Judah in Exile
Judah had extended warning both by the terms of the original contract in the Old Testament (specifically the book of Deuteronomy), and by example that continuing in apostasy and idolatry would lead to national destruction and exile in a foreign land (they could see what had happened to Israel, the northern kingdom, for instance). At the beginning of their national existence God had very clearly warned his people that if they did not observe His law, their nation would be devastated. Isaiah and Micah had predicted the captivity of Judah in Babylon a century and a half before it happened (Isaiah 11:11; 39:5-8; Micah 4:10). The prophet Jeremiah had actually announced that the captivity would last seventy years (Jeremiah 25:1, 11-12; cf. Daniel 9:1-2).
The progressive captivity of the Northern kingdom beginning under Tiglath Pileser (745-726 BC) and ending with the fall of Samaria and the end of Israel around 721 BC, with subsequent deportations by later Assyrian kings, Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, furnished actual illustrations of the teachings of the prophets of Judah. Even Sennacherib's invasion of Judah (cf. 2 Kings 18:13) failed to arouse the people to listen to the warnings of the prophtets. Judah's continued attachment to idolatry, despite Yahweh's patience , required the eventual punishment of the Babylonian exile. God had promised the outcome as a consequence of his coventant with Israel in Deuteronomy.
The destruction of Nineveh and the fall of Assyria in 612 BC prepared the international stage for the drama of Judah's forced deportation to Babylon. The rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (605-539 BC) was as rapid as its demise. When its divine mission of chastizing God's people was accomplished, it was quickly destroyed.
Nebuchadnezzar II and the Jewish Captives
Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BC), one of the most powerful and autocratic of ancient rulers, adopted essentially the same policy of displacing whole populations as that inaugurated by the Assyrian kings of the eighth century. With regard to the deportation of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar's plan accomplished two things: first, it guaranteed, for awhile at least, the submission of a piece of territory long noted for its recalcitrance. Second, it supplied Nebuchadnezzar with skilled artisans and craftsmen for the elaborate building projects he was planning in Babylon.
The First Deportation. According to the biblical account Nebuchadnezzar accomplished three deportations of Judah: one "in the third year of tahe reign of Jehoiakim", which would have been around 605 BC. It was during this deportation that Daniel would have been taken, along with other royal personages (Daniel 1:1-4). The second deportation was around 597 BC, when King Jehoiachin and others, including Ezekiel, were taken away (2 Kings 24:14-16). The third was then around 587 BC, when the city and temple were destroyed (2 Kings 25:9-10).
Critics do not seriously question the second and third deportations, but customarily dismiss the first carrying away mentioned by Daniel as unhistorical. However, extra-biblical confirmation is not entirely lacking to support Daniel's testimony. Josephus, a Jewish historian of the first century AD, has preserved the important witness of the Babylonian priest, Berossus, of the third century BC to such a campaign.
Josephus quotes Berossus to he effect that when Nabopolassar had heard that the governor he had appointed over the west had revolted against him, he sent his young son Nebuchadnezzar against the rebel, conquered him, and brought the country back under the dominion of Babylon. During this campaign, Nebuchadnezzar received news of his father's death. Committing the Jewish, Syria and other captives to his officers, he hurried back to Babylon to assume the kingship.
Spring or summer of 605 BC, when the rainy season would be avoided, would have been the natural time for the campaign of Nebuchadnezzar referred to by Daniel and Berossus. The Babylonian evidence supports this date. The last two tablets of Nabopolassar are dated May and August 605 BC, while the first two of Nebuchadnezzar are inscribed August and September of the same year. There is, therefore, no valid reason to reject the historicity of the first deportation, mentioned in the book of Daniel, despite the fact that such a campaign is, for the most part, passed over in silence by the book of Kings (but cf. 2 Kings 24:1ff).
