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Captivities of the Israelites

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The Assyrian captivity

The end of the Northern Kingdom

The Kingdom of Israel, formed by the secession of the Ten Tribes under Jeroboam, covered the whole northern and north-eastern part of the realm of David which constituted the bulk of the land of the Hebrews. Politically and materially it was of much greater importance than its southern neighbour, Juda. Under Jeroboam II (782-746 B.C.) it had recovered from the inroads of the Syrians and the pecuniary exactions of Shalmaneser II of Assyria, and had regained on the east and north-east the boundaries conquered of yore by Solomon. In fact the Israel of Jeroboam II was at the summit of its prosperity. But beneath this bloom lay a depth of religious and moral corruption. Jehovah had always been acknowledged as the supreme God, but His worship was still tainted by the heathenish symbolism of the calf at the national temples of Bethel and Dan (Hosea 8:5-7), and affronted by the Chanaanitish cult at the high-places and groves, where the Baalim or gods of fertility were offered rites accompanied by unbridled sexual licence (Hosea 2:13, 17; 4:12 sq.). The Prophets Amos and Osee (A. V. Hosea), especially the latter, paint in strong colours a picture of the dire iniquity of the times: "There is no truths and there is no mercy, and there is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing, and lying, and killing, and theft, and adultery have overflowed, and blood hath touched blood." (Hosea 4:1-2) Practically there prevailed the principle that Jehovah could not fail to uphold His People, sin as it might, so long as that people paid Him the outward homage of sacrifice and ceremony. Against this superstitious presumption and the licence of the land Osee spoke in burning words, and in the very hey-day of Israel's prosperity foretold the destruction of the kingdom as the penalty of its wickedness. They announced captivity in foreign countries: "They shall not dwell in the Lord's land; Ephraim is returned to Egypt, and hath eaten unclean things among the Assyrians" (Hosea 9:3).

After Jeroboam II, political disintegration began from within by a series of short reigns of usurpers, who reached the throne and were hurled from it by murder. At the same time a world-power, Assyria was looming up on the East and menacing the existence of the small states which lay between it and the Mediterranean. An Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser III (D.V. Theglathphalasar, the Phul of 2 Kings 15:19), led a campaign against Damascene Syria, Hamath, and Palestine (742-738), and Manahem, the reigning prince of Israel, was fain to buy security with a heavy tribute silver. Manahem's son Phaceia (Pekahiah), after a two years' reign fell a victim to a conspiracy, and the throne was seized by its leader, Phacee (Pekah). The latter entered into an alliance with King Rasin (Rezin) of Damascus, whose object was the capture of Jerusalem and the placing of a Damascene king over Juda, in order to consolidate the Syrian-lsraelitie defence against the ever-threatening Assyrian domination. But Achaz of Jerusalem acknowledged Tiglath-pileser's suzerainty, and called in his aid in opposition to the prophetic warnings of Isaias. Later, at Damascus, he did homage to the Assyrian emperor, and from that city imported pagan ideas into the Temple ritual. The power Achaz invoked was destined ultimately to scourge his country, but it fell heavily first upon the coalition against Juda. Tiglath-pileser reappeared in Syria in 734, and his advance forced the allies to raise the siege of Jerusalem. After defeating Rasin and blockading Damascus, the Assyrians turned westward and occupied Northern Palestine. The cuneiform inscriptions tell us that Tiglath-pileser required Phacee's death as the penalty of his presumption, and made his slayer, Osee (Hoshea), king in his stead. (Cf. 2 Kings 15:29 sq.) Numbers of captives were carried out of Israel, the first of the deportations which depopulated the country. The prisoners were taken from Galaad, Galilee, and other northern districts of the kingdom, both east and west of the Jordan basin.

