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Babylonian captivity

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The Babylonian captivity, or Babylonian exile, is the name generally given to the deportation and exile of the Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar.

Three separate occasions are mentioned (Jeremiah 52:28-30). The first was in the time of Jehoiachin in 597 BCE, when the temple of Jerusalem was partially despoiled and a number of the leading citizens removed. After eleven years (in the reign of Zedekiah) a fresh rising of the Judaeans occurred; the city was razed to the ground, and a further deportation ensued. Finally, five years later, Jeremiah records a third captivity. After the overthrow of Babylonia by the Persians, Cyrus gave the Jews permission to return to their native land (537 BCE), and more than forty thousand are said to have availed themselves of the privilege. (See Jehoiakim; Ezra; Nehemiah and Jews.) Previously, the northern tribes had been taken captive by Assyria and never returned; survivors of the Babylonian exile were all that remained of the Children of Israel. Persians had a different political philosophy of managing conquered territories than the Babylonians or Assyrians. Under the Persians, local personages were put into power to govern the local populace.

When the Israelites returned home, they found a mixture of peoples practicing a religion very similar to their own but not identical to it. Hostility grew up between the returning Jews and the Samaritans, which has continued to the present day. According to the Bible the Samaritans were foreign peoples settled in the area by the kings of Assyria who had partially adopted the Israelite religion; in reality most of them were probably simply Israelites who had remained behind, and thus had had no part in the sweeping changes of the Israelite religion brought about among the captives.

The Babylonian Captivity and the resulting return from captivity back to Israel was seen as one of the great pivotal acts in the drama between God and his people Israel. Just as they had been predestined for, and saved from, slavery in Egypt, now they were predestined to be punished by God through the Babylonians, and then saved once more. This experience had a number of serious effects on Judaism and Jewish culture. The current Hebrew script was adopted at this time, replacing the very different Israelite script. The current Jewish calendar, especially its month names, also dates from this era. It also provided an historical basis for political quietism, in which Jews saw oppression by other nations as a form of divine punishment to be endured patiently. Accordingly, the short-lived independent Hasmonean kingdom in a probable attempt to break this mentality, later consciously re-introduced some pre-exilic customs, such as the old script, which then fell out of use again after that kindom's fall to the Romans.

This period saw the last high point of Old-Testament prophecy in the person of Ezekiel, followed by the emergence of the central role of the Torah in Jewish life—according to most historical-critical scholars, it wasn't pieced together until this time, and many parts were not even written before—and the beginning of the canonization of the Bible, which provided a central text for Jews who did not have access to the Temple. This process coincided with the emergence of scribes and sages as Jewish leaders (see Ezra and Pharisees). Prior to exile the people of Israel were organized according to tribe; after they were organized by clans, only the tribe of Levi continuing in its special role. After this time, there were always sizable numbers of Jews living outside Eretz Israel, thus it also marks the beginning of the Jewish diaspora.

The above section incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopędia Britannica. Please update as needed.

Babylonian Captivity is also used to refer to other historical events, including:

Some groups were freed, like the Poles in 1942, thanks to Wladyslaw Sikorski's agreement with Stalin, and led by Wladyslaw Anders to Persia. Anders was later referred to as the Polish Moses. Most of the people had to wait until the 1945 repatriation agreement, or the 1956 Khrushchev amnesty.

Last updated: 02-07-2005 15:56:39
Last updated: 05-03-2005 02:30:17