The Second and Third Deportations. Nebuchadnezzar's later advances on Jerusalem are told in detail in the scriptural narratives. In the siege of 597 BC King Jehoiachin surrendered, and the Babylonian king carreid him, the princes, the warriors "even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths" to Babylon (2 Kings 24:10-17). At the same time he stripped the temple of its remaining treasures (2 Kings 24:13), part of which had been carried away in the first deportation (Daniel 1:2), took other booty, and placed Jehoiachin's unlce, Mattaniah, on the throne of Judah, changing his name to Zedekiah.
Zedekiah's revolt in the ninth year of his reign (c. 586 BC) brought about the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
In the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of Yahweh and the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem...(2 Kings 25:8-9).
Nebu-zar-adan, captain of the guard, was the Babylonian Nabu-zer-idinna, the chief baker (a title which had come to have no functional significance). Everything of value in the city was carried off, including the elaborate cultic paraphernalia of Solomon's temple. The chief priests were put to death and Zedekiah was blinded and carried in fetters to Babylon (2 Kings 25:1-21). Over the people who still remained in the land, Nebuchadnezzar placed a governor named Gedaliah, who appears to be the high official "who was over the house" named on a seal of this period found at Lachish.
The Desolation of Palestine. Excavations at Jerusalem and in Palestine in general show how thorough was the damage and destruction wrought during the Babylonian invasions. Not a trace of the Solomonic temple nor the palace of the Davidic kings has remained. Excavations at Azeka, Beth-Shemesh and Kiriath-Sepher and surface examinations elsewhere furnish mute evidence of the destruction. At Lachish, two destructions occuring near the same time are doubtless to be connected with Nebuchadnezzar's invasions of 597 and 586 BC. The Lachish letters were recovered from the ruins associated with the 586 destruction.
The Ministry of Ezekiel. As Jeremiah was a prophet to the people in Jerusalem and Judah, Ezekiel his younger contemporary, performed the same role to the Jews in exile. He lived and prophesied to the Jewish community "in the land of the Chaldeans, by the river Chebar" (Ezekiel 1:1-2). As a consequence of archeological excavations, the Chebar River is now thought to be the canal Kabar which is located in central Babylonia. It runs between Babylon and the city of Nippu, sixty miles to the southeast. The same word is used in cuneiform to indicate both rivers and canals.
Nippur, excavated by an American expedition under Peters, Haynes and Hilprecht (1880-1900), yielded several thousand clay tablets, including a Sumerian account ofthe flood. It was not known how close to Nippur the colonies of deported Jews to whom Ezekiel ministered were located. But Ezekiel's residence, Tel-abib (Ezekiel 3:15), is now thought to be the Babylonian Til-Abubi ("mound of the deluge"), a term used in Akkadian cuneiform to designate the low mounds scattered throughout Mesopotamia. Morover, names compounded with the element Tel (Tell), "mound", were common in Babylonia during this era, when old abandoned sites were being reoccupied.
In a land that was far richer economically than Judah, the exiles enjoyed many privileges, and there was nothing to hinder them from rising to positions of prominence and wealth (Daniel 2:48; Nehemiah 1:11). The captives who were settled in and near Nippu enjoyed the opportunities afforded by a large commercial center, and even during the period of captivity must have acquired great riches. Later, under the Persian kings Artaxerxes I (465-424 BC), and Darius II (424-405 BC), a famous mart was located there and it was operated by "Murashi an Sons", with which a great many individuals with Jewish names were associated.
But not all the exiles adapted themselves to their new environment. Many were porr, discouraged and afflicted with nostalgia. Accordingly, Ezekiel was commissioned to bring them a message of hope that reached on into the future to the time of Israel's earthly kingdom under the Messiah (Ezekiel 40-48).
Authenticity of Ezekiel's Prophecies. Archeology has done much to counteract radical theories concerning the authorship and date of the book Ezekiel, the prophet to the Hebrew exiles. C.C. Torrey is an example of a critic who rejected Ezekiel's authorship. He argued that it was essentially pseudepigraphic from the late third century BC and not the work of Ezekiel at all.