It was therefore over a crippled and impoverished land that Osee ruled as a vassal-King. For relief from this galling pressure he turned to Egypt, the only nation that could then pretend to cope with Assyria. He ceased paying the annual tribute and allied himself with Sua (So), a ruler of Lower Egypt, and Hanan, a Philistine prince of Gaza. The expedient was a ruinous failure; Egypt, always a false friend of Israel, deserted Osee. Tiglath-pileser's successor, Shalmaneser (the fourth of the name), having learned of this conspiracy, came down upon the Kingdom of Israel and made Osee a prisoner. But the patriotic revolt was a national one and survived the king's capture. Samaria, the capital, held out desperately against a besieging Assyrian army for three years, and was not taken till 722 B.C., Sargon II having meanwhile succeeded Shalmaneser. It was the death-blow of the Kingdom of Israel. An Assyrian inscription found in the ruins of Sargon's palace at Nineveh informs us that he carried away 27,290 of the people. War, famine, and earlier deportations must have much reduced the population. To fill the place of the dead and exiled Israelites, Sargon brought in among the remnant Babylonians and other pagan peoples from conquered lands. The Northern Kingdom became the Assyrian province of Samaria, and from the intermarriage of its various races arose the Samaritans. Out the depopulation of the former kingdom of its natives was far from complete. The bulk of the populace, composed of the poorer and least influential inhabitants, was allowed to remain, so that we read in the Assyrian monuments of a later futile effort of Hamath, Arpad, Simnira, Damascus, and "Samarina", i.e. Samaria, to shake off the lordship of Sargon. (Schrader, keilinschriftliche Bibliothek, II, 56, 57.) But the Israelitic stock left in the land was gradually merged into the composite race of Samaritans.

The ten tribes in exile

The exiles were settled by their conquerors "in Halah and Habor [a river] by the river of Gozan, in the cities of the Medes". Their colonies were therefore in the heart of Northern Mesopotamia and in Western Persia, then subject to Assyria. In Mesopotamia, or Assyria proper, the Israelites were assigned to the region centering about the city of Nisibis, which is mentioned by Josephus as their leading settlement. The exiled of the Ten Tribes remained and multiplied, never returning to Palestine. (See authorities cited by Schurer in art. "Diaspora" in sup. vol. of Hastings' Bib. Dict., 92.) Wellhausen and others who assume that the banished Israelites of the Northern Kingdom lost their identity and disappeared in the surrounding population regard the explicit testimony to the contrary of Josephus in his "Antiquities": "the ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates until now, and are an immense multitude [myriades apeiroi), not to be estimated by members." We may well believe that the swarming Hebrew population of Southern Russia is composed in large part of descendants of the Israelites expatriated in Northern Assyria and the regions south of the Caspian. No particulars of the lot of these transplanted inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom have reached us. We may only surmise from the manner in which they multiplied that their situation was at least a tolerable one.

Assyrian harrying of Juda

The annihilation of its sister kingdom laid open petty Juda to the full pressure of Assyria. Thenceforward that unhappy state, placed between the rival Assyrian and Egyptian Empires, was at the mercy of whichever happened at the time to be the stronger. A miraculous intervention did indeed hurl back Sennacherib's Assyrian army from the walls of Jerusalem in the reign of Ezechias (Hezekiah), but the country outside the city suffered cruelly from the ravages of that expedition. A monument of Sennacherib, who was Sargon's son and successor, records that he captured forty-six fortified towns and numberless smaller places of Juda, and took away as spoil, presumably to Assyria, 200,150 people and an immense number of beasts and herds. (Cf. 2 Kings 18:13, in confirmation of this.)

The Babylonian captivity

The destructon of the Kingdom of Juda

Yet Jerusalem, the Temple and the dynasty remained intact. Under the succeeding rulers, Manasses and Amon, the kingdom slowly recovered, but their potent example and approval led the nation into unprecedented syncretic excesses. So flagrant was the idolatry the worship of the Baalim under the symbol of obelisks and pillars or sacred trees, and the degrading cults of Astarte and Moloch, that not even the holy precincts of the Temple of Jehovah were free from such abominations. The morality of a people given over to licentious and cruel syncretism may be imagined. The sweeping religious reform under Josias seems not to have penetrated much beneath the surface, and the inveterate pagan propensities of the nation broke out in later reigns. The Prophets denounced and warned in vain. Except in the spasm of Josias' reform they were not listened to. Only a supreme national chastisement could purify this carnal people, and effectually tear idolatrous superstitions from their hearts. Juda was to undergo the fate of Israel.

