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Nebuchadnezzar spoils Jerusalem
(3163 AM - 597 BCE)
Zedekiah, last king of Judah
(3163 AM - 597 BCE)
Hananiah the false prophet
(3166 AM - 594 BCE)
The vision of Ezekiel
(3168 AM - 592 BCE)
The 40 years of punishment for Judah
The 70 years of captivity
The siege of Jerusalem
(3171 AM - 589 BCE)
The fall of Jerusalem
(3173 AM - 587 BCE)
The Book of Lamentations
(3173 AM - 587 BCE)
The assassination of Gedaliah
(3174 AM - 586 BCE)
Jeremiah in Egypt
(3174 AM - 586 BCE)
The Jews of Elephantine
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Hebrew years 3120 to 3240 (640-520 BCE)
~~~ Part I ~~~ Part II ~~~ Part III ~~~ Part IV
Jehoiakim reigned 11 years and probably died in a battle he waged against the Babylonians, following his last rebellion from their yoke. He indeed rebelled after 3 years of paying tribute, hoping that a new alliance with Egypt would defeat the rulers from Babylon. Jehoiakim was succeeded by his 18 years old son Jehoiachin. But the latter did not reign more than 3 months because the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and the Israelite royal family surrendered. The invaders spoiled the city from all its treasures and took to captivity all the key people of the kingdom:~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came unto the city, while his servants were besieging it. And Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers; and the king of Babylon took him in the eighth year of his reign [Nebuchadnezzar’s]. And he carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the Lord, as the Lord had said. And he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths; none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land. And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon; and the king's mother, and the king's wives, and his officers, and the chief men of the land, carried he into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. And all the men of might, even seven thousand, and the craftsmen and the smiths a thousand, all of them strong and apt for war, even them the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon. And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah his father's brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah. --- II Kings 24:10-17
It is generally admitted by Jewish scholars that the First Temple was destroyed after 410 years from its construction. The period of 410 years actually refers to the number of years of divine service in the Temple, and not until its actual destruction. This service stopped from the moment the High Priest was taken to captivity in Babylon at the same time than the other dignitaries of the kingdom of Judah. It was Jehozadak, son of Seraiah, who was the last High Priest (I Chronicles 5:41). A temple without divine service and high priest was just stones and no longer the Temple, as the House of God..
The Second Temple was destroyed after 420 years of divine service. We will see that this period was not continuous, unlike for the First Temple. These two numbers 410 and 420 are reflected in the numerical value of the Hebrew word כתית which is used to name the pure olive oil that was used by the priests for the Temple service. This word can be divided in two sections כת and ית which have the numerical value of 420 and 410 respectively (ת=400, כ=20, י=10).
Zedekiah was the younger brother of Jehoahaz, from a same mother. He was 21 years old when he was chosen as king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah continued to prophetize the fall of the kingdom of Judah while many other false prophets were giving false hope that God will not abandon the nation.
Jeremiah the Prophet and King Zedekiah
(illustration from: Foster, Charles, "The Bible pictures and what they teach us", 1897)
At a time when divine service was no longer performed and when the presence of spiritual leadership with the High Priest was wanting, the people of Judah were confused by several false prophets. One of them, Hananiah, wanted to make them believe that God will save them from the king of Babylon, against Jeremiah’s prophecies. God issued a sentence of death against him, and Jeremiah had to deliver it. Hananiah died in the same year, in the 4th of the reign of Zedekiah.
Ezekiel son of Buzi was a priest who had followed King Jehoiakim and the royal family when they came voluntarily to Nebuchadnezzar. The latter took them captive to Babylon and Jehoiachim would remain incarcerated until the death of Nebuchadnezzar. The years of captivity of the Israelites in Babylon are counted from the start of Jehoiachim’s captivity which began in the 8th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.
In the 5th year, which started in Hebrew year 3167, God talked to Ezekiel in exile and showed him some frightful vision of fire, unnatural beasts and electricity (Ezekiel 1:4,27). The latter word is difficult to transcribe as Ezekiel used the Hebrew word חַשְׁמַל which, in Modern Hebrew, means Electricity.
