Babylonian Accounts of the Invasion of Judah by Laurie Pearce

According to the Bible, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar’s successful invasion of Judah, the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple, and the deportation of King Jehoiachin, the royal family and court, and all the population of Jerusalem to Babylon was divine judgment and punishment against Judah for “all the sins that Manasseh had committed and also because of the blood of the innocent that he (Jehoiakim) shed” (2Kgs 24:3-4, 2Kgs 24:12-16). In the narrative style characteristic of their chronicles, the Babylonians recorded their invasion of Judah strictly in terms of their military action in the Levant.

What was the purpose of this military action?

For the Babylonians, military intervention in the Levant was necessary to maintain a strong buffer against Egypt. Tribute and deported populations also provided resources and manpower for Nebuchadnezzar’s ambitious program of restoring Babylon and revitalizing agricultural lands devastated in the wars his father fought and won to establish the Neo-Babylonian Empire (626-539 BCE).

How do Babylonian records describe the invasion of Judah?

Babylonian historical and administrative sources provide a chronological framework and details about the empire, but relatively few details about their military conquests. Their descriptions of Babylonian military actions pale in comparison to the vibrant annals documenting Assyrian campaigns and battles. A well-known example of a descriptive record of Assyrian military efforts is that of Sennacherib’s campaign in the Levant in 701 BCE. The narrative, inscribed on a hexagonal clay prism, records Sennacherib’s boasts of having shut the Judean King Hezekiah up “like a caged  bird.” Wall reliefs in the Assyrian court at Nineveh illustrate Sennacherib’s siege of Lachish and depict Judah’s defeated peoples lined up for deportation. These visual records of war reinforced the image of the Assyrian king as a valiant and invincible warrior.

The iconographic record of Neo-Babylonian kings, on the other hand, is more restrained. Images on stele and rock-reliefs depict the king as an obedient servant of the god(s), deserving the privilege to rule. These pious messages were established on monuments in temples and on rock faces in mountain passes at the empire’s edges. Babylonian Chronicles are terse records of royal military activities. The Babylonian “Chronicle of the Early Years of Nebuchadnezzar” describes Nebuchadnezzar’s (604-562 BCE) campaign against Jerusalem but includes no specific mention of military equipment or actions.

Sandwiched between equally short reports of campaigns of his sixth and eighth years, the record of Nebuchadnezzar’s seventh year is typically brief and remains the only cuneiform source documenting the siege of Jerusalem and the start of the Babylonian exile:

In the seventh year, the month of Kislîmu, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, and besieged the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Addaru he seized the city and captured the king. He appointed there a king of his own choice, received its heavy tribute and sent to Babylon. (translation from livius.org)

What happened to the deportees?

Our knowledge of Babylonian treatment of deported populations, Judeans among them, must be constructed from diverse documents in palace and regional archives. Administrative lists excavated in King Nebuchadnezzar’s South Palace in Babylon record ration disbursements to deported kings, courtiers, and other palace personnel; notably, they mention the Judean king, Jehoiachin, and five of his sons. These reports corroborate the biblical description of Jehoiachin’s captivity (2Kgs 25:27-30; Jer 52:31-34).

Texts from rural settlements document the Babylonian practice of resettling deported populations in “mirror towns,” settlements named for the exiles’ places of origin. This technique, designed to provide the manpower necessary to develop agricultural lands, capitalized on the economic benefits of community, which encouraged cooperation among people from a common geographic origin. One of those towns, āl-Yāhudu (i.e., “Judahtown”), was populated by individuals with distinctive Judean names. First attested in 572 BCE, this was one of the places to which deported Judeans were brought. Although the sources lack most details about Babylonian invasions themselves, the lives of individuals and communities they deported can be reconstructed in some detail from these administrative records, which record Judean marriages, and their participation in business and agriculture.

Laurie Pearce, "Babylonian Accounts of the Invasion of Judah", n.p. [cited 26 Nov 2022]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/passages/related-articles/babylonian-accounts-of-the-invasion-of-judah

Contributors

Pearce-Laurie

Laurie Pearce
Lecturer in Akkadian, University of California, Berkeley

Laurie Pearce is a Lecturer in Akkadian in the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research on the social and economic history of first millennium BCE Babylonia focuses on cultural contact between diverse population groups. She directs the digital text projects “Hellenistic Babylonia: Texts, Images and Names”, and “Foreigners in Babylonia”, both on the Oracc platform. In 2014, she and co-author Cornelia Wunsch published Documents of Judean Exiles and West Semites in Babylonia in the Collection of David Sofer. CUSAS 28. Bethesda: CDL Press, a volume of cuneiform texts that record the earliest Judean settlement in Babylonia.

Of or relating to ancient lower Mesopotamia and its empire centered in Babylon.

The period between 586 and 539 B.C.E., when the leaders and elite of Judea were exiled to Babylon. The exile ended when Cyrus of Persia defeated Babylon and allowed the Judeans to return home.

Residents of the ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon, also used to refer to the population of the larger geographical designation of lower Mesopotamia.

The writing system of ancient Mesopotamia, consisting of wedges pressed into clay.

Characteristic of a deity (a god or goddess).

A broad, diverse group of nations ruled by the government of a single nation.

Dug up, often from an archaeological site.

general condition of living away from ones homeland or specifically the Babylonian captivity

Can refer to the Hittite people, the capital of the Hittite Empire (Hattusa), or the entire Hittite region.

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the southern kingdom of Judah during the divided monarchy, or what later became the larger province of Judah under imperial control. According to the Bible, the area originally received its name as the tribal territory allotted to Judah, the fourth son of Jacob.

The people of the tribe of Judah or the southern kingdom of Judah/Judea.

The countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean sea, from the Sinai in Egypt to Aleppo in Syria.

(tribe, not king) One of the "Joseph tribes" of the northern kingdom of Israel, the other being Ephraim. All the other tribes are named after the sons of Jacob, but Ephraim and Manasseh, geographically the largest of the tribes, are named after his grandsons, the two sons of Joseph.

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

An empire in lower Mesopotamia that dominated the ancient Near East in the middle of the first millennium B.C.E. At the height of their power, they controlled all of the ancient Near East, including Egypt. They were defeated by the Persian king Cyrus in 539 B.C.E.

2Kgs 24:3-4

Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, for all that he had committed, 4 and also for ... View more

2Kgs 24:12-16

12King Jehoiachin of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself, his mother, his servants, his officers, and his palace officials. The king of Babylo ... View more

2Kgs 25:27-30

Jehoiachin Released from Prison
27In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the mo ... View more

Jer 52:31-34

Jehoiachin Favored in Captivity
31In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the mont ... View more

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