One of C.C. Torrey's chief arguments against the genuiness of the prophesy is the dating of events by "king Jehoiachin's captivity." Since this monarch reigned only three months and was carried captive to Babylon, such a procedure would seem abnormal. However, archeology has turned the tables on the critic in this matter and has presented this feature of the prophecy as "an inexpungable argument in favor of its genuiness."
Jar handles discovered at Tell Beit Mirsim and Beth-Shemesh in 1928-1930 stamped "Eliakim, steward of Yaukin [i.e. Jehoiachin]" give clear evidence that this Eliakim was the steward of the crown property belonging to Jehoiachin and that the exiled ing was still recognized as rightful sovereign by the people of Judah. Zedekiah was merely regarded as the regent for his exiled nephew (cf. Jeremiah 28:4). The Jews desired to acknowledge their rightful king, yet did not dare date events by his reign "since the actual rulership had been terminated by the Babylonians." On the otaher hand, it was not unnatural for the Jewish people in Babylon to date by the year of their monarch's captivity.
That Jehoiachin was still considered "king of Judah", even by the Babylonians, was proved in 1940 by the publication of tablets from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, enumerating the recipients of royal bounty, and including "Yaukin, king of the land of Yahud (Judah)." In addition to this striking confirmation of the authenticity of Ezekiel's prophecy, the book is replete with "archeologically accurate allusions, which could scarcely be explained if Torrey were right."
A case in point is the reference to Persia (Paras) as a country which was strong enough to dispatch troops to fight in the armies of Tyre and Gog (Ezekiel 27:10 and 38:5). "How could Ezekiel make this casual mention of the Persians", writes Torrey, "before that people had made its appearance on the stage of history?" Archeology has likewise furnished the answer to that question.
In 1930-31 Ernst Herzfeld and E.F. Weidner published inscriptions showing that Persia was an important independent country under Achaemenian kings as early as the seventh century BC, several generations before Ezekiel's time. In addition to this evidence, the Assyrian records of the ninth century BC already mention "Persia" as a country in western Iran. It is certanily true that Persia did not become a world power until Cyrus conquered Astyages, king of Media (c. 550 BC), a little more than two decades after the close of Ezekiel's ministry. However, the prophet's reference only necessitates a land of relative importance before the time of Cyrus.
The Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar II. The splendors of the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar II are now quite well known thanks to archeological excavations that began in 1899. From that year on, the Deutsche Orientgessellschaft under the leadership of Robert Koldewey excavated at the site of the ancent city and uncovered remains of the vast building projects with which the king's own inscriptions largely deal. The Book of Daniel significantly records the proud Babylonian monarch's boast of the magnificence of his royal city, which receives ample illustration from the monuments. "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for the royal dwelling-place, by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:30).
Archeology shows "that the city did indeed owe most of its immortal reputation for magnificence to this monarch...." Among the vast ruins rises the Ishtar gate, leading through a massive double wall of fortifications and ornamented with bulls and dragons done in enameled colored brick. The Ishtar Gate gave access to the city's great processional street, whose walls were also adorned with enameled lions, as was also the throne room in Nebuchadnezzar's palace.
In the temple area, only the ground plan now remains of Nebuchadnezzar's ziggurat, but according to Herodotus, it towered to a height of eight stages. Not far distant was Marduk's temple, which the king restored, built with step-backs liike a modern skyscraper. In the general area, but now no longer identifiable, were the most famous of all Nebuchadnezzar's constructions, the hanging gardens, which the king built in terraces to compensate, so the story goes, his Median queen for the absence of her beloved mountains, and which the Greeks viewed as one of the seven wonders of the world.
The East India House inscription, now in London, devotes six columns of Akkadian writing to a description of the huge building projects of Nebuchadnezzar in his zeal to enlarge and beautify his capital city. He rebuilt more than twenty temples in Babylon and Borsippa, executed a vast system of fortifications, and made great quays for the shipping industry.
