The Babylonian Exile

Gotta a few questions about the Babylonian exile.

  1. Is there any independent archeological evidence that it occurred? I don’t doubt it did, but are there any Babylonian records that read, “On Tuesday, General X came back from the campaign against Israel with 50,000 Israelis as [slaves? hostages?]. No clue where we’re going to put them all.”?

  2. Was capturing and moving an entire population a common tactic in those days?

  3. How’d they get to Babylon/how long did it take?

  4. What were conditions like for the Jews in Babylon? Were they put to work as slave labor, ala Egypt, or were the (relatively) free?

Thanks all,


Capturing and removing the royalty/nobility/aristocracy was fairly common. These are the people who were moved. Judah was not depopulated, but the people with the experience for leadership, the education, and any military knowledge were taken away.

The Babylonians appear to have been fairly pragmatic people. The highest leaders may have been executed or enslaved, but the next tier of people were often given land to farm or places to open a trade–and then taxed to the hilt.

I don’t know how long it takes to walk from Jerusalem to Babylon, but that is how they did it.

I’m not sure whether or not we have any Babylonian records of the suppression of Judah (which would have been a lesser event in the larger war with Egypt).

From the entry on the chronology of the OT from Encyclopedia Britannica, it seems that there are some existing Babylonian records that a small number of scholars believe to correspond to the Babylonian captivity. The article stressed that the (vast) majority opinion is that the records are too vague to associate with any particular war or captured people. The article doesn’t give any info about what these records are called today, or where they can be found, so I guess this rests on whether you consider the folks at EB to be a reliable source. It’s my feeling that if the EB says “a small number of scholars” they mean people with actual scholarly credentials, but YMMV.

I just read a book on Biblical archaeology, and IIRC the deal was that Israel and Judah were at war, and the king of Judah made a deal with the king of the Assyrians in which the Assyrians would wipe out Israel. The Assyrians had a general policy of relocating all captured peoples and dispersing them throughout the enormous Assyrian empire, to diffuse any sense of national identity and thereby make revolts less likely. As a result, the conquered Tribes of Israel were, in a word, Lost, as they assimilated into the Assyrian melting pot. (This is all well-attested by archaeology- there is a bas-relief of the king of Judah bowing to the king of Assyria, which is the only known portrait of a Jewish king.)

Then, the Babylonians took over the Assyrians. The homogeneity of the Assyrian empire made it easy for them to seize the reins of the whole thing at once. It seems reasonable to assume that yes, indeed, the Babylonians deposed the vassal king of Judah at this point. Apparently things weren’t so harsh under the Babylonians, slavery-wise. Remember, the book of Daniel and (again, IIRC) the Psalms about the captivity were written long afterwards. (Daniel was written roughly 500 years later, during the Maccabean revolt.) Of course, the Babylonians destroyed the temple and stole its gold (that is, the gold remaining after the Jewish kings had sold much of it off to finance wars and bribe neighboring kings with tribute.) But, OTOH, I don’t think the Jews had to make bricks while being bullwhipped.

My source for all this is Magnus Magnusson’s book Archaeology and the Bible, which is a bit out of date (mid-70s) but takes a balanced view of its subject.