A prelude to the process of national extinction was the defeat of Josias and his army by Pharao Nechao at Mageddo or Migdol. Egypt had thrown off the Assyrian suzerainty and was threatening Assyria itself. Josias had encountered the Egyptians, probably in an effort to keep the independence Juda had enjoyed during his reign. But by this time the second Assyrian Empire was tottering to its fall. Before Nechao reached the Euphrates Nineve had surrendered to the Medes and Babylonians, the Assyrian territories had been shared between the victors, and instead of Assyria Nechao was confronted by the rising Chaldean power. The Egyptians were defeated at Carchemish in the year 605 by Nabuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar), the son and heir of the Babylonian king Nabopolassar. It was now the Chaldean Kingdom, with its capital at Babylon, which loomed large upon the political horizon. Joakim (Jehoiakim), a son of Josias, was forced to exchange Egyptian for Babylonian vassalage. But a fanatical patriotism urged defiance to the Chaldeans. The people looked upon the Temple, Jehovah's dwelling-place, as a national aegis which would safeguard Juda, or at least Jerusalem, from the fate of Samaria. In vain Jeremias warned them that unless they turned from their evil ways Sion would go down before the enemy as the sanctuary of Shiloh had long before. His words only stung the Jews and their leaders to fury, and the Prophet narrowly escaped a violent death. In the third year of his reign Joakim rebelled, and Juda was able to ward off for four or five years the inevitable taking of Jerusalem by Nabuchodonosor. Joachin (Jehoiachin), who meanwhile had succeeded to the crown of Juda, was forced to surrender the beleaguered city, 597 B.C. His life was spared, but the conqueror dealt Jerusalem a terrible blow. The princes and leading men, the rank and file of the army, the citizen of wealth, and the artificers, numbering in all 10,000, were carried captive to Chaldea. The Temple and palace were rifled of their treasures. Sedecias (Zedekiah), an uncle of Joachin, was placed over the shadow of a kingdom remaining. (2 Kings 24:8 sqq.) After nine years of a reign characterized by gradual decay and religious and moral chaos, revolt flamed forth again, fed by the always illusory hope of succour from Egypt. Jeremiah's warnings against the folly of resistance to Chaldean domination were futile; a blind, fanatical fury possessed princes and people. When the patriotic cause momentarily triumphed, the advance of the Egyptian army causing Nabuchodonosor to raise temporarily the siege of Jerusalem, the Prophet's was the solitary voice that broke the exultant peal by the persistent refrain of ruin at the hands of the Chaldeans.

The issue verified his prediction. The Egyptians again failed the Israelites in their hour of need, and the Babylonian army closed in on the doomed city. Jerusalem held out more than a year, but a dreadful famine weakened the defence and the Babylonians finally entered through a breach in the wall, 586 B.C. Sedecias and remnant of his army escaped in the night, but were overtaken on the plain of Jericho, the king captured, and his followers routed (Jeremiah 3:7-9). He was carried to the Babylonian camp at Reblatha in Emath, and cruelly blinded there, but not before he had seen his sons put to death. The royal palace was burnt. A similar fate met Solomon's splendid Temple, which had been the stimulus and stay of the religious-national outbreaks. Its sacred vessels, of enormous value, were taken to Babylon and in part distributed among the pagan shrines there; the large brass fixtures were cut to pieces. The destruction of the larger houses and the city wall left Jerusalem a ruin. The people found in Jerusalem and, presumably, the greater number of those who had not sought refuge in the city were deported to Chaldea, leaving only the poorest sort to till the land and save it from falling into an utter waste. Some local government being necessary for these remaining inhabitants, Masphath (Mizpah), to the north of Jerusalem, was chosen as its seat, and Godolias (Gedaliah) a Hebrew, left as overseer of the remnant. On learning this, many Isralites who had fled to neighbouring countries returned, and a considerable colony centred at Masphath. But a certain Ismahel, of the Davidic stock, acting at the instigation of the Ammonite king, treacherously massacred Godolias and a number of his subordinates. The murderer and his band of ten were leading away to Ammon the terror-stricken rest of the community, when the latter were rescued by a Hebrew military officer connected with the administration. But fear that the Chaldean vengeance for the overseer's death would smite indiscriminately drove the colony into Egypt, and Jeremias, who had taken asylum at Masphath, was compelled to accompany it thither.