Most of the bricks found in the excavations of Babylon carry his stamp: "Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, supporter of Esagila and Ezida, exalted first-born son of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon." Esagila ("house whose top is lofty") was the Babylonian name of Marduk's temple at Babylon. Ezida ("the enduring house") was the temple of Nebo, patron of culture, at Borsippa. One of Nebuchadnezzar's records recalls his boast mentioned in Daniel 4:30: "The fortifications of Esagila and Babylon I strengthened and established the name of my reign forever."
Daniel's allusion to Nebuchadnezzar's building activities is important in reference to the common critical view of the book, which gives it a Maccabean date (c. 167 BC). But the problem is, how did the supposed late writer of the book know that the glories of Babylon were due to Nebuchadnezzar's building operations? R.H. Pfeiffer, though defending the critical view, confesses that "we shall presumably never know." But if one accepts the genuiness of the book of Daniel, in this instance notably supported by the archeology, the critic's problem vanishes.
Evidence of the Jewish Exile. The interesting question to the biblical archeologist is whether or not any concrete archeological evidence is available proving that the Jews were really captives in Babylon. The discovery of some three hundred cuneiform tablets in a vaulted building nerar the Ishtar Gate in Babylon now makes possible an affirmative answer to this query. These tablets, upon careful study, were found to date between 595 and 570 BC, the period virtually coterminous with Ezekiel's dated ministry to the exiles. They contain lists of rations of food paid to craftsmen and captives who resided in or near Babylon during this period.
Among the recipients of these rations were people from various subject nations (the Jewish people were not the only displaced persons in the Babylonian empire). The nations listed include: Egypt, Philistia, Phoenicia, Asia Minor, Persia, and, of course, Judah. The Jewish people that are listed have characteristically Jewish names, some of which are biblical, such as: Semachiah, Gaddiel and Shelemiah. It is in these tablets, associated with five other royal princes, that the mention of King Jehoiachin of Judah can be found. Jehoiachin's name has an important effect on the authenticity of Ezekiel.
Jehoiachin (written Yaukin; an abreviated form of his name) is specifically described as "king of the land of Yahud." "Yahud" is a shortened for of Judah (Yehuda in Hebrew) which is well known in the period after the exile, when the small Jewish state stamped official jar handles and silver coins with the legend "Yehud".
One of the documents mentioning Yaukin is specifically dated 592 BC. At this time, some have suggested, the captive Judean king seems to have been free to move about the city, as suggested by the distribution of rations to him. Some would argue that he was not cast into prison until a later time, and then in the thirty-seventh year of his exile he was finally liberated and restored to a favorable, or perhaps even a perferential treatment.
Later Events in the Neo-Babylonian Empire
The Neo-Babylonian Empire was destined to collapse, almost as soon at its task of chastening idolatrous Judah was completed. After Nebuchadnezzar's long reign, decline set it quickly. Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by a series of wimps: first came his son Amel-Marduk (or Amil-Marduk or Awil-Marduk, meaning "man of Marduk"; he reigned 562-560 BC; the Bible refers to him as "Evil-merodoch" in 2 Kings 25:27, the word "Evil" simply being a transliteration of the underlying Hebrew; it is merely an accident that it happens to sound like the English word "evil"). Archeological coroboration of this king was found on a vase discovered at Susa in the course of the French excavations there. It bore the inscription: "Palace of Amel-Marduk, king of Babylon, son of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon."
Amel-Marduk was soon slain by his brother-in-law, Nergal-shar-usur (Neriglisar), who in turn reigned only four years (560-556 BC). Thereupon his son, Labashi-Marduk was murdered after reigning only a few months.
Nabonidus as King. One of the conspirators against Labashi-Marduk was a Babylonian noble named Nabonidus (the Greek form of his name. The Akkadian form of his name was Nabu-naid, meaning "the god Nabu [or Nebo] is exalted"). Nabonidus ruled as the last monarch of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (556-539 BC).