One of the visions of Ezekiel
(Fontaine, Nicolas, L'Histoire du Vieux et du Nouveau Testament, 1688)
God also wanted Ezekiel to repent for the sins of Israel and Judah, one day for one year of iniquity:
Moreover lie you upon your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it; according to the number of the days that you shall lie upon it, you shall bear their iniquity. For I have appointed the years of their iniquity to be unto you a number of days, even three hundred and ninety days; so shall you bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And again, when you have accomplished these, you shall lie on your right side, and shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah; forty days, each day for a year, have I appointed it unto you. --- Ezekiel 4:4-6
How did these years get counted?
First, for Israel, it corresponds to the number of years from the time all the Israelites started to sin. It began to count from the death of Elazar the High Priest, son of Aaron, in Hebrew year 2558. The count ends with the destruction of the kingdom of Israel in Hebrew year 3041, when its capital Samaria fell after 3 years of struggle. The difference of years is 483 years, from which God removed all the years when all the Israelites came back to His path during the period of Samuel (after the death Eli the High Priest in Hebrew year 2688), and until the end of the reigns of David and Solomon in Hebrew year 2781 (80 years for the combined two reigns): this makes a total of 93 years to substract from the 483 years count, and it results in the 390 years calculation. The period of 390 years corresponds to a collective punishment of all the Israelites, not just for the kingdom of Israel.
The count of 390 years is however given as follows by Rashi who quoted the Seder Olam Rabbah and also the details he had learned from his own teacher:
We learned in Seder Olam (chapter 26): This teaches us that Israel sinned for three hundred and ninety years from the time they entered the Land until the ten tribes were exiled therefrom. You find [the events of] two hundred and forty-three of them delineated: From the time Jeroboam assumed the throne until Hoshea son of Elah was exiled and in “the days that the judges judged” are one hundred and eleven years. The rest, however, are not delineated.
These are [the calculations of] the three hundred and ninety years that I found in a responsum from Rabbi Joseph, the head of the yeshivah, that the ten tribes sinned from the days of Joshua until Sennacherib exiled them from Samaria. Calculate: in the days of the Judges there were 8 years under the rule of Cushan, 18 under the rule of Eglon, 20 under the rule of Sisera, 7 under the rule of Midian, 18 under the rule of the children of Ammon, and 40 under the rule of the Philistines. This totals 111. From Micah until the Ark was captured were 40 years, totaling 151. Calculate for Jeroboam son of Nebat 22, Nadab his son 2, Baasa 24, Elah his son 2, Omri 12, Ahab 22, Ahaziah his son 2, Jehoram his brother 12, Jehu 28, Jehoahaz 17, Jehoash his son 16, Jeroboam his son 41 the total is 350 [it totals 351 in fact]. And [with] Menachem son of Gadi 10, Pekahiah his son 2, Pekah son of Remaliah 20, and Hoshea son of Elah 9 years, the total is 391, but Hoshea’s last year is not counted because in Hoshea’s ninth year, Samaria was captured and Hoshea was counted as having reigned 8 years, leaving a total of 390.
The forty years that the kings of Judah sinned after the exile of Sennacherib until [the prophecy of] this chapter was said to Ezekiel are delineated below, and I did not find it necessary to explain them. This is not found in other editions.--- Rashi commentary on Ezekiel 4:5
As of the 40 years of punishment mentioned for Judah, they counted (backwards) for:
- the reign of Zedekiah thus far: 4 years
- the reign of Jehoiachin until he was taken to captivity: 3 months
- the reign of Jehoiakim: 11 years
- the reign of Jehoahaz until taken by Necoh to Egypt: 3 months
- the reign of Amon until he was murdered: 2 years
- part of the reign of Menasseh, the greatest of the sinful kings of Judah, who reigned for 55 years but started to reign when he was only 12 years old: probably 22 years and 6 months of sins
Rashi gave the following details, and explained the reason for the 70 years captivity as well:
This teaches us that the house of Judah sinned, from the time that the ten tribes were exiled until Jerusalem was destroyed, forty years: 22 of Manasseh, about whom it is written (II Kings 21:3): “as Ahab… had made,” and Ahab had reigned 22 years; two of Ammon and 11 of Jehoiakim, and this prophecy was transmitted to Ezekiel in the fifth year of Zedekiah. This totals 40 years.