The exile and its effects

We are left to conjecture the number deported from Juda by the Babylonians. The 200,150 captives whom Sennacherib the Assyrian took from the Southern Kingdom three generations before its downfall we can reasonably surmise to have been settled in Assyria, i.e. Northern Mesopotamia, perhaps in the neighbourhood of the Israelitish communities (see above). These cannot be reckoned as properly in the Babylonian Exile. We have no data for a close estimate of the numbers brought away by the Chaldeans. Assuming the dates of Jeremias 3:28-30 to be correct, none of the deportations there noted took place in the years of the great disasters, viz. 597 and 586. Adding these minor expatriations — a sum of 4600 — to the 10,000 of the first capture of Jerusalem, gives 14,000; and since the final catastrophe was more sweeping than the former we are warranted in trebling that number as a rough estimate of the total of the Babylonian Captivity. The exiles were settled in the Kingdom of Babylonia, partly at the capital, Babylon, but more in localities not very distant from it, along the Euphrates and the canals which irrigated the great Chaldean plain. Nehardea, or Neerda, one of the principal of these Jewish colonies lay on the great river. (Josephus, Antiquities, XVIII, ix, 1.) Nippur, an important city between the Euphrates and the Tigris also contained many Hebrew captives within its walls or vicinity. One of the main canals which fertilized the interfluvial plain, passing through Nippur, was the nâr Kabari, which is identical with the river Chobar "in the land of the Chaldeans" of Ezekiel 1:1-3 and 3:15. (See Hilprecht, Explorations in Bible Lands (1903), 410 sq.] Other colonies were at Sora and Pumbeditha. It has been plausibly conjectured that Nabuchodonosor, whom the cuneiform records show as a builder and restorer, would not fail to utilize the great labour power of the Hebrew captives in the work of reclaiming and draining waste lands in Babylonia; for, as its present condition proves, that region without artificial irrigation and control of the overflow of the rivers if a mere desert. The country about Nippur seems to have been thus restored in ancient times. In any case it is a priori quite probable that the mass of the exiles were for a time at least in a condition of mitigated slavery. The condition of slaves in Babylonia was not one of grinding serfage; they enjoyed certain rights, and could, by redemption and other means, ameliorate their lot and even gain entire freedom. It is evident that soon after their deportation many of the Jews in Chaldea were in a positions to build homes and plant gardens (Jeremiah 29:5). Babylonia was pre-eminently a land of agriculture, and the Southern Israelites, who at home, on the whole had been a vine-growing and pastoral people, now by choice, if not by necessity, gave themselves to the tilling of the soil and the rearing of cattle in the rich alluvial flats of Mesopotamia (cf. Ezra 2:66). The products of Babylonia, especially grain, formed the staples of its busy internal commerce, and doubtless the great marts at Babylon, Nipper, and elsewhere, attracted many Jews into mercantile pursuits. The trading activities and the exact and well-regulated commercial methods of Babylonia must have greatly stimulated and developed the innate commercial genius of the expatriated race.

