THE TRUTH ABOUT THE BABYLONIAN “CAPTIVITY.” (Posted 13 April 2011)
There are a number of Jewish personalities that play roles in the novel and trilogy of The Last King of Babylon www.lastkingofbabylon.com
Therefore, a brief discussion of the so-called "Babylonian Captivity" is in order.
The impression that most people in the West have about the Babylonian “captivity” of Jewish folklore is that it was very total, very captive, and very oppressive. In other words the visions always conjured up in Bible schools throughout the West is that ALL of the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah were deported en mass to Babylon in 586-585 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem.
in actual fact this deportation was not very total, nor was it very “captive” or “oppressive.” Only a small percentage of the population was involved in the deportation and only a handful of individuals from the very apex of Jerusalem’s power pyramid were held “captive.”
JUDEAN REVOLTS AGAINST BABYLON
In the first place, not all of the country of Judah rebelled against the Babylonians during this time. These wars against Babylon only involved Jerusalem and a handful of other cities. Many other cities, such as Mizpah and others in the north stayed out of the wars against the Babylonians and were left untouched by Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers. The book of Jeremiah makes this quite clear, and this is confirmed also by archaeology. There is evidence of great destruction and burning in Jerusalem and its allied cities in the early 6th century B.C., but none in Mizpah and the rest of the country.
In all there were four deportations according to the Biblical accounts, none of which involved more than the removing of “leading citizens.” The first deportation occurred in 605-604 B.C. during the reign of Jehoiakim (Yahu Yaqim) as described in Daniel 1:1-6 and Chronicles 36:6-7). The books of Jeremiah and II Kings tell of three additional deportations, the first in 597 B.C. when the temple was partially destroyed and more “leading citizens” were deported. The second was in 586-585 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar’s troops razed the city and completely destroyed the temple. In the aftermath of this battle more “leading citizens,” “craftsmen,” “and those who were clever with words” (i.e. scribes and linguists) were led away. Then, in 581 B.C. some of the Jews remaining in Judah attempted yet another rebellion against the Babylonians resulting in more “leading citizens” being carted off to Babylon as indicated in Jeremiah 52:28-30, II Kings 24:10-16, and II Kings 25:1-21.
The Babylonian cuneiform accounts confirm the Biblical accounts in that only “leading citizens” and “artisans” were deported. The peasants and lower class people were allowed to stay put and fend for themselves—under Babylonian control of course. Now, if we add up all the numbers of peoples deported during each of these four deportations as depicted in all the sources both Biblical and Babylonian we can come up with no more than 35,000-40,000 max—and that includes counting many of them twice as their names are mentioned in both the Bible and in the Babylonian records. That was perhaps six or seven percent of the entire population of the kingdom of Judah. It is true, however, that many other people fled the Babylonian wars, some going to Egypt, some going to what is now Tunisia, and others fleeing into northern and western Arabia, as well as the neighboring countries of Edom and Moab. But, none-the-less, the great majority of Jews remained behind in “Palestine.”
While these figures put the lie to the common assumption people in the west have made about the Babylonian “captivity” having entailed the entire Jewish race, they also deliver a serious blow to modern Arab and Palestinian propaganda. One of the cornerstones of the modern Arab and Palestinian propaganda mythology about Jewish “rights” (or lack thereof) to “Palestinian” territory is that they (the Jews) inhabited “Palestine” only for a couple of very short periods of history. First was the David/Solomon times (1050-925 B.C.) down to the Babylonian Exile. And, then, the second inhabitation would be from late Persian times until the Romans sent ALL the Jews into the “diaspora” during the early second century A.D. Arab and Palestinian mythology then fancies that “Palestine” was completely devoid of Jews during all periods of history outside of those two eras, thus devaluing the Jewish claim to “Palestine.”
Unfortunately for the Arab and Palestinian propagandists, the facts of history show that neither the Babylonian “exile” nor the Roman-caused “diaspora” ever included ALL of the Jews. In both cases, large numbers of Jews continued to live in the areas that used to be within the territory of the old kingdom of Judah (excluding the city of Jerusalem, of course). Over seven million Jews continued to live in the eastern Mediterranean areas under Roman rule up until the early Middle Ages. In actual fact it was the coming of Islam and the “ethnic-cleansing” that inevitably comes along with that totalitarian system that nearly denuded "Palestine" of Jews, not the Babylonian “captivity” or the Roman “diaspora.”
I will delve into the Arab-Israeli issues at greater length in future works, but for now let’s get back to the Babylonian “captivity.”
FATE OF THE JEWS IN BABYLON
So, what happened to those Jews who really were deported to Babylonia during the period of the Babylonian “captivity?” Well, other than the handful of political elites who were incarcerated or held in “house arrest” everybody else was given plots of land and “seed” money to get started (there are Babylonian cuneiform records showing the exact monetary amounts given to each person). The Jews, of course, were not the only peoples carted off to Babylon. They did the same thing to the Philistines, and in some cases Phoenicians, and Syrians as well. This was normal practice in ancient times when one state is conquered by another. Talented people, such as scribes and artisans, were valuable resources for any conquering power. For a modern parallel we have only to look at the allied defeat of the Nazis in WWII. With the end of the war there was a mad scramble by the victorious powers to latch on to Germany’s rocket and jet propulsion scientists (its “scribes” and “artisans”).
The scribes and artisans would, of course, be employed by the palace, army, and temples. Those without special skills needed by the Babylonian elite were then settled in or near ancient cities that had gone to pot over the centuries. This would accomplish two things: One, it would make fallow areas productive once again thus increasing the tax flow to the crown. And, two, it would disperse, and divide, all the leadership cliques and clans of Babylon’s former enemies ensuring that they and their descendants became “Babylonians” rather than remaining as “Philistines,” or “Syrians,” etc. Among these deported peoples, only the Jews retained their identity, and that was because their religion had evolved to the point where they no longer needed the physical presence of “the temple” to justify, and maintain, their beliefs. Rest assured though, they caused the Babylonians no more trouble (after the 4th deportation mentioned above). And, why should they? Once the wars were over, and the deportees were safely in Babylonia proper, the Babylonians treated them quite humanely allowing them religious freedom and total freedom of movement—short of returning to the land of Judah where they might be tempted to reconstitute their state.
In spite of retaining their religion, however, many of these Jews did in fact become “Babylonian” through and through—even adopting the names of Babylonian deities such as “Mordekhai” (Marduk), and “Esther” (Ishtar).
Once given their plots of land and their seed money many of the Jewish deportees became wealthy landowners by earning enough money from their crops to warrant purchasing additional lands—or even real estate holdings in the major cities. Many others, however, sold their allotted plots of land, took the money from the sale along with their “seed” money and opened up businesses in Babylon and other cities. Within a generation, or by the time our story THE LAST KING OF BABYLON takes place, the Jewish population in Babylonia had multiplied to the point that it had become a major force in the Babylonian social and economic milieu with many of these Jewish families becoming decently well-off, and some even becoming exceedingly wealthy.
It is from the standpoint of these historical realities that I have included several fictional Jewish characters in this novel. www.lastkingofbabylon.com