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Fall of Jerusalem

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The Fall of Jerusalem (588 BC according to Ussher[1], or 586 BC according to Thiele[2]) was the final military event in the conquest of the Southern Kingdom of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylonia. It marked the end of the history of the Southern Kingdom after twenty-two years of decline and, according to Ezekiel, three hundred ninety years of "iniquity" on the part of the children of Israel.

Contents

Background

One hundred thirty-four years earlier[1] (or 137 years earlier according to Thiele), the Assyrian Empire under Shalmaneser V had wiped out the Northern Kingdom. Shalmaneser's successor Sennacherib had then tried to take over the Southern Kingdom, but had to withdraw after sustaining 185,000 casualties in a single night.

The last truly great king of Assyria was Esarhaddon. After his death, his successors Assur-bani-pal and Ashur-etil-ilani presided over a steadily weakening empire. Egypt under Pharaoh Psammtik I broke away from Assyria during Assur-bani-pal's kingship.

In 626 BC, the Babylonian leader Nabopolassar contracted a military alliance with Astyages of the Medes. Together they attacked Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, and reduced it to a ruin. Nabopolassar was now in command, and Ashur-etil-ilani was now dead. His successor (likely Ashur-uballit II) commanded a shadow of what Assyria had recently been.[3]

In 610 or 609 BC, Pharaoh Necho II now made a bid to prop up the Assyrians against the rising power of Babylonia. He marched his army through Southern Kingdom territory, killed King Josiah (and probably Josiah's first-born son) at Megiddo, and marched on to capture Carchemish.[4] Necho then returned to Jerusalem, where he removed Josiah's successor Jehoahaz II from the throne, installed Jehoahaz' elder brother Eliakim or Jehoiakim in his place, and took Jehoahaz back with him to Egypt.[5][6]

Three years later Nebuchadnezzar II, now viceroy of Babylonia, marched westward toward Carchemish, where he cut off Necho's forces, recaptured the city, and chased Necho all the way back to Egypt. Along the way, Nebuchadnezzar visited Jerusalem and demanded a promise of fealty from Jehoiakim. Thus would begin a nineteen-year period of frustration for Nebuchadnezzar, and slow death for the Southern Kingdom. At this time Nebuchadnezzar asked his overseer of eunuchs to seek out the best and brightest of the young men in the land for deportation to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar intended to train these men for positions in his administration. Among them were the young prophet Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.[7]

Nebuchadnezzar marched on and captured all the lands from the valley of the Nile to the Euphrates over which Egypt had once held sway. Then in 605 BC, Nabopolassar died, and Nebuchadnezzar then had to return to Babylon to secure his throne. Toward the end of this year, according to Ussher, Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar.[8] In reply, Nebuchadnezzar assembled a coalition of Syrians ("Arameans"), Chaldeans, Moabites and Ammonites and sent them against the Southern Kingdom. They attacked Jehoiakim's forces and pillaged virtually the entire kingdom.[9] While this was happening, Nebuchadnezzar was apparently leading his main force against Necho II for the last time, in a battle that he nearly lost.[10][11] Necho lost, and died either in action or shortly afterward. His son Psammtik II reigned for six years.[12]

Nebuchadnezzar had to retire to regain his strength, but in due course he was back at the walls of Jerusalem. There and then (599 BC), Jehoiakim died, under circumstances that remain a subject of some controversy. Nebuchadnezzar accepted his son Jehoiachin as the next king, but 100 days later, he removed him as well,[13][14]and deported a total of ten thousand captives, including seven thousand soldiers, a thousand skilled craftsmen, and two thousand other prisoners also of military age. He also deported Jehoiachin himself, and Jehoiachin's mother Nehushta, and Jehoiachin's unnamed wives, and the magistrates, in addition to appropriating a large amount of treasure from the palace and from the Temple of Jerusalem.[15][16][17][18][19][20][14]

After leaving only the poorest of the poor in the land, and selecting Jehoiakim's younger brother Zedekiah to rule the land as his vassal, Nebuchadnezzar might have thought that he finally had a king that he could work with. But Zedekiah would prove as rebellious as his brother and nephew had been, though not immediately.

During Zedekiah's reign, the second Psammtik died.[21] The accession of his son Apries, or Hophra, would convince Zedekiah that he might be able to rebel successfully against Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah could not have been more wrong.

Sources

The putative primary sources for the full story of the Fall of Jerusalem include:

  1. The author of the Books of the Kings.
  2. The Chronicler (though the account in II Chronicles is very sparse).
  3. The prophet Jeremiah.
  4. The prophet Ezekiel.

In addition, Flavius Josephus and James Ussher are the chief secondary sources.

