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Exile and Return: From the Babylonian Destruction to the Reconstruction of the Jewish State
Page 2

How Many Exiles?

In reprisal for Gedaliah's assassination, the Babylonians deported still more Jews to Babylon. According to Jeremiah, 745 people were deported in 582 B.C.E. (Jeremiah tells us that, previously, 832 people had been deported in 586 B.C.E. and 3,023 in 597 B.C.E., when King Jehoiachin was defeated [ Jeremiah 52:28–30 ]).

There are several surprises in Jeremiah's figures. First, the number of deportees to Babylonia at the time of Gedaliah's assassination was not much smaller than the number of those taken into exile at the destruction of Jerusalem (only 87 fewer). Second, the number deported in the exile of 586 B.C.E. is itself not very large (832). And third, neither of these deportations was as large as the exile of 597 B.C.E.: Of the total number of deportees (4,600), virtually two-thirds (3,023) went into exile with the captivity of King Jehoiachin in 597 B.C.E.

No figures are given in 2 Kings for the number of deportees in 586 B.C.E. (when Jerusalem was destroyed), and no reference is made to a deportation following Gedaliah's assassination. Numbers are given, however, for the first deportation under Jehoiachin. According to 2 Kings 24:14 , 10,000 people were exiled at that time (including 7,000 soldiers and 1,000 craftsmen and smiths). This number greatly exceeds the figure given in Jeremiah. Whatever the true figures, it is clear enough that it was the leadership of society that was removed and that about 90 percent of the population remained in Palestine.2

The lack of specific figures in 2 Kings for the exile of 586 B.C.E. is not surprising; the writer wished to stress the destruction of the city and its Temple and the fate of the survivors. But one thing is clear: For the writer of 2 Kings, as for the editor of Jeremiah, the Babylonian Exile began in 597 B.C.E., when Nebuchadnezzar removed and imprisoned King Jehoiachin and appointed Zedekiah as a puppet-king to reign in his stead.

Neither is it surprising then that the concluding words of 2 Kings concern King Jehoiachin. There we learn that in the 37th year of his exile (561 B.C.E.), the king was released from prison and granted a position of status by the Babylonian king Evil-merodach (Amel-Marduk in Babylonian records) ( 2 Kings 25:27–30 ; see also Jeremiah 52:31–34 ). Why was this important to the biblical writers? Because their hope for the restoration of the Davidic dynasty (the divine election of which played such an important role in their theology of history) lay with Jehoiachin, not with Zedekiah. Zedekiah had been appointed king by the Babylonians only after Jehoiachin had been taken hostage; Zedekiah's reign was viewed by many as only temporary.3 In Babylonia, Jehoiachin was regarded as the exiled Judahite king, both before and after the deportation of 586 B.C.E. It was certainly not accidental that the leader of the first wave of Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem was Jehoiachin's son, Sheshbazzar, and that the builder of the Second Temple was his grandson, Zerubbabel.4

2It is extremely difficult to estimate actual population on the basis of ancient sources. For a general discussion of this and related issues see Magen Broshi, "Demography" in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East , ed. Eric M. Meyers (New York and Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997) ( OEANE ) vol. 2, pp. 142–144. Norman K. Gottwald ( The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985], p. 423), estimates that 95 percent of the population of Judah remained in Palestine.

3Many in Jerusalem viewed Jehoiachin as the legitimate king, as demonstrated by the oracle of the prophet Hananiah ben Azzur of Gibeon ( Jeremiah 28:1–4 ) and other sources. For Jeremiah's alternative, and apparently minority, opinion, see Jeremiah 22:24–30 . See especially Martin Noth, "The Jerusalem Catastrophe of 587 B.C. and Its Significance for Israel," in The Laws in the Pentateuch and Other Studies (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1966), pp. 260–280.

4This is based on the understanding that the Shenazzar of 1 Chronicles 3:18 is Sheshbazzar. For a more detailed discussion of this question see Carol L. Meyers and Eric M. Meyers, Haggai, Zechariah 1–8 : A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary Anchor Bible 25B (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1987), pp. 10–11.

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