Of Judah. In the third year of Jehoiachim, the eighteenth king of Judah (B.C. 605), Nebuchadnezzar having overcome the Egyptians at Carchemish, advanced to Jerusalem with a great army. After a brief siege he took that city, and carried away the vessels of the sanctuary to Babylon, and dedicated them in the Temple of Belus (2 Kings 24:1; 2Chr 36:6,7; Daniel 1:1,2). He also carried away the treasures of the king, whom he made his vassal. At this time, from which is dated the "seventy years" of captivity (Jeremiah 25; Daniel 9:1,2), Daniel and his companions were carried to Babylon, there to be brought up at the court and trained in all the learning of the Chaldeans. After this, in the fifth year of Jehoiakim, a great national fast was appointed (Jeremiah 36:9), during which the king, to show his defiance, cut up the leaves of the book of Jeremiah's prophecies as they were read to him in his winter palace, and threw them into the fire. In the same spirit he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:1), who again a second time (B.C. 598) marched against Jerusalem, and put Jehoiachim to death, placing his son Jehoiachin on the throne in his stead. But Jehoiachin's counsellors displeasing Nebuchadnezzar, he again a third time turned his army against Jerusalem, and carried away to Babylon a second detachment of Jews as captives, to the number of 10,000 (2 Kings 24:13; Jeremiah 24:1; 2Chr 36:10), among whom were the king, with his mother and all his princes and officers, also Ezekiel, who with many of his companions were settled on the banks of the river Chebar (q.v.). He also carried away all the remaining treasures of the temple and the palace, and the golden vessels of the sanctuary.
Mattaniah, the uncle of Jehoiachin, was now made king over what remained of the kingdom of Judah, under the name of Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17; 2Chr 36:10). After a troubled reign of eleven years his kingdom came to an end (2 Chronicles 36:11). Nebuchadnezzar, with a powerful army, besieged Jerusalem, and Zedekiah became a prisoner in Babylon. His eyes were put out, and he was kept in close confinement till his death (2 Kings 25:7). 16. The Exiles in Babylon:
Their Social Condition, 464-405 BC:
Of the Jewish captives carried off by Nebuchadrezzar and settled by the rivers of Babylon, we learn something from the prophecies of Daniel which are now generally believed to belong to the Maccabean period, and much from the prophecies of Ezekiel, from the Psalms of the Captivity, and from the Second Isaiah, whose glowing messages of encouragement and comfort were inspired by the thought of the Return. From Haggai and Zechariah we see how the work of rebuilding the Temple was conceived and carried out. Of the social condition of the Exiles an interesting revelation is given by the excavations at Nippur. From cuneiform tablets, now in the Imperial Ottoman Museum at Constantinople, preserved among the business archives of the wealthy firm of Murashu, sons of Nippur, in the reign of Artaxerxes I and Darius II (464- 405 BC), there can be read quite a number of Jewish names. And the remarkable thing is that many of the names are those known to us from the genealogical and other lists of the Books of Ki and Ch and Ezr and Neh. Professor Hilprecht (The Babylonian Expedition, IX, 13) infers from an examination of these that a considerable number of the Jewish exiles, carried away by Nebuchadrezzar after the destruction of Jerusalem, were settled in Nippur and its neighborhood. Of this fact there are various proofs. The Talmudic tradition which identifies Nippur with Calneh (Genesis 10:10) gains new force in the light of these facts. And "the river Khebar in the land of the Chaldeans," by which Ezekiel saw his vision, is now known from inscriptions to be a large navigable canal not far from Nippur (ibid., 27,28).
17. The Rise and Development of Judaism:
The influence of the Captivity as a factor in the development of Judaism can hardly be overestimated. "The captivity of Judah," says Dr. Foakes-Jackson (Biblical History of the Hebrews, 316) "is one of the greatest events in the history of religion. .... With the captivity the history of Israel ends, and the history of the Jews commences." Placed in the midst of heathen and idolatrous surroundings the Golah recoiled from the abominations of their neighbors and clung to the faith of their fathers in the God of Abraham. Exposed to the taunts and the scorn of nations that despised them, they formed an inner circle of their own, and cultivated that exclusiveness which has marked them ever since. Being without a country, without a ritual system, without any material basis for their life as a people, they learned as never before to prize those spiritual possessions which had come down to them from the past. They built up their nationality in their new surroundings upon the foundation of their religion. Their prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, had encouraged and stimulated them with the assurance of spiritual blessings, and the promise of restoration. For their whole social and domestic and spiritual life there was needed some steady and continuous regulative principle or scheme. The need of this threw their leaders and thinkers back upon the Law of Moses. The rabbi and the scribe took the place of the sacrificing priest. The synagogue and the Sabbath came to occupy a new place in the religious practice of the people. These and other institutions of Judaism only attained to maturity after the Return, but the Captivity and the Exile created the needs they were meant to supply. While the prophets were clear and explicit in setting forth the Captivity, they were not less so in predicting the Return. Isaiah with his doctrine of the Remnant, Micah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others gifted with the vision of God, cheered the nation, each in their day, with the hope of restoration and return, not for Judah only but for Israel as well. Vineyards were to be planted again upon the mountains of Samaria as well as in the valleys of Judah. Jeremiah had even predicted the length of the period of the Exile, when he declared that the inhabitants of the land should serve the king of Babylon for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10).
