Vertical News: Cuneiform Tablets Offer Details of Judean Exile to Babylon

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Cuneiform Tablets Offer Details of Judean Exile to Babylon

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A collection of cuneiform tablets pertaining to Jewish life during the Babylonian Exile, displayed at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, are being analyzed by archaeologists. Experts believe that Nebuchadnezzar, the leader of Babylon at the time, at first tried to encourage the Jews to leave for Babylon, but later, as the kingdom continued to revolt he swept in to destroy Jerusalem when the people didn’t comply. In 586 B.C. the Kingdom of Judah was deposed and Jerusalem destroyed, and the remaining Jews were forced to migrate to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:1-21 2 Chronicles 36:1-21 [1] Then the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and made him king in his father's stead in Jerusalem. [2] Jehoahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. [3] And the king of Egypt put him down at Jerusalem, and condemned the land in an hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. [4] And the king of Egypt made Eliakim his brother king over Judah and Jerusalem, and turned his name to Jehoiakim. And Necho took Jehoahaz his brother, and carried him to Egypt. [5] Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem: and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD his God. [6] Against him came up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and bound him in fetters, to carry him to Babylon. [7] Nebuchadnezzar also carried of the vessels of the house of the LORD to Babylon, and put them in his temple at Babylon. [8] Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim, and his abominations which he did, and that which was found in him, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah: and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his stead. [9] Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem: and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD. [10] And when the year was expired, king Nebuchadnezzar sent, and brought him to Babylon, with the goodly vessels of the house of the LORD, and made Zedekiah his brother king over Judah and Jerusalem. [11] Zedekiah was one and twenty years old when he began to reign, and reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. [12] And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD his God, and humbled not himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of the LORD. [13] And he also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God: but he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning to the LORD God of Israel. [14] Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the LORD which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. [15] And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: [16] But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy. [17] Therefore he brought on them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand. [18] And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes; all these he brought to Babylon. [19] And they burnt the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. [20] And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: [21] To fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfill three score and ten years.
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). Though in exile, the Jews weren’t completely enslaved, according to an expert who examined the tablets. They worked in trade and business, and also served in the administration of the kingdom, as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah did (Daniel 1:1-21 Daniel 1:1-21 [1] In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem, and besieged it. [2] And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god. [3] And the king spoke to Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes; [4] Children in whom was no blemish, but well favored, and skillful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. [5] And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. [6] Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: [7] To whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave to Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego. [8] But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. [9] Now God had brought Daniel into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. [10] And the prince of the eunuchs said to Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who has appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall you make me endanger my head to the king. [11] Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, [12] Prove your servants, I beseech you, ten days; and let them give us vegetables to eat, and water to drink. [13] Then let our countenances be looked on before you, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king's meat: and as you see, deal with your servants. [14] So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days. [15] And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat. [16] Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them vegetables. [17] As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. [18] Now at the end of the days that the king had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. [19] And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. [20] And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm. [21] And Daniel continued even to the first year of king Cyrus.
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).

Many of the tablets pertain to one particular family from Judea and cover the details of their lives, receipts, official documents, etc, for the span of over four generations (Mark Prigg, “The Palm Sized Tablets That Reveal What Life Was Really Like for Jews Exiled in Nebuchadnezzar’s Bablyon,” Reuters as covered in The Daily Mail, DailyMail.co.uk, February 3, 2015). 

While not spectacularly insightful or earth shattering in content, documents like these cuneiform tablets serve to verify the biblical record. The stories of the Bible are not always about great battles and heroic figures, God’s way of life is lived on a daily basis and it is in those daily details that the tapestry of the biblical story is overlaid. 

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