Understanding The Bible
The History of Israel:  Part 7 of 9


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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible

    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 years.

    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).
      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 period.

      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.
    2. EVENTS IN BABYLON DURING THE CAPTIVITY, Jer. 52:27-30; Dan. 1-5
      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.
      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:
      1. 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 B.C.).
      2. Cambyses II (530-522 B.C.)
        The Ahasuerus (also called Artaxerxes) of Ezra 4. Conquered Egypt. Went mad; committed suicide.
      3. 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.).
      4. Xerxes I the Great (4B6-465 B.C.)
        The Ahasuerus of Esther. Defeated by the Greeks at Salamis and Plataea.
      5. Artaxerxes I Longimanus (465-423 B.C.)
        Ezra and Nehemiah
        return to Jerusalem.


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