Rebuffed, these "opponents of Judah and Benjamin," this new "people of the land," succeeded in thwarting by one means or another the efforts of the Jews to rebuild the Temple during the reign of Cyrus and *Cambyses (Ezra 4:1–5). Years of famine followed and a certain demoralization set in. The rebellions and wars that took place in the Persian Empire after the death of Cambyses reverberated in Judah, and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah rose in 520 to encourage the Jewish leaders to resume construction of the Temple. They did so with enthusiasm and Haggai prophesied to Zerubbabel in messianic terms. The son of the same Jehoiachin, whom Jeremiah had likened to a signet which the Lord deliberately pulled off his hand and cast away (Jer. 22:24), would become just such a signet on the Lord's hand (Haggai 2:23), and the righteous Davidic "shoot" foreseen by Jeremiah (Jer. 23:5–6) was to sprout up and rule alongside the high priest (Zech. 6:12–13). The actual building was again called into question, this time by Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates. The Jews could produce no document granting them permission to build the Temple, but they reported that such a document was on file in the royal archives. When the memorandum of Cyrus was located in Ecbatana, Darius re-confirmed the decree with its provision for covering expenses and agreed to pay the expenses of a daily sacrifice on behalf of the royal family. Building subsequently proceeded and the dedication was held on Adar 3, 515, "as prescribed in the Book of Moses"; Passover was then celebrated by all those "who had separated themselves from the impurity of the nations of the land… to seek the Lord God of Israel" (Ezra 5–6). The Temple was rebuilt and the enemies of Judah were foiled, but Zerub-babel did not ascend the throne of David. No more is heard of him, and upon the death of Darius, the opponents of Judah sought to stir up King Xerxes against Judah (Ezra 4:7ff.). The restored community only became firmly established during the 40-year reign of Artaxerxes i, when *Ezra and *Nehemiah undertook the twin tasks of the codification of the law and the fortification of Jerusalem.


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[Bezalel Porten]