EXILE. This usually refers to the period of time during which the southern kingdom (Judah) was forcibly detained in Babylon. It began with a series of deportations during the reigns of the Judean kings, Jehoiakim (609-598 b.c.), Jehoiachin (598), and Zedekiah (598-587). After the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (587) the kingdom of Judah ceased to exist as a political entity. Although there were settlements in Egypt, the exiles in Babylon were the ones who maintained the historic faith and provided the nucleus that returned to Judea after the decree of Cyrus (536). The northern kingdom (Israel) was earlier exiled to Assyria (722). It was the policy of the Assyrian conquerors to move the populations of captured cities, with the result that Israelites were scattered in various parts of the empire and other captives were brought to the region around Samaria (
I. Causes. Both theological and political causes are mentioned in the biblical accounts of the Exile. The prophets noted the tendency of both Israel and Judah to forsake the Lord and adopt the customs of their heathen neighbors. These included the licentious worship associated with the Baal fertility cult and the Molech worship that required the offering of human beings in sacrifice to a heathen deity. Politically the Exile was the result of an anti-Babylonian policy adopted by the later kings of Judah. Egypt, the rival of Babylon, urged the Judean kings to refuse to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar. Although Jeremiah denounced this pro-Egyptian policy it was adopted with disastrous results. Egypt proved to be a “broken reed,” and the kingdom of Judah was rendered impotent before the Babylonian armies. After a siege of eighteen months Nebuchadnezzar entered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and took captive the inhabitants of the city.
II. Social and Economic Conditions. The Exile worked great hardships on a people who were forcibly removed from their homeland and settled in new territory. The psalmist pictures the exiles weeping in Babylon, unable to sing the songs of Zion in a strange land (
III. Religious Conditions. The prophets Ezekiel and Daniel ministered in Babylon during the Exile. Jeremiah, who had urged Zedekiah to make peace with Nebuchadnezzar, was permitted to remain in Judah after the destruction of Jerusalem. The murder of Gedaliah, who had been appointed by Nebuchadnezzar as governor of Judah, precipitated a move on the part of the remaining Judeans to migrate to Egypt. Although tradition suggests that he subsequently went to Babylon, Jeremiah’s actual prophetic ministry ends among those who had fled this way to Egypt.
Ezekiel was taken to Babylon at the time of the deportation of Jehoiachin. He prophesied to the exiles at Tel Abib, warning them of the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Subsequent to the fall of the city, Ezekiel held forth the hope of a return from exile and the reestablishment of the people of God in Palestine.
Daniel was one of the youths selected to be taken to Babylon at the time of the first deportation (under Jehoiakim). God-given abilities and a spirit of faithfulness enabled Daniel to rise to a position of influence in the Babylonian court—a position that he maintained through varying political regimes to the time of Cyrus the Persian, conqueror of Babylon. Like Ezekiel, Daniel spoke of the Exile as temporary in duration. He also depicted a succession of world powers, culminating in the reign of the Messiah as the goal of history.
Within preexilic Judaism, the center of worship was the Jerusalem temple where sacrifices were offered daily and where annual festive occasions were observed. With the destruction of the temple a new spiritual orientation took place. Jews came together for the purpose of prayer and the study of Scripture in gatherings that later were called synagogues. The emergence of the synagogue made possible the continuation of Jewish religious life during the period of absence from the temple. The synagogue persisted after the building of the second temple (516 b.c.) and is still an important factor in Jewish life.
The sacred books of the Jews assumed great importance during the period of the Exile. The law, which had been lost prior to Josiah’s reign (
IV. Political Conditions. The Exile began during the reign of the Neo-Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar and ended with the decree of the Persian king, Cyrus. Nebuchadnezzar defeated an Egyptian army that had joined forces with the Assyrians, who were retreating before the Babylonians, at Carchemish on the upper Euphrates (605 b.c.). The campaign against Egypt was deferred when Nebuchadnezzar, on receiving news of the death of his father, Nabopolassar, returned home to insure his succession to the kingdom. Judah was among the states of western Asia that Nebuchadnezzar claimed as heir to the Assyrians whom he had defeated in battle. Babylonian armies occupied Judah during the reign of Jehoiakim (c. 603) and took captive a number of its leading citizens, leaving only “the poorest of the people” in the land. Jehoiakim was allowed to retain his throne until he rebelled (
Nebuchadnezzar reigned for more than forty years, but he left no able successor. Jehoiachin was given a place of honor among the exiles in Babylon by Evil-Merodach (561-560 b.c.), son and successor of Nebuchadnezzar. Neriglissar (559-556) and Labashi-Marduk (556) had brief, nonsignificant reigns. Nabonidus (Nabu-Na'id), with his son Belshazzar, served as the last ruler of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (556-539). Nabonidus had an interest in archaeology and religion but was inefficient as a ruler. He repaired the ziggurat to the moon god Sin at Ur where one of his daughters served as priestess. Another daughter is said to have maintained a small museum of archaeological finds. His diversified interests caused Nabonidus to name Belshazzar, his eldest son, as prince regent. It was during the reign of Belshazzar that the Neo-Babylonian Empire came to an end. Cyrus had made rapid conquests after his succession to the throne of the small Persian principality of Anshan (559). Successively unifying the Persians, conquering the neighboring Medes and the distant Lydians of Asia Minor, Cyrus marched against Babylon, which he defeated in 539. The governor of Babylon, Gubaru, is doubtless to be identified with “ ” mentioned in
V. Results. Although the Exile ended the political independence of Judea, it served to emphasize the fact that God was in no sense confined to Palestine. He accompanied his people to Babylon and providentially cared for them there (cf.
