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Although the term Babylonian captivity, or Babylonian exile, typically refers to the deportation and exile of the Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II in 587 BC, in fact the exile started with the first deportation in 597 BC. The captivity and subsequent return to Israel and rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple are pivotal events in the history of the Jews and Judaism, and had far-reaching impacts on the development of modern Jewish culture and practice.

According to biblical dating the Kingdom of Judah (also known as the "Southern Kingdom") came into existence in c. 930 BC on the breakup of the United Monarchy.[1] David was made king over the tribe of Judah as early as 1007 BC, and the Davidic line ruled over Judah for over 420 years, until the kingdom fell in 587 BC to the Babylonian Empire under Nebuzar-adan, captain of Nebuchadnezzar's body-guard.[2]

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Exile

Jews in Babylonia were forced into exile as a result of uprisings in Palestine and the subsequent conquest of Judah by the Babylonians in 598/7 and 587/6 BC. Historians agree that several deportations took place, that not all Jews were forced to leave their homeland, that returning Jews left Babylonia at various times, and that some Jews chose to remain in Babylonia.[3] This was the first of numerous Jewish communities living permanently in the Jewish Diaspora.

The exile formally ended in 538 BC, when the Persian conqueror of Babylonia, Cyrus the Great, gave the Jews permission to return to Palestine. The Jews looked upon Cyrus the Great as their benefactor and a servant of their God. In the Hebrew Bible,[Isa. 45:1–3] Cyrus is actually called God's anointed.[3]

According to the Babylonian Chronicles, in 599 BC, Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylon lay siege to Jerusalem.[4][5] Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, died in 598 BC[6] during the siege, and was succeeded by his son Jeconiah at an age of either eight or eighteen.[7] The city fell about three months later,[2 Chr 36:9] [8] on 2 Adar (March 16) 597 BC. Nebuchadnezzar pillaged both Jerusalem and the Temple, carting all his spoils to Babylon. Jeconiah and his court and other prominent citizens and craftsmen, along with a sizable portion of the Jewish population of Judah, numbering about 10,000[9] were deported from the land and dispersed throughout the Babylonian Empire.[2 Kgs 24:14] Among them was Ezekiel. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah, Jehoiakim's brother, king of the reduced kingdom, who was made a tributary of Babylon. Babylonian captivity is counted as having started with the first deportation in 597 BC. The exiles in Babylon continued to consider Jeconiah as the rightful king, and not Zedekiah. Jeconiah was counted as the first Exilarch.

Despite the strong remonstrances of Jeremiah and others, Zedekiah revolted against Nebuchadrezzar, ceasing to pay tribute to him and entered into an alliance with Pharaoh Hophra of Egypt. In 589 BC, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Judah and again besieged Jerusalem for eighteen months. During this period, many Jews fled to surrounding Moab, Ammon, Edom and other countries to seek refuge.[Jer 40:11-12] The city fell and Nebuchadnezzar again pillaged both Jerusalem and the Temple, after which he destroyed them both. He took Zedekiah to Babylon and made Judah a Babylonian province, called Yehud, putting an end to the independent Kingdom of Judah. In addition to those killed during the siege, over time, some 4,600 Jews were deported after the fall of Judah.[Jer 52:29]

The exile to Babylon was a traumatic event in Jewish history, as the destruction of the political independence of the kingdom coincided with the destruction of the monarchy and of the First Temple of Jerusalem. Prior to this, several deportations of Judaean nobility and leading citizens occurred.[10]

Return

After the overthrow of Babylonia by the Persian Empire, the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great gave Jews permission to return to the Province of Judah in 538 BCE,[11][12][13] and more than 40,000 are said to have returned, as noted in the Biblical accounts of Jehoiakim, Ezra, and Nehemiah.[14]

The Babylonian captivity had a number of consequences on Judaism and the Jewish culture, including changes to the Hebrew alphabet 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.[15] This process coincided with the emergence of scribes and sages as Jewish leaders (see Ezra and the Pharisees).

Prior to the exile, the Israelites had been organized on a tribal basis, while afterwards they came to be organized by clans, with only the tribe of Levi continuing in its special role. After the Babylonian captivity, there were always sizable numbers of Jews living outside Eretz Israel, thus marking one starting point of the "Jewish diaspora."[16]

During the period of captivity, Jews continued to practice and develop their religious traditions, many of which became distinct from their origins, due to the influences of the local culture.

