586 BCE - 536 BCE - The Babylonian Captivity
The bondage of Israel in Egypt, and their subjugation at different times by the Philistines and other nations, are sometimes included under the title Captivity. The Jews themselves, perhaps with reference to Daniel's vision, reckon their national captivities as four-the Babylonian, Median, Grecian, and Roman. At the end of the sixth century BC, the Assyrian Empire collapsed and the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar besieged the city of Jerusalem, captured the king, and ended the first commonwealth. Even before the first Exile, the prophet Jeremiah had stated that the Israelites did not need a state to carry out the mission given to them by God. After the Exile, Ezekiel voiced a similar belief: what mattered was not states and empires, for they would perish through God's power, but man.
The cities of Samaria were gradually occupied by people sent from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, who brought with them the worship of their own native deities; and Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river of Gozan became the seats of the exiled Israelites.
Sennacherib B.C. 701 is stated to have carried into Assyria 200,000 captives from the Jewish cities which he took (cp. 2 K. xviii. 13). Nebuchadnezzar, in the first halt of his reign, B.C. 606-562, repeatedly invaded Judaea, besieged Jerusalem, carried away the inhabitants to Babylon, and destroyed the city and Temple. Two distinct deportations are mentioned in 2 K. xxiv. 14 (including 10,000 persons) and xxv. 11; one in 2 Ch. xxxvi. 20; three in Jer. Iii. 28, 29, including 4,600 persons, and one in Dan. i. 3. The two principal deportations were, (1) that which took place BC 597, when Jehoiachin with all the nobles, soldiers, and artificers were carried awsy: and (2) that which followed the destruction of the Temple and the capture of Zedekiah BC 586.
The three which Jeremiah mentions may have been the contributions of a particular class or district to the general captivity; or they may have taken place, under the orders of Nebuchadnezzar, before or after the two principal deportations. The captivity of certain selected children in BC 607, mentioned by Daniel, who was one of them, occurred when Nebuchidnezzar was colleague of his lather Nabopolatsar, a year before he reigned alone. The captivity of Ezekiel dates from BC 598, when that prophet, like Mordecai the uncle of Esther (ii. 6), accompanied Jehoiachin.
Nothing is known, except by inference from the Book of Tobit, of the religious or social state of the Israelitish exiles in Assyria. Doubtless the constant policy of seventeen successive kings had effectually estranged the people from thit religion which centered in the Temple. Torn from their native soil, they probably became more and more closely assimilated to their heathen neighbours in Medea. And when, after the lapse of more than a century, they were joined B.C. 598 by the first exiles from Jerusalem, very few families probably retained sufficient faith in the God of their fathers to appreciate and follow the instruction of Ezekiel. But whether they were many or few, their genealogies were probably lost, a fusion of then with the Jews took place, Israel ceasing to envy Judah (Is. xi. 13); and Ezekiel may have seen his own symbolical prophecv (xxxvii. 15-1.°) partly fulfilled.
The captive Jews were probably prostrated at first by their great calamity, till the glorious vision of Ezekiel in the fifth year of the Captivity revived and reunited them. The wishes of their conqueror were satisfied when he had displayed his power by transporting them far to another land, and gratified his pride by inscribing on the walls of the royal palace his victorious progress and the number of bi» captives. He could not have designed to increase the population of Babylon, for he sent Babylonian colonists into Samaria. One political end certainly was attained - the more easy government of a people separated from local traditions and associations. It was also a great advantage to the Assyrian king to remove from the Egyptian border of his empire a people who were notoriously well-affected towards Egypt.
The captives were treated not as slaves but aa colonists. There was nothing to hinder a Jew from rising to the highest eminence in the state (Dan. ii. 48), or holding the most confidential office near the person of the king (Neh. i. 11; Tob. i. 13, 22). The advice of Jeremiah (xxix. 5, &c.) was generally followed. The exiles increased in numbers and in wealth. They observed the Mosaic law (Esth. iii. 8 ; Tob. xiv. 9). They kept op distinctions of rank among themselves (Ezek. xx. 1). And thongh the assertion in the Talmnd is unsupported by proof that they assigned this early to one of their countrymen the title of Head of the Captivity (or, captain of the people, 2 Esd. v. 16), it is certain that they at least preserved their genealogical tables, and were at no loss to tell who was the rightful heir to David's throne. They had neither place nor time of national gathering, no Temple; and they offered no sacrifice. But the rite of circumcision and their laws respecting food, &c. were observed; their priests were with them (Jer. xxix. 1); and possibly the practice of erecting synagogues in every city (Acts xv. 21) was begun by the Jews in the Babylonian Captivity.
From the time of the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC, the majority of Jews lived outside the Holy Land. A few of the Hebrew people had found their way into Egypt and the Ionian Islands, also into Ethiopia, Arabia, India and China. Others may have come with the Phoenicians to the western coasts of Europe and Africa. Still the bulk of Hebrews, of the two former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, inhabited the Medo-Persian Empire. Prophets and bards had kept alive in the breasts of many Hebrew patriots the hope of national restoration to the land of their fathers, the rebuilding of the temple on Mt. Moriah, the reinstitution of their ancient polity, and the reconstruction of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Lacking a state and scattered among the peoples of the Near East, the Jews needed to find alternative methods to preserve their special identity. They turned to the laws and rituals of their faith, which became unifying elements holding the community together. Thus, circumcision, sabbath observance, festivals, dietary laws, and laws of cleanliness became especially important.
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