Nabonidus was a man with great cultural and religious interests. He was an archeologist and a builter and restorer of temples. He sought for inscriptions, which even in his day were ancient, and had names and lists of kings copied out, which have proved very useful for historians and antiquarieans of later ages (and the bane of students forced to endure professors who glory in such grocery lists). His mother seems to have been a priestess in the temple of the moon god Sin at Haran (there is no significance to the name of the god. It is simply an accident of language that it happens to sound like the English word "sin"). Nabonidus had an ardent interest in the shrines of Sin both at Haran and at Ur.
Nabonidus' own daughter was dedicated to the great temple of Sin at Ur, and the king's devotion to the moon god to the neglect of Marduk evidently aroused the priests against his religious program. When Babylonia was threatened by Cyrus' invasion, the pious king collected the various gods at Babylon for safekeeping, but these were subsequently restored to their native shrines by the conqueror (such an alien concept of gods. The king protects them, rather than vice-versa. What good is that kind of god? It's like having a Chihuahua for a watchdog!)
Nabonidus spent many years of his reign at Tema, in Arabia, a choice which may have had many commercial and military advantages. When Cyrus threatened to overrun Babylonia, the king returned home in the seventeenth year of his reign (539 BC). After the fall of Babylon, Nabonidus was treated well by Cyrus, who gave him Carmania in southern Persia, perhaps to rule, perhaps just as a place to live.
The Coregency of Belshazzar. According to contemporary Babylonian records, Belshazzr (mentioned in the Book of Daniel; the Akkadian form of his name was Bel-shur-usur, meaning "Bel protects the king") was the eldest son and coregent of Nabonidus. The following passage explictely states that before Nabonidus started on his expedition to Tema, he entrusted the actual kingship to Belshazzar:
He entrusted a camp to his eldest, first-born son; the troops of the land he sent with him. He freed his hand, he entrusted the kingship to hijm. Then he himself undertook a distant campaign, the power of the land of Akkad advanced with him; towards Tema in the midst of the Westland he set his face....He himself established his dwelling in Tema....That city he made glorious....They made it like a palace of Babylon....
According to Babylonian records, Belshazzar became coregent in the third year of Nabonidus' reign (553 BC) and he continued in that capacity untl the fall of Babylon (539-535 BC). The Nabunaid Chronicle reports that in the seventh, ninth, tenth, and eleventh year "the king was in the city of Tema. The son of the king, the princes and the troops were in the land of Akkad (i.e., Babylonia)".
While Nabonidus was absent in Tema, the Nabunaid Chronicle expressly states that the New Year's Festival was not celebrated, but was observed in the seventeenth year when the king returned home. It is thus clear that Belshazzar actually exercised the coregency in Babylon and that the Babylonian recoreds in a remarkable manner supplement the biblical notices (Dan. 5; 7:1; 8:1), which are not in error in representing Belshazzar as the last king of Babylon, as negative criticism had once been so certain. Nor can the book of Daniel be said wrong when it calls Belshazzar "the son of Nebuchadnezzar" (Dan. 5:1). Even if Belshazzar was not related to Nebuchadnezzar (though his mother, Nitocris, was evidently Nebuchadnezzar's daughter), the usage of "son of" is equivalent in Semitic usages to "successor of" when used of royalty (an analogy might be made with Jesus, who is called "son of David", though in point of fact he is not the physical descendant of David, being the Son of God rather than the son of Joseph).