After the overthrow of Babylonia by the Persian Empire, in 538 BC [17] the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great gave the Jews permission to return to the Province of Judah, and more than 40,000 are said to have done so, as noted in the Biblical accounts of Ezra, and Nehemiah.[14] The Persians had a different political philosophy of managing conquered territories from the Babylonians or Assyrians: under the Persians, local personages were put into power to govern the local populace.

The actual return of the exiles was consummated by Ezra, who assembled at the river Ahava all those desirous of returning. These consisted of about 1,800 men, or 5,500 to 6,000 souls (Ezra 8), besides 38 Levites and 220 slaves of the Temple from Casiphia. With this body, which was invested with royal powers, Ezra and Nehemiah succeeded, after great difficulties, in establishing the post-exilic Jewish community. From the list given in Nehemiah 7:6-72 (which parallels Ezra 2), which the chronicler supposed to be an enumeration of those who had returned under Cyrus, it appears that the whole Jewish community at this time comprised 42,360 men, or 125,000 to 130,000 people.[18]

There are many theories about the later descendants of early Jewish emigrations. One is that some freed Jews by Cyrus the Great migrated north following Zoroastrian Persians and established themselves in the Hindu Kush and what is now northern Afghanistan, eventually joined by a confederation of semi-nomadic Turk and Mongol tribes from Altay. They intermarried and became known as the Bulgar tribes or "people of mixed blood". Another oft-cited theory is that they became the Khazars, a Central Asian nomadic people. Some 19th century Americans believed some Native American tribes were descended from early Jewish emigrants and attempted to communicate with them in Hebrew.

Prior to the return, the northern Israelite tribes had been taken captive by Assyria and never returned, leaving the survivors of the Babylonian exile as the majority of the remaining Children of Israel. When the Israelites returned home, they found a mixture of peoples, the Samaritans, practicing a religion very similar, but not identical, to their own. Over time, hostility grew between the returning Jews and the Samaritans.

Although there are many other conflicting theories about the Samaritans' origins, many of them may have simply been Israelites who remained behind and thus had no part in the sweeping changes of the Israelite religion brought about among the captives. Alternatively, perhaps the fierce purity of the Jewish religion and cultural identity of the Babylonian Jews returning from exile, seventy years after their deportation, completely eclipsed the partial fate of the mixed group of Israelite survivors, who had practised paganism for hundreds of years in Israel (including the worship of a golden bull), and who had inter-married with the peoples sent into the territory by the Assyrians (a practice strictly forbidden by Mosaic laws[citation needed] , and punished by Nehemiah).

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."

Babylonian captivity of the Church

The expression Babylonian captivity of the Church was originally used to describe the captivity of the Roman Catholic Church in the see of Avignon during the Western Schism. It was subsequently re-used by Martin Luther during the early days of the Protestant Reformation.

References

  1. ^ The Kingdom of Israel was called the "Northern Kingdom".
  2. ^ 2 Kings 25:8-21
  3. ^ a b "Babylonian Exile." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2010. Web. 14 Mar. 2010
  4. ^ No 24 WA21946, The Babylonian Chronicles, The British Museum
  5. ^ Geoffrey Wigoder, The Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible Pub. by Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. (2006)
  6. ^ Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Hebrew Bible, Continuum International, 1996, page x. ISBN 030433703X
  7. ^ [1] Bible Studies website
  8. ^ Philip J. King, Jeremiah: An Archaeological Companion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), page 23.
  9. ^ The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ed. by Michael D Coogan. Pub. by Oxford University Press, 1999. pg 350
  10. ^ Daniel 1:1-6; cf. 2 Chronicles 36:6-7; also 2 Kings 24:10-16.
  11. ^ http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/exile2.html
  12. ^ http://www.biu.ac.il/js/rennert/history_4.html
  13. ^ http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/HEBREWS/EXILE.HTM
  14. ^ a b Nehemiah 7:6-66 and Ezra 2:64
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Alternately, this may be considered to have begun with the Assyrian captivity of Israel.
  17. ^ http://www.atg.ps/index.php?page=1177263123.1177265024.1177265784
  18. ^ Gottheil et al., ""Babylonian Captivity"". http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=135&letter=C&search=Babylonian%20captivity. Retrieved 2007-11-08.  JewishEncyclopedia.com

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