Babylonian captivity or Babylonian exile is the period in Jewish
history during which a number of people from the ancient Kingdom of
Judah were captives in Babylonia. After the
Battle of Carchemish in
605 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem,
resulting in tribute being paid by King Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim
refused to pay tribute in Nebuchadnezzar's fourth year, which led to
another siege in Nebuchadnezzar's seventh year, culminating with the
Jehoiakim and the exile of King Jeconiah, his court and many
others; Jeconiah's successor
Zedekiah and others were exiled in
Nebuchadnezzar's eighteenth year; a later deportation occurred in
Nebuchadnezzar's twenty-third year. The dates, numbers of
deportations, and numbers of deportees given in the biblical accounts
vary. These deportations are dated to 597 BCE for the first, with
others dated at 587/586 BCE, and 582/581 BCE respectively.
After the fall of Babylon to the Persian king
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great in 539
BCE, exiled Judeans were permitted to return to Judah. According
to the biblical book of Ezra, construction of the second temple in
Jerusalem began around 537 BCE. All these events are considered
Jewish history and culture, and had a far-reaching
impact on the development of Judaism.
Archaeological studies have revealed that not all of the population of
Judah was deported, and that, although
Jerusalem was utterly
destroyed, other parts of Judah continued to be inhabited during the
period of the exile. The return of the exiles was a gradual process
rather than a single event, and many of the deportees or their
descendants did not return.
1 Biblical accounts of the exile
2 Archaeological and other non-Biblical evidence
3 Exilic literature
4 Significance in Jewish history
6 See also
8 Further reading
Biblical accounts of the exile
In the late 7th century BCE, the
Kingdom of Judah
Kingdom of Judah was a client state
of the Assyrian empire. In the last decades of the century, Assyria
was overthrown by Babylon, an Assyrian province. 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. In the process Josiah, the king of Judah, was killed
in a battle with the Egyptians at the Battle of Megiddo (609 BCE).
After the defeat of
Pharaoh Necho's army by the Babylonians at
Carchemish in 605 BCE,
Jehoiakim began paying tribute to
Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. Some of the young nobility of Judah were
taken to Babylon.
In the following years, the court of
Jerusalem was divided into two
parties, in support of Egypt and Babylon. After
defeated in battle in 601 BCE by Egypt, Judah revolted against
Babylon, culminating in a three-month siege of
Jerusalem beginning in
late 598 BCE. Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, died during the
siege and was succeeded by his son
Jehoiachin (also called
Jeconiah) at the age of eighteen. The city fell on 2
16) 597 BCE, and
Jerusalem and its Temple
and took Jeconiah, his court and other prominent citizens (including
the prophet Ezekiel) back to Babylon. Jehoiakim's uncle Zedekiah
was appointed king in his place, but the exiles in Babylon continued
Jeconiah as their Exilarch, or rightful ruler.
Despite warnings by
Jeremiah and others of the pro-Babylonian party,
Zedekiah revolted against Babylon and entered into an alliance with
Nebuchadnezzar returned, defeated the Egyptians, and
again besieged Jerusalem, resulting in the city's destruction in 587
Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city wall and the Temple, together
with the houses of the most important citizens.
Zedekiah and his sons
were captured, the sons were executed in front of Zedekiah, who was
then blinded and taken to Babylon with many others (Jer 52:10–11).
Judah became a Babylonian province, called Yehud, putting an end to
the independent Kingdom of Judah. (Because of the missing years in the
Jewish calendar, rabbinic sources place the date of the destruction of
the First Temple at 3338 HC (423 BCE) or 3358 HC (403 BCE)).
Illustration from the
Nuremberg Chronicle of the destruction of
Jerusalem under the Babylonian rule
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,
Edom to return, and he took steps to
return the country to prosperity. Some time later, a surviving member
of the royal family assassinated
Gedaliah and his Babylonian advisors,
prompting many refugees to seek safety in Egypt. By the end of the
second decade of the 6th century, in addition to those who remained in
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, the Persian
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great ended the
exile in 538 BCE, the year after he captured Babylon. The
exile ended 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
Archaeological and other non-Biblical evidence
Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem, his capture of King Jeconiah, his
Zedekiah in his place, and the plundering of the city
in 597 BCE are corroborated by a passage in the Babylonian
In the seventh year, in the month of Kislev, the king of Akkad
mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, and encamped against
the City of Judah and on the ninth day of the month of
Adar he seized
the city and captured the king. He appointed there a king of his own
choice and taking heavy tribute brought it back to Babylon.