The Last Years of Jerusalem

The First Year of Zedekiah

Jeremiah had already received baleful prophecies about the Southern Kingdom. In the year that Jehoiachin was taken prisoner and deported to Babylon, Jeremiah received from God the word that Zedekiah would come to a sad end and that the remainder of the people, or at least those having any influence, would in turn be deported as well. This was the "vision of the two baskets of figs," one of good figs and one of bad.[22][23] Jeremiah similarly warned against Zedekiah's attempts to broker an anti-Babylonian alliance with the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon. Furthermore, Jeremiah advised all the deportees to become part of the Babylonian economy and society, if not necessarily part of the culture, and that they would eventually return, after seventy years had elapsed since the first deportation (in the fourth year of Jehoiakim).[24][25]

The high priest Seraiah and his second-in-command Zephaniah did not appreciate such advice and denouced Jeremiah in writing to Zedekiah. Jeremiah, in turn, said that those two priests would themselves come to sad ends.[26][25]

The Fourth Year of Zedekiah

In this year, Hananiah made a false prophecy that the exile would end within two years. Jeremiah disputed that account and foretold that Hananiah would die--which Hananiah did before this year of Zedekiah was out.[27][28]

The Fifth Year of Zedekiah

In this year, Ezekiel had his first vision, in which God instructed him to draw a plan of the siege of Jerusalem, and then to lie on his side for three hundred ninety days. This was the symbol, both of the duration of the siege (390 days) and the time of the iniquity of the children of Israel (390 years).[29][30]

The Sixth Year

In this year, Psammtik II died and Apries, or Hophra, succeeded him as Pharaoh of Egypt. Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar in this year.[21] But Ezekiel received a direct vision of the idolatries that the residents of Jerusalem were practicing, and the devastation that was to result. Ezekiel received a further prediction that Zedekiah would flee the city by night, but would be captured anyway, brought before Nebuchadnezzar, blinded, and deported.[31][32]

The Ninth Year

In this year, which was a sabbatical, the law required the residents of Jerusalem to set their slaves free. Nebuchadnezzar II came in force and captured all but three cities: Lachish, Azekah, and Jerusalem itself. Nebuchadnezzar then came to Jerusalem itself and built a ring of siege towers all around it.[33][34]

Ezekiel received a vision of the coming total destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel's wife died, and God instructed Ezekiel not to mourn her, as a symbol that this destruction would be too sad an event to mourn. Jeremiah, for his part, advised Zedekiah of the destruction to come, and Zedekiah imprisoned him.[35][36]

In this year, Apries attacked Nebuchadnezzar's siege ring from the outside. Nebuchadnezzar then had to break off his siege, engage Apries directly, and chase him away. In the process, Nebuchadnezzar took 832 prisoners and sent them back to Babylon.[37][38]

Zedekiah drew a false confidence from this event, as did his people, who took back the slaves they had earlier set free. Jeremiah warned that Nebuchadnezzar would be back--and that God would not be pleased with this breaking of the sabbatical law.[38]

The Last 390 Days

As Ezekiel predicted, Nebuchadnezzar dealt handily with Apries. He then returned and resumed his siege of Jerusalem. This occurred on the fifteenth day of the third month, and on this date Ezekiel's 390-day countdown began. Before it was over, the people of Jerusalem ran out of food. Jeremiah was thrown into the mud-hole during this time. Zedekiah consulted him repeatedly but never once listened to Jeremiah's simple message: that Nebuchadnezzar would win, and the people ought to submit to him.[38]

Finally, on the ninth day of the fourth month, near the end (according to the civil calendar) of Zedekiah's last year, Nebuchadnezzar's armies broke through the city walls. Zedekiah and all his soldiers fled by night.[1] The Chaldeans gave chase and captured them--though Josephus[39] says that most of Zedekiah's soldiers deserted him before this happened.

The Chaldeans brought Zedekiah to Nebuchadnezzar's camp at Riblah. There Nebuchadnezzar pronounced a short and bitter judgment: that Zedekiah was a traitor, a covenant breaker, and an ingrate.[40] Nebuchadnezzar then had Zedekiah's children executed before his eyes, and then he had Zedekiah blinded, chained, and taken to Babylon.[1] There, according to Josephus, Nebuchadnezzar kept Zedekiah in prison until he died (though how many years this lasted, Josephus does not say) and then gave him an honorable burial.[41]

The Burning of Jerusalem

On the seventh day of the fifth month (or about twenty-five days after the Babylonians breached the city), Nebuchadnezzar's general Nebuzaradan received his orders to enter Jerusalem. Three days later he entered. He burned the Temple of Jerusalem and the royal palace to the ground, together with every nobleman's house, and completely leveled the walls. He then carried away all the remaining Temple furnishings, which Nebuchadnezzar dedicated to the temple he was building to his god, Marduk.[1] Nebuzaradan also removed every person of consequence from the city, leaving only a population of vine dressers and simple farmers. He brought the two priests Seraiah and Zephaniah to Nebuchadnezzar, who had them executed as well.[42] Seraiah's son Jehozadak, who inherited the high priesthood from his father, was deported to Babylon.[42]

The First Governor of Judah

The Southern Kingdom was no more, and from that time forward it was, in essence, a province of whichever regional or intercontinental superpower was dominant in the region. Babylonia became the first in a long line of superpowers that had the old Southern Kingdom as a province.