18. The Return by Permission of Cyrus, 538 BC:
It was in Cyrus, who brought about the fall of Babylon and ended the New Babylonian Empire in 539 BC, that the hopes of the exiles came to be centered. He was "the battle- axe" with which Yahweh was to shatter Babylon (Jeremiah 51:20), and as he proceeded on his path of victory the unknown Seer whom we call the Second Isaiah welcomed him as the liberator of his people. "Thus saith Yahweh .... of Jerusalem, She shall be inhabited; and of the cities of Judah, They shall be built, and I will raise up the waste places thereof; that saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers; that saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure, even saying of Jerusalem, She shall be built; and of the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid" (Isaiah 44:26-28).
19. Rebuilding of the Temple, 536 BC:
Within a year of the entry of Cyrus into Babylon an edict was issued (2 Chronicles 36:22,23; Ezra 1:1), granting permission to the exiles to return and build a house for the Lord in Jerusalem. He also brought forth the vessels of the Temple which Nebuchadrezzar had carried away and handed them over to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah; and Sheshbazzar brought them with him when they of the Captivity were brought up from Babylon unto Jerusalem.
Particulars of the Return are given in the Books of Ezr and Neh, and in the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. Of the exiles 42,360 returned under Sheshbazzar, besides slaves; and under Jeshua the son of Jozadak the priest, and Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, first an altar was built and then the foundations of the Temple were laid. In consequence of the opposition of the Samaritans, who were refused any share in the restoration of the Temple, the work of rebuilding was greatly hindered, and came to a stop. It was then that Haggai and Zechariah urged the resumption of the work and partly by denouncing the niggardliness of the people and partly by foreshadowing the glorious future in store for the Temple, hastened forward the enterprise.
Completed 515 BC:
At length in the month Adar, in the 6th year of Darius (515 BC) the work was completed and the Passover celebrated within the courts of the restored Sanctuary (Ezra 6:15-).
20. Reforms and Labors of Ezra and Nehemiah, 445 BC:
For some decades the history is silent, and it was in 458 BC that Ezra set out for Jerusalem taking 1,800 Jews along with him. He found that the returned Jews had become allied in marriage with the people of the land and were in danger of losing their racial characteristics by absorption among the heathen (Ezra 9). It was due no doubt to his efforts and those of Nehemiah, supported by the searching and powerful utterances of Malachi, that this peril was averted. Thirteen years later (445 BC) Nehemiah, the cupbearer of Artaxerxes, having heard of the desolate condition of the Holy City, the place of his fathers' sepulchers, obtained leave of his master to visit Jerusalem. With letters to the governors on the route and to the keeper of the king's forest, he set out, and came safely to Jerusalem. Having himself inspected the walls he called the people to the work of repairing the ruins, and despite the taunts and calumny and active hostility of the Samaritan opposition he had the satisfaction of seeing the work completed, the gates set up and the city repopulated. Nehemiah and Ezra then gathered the people together to hear the words of the Law, and at a solemn convocation the Law was read and explained to the assembly. Thereafter a covenant was entered into by the people that they would observe the Law of Moses and not intermarry with the heathen nor traffic on the Sabbath, but would pay a third of a shekel annually for the services of the Temple and would bring first-fruits and tithes (Nehemiah 10:28).
21. Modern Theories of the Return:
The course of the history as here set forth has been disputed by some modern scholars, who hold that there was no return of the exiles under Cyrus and that the rebuilding of the Temple was the work of the Jews who remained behind in Judah and Jerusalem (EB, article "Ezra-Nehemiah"). This view, held by the late Professor Kosters of Leyden and supported by Professor H. P. Smith and other scholars, proceeds largely upon the rejection of the historical character of the Book of Ezra-Nehemiah. The historical difficulties which are found in the book are by no means such as to warrant us in denying the fact of the Return and the work of Ezra in connection with Nehemiah. As regards the Return, the course of the narrative is too well supported by documents which bear upon them the stamp of historical truth to be rashly disputed. Moreover, it seems highly improbable that an enterprise requiring such energy and skill and faith should have been undertaken, without stimulus from without, by the residue of the people. We have already seen how little initiative was to be expected of the poorest of the people; and the silence of Haggai, on the subject of the Return, is no argument against it. That the Judaism of Palestine required invigoration by an infusion of the zeal and enthusiasm which grew up in the Judaism of Babylonian, is manifest from the story of the Captivity.
22. Importance of the Period Ezra-Nehemiah:
From the age of Nehemiah and the period immediately preceding it came influences of the utmost moment for the future. "Within these hundred years," says the late Dr. P. Hay Hunter in After the Exile (I, xvi), "the teaching of Moses was established as the basis of the national life, the first steps were taken toward the formation of a canon of Scripture. Jewish society was moulded into a shape which succeeding centuries modified, but did not essentially change. During this period the Judea of the days of our Lord came into being. Within this period the forces which opposed Christ, the forces which rallied to His side, had their origin. This century saw the rise of parties, which afterward became sects under the names of Pharisees and Sadducees. It laid the foundation of Rabbinism. It fixed the attitude of the Jews toward the Gentiles. It put the priesthood in the way to supreme authority. It gave birth to the Samaritan schism."
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available from Crosswire Software.
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'CAPTIVITY'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.
Map of the Babylonian Captivity
Bible History Online