Jehoiachin's Rations Tablets, describing ration orders for a captive
King of Judah, identified with King Jeconiah, have been discovered
during excavations in Babylon, in the royal archives of
Nebuchadnezzar. One of the tablets refers to food rations for
"Ya’u-kīnu, king of the land of Yahudu" and five royal princes, his
Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian forces returned in 588/586 BCE and
rampaged through Judah, leaving clear archaeological evidence of
destruction in many towns and settlements there.:294 Clay ostraca
from this period, referred to as the
Lachish letters, were discovered
during excavations; one, which was probably written to the commander
Lachish from an outlying base, describes how the signal fires from
nearby towns were disappearing: "And may (my lord) be apprised that we
are watching for the fire signals of
Lachish according to all the
signs which my lord has given, because we cannot see Azeqah."
Archaeological finds from
Jerusalem testify that virtually the whole
city within the walls was burnt to rubble in 587 BCE and utterly
Archaeological excavations and surveys have enabled the population of
Judah before the Babylonian destruction to be calculated with a high
degree of confidence to have been approximately 75,000. Taking the
different biblical numbers of exiles at their highest, 20,000, this
would mean that at most 25% of the population had been deported to
Babylon, with the remaining 75% staying in Judah.:306 Although
Jerusalem was destroyed and depopulated, with large parts of the city
remaining in ruins for 150 years, numerous other settlements in Judah
continued to be inhabited, with no signs of disruption visible in
The Cyrus Cylinder, an ancient tablet on which is written a
declaration in the name of Cyrus referring to restoration of temples
and repatriation of exiled peoples, has often been taken as
corroboration of the authenticity of the biblical decrees attributed
to Cyrus, but other scholars point out that the cylinder's text is
specific to Babylon and Mesopotamia and makes no mention of Judah or
Jerusalem. Professor Lester L. Grabbe asserted that the "alleged
decree of Cyrus" regarding Judah, "cannot be considered authentic",
but that there was a "general policy of allowing deportees to return
and to re-establish cult sites". He also stated that archaeology
suggests that the return was a "trickle" taking place over decades,
rather than a single event.
As part of the Persian Empire, the former
Kingdom of Judah
Kingdom of Judah became the
province of Judah (Yehud Medinata) with different borders,
covering a smaller territory. The population of the province was
greatly reduced from that of the kingdom, archaeological surveys
showing a population of around 30,000 people in the 5th to 4th
An exhibition in
Jerusalem has on display over 100 cuneiform tablets
that detail trade in fruits and other commodities, taxes, debts, and
credits accumulated between
Jews driven from, or convinced to move
Jerusalem by King
Nebuchadnezzar around 600 BCE. They include
details on one exiled Judean family over four generations, all with
The exilic period was a rich one for Hebrew literature. Biblical
depictions of the exile include Book of
Jeremiah 39–43 (which 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.
The Priestly source, one of the four main sources of the
Torah/Pentateuch in the Bible, is primarily a product of the
post-exilic period when the former
Kingdom of Judah
Kingdom of Judah had become the
Persian province of Yehud. Also during this Persian period, the
final redaction of the Pentateuch purportedly took place.:310
Significance in Jewish history
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James Tissot, The Flight of the Prisoners.
In the Hebrew Bible, the captivity in Babylon is presented as a
punishment for idolatry and disobedience to
Yahweh in a similar way to
the presentation of Israelite slavery in Egypt followed by
deliverance. The Babylonian Captivity had a number of serious effects
Judaism and Jewish culture. For example, the current Hebrew
alphabet was adopted during this period, replacing the Paleo-Hebrew
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, the
Torah was redacted during this time, and began to be regarded as the
authoritative text for Jews. This period saw their transformation into
an ethno-religious group who could survive without a central
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
smaller family groups. Only the tribe of
Levi continued in its temple
role after the return. After this time, there were always sizable
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".
The following table is based on Rainer Albertz's work on Israel in
exile. (Alternative dates are possible.)
Death of Josiah
Jehoiakim (succeeded Jehoahaz, who replaced
reigned only 3 months) Began giving tribute to
Nebuchadnezzar in 605
BCE. First deportation, including Daniel.
Jehoiachin (reigned 3 months). Siege and fall of Jerusalem.
Second deportation, 16 March 597
Zedekiah made king of Judah by
Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon
Siege and fall of Jerusalem.
Solomon's Temple destroyed.
Third deportation July/August 587
Gedaliah the Babylonian-appointed governor of Yehud Province
Jews flee to Egypt and a possible fourth deportation to Babylon
Jehoiachin after 37 years in a Babylonian prison. He
remains in Babylon
Persians conquer Babylon (October)
Decree of Cyrus allows
Jews to return to Jerusalem
Return by many
Jews to Yehud under
Zerubbabel and Joshua the High
Second Temple laid
Avignon Papacy, sometimes called the "Babylonian Captivity of the
Al-Yahudu Tablets, 200 clay tablets from the sixth and fifth centuries
BCE on the exiled Judean community
^ Coogan, Michael (2009). A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
^ Moore, Megan Bishop; Kelle, Brad E. (2011). Biblical History and
Israel S Past: The Changing Study of the Bible and History. Wm. B.
Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 357–58. ISBN 0802862608.
Retrieved 11 June 2015. Overall, the difficulty in calculation arises
because the biblical texts provide varying numbers for the different
deportations. The HB/OT’s conflicting figures for the dates, number,
and victims of the Babylonian deportations become even more of a
problem for historical reconstruction because, other than the brief
reference to the first capture of
Jerusalem (597) in the Babylonian
Chronicle, historians have only the biblical sources with which to
^ Dunn, James G.; Rogerston, John William (2003). Eerdmans Commentary
on the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 545.
^ Jonathan Stökl, Caroline Waerzegger (2015). Exile and Return: The
Babylonian Context. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. pp. 7–11,
^ Encyclopaedia Judaica. 3 (2nd ed.). p. 27.
^ Stern, Ephraim (November–December 2000). "The Babylonian Gap".
Biblical Archaeology Review. 26 (6). From 604 BCE to 538 BCE—there
is a complete gap in evidence suggesting occupation. ... I do not mean
to imply that the country was uninhabited during the period between
the Babylonian destruction and the Persian period. There were
undoubtedly some settlements, but the population was very small. Many
towns and villages were either completely or partly destroyed. The
rest were barely functioning. International trade virtually ceased.
Only two regions appear to have been spared this fate—the northern
part of Judah (the region of Benjamin) and probably the land of Ammon,
although the latter region awaits further investigation.
^ Geoffrey Wigoder, The Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of
the Bible Pub. by Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. (2006)
^ Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Hebrew Bible, Continuum International, 1996,
p. x. ISBN 0-304-33703-X
^ 2Kings 24:6–8
^ Philip J. King, Jeremiah: An Archaeological Companion (Westminster
John Knox Press, 1993), p. 23.
^ The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ed. by Michael D Coogan.
Pub. by Oxford University Press, 1999. p. 350
Talmud Bavli, avodah zara p. 9a. Josephus, seder hadoroth
^ malbim to ezekiel 24:1, abarbanel et al.
^ a b "
Second Temple Period (538 BCE. to 70 CE) Persian Rule".
Biu.ac.il. Retrieved 2014-03-15.
^ Harper's Bible Dictionary, ed. by Achtemeier, etc., Harper &
Row, San Francisco, 1985, p. 103
^ a b c d e f g Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher (2001). The
Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the
Origin of Its Sacred Texts. Simon and Schuster.
David Winton (1958). Documents from Old Testament Times
(1961 ed.). Edinburgh and London: Thomas Nelson. p. 84.
^ Cf. 2Kings 24:12, 24:15–24:16, 25:27–25:30; 2Chronicles
Jeremiah 22:24–22:6, 29:2, 52:31–52:34; Ezekiel
^ COJS staff. "Babylonian Ration List: King Jehoiakhin in Exile, 592/1
BCE". COJS.org. The Center for Online Judaic Studies. Archived from
the original on 16 June 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013. Ya’u-kīnu,
king of the land of Yahudu
^ Translation from Aḥituv, Shmuel. Echoes from the Past. Jerusalem:
CARTA Jerusalem, 2008, p. 70.
^ a b Becking, Bob (2006). ""We All Returned as One!": Critical Notes
on the Myth of the Mass Return". In Lipschitz, Oded; Oeming, Manfred.
Judah and the Judeans in the Persian Period. Winona Lake, IN:
Eisenbrauns. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-57506-104-7.
^ a b Grabbe, Lester L. (2004). A History of the
Second Temple Period: Yehud – A History of the Persian Province
of Judah v. 1. T & T Clark. p. 355.
^ Yehud being the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew Yehuda, or "Judah",
and "medinata" the word for province
^ "Ancient tablets on display in
Jerusalem reveal Jewish life during
^ "Ancient tablets reveal life of
Jews in Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon". 3
February 2017 – via Reuters.
^ Rainer Albertz, Israel in exile: the history and literature of the
sixth century BCE (page 15 link) Society for Biblical Literature,
2003, pp. 4–38
^ Blum, Erhard (1998). "Issues and Problems in the Contemporary Debate
Regarding the Priestly Writings". In Sarah Shectman, Joel S. Baden.
The strata of the priestly writings: contemporary debate and future
directions. Theologischer Verlag. pp. 32–33.
^ A Concise History of the Jewish People. Naomi E. Pasachoff, Robert
J. Littma. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. p. 43
^ Rainer Albertz, Israel in exile: the history and literature of the
sixth century BCE, p.xxi.
page 77 with another list of dates
2 Kings 25:27
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Babylonian captivity.
Yehud Medinata map, CET – Center For Educational technology
Yehud Medinata Border map, CET – Center For Educational technology
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Ancient Israel and Judah
Second Temple Judaism
Under Muslim rule
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