General Nebuzaradan appointed Gedaliah, a man of that same country but probably not of the royal family, to act as the first provincial governor. Gedaliah set up his provincial capital at Mizpah, a Benjamite city.[43] There Jeremiah went to live after Nebuchadnezzar's generals granted him leave.[44]

Unhappily, Gedaliah's governorship would not last long. Ishmael, a minor prince of the House of David, took a sizeable bribe from King Baalis of Ammon to kill Gedaliah. Ishmael recruited ten associates and led them all to Mizpah, where Gedaliah received them graciously. Jeremiah warned Gedaliah that Ishmael was plotting murder, but Gedaliah did not listen. Ishmael killed Gedaliah and every Jew or Chaldean he found in Mizpah (though presumably Jeremiah escaped him).[45]

Ishmael and his associates took several female hostages and ran away to Ammon. But another Jewish general, named Johanan, accosted Ishmael and freed his prisoners. Ishmael, and the eight associates he now had left, continued their flight to Ammon.[46]

Johanan, for his part, led his company to Egypt, in fear of Babylonian retaliation. Jeremiah tried to warn him that, if they fled to Egypt, every one of them would die before his time, but Johanan and most of his company did not listen.[47]

The Final Deportation

Three years after the final taking of Jerusalem, Nebuzaradan brought another 745 Jews and Israelites to Babylon. This occurred forty years after Huldah's prophecy of the destruction of the Southern Kingdom, given to Josiah when he celebrated his solemn Passover.[48]

First use of the term "Jew"

The term Jew dates from the last years of Jerusalem, and means any person who descends from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, or Levi. No Levite had remained in the Northern Kingdom since the reign of Kings Asa in the South, and Baasha in the North.

Chronological Placement

Ezekiel's three hundred ninety years, according to Ussher, include three hundred eighty-eight full years and two partial years, beginning in 975 BC with the division of the United Kingdom of Israel into Northern and Southern halves. Thiele, of course, assumes that the division of the kingdoms was forty-five years more recent than Ussher (and Josephus) calculate, in which case Ezekiel's 390 years are now supposed to have included the last five years of the reign of King David and the entirety of the reign of King Solomon.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Larry Pierce, ed., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003 (ISBN 0890513600), pghh. 847-51
  2. Leon J. Wood, A Survey of Israel's History, rev. ed. David O'Brien, Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1986 (ISBN 031034770X), pp. 319-20
  3. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 740-41
  4. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 754-55
  5. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 761
  6. II_Kings 23:31-34 , II_Chronicles 36:1-4
  7. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 769-70, 774-7
  8. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 782, 783, 785
  9. II_Kings 24:2
  10. Wood, op. cit., pp. 317
  11. A.K. Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles , vol. 5 of Texts from Cuneiform Sources, eds. A.L. Oppenheim, et al. (New York: Augustun, 1975) p. 100. Quoted by John P. Pratt in "Lehi's 600-year Prophecy of the Birth of Christ," Meridian Magazine, March 31, 2000. Retrieved April 12, 2007.
  12. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 790
  13. II_Kings 24:12
  14. 14.0 14.1 Anonymous, "Jehoiachin", Holy Spirit Interactive, 2007. Retrieved April 13, 2007.
  15. II_Kings 24:13-16
  16. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 795-7
  17. Anonymous, Jehoiachin, Encyclopedia Britannica online, 2007. Retrieved April 13, 2007.
  18. Anonymous, King Jehoiachin: Biography and God's Judgment, retrieved April 13, 2007 from the Kings of Israel site.
  19. "Jehoiachin". The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. © 1994, 2000-2006, on Infoplease. © 2000–2007 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease. Retrieved 13 April 2007.
  20. Matthew G. Easton and Paul S. Taylor, "Jehoiachin", The Web Bible Encyclopedia, 2007. Retrieved April 13, 2007.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 824
  22. Jeremiah 24:1-2,8-9
  23. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 808
  24. Jeremiah 39:1-18
  25. 25.0 25.1 Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 810-11
  26. Jeremiah 30:1-31,40
  27. Jeremiah 28:1-14
  28. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 814-6
  29. Jeremiah 4:1-17
  30. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 823
  31. Ezekiel 8:1 , Ezekiel 9:1-11 , Ezekiel 10:1-22 , Ezekiel 11:1-25
  32. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 826
  33. II_Kings 25:1 , Jeremiah 39:1 , Jeremiah 52:4
  34. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 832
  35. Ezekiel 24:1-27
  36. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 833
  37. Jeremiah 37:3-10
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 836
  39. Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 10.8.137-8, in The Works of Josephus, William Whiston, trans., Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987
  40. Josephus, Antiquities, op. cit., 10.8.138-40
  41. Josephus, Antiquities, op. cit., 10.8.154
  42. 42.0 42.1 Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 853
  43. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 852
  44. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 854
  45. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 856-7
  46. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 858
  47. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 859
  48. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 867
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