Bibliography: J. B. Taylor, Ezekiel (TOTC), 1969, pp. 29-35; R. K. Harrison,Times, 1971, pp. 255-69; C. F. Pfeiffer, Old Testament History, 1973, pp. 398ff., 414ff.——CFP
The meaning of the term.
The terms “exile” and “captivity” are used interchangeably in the Bible. When the exile is imposed upon an individual, the choice of the place of banishment is usually left to the person exiled. However, when exile is the lot of groups of people, the place of banishment is imposed. The deportation of communities was usually practiced in the ancient world for political reasons, frequently to destroy the power of a nation considered an enemy or to colonize an area in which it was desirable, for various reasons, to create a cultural fusion. Sometimes several reasons for the imposition of exile upon a people operated at once. There are two instances of the Israelites being taken into exile referred to in the Bible. The first was the Assyrian Exile in the 8th cent. b.c.; the second the Babylonian Exile in the 6th cent. b.c.
The Assyrian Exile.
The first deportation of Israelites recorded in the OT (
The exiles were transplanted mostly to depopulated areas in the provinces of Halah, Gozan, and Media, as well as in Nineveh, and apparently were permitted to live fairly normal lives. The only record of them is contained in the book of Tobit, which indicates that some of the captives were loyal to Yahweh. Others were submerged or amalgamated into the Assyrian population. The problem of the so-called Ten Lost Tribes has been greatly exaggerated. The Assyrian figure of 27,290 captives shows that only a fraction of the Israelite population was deported and that the tribes were not “lost” in the sense implied in the phrase the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. The destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel was according to Hosea and Amos, due to the moral and spiritual degeneration of the country and not to the might of Assyrian military power, as great as that was.
The Babylonian Exile.
The people of the southern kingdom were subjected to various deportations by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, who adopted the Assyrian policy toward conquered peoples. The first incident of this kind took place in 608 b.c. when, after the battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar advanced to Jerusalem. He spared King Jehoiakim who had rebelled against him, but carried off several of the princes of Judah, among whom were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (
Jeremiah mentions three deportations (
The second deportation recorded by Jeremiah took place eleven years after the first. In 586 b.c. Zedekiah, who was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar to succeed Jehoiachin, took an oath of fealty to the Babylonian monarch (
Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah, “who is over [Zedekiah’s] house,” to be governor of Judea. He exercised his office in Mizpah until he was treacherously assassinated by Ishmael, who had been a fugitive in Ammon and who objected to Gedaliah’s apparent cooperation with the Babylonians. This new rebellion by the Israelites led to the third deportation recorded by Jeremiah, and took place in 581 b.c. Some of the remaining Hebrews of strong anti-Babylonian feeling fled to Egypt, forcing Jeremiah, who had been given special consideration by Nebuchadnezzar, to accompany them (
The statements in regard to the number of captives taken to Babylonia are confusing. Jeremiah gives the total carried away in his three deportations at 4,600 (
The captives were settled in southern Mesopotamia. Ezekiel mentions Tel-abib, “by the river Chebar” (
Various reasons have been given for the location of the Exile in Babylonia. One opinion is that Israel, having originated in Babylonia, was sent back home by God as a husband sends his unsatisfactory wife back home. One opinion in the Haggadah is that Babylonia being a low-lying country becomes a symbol of the nether world from which Israel was rescued according to
Socially, the Israelites were apparently permitted complete freedom. They married, established families as they pleased, and kept in touch with Jerusalem (
This loyal core of Israelites surrounding Ezekiel formed the nucleus of those that returned to their homeland and provided the enthusiasm and leadership for the restoration. A harbinger of freedom to come for the Israelites was the release of King Jehoiachin from imprisonment. According to
In 538 b.c., the Persian king Cyrus destroyed the Babylonian Empire and in the same year issued a decree permitting the Jews to return to their native land (
The skepticism with which the Biblical accounts concerning the Exile were regarded by some scholars has been dispelled by archeological reconstruction of the Near E. The position of C. C. Torrey, S. A. Cook, G. Holscher, W. A. Irwin et al. that there never occurred a Babylonian Exile and consequently no return to Judah, not only denied the validity of the Biblical historical narratives but also the prophetic Messianism that was based in large measure upon these events. Such Biblical books as Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah were, according to this view, largely a fabrication of later writers. All this has changed. Archeological discoveries, such as the Lachish Ostraca and explorations in the areas concerned, have revealed evidence for the destruction of the cities of Judah by the Babylonians at the time required by Biblical chronology. The newly discovered royal archives of Nebuchadnezzar supplement the evidence from Judah in giving support to the credibility of the Biblical history.
The effects of the Exile.
The cause of the Exile was apostasy from God and His covenant. The Israelites had consistently rejected the message of the prophets and persistently continued in their sin and idolatry. The prophets constantly warned the Israelites against trusting in their own wisdom and power. The Exile was interpreted by the prophets as divine judgment that would eventuate in restoration and a revelation of God’s eternal love for Israel (
G. A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible (1937), 463-485; G. E. Wright, Biblical Archaeology (1960), 108-127; J. Gray, Archaeology and the OT World (1962), 180-198; W. F. Albright, The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra (1963), 81-89.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
ek’-sil, eg’-zil (galah, tsa`ah):