The grand total is four hundred and thirty [years]. After this prophecy, they remained yet six years, equaling 8 jubilees and 36 years. In 8 jubilees [there] are 8 cycles of Sabbatical years, equaling 56 Sabbatical years, totaling 64 [hallowed years]. In 36 years, there are 5 Sabbatical years, totaling 69 land-release years, and the final jubilee year is accounted to them as an iniquity because they were exiled from it [the land] because of their iniquity, totaling 70 hallowed years of land release, which Israel did not observe. Therefore, they were exiled 70 years to fulfill (Leviticus 26:34): “Then the land will appease its Sabbaths.” That is what is written at the end of Chronicles (II Chronicles 36:21): “To fulfill the word of the Lord [that was] in the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land has appeased its Sabbaths, for as long as it lay desolate, it rested, to complete seventy years.”
“Your left side” symbolizes Samaria; “your right side” symbolizes Judah, because Judah is in the south of the land of Israel, as it is said (16:46): “And your big sister Samaria… who lives at your left.” Also in the Book of Joshua (15:1), he describes the border of the tribe of Judah as occupying the entire "southern" border.--- Rashi commentary on Ezekiel 4:6
So God applied a symbolic collective punishment to Ezekiel in place of the Israelites, by ruling the same model as He did to them in the desert after the episode of the 12 explorers. Except that, at that time, we made them pay one year for each day, and now He made Ezekiel pay one day for each year of sin.
Ezekiel started the punishment on the 5th day of the 4th month of the 5th year of Jehoiachin’s captivity (Ezekiel 8:1), which lasted a total of 430 days (=390+40). In Babylon, they used a lunar calendar at the time, so each month was based on lunar observation with a new moon every 29.5 days in average (some months were counted with 29 days and others with 30 days). So the 430 days made 14 lunar months and a half, thus one year and two and a half months.
God spoke to Ezekiel at the start of the following month, on the same 5th day of the month:
And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, and the elders of Judah sat before me, that the hand of the Lord God fell there upon me. Then I beheld, and lo a likeness as the appearance of fire: from the appearance of his loins and downward, fire; and from his loins and upward, as the appearance of brightness, as the colour of electrum. And the form of a hand was put forth, and I was taken by a lock of my head; and a spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the gate of the inner court that looks toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy. And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the vision that I saw in the plain. --- Ezekiel 8:1-4
Zedekiah eventually rebelled against Babylon, hoping that Pharaoh Psamtik II, son of Necoh, would be able to overcome the Assyrian yoke in the entire region. But no military support could possibly come from Egypt which had already been badly defeated by the Assyrians at the time of Necoh.
Nebuchadnezzar was now able to exert his wrath against the rebellious king of Judah. His army started the siege of Jerusalem in the 9th year of Zedekiah’s reign:
And it came to pass in the ninth year of his [Zedekiah] reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, and encamped against it; and they built forts against it round about. --- II Kings 25:1
So the siege started on the 10th day of the 10th month, which is the 10th of Tevet: this day has become a day of fast in Judaism. The siege started in Tevet of the 9th year of Zedekiah and the city fell on Av of his 11th year, so the siege lasted 30 months in total.
The reign of Zedekiah was counted at the same year when King Jehoiachin was taken captive to Babylon. So the time reference is identical for Ezekiel to whom God appeared in a vision in Babylon to announce the siege of the city:
And the word of the Lord came unto me in the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, saying: 'Son of man, write you the name of the day, even of this selfsame day; this selfsame day the king of Babylon has invested Jerusalem.’ --- Ezekiel 24:1-2
As the Babylonians used a lunar calendar as the Hebrews did, the months start at the same time with a new moon, and last the same period of time, 29.5 days in average.
The Siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (Calmet, Dictionary of the Holy Bible,1730)
In the 10th year of his reign, instead of repenting for his sins, Zedekiah had Jeremiah thrown into a jail (Jeremiah 32:3). The reason for this decision was that Jeremiah continued to prophetise the destruction of Jerusalem, and he was heard by royal officials:
And Shephatiah the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah the son of Pashur, and Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah, heard the words that Jeremiah spoke unto all the people, saying: 'Thus says the Lord: He that remains in this city shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence; but he that goes forth to the Chaldeans shall live, and his life shall be unto him for a prey, and he shall live.'--- Jeremiah 38:1-2
These officials convinced Zedekiah to issue orders against Jeremiah. This circumstance would have been lost to historians as a minor detail until that, in 2008, in excavations carried out in the "City of David" in Jerusalem, precisely where the official buildings and/or king's palace stood, were found bulla (clay seals) bearing the names of two of these officials mentioned in the Bible who were the captors of Prophet Jeremiah ! These names on the bulla are: “Yehuchal [or Jucal] ben Shelemyahu [Shelemiah]” and “Gedalyahu [Gedaliah] ben Pashur”. If the Bible was written around 300 BCE as some people claim, how would the author know about the name of some obscure officials who existed some 300 years earlier, and at a time where written records did not really exist or were destroyed by invasions and wars?
The seals of Jeremiah’s captors (courtesy: Dr. Eilat Mazar)
Where Jeremiah was thrown by these officials was in fact a pit with no water and Jeremiah would have died there. Then Zedekiah ordered 30 men to take him out (Jeremiah 38:10). The Prophet was then kept in the house of the guards until the city of Jerusalem was conquered (Jeremiah 38:28).
In the 11th year of Zedediah’s reign, a breach was made in the city walls (II Kings 25:2). The people of the city could see the breach and the oncoming Assyrian army going through it. One person, named in the Biblical text as Nebo-Sar-sechim (Jeremiah 39:3), was recently identified in one of the cuneiform tablets kept in the British Museum as “Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the chief eunuch”:
[…] the property of Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the chief eunuch, […] Month 11, day 18, year 10 [of] Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. --- Alberge, Dalya, "Museum’s tablet lends new weight to Biblical truth", The Times, 11 July 2007
The Times newspaper reported that this was a rare evidence in a nonbiblical source of a real person, other than kings, featured in the Bible.
Seeing the city about to be lost, Zedekiah and his family tried to escape via a secret underground tunnel, but they were caught by chance in the plain of Jericho. Zedekiah and his followers probably had escaped from the underground cave under the Old City of Jerusalem (called today Zedekiah's Cave) and followed the canyon and river Nahal Prat that flows down until the plain of Jericho. Nebuchadnezzar ordered to execute Zedekiah's sons in front of him, then ordered his eyes to be cut off. Zedekiah was then sent captive to Babylon.
Execution of Zedekiah's sons (Gustave Doré, 1868)
Three weeks after the breach, the city of Jerusalem fell:
Now in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem. And he burnt the house of the Lord, and the king's house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, even every great man's house, burnt he with fire. And all the army of the Chaldeans, that were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls of Jerusalem round about. And the residue of the people that were left in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to the king of Babylon, and the residue of the multitude, did Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carry away captive. But the captain of the guard left of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and husbandmen. And the pillars of brass that were in the house of the Lord, and the bases and the brazen sea that were in the house of the Lord, did the Chaldeans break in pieces, and carried the brass of them to Babylon. And the pots, and the shovels, and the snuffers, and the pans, and all the vessels of brass wherewith they ministered, took they away. And the fire-pans, and the basins, that which was of gold, in gold, and that which was of silver, in silver, the captain of the guard took away. The two pillars, the one sea, and the bases, which Solomon had made for the house of the Lord; the brass of all these vessels was without weight. The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and a capital of brass was upon it; and the height of the capital was three cubits; with network and pomegranates upon the capital round about, all of brass; and like unto these had the second pillar with network. And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, and Zephaniah the second priest, and the three keepers of the door; and out of the city he took an officer that was set over the men of war; and five men of them that saw the king's face, who were found in the city; and the scribe of the captain of the host, who mustered the people of the land; and threescore men of the people of the land, that were found in the city. And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon to Riblah. And the king of Babylon smote them, and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was carried away captive out of his land. And as for the people that were left in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, even over them he made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, governor. --- II Kings 25:8-22
While Jeremiah was in house arrest, he composed the Book of Lamentations to mourn the forthcoming destruction of the holy city. This text was chosen to be part of the Jewish Bible and is traditionnally read in Jewish assemblies during the fast day of Tisha Be-Av (the 9th day of the month of Av).
The elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their music. The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning. The crown is fallen from our head; woe unto us! for we have sinned. For this our heart is faint, for these things our eyes are dim; For the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it. You, O Lord, are enthroned for ever, Your throne is from generation to generation. Wherefore do You forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time? Turn You us unto You, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. You cannot have utterly rejected us, and be exceeding wroth against us! --- Lamentations 5:14-22, final verses
Jeremiah lamenting the fall of Jerusalem (Rembrandt, 1630)
Most of the important people of the kingdom of Judah were taken captive to Babylon. One of the survivors went up to Ezekiel upon his arrival to Babylon:
And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, in the fifth day of the month, that one that had escaped out of Jerusalem came unto me, saying: 'The city is smitten.' --- Ezekiel 33:21 Jeremiah was given the choice to follow the people to Babylon or remain with Gedaliah in Mitzpah. Gedaliah was chosen by the king of Babylon as governor to administer what was left of the cities of Judah. Jeremiah chose to stay. The majority of the people, the poorer mass, were left in the country by the Chaldeans, with an appointed governor at their head.
Seal of Gedaliah (found in Lachish in 1935, see article)
The armed people of Judah, who were outside Jerusalem when the city was taken, gathered again to meet Gedaliah in Mitzpah. The new governor succeeded to reassure them over the future. Israelites started to come back from different places onto Judah. But Gedaliah was not from Davidic descent and therefore was not accepted by those who wanted to keep the tradition that only people from this cast would rule over the Jews. So a gang of mercenaries led by Ishmael son of Netanya came to Mitzpah and murdered him (II Kings 25:25-26). The gang took away as captives his daughters and other people who were with him in Mitzpah, including the Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 41:10). But they were caught up by another group of armed Israelites who rescued some of the captives, and Ishmael fled to the land of the Ammonites.
This assassination caused two exodes: (1) to avoid punishment from Babylon, the rescuers fled to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them, and about half of the Jews of the country, and (2) the other half decided to move to Babylon to show submission to Nebuchadnezzar. This assassination caused that the land of Judah, for its first time since the conquest of Joshua, was emptied of Jews. Their decision was a lack of faith in God because they had previously asked the Prophet for divine advice and he had passed onto them God’s promise to His protection if they remained in Judah. This grave situation was the reason why the assassination of Gedaliah is commemorated as a day of fast in Jewish tradition.
The divine anger was soon coming. Jeremiah prophetised to the people of Judah that God will deliver the land of Egypt to the king of Assyria, if they would remain there. The Pharaoh of Egypt at the time, Apries from the 26th Dynasty, called Hophra in the Bible (Jeremiah 40:30), favoured those who rebelled against Babylon. He had even tried to come to the rescue of Jerusalem against the Babylonian army but was crushed by them, before they started to besiege the city.
Some tradition mentions that Jeremiah met with some Greek philosopher while in Egypt. The one who comes to mind is Thales, who was a wealthy maritime trader based in Miletus (Asia Minor) so could have travelled the seas for his business. He taught new concepts about the origin of life that influenced the philosophers after him, such as that all the world originated from Water. For Aristotle notably, Thales was the father of the Philosophy. 
The last kings of Judah
One Jewish community settled as far south as the island of Elephantine on the Nile, near present-day Aswan in Egypt. This community was called Yeb and they built their own temple to perform sacrifices. Papyrii documents have been found on site in the early 20th century that bring some light about the functioning of this community. Their temple was apparently destroyed about 400 BCE during anti-Jewish riots in the island.
 Also called Coniah in Jeremiah 37:1
 A lunar year had 12 months at the time, until later when Babylonians added an intercalary month
Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon (Foster, Bible Pictures)
 Thales has been mentioned in the following page of this site => click here
 The city of Mitzpah was located in Benjamin territory; it was there that the civil war against Benjamin was started in the Judges period, and also there that the palace of the kings of Israel was located before they built their capital Samaria; the site is assumed to be in present-day Tell en-Nasbeh (or Tel a-Nasbe), a southern suburb of Ramallah, over 10 km north from Jerusalem
 To see for example the Passover Letter dated 419 BCE, click here
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