Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "OLD TESTAMENT
The History of Israel: Part 7 of
THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY
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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
- BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY
The captivity lasted 70 years, as Jeremiah had
prophesied (Jer. 25). From the first deportation (605) to the return (538),
also from the destruction of the temple (586) to its rebuilding (516), was 70
It should be noted that not all the Israelites (whether in the case of the
northern or southern kingdom) were taken captive. It was the policy of the
Assyrians (and Babylonians, who inherited their policy) to take captive only
the upper classes-nobility, priests, artisans, etc. - in short, the leaders.
The “people of the land” (am ha eretz - common folk) were usually docile
enough once their leaders were gone. Even according to Assyrian figures (and
they are never modest) not more than 1/20 of the population of the northern
kingdom was taken captive (see H. S. May’s “The Ten Lost Tribes,” Bib. Arch.
September, 1943, VI, 3, 54-60).
- EVENTS IN PALESTINE DURING THE CAPTIVITY, Jer. 40-43
The Babylonians made Gedaliah governor over the
remaining Jews. A radical anti-Babylon faction killed Gedaliah and fled to
Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them. Jeremiah died in Egypt. There were also
Edomite attacks against Judea early in the captivity. All these
events left Judea very thinly populated and exceedingly poor during this
The descendants of Abraham are called Hebrews or Israelites. The term “Jew”
was not used until after the exile, since it is derived from “Judean,” the
only tribe to survive (as a unit) after that time.
- EVENTS IN BABYLON DURING THE CAPTIVITY, Jer. 52:27-30;
Jehoiachin, still considered the rightful king of
Judah, was taken from prison in Babylon and pensioned (2 Ki. 25:27-30).
Among the clay tablets found in Babylon relating to the treatment of
political prisoners from many nations is one which records the rations paid
to “Yaukin king of the land of Jahud” and his five sons—none other than the
Biblical Jehoiachin! (See W. F. Albright’s “Jehoiachin in Exile,” Bib. Arch.
December, 1942, V, 4, 49-55; also Albright’s article referred to under
Hezekiah, p. 62.)
Daniel continues to minister in the Babylonian court during the whole exile
period, while at the same time Ezekiel probably did much to keep the pure
Hebrew religion alive among the captive Jews. Many of them settled down,
became prosperous (they must not be considered slaves at all), and when the
70 years were over, their children could not be persuaded to return to the
barren land of their fathers.
- HOW THE EXILE CAME TO AN END, Dan. 5
The New Babylonian empire was short lived. A new
power was rising to the east of Mesopotamia—the Persian empire. In 539, the
city of Babylon fell to an army of Medes and Persians, and Belshazzar, the
last king of Babylon, was killed. (See Nabonidus and Belshazzar, Dan. 5;
Free, pp.232-235; Finegan, pp.189-191.)
The Persian empire (539-331) was the most stable one the world had seen, and
adopted a new attitude toward subject peoples—that of tolerance instead of
cruelty. Cyrus, the first Persian ruler, reversed the deportation policies
of the Babylonians and permitted many captive peoples to return home. Among
these were the Jews (538 B.C.). On the Decree of Cyrus (2 Chr. 36:22-23;
Ezra 1:1-4), see Albright’s article mentioned under B above.
The Persian period is a very difficult one for the historian to unravel.
According to our present state of knowledge, these are the kings:
- Cyrus II the Great (559-530 B.C.)
The Darius the Mede of Dan. 5:31 is a problem;
perhaps he was Gobryas. the military governor of Babylon after its
capture. (SRB, p. 907, n.l.) Cyrus was a benevolent ruler. Babylon was
spared. Jews were allowed to return to Palestine under Zerubbabel (538
- Cambyses II (530-522 B.C.)
The Ahasuerus (also called Artaxerxes) of
Ezra 4. Conquered Egypt. Went mad; committed suicide.
- Darius I the Great (Hystaspis) (522-486 B.C.)
The king referred to in Zech. 1:1; Hag. 1:1, not
Darius the Mode. Great conqueror. In latter part of reign, defeated by
Greeks at Marathon (491 B.C.).
- Xerxes I the Great (4B6-465 B.C.)
The Ahasuerus of Esther. Defeated by the
Greeks at Salamis and Plataea.
- Artaxerxes I Longimanus (465-423 B.C.)
Ezra and Nehemiah return to Jerusalem.
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