The Fall of Babylon. Cyrus II, called "the Great", is considered the founder of the Persian Empire. He succeeded his father, Cambyses I, to the throne of Anshan (c. 559 BC) and thereafter began a rapid conquest of the Near East. By 549 BC he had conquered the Medes and by 546 BC he had subdued Lydia. In 539 BC Babylon fell to him. The Nabunaid Chronicle tells that the Persian forces took Sippar shortly before that and Cyrus the Great entered Babylon shortly thereafter:
In the month of Tashritu, when Cyrus attacked the army of Akkad in Opis on the Tigris, the inhabitants of Akkad revoltd; [Nabonidus] massacred the confused inhabitants. The fifteenth day, Sippar was seized without battle. Nabonidus fled. The sixteenth day, Gobryas [Ugbaru], the governor of Gutium and the army of Cyrus entered Babylon without battle. Afterward, Nabonidus was arrested in Babylon when he returned [there]....In the month of Arahshamnu, the third day, Cyrus entered Babylon. Green twigs were spread in front of him -- the state of "peace" [shulmu] was imposed upon the city. Cyrus sent greetings to all Babylon. Gobryas, his governor, installed [sub-]governors in Babylon....In the month of Arahshamnu, on the night of the eleventh day, Gobryas died. In the month of [Arahshamnu, the...th day, the [wi]fe of the king died. From the twenty-seventh day of Arahshamnu till the third day of Nisanu an official time of mourning was performed in Akkad. All the people [went around] with their hair disheveled.
The Nabunaid Chronicle thus relates that the joyful acclamation of Cyrus by the Babylonians was cut short by the death of both the governor and someone else. Thanks to the mutilated condition of the text, it is unclear whether it was wife of the king or the son of the king. Doughherty favors the view that the reference is to the "wife of the king", that is, Belshazzar's mother, the wife of Nabonidus. It is thought that perhaps grief from the death of her son Belshazzar and the loss of the kingdom to the Persians may have hastened her death.
Doughherty's explanation would also give significance to the period of official mourning for one who was apparently the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 5 and Xenophon agree that Belshazzar's death occured in connection with the actual capture of Babylon. This event must have occured when Gobryas, Cyrus' general, took the city without general resistance on the sixteenth day of the month of Tishri (October).
Although no document of Babylonian origin affirms that Belshazzar was actually present at the fall of Babylon, there is, on the otaher hand, no positive evidence against his participation in the events of 539 BC. Indeed, "Of all non-Babylonian records dealing with the situation at the close of the Neo-Babylonian Empire the fifth chapter of Daniel ranks next to cuneiform literature in acccuracy so far as outstanding events are concerned." So says Dougherty. "The matter concerning Belshazzar, far from being an error in Scriptures, is one of the many striking confirmations of the World of God which have been demonstrated by archaeology."
I hope the reader had problems with those last two statements, because they both have presuppositional problems, at least from my perspective. Dougherty writes, "of all non-Babylonian records...the fifth chapter of Daniel ranks next to cuneiform literature in accuracy..." What's wrong with that?
That the cuneiform writings are equal or superior to the biblical text for accuracy is questionable. The cuneiform literature is the product of a totalitarian state; it is likely to sometimes be accurate, but like Pravda during he time of the Soviet Union, sometimes it will not be accurate. It is a mistake to think of the cuneiform records as objective, unbiased accounts of reality. The governmental systmes of the ancient empires and the former Soviet Union were very similar, and the writings of both were designed to serve propaganda purposes: to glorify the current ruler and his policies. Think of Sennacherib's account of his attack on Jerusalem. It is accurate as far as it goes, but it created a misleading impression, just like the old joke about the two man race between the Soviet and the American athletes. Though the American won, Pravda reported that the Russian came in second while the American came in next to last.
Sooner or later cuneiform records may be found which seem to contradict biblical accounts. At that time, ask yourself who you're going to believe: Pravda or the Bible.
As regards the second of Dougherty's statements regarding "striking confirmations of the Word of God" from archeology: is the support of Pravda really necessary or useful in demonstrating the truth of the Bible? The accuracy of Scripture is a presupposition, an axiom. It is not provable. Archelogy and ancient texts give us background information and added details; they are not to be thought of as "proof". Such is not their task; such is not their purpose.
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