The fact that the Jews were allowed to settle in colonies, and this according to families and clans, had a vital bearing on the destinies of that people. It kept alive the national spirit and individuality, which would have disappeared in the mass of surrounding heathendom if the Southern Israelites had been dispersed into small units. There are indications that this national life was strengthened by a certain social organization, in which reappeared the primitive divisions of leading family and tribal stocks, and that their heads, the "elders", administered under royal licence the purely domestic affairs of the settlements (cf. Ezekiel 8:1; Ezra 2:2; Nehemiah 7:7). As long as the Temple stood it was the centre and pledge of Jewish hopes and aspirations, and even the first exiles kept their mental vision fixed on it as a beacon of early deliverance. The negative and ill-presaging voice of Ezechiel was unheeded by them. When Jerusalem and the Temple fell, the feeling was one of stupor. That Jehovah could forsake His dwelling-place and allow His sanctuary to be humbled to the dust by deriding Gentiles was inconceivable. But there was the terrible fact. Was the Lord no longer their God and greater than all other gods? It was a crisis in the religion of Israel. The providential rescue was at hand in prophecy. Had not Jeremias, Ezechiel, and others before them repeatedly foretold this ruin as the chastisement of national infidelity and sin? This was remembered now by those who in their fanatical deafness had not listened to them. So far from Jehovah being a defeated and humbled God, it was His very decree that had brought the catastrophe to pass. The Chaldeans had been merely the instruments of His justice. He now revealed to the Jews as a God of moral righteousness and universal sway, as a God who would tolerate no rival. Perhaps they had never before realized this; certainly never as now. Hence it is that the Exile is a great turning-point in the history of Israel — a punishment which was a purification and a rebirth. But Exilic prophecy did not merely point to the great religio-ethical lesson of the visitations of the past: it raised more loudly than ever the of hope and promise. Now that Jehovah's purpose had been accomplished, and the chosen people been humbled beneath His hand, a new era was to come. Even the mournful Jeremias had declared that the captives would return at the end of seventy years — a round number, not to be taken literally. Ezechiel, in the midst of the desolation of the Exile, boldly sketched a plan of the resurgent Sion. And Deutero-Isaias, probably a little later, brought a stirring and jubilant message of comfort and the assurance of a joyful, new life in the fatherland.

Several minor but important factors contributed to the preservation and cleansing of the religion of Israel. One was negative: the forcible uprooting from the soil where Chanaanitish idolatries had so long survived, detached the Jews from these baneful tradition. The others are positive. Without the Temple no sacrifices or solemn worship could be lawfully practised. The want was in part supplied by the keeping of the Sabbath, especially by religious assemblies on that day — the beginnings of the future synagogues. The Mosaic Law, too, assumed a new importance and sacredness, because Jehovah therein manifested His will, and in some sort dwelt, as an ordaining Presence. The writings of the Prophets and other scriptures, in so far as they existed, also received a share of the popular veneration hitherto concentrated on the Temple and external rites. In short, the absence of sacrifice and ceremonial worship during half a century had a tendency to refine the monotheism and, in general, to spiritualize the religion of the Hebrews.

The prelude of the restoration

Nabuchodonosor after a long and prosperous reign was succeeded by his son Evil Merodach, the Amil Marduk of the monuments. The latter showed himself benign to the long-imprisoned ex-king Joachin (Jechonias), releasing him and recognizing in a measure his royal dignity. After a short reign Evil Merodach was deposed, and within the space of four years (560-556) the throne was occupied by three usurpers. Under the last of these, Nabonidus, the once all-powerful Babylonian Monarchy declined rapidly. A new political power appeared on the eastern and northern frontiers. Cyrus, the King of Anzan (Elam) and Persia, had overcome Astyages, ruler of the Medes (or Manda), and seized his capital, Ecbatana. Media, by the partition of the Assyrian Empire and the further conquests of Cyaxares, had grown powerful; its territories took in, on the north and west, Armenia and half of Cappadocia. Cyrus extended these conquests by the subjugation of Lydia, thus stretching his sovereignty to the Aegean Mediterranean and forming a vast empire. The balance in Hither Asia was destroyed, and Babylon was threatened by this formidable rew power. The Deutero-Isaian Prophet hailed this brilliant star on the political horizon with joy, and recognizing in Cyrus the foreordained servant of God, predicted through him Babylon's downfall and Israel's deliverance (Isaiah 44:28-45:7). In the year 538 B.C. the Persian monarch invaded Chaldean territory; helped by disaffection in the south, one of his generals was able in a few days to take Babylon without resistance, and Cyrus became the ruler of the Chaldean Kingdom.

The restoration under Cyrus: Zorobabel's return

Cyrus reversed the policy of deportation followed by Assyrian and Babylonian kings. He deemed this the wiser statecraft, probably because he had experienced in the conquest of Babylonia the danger of keeping an ill-affected population in the midst of a country threatened by a foreign foe. At the same time, to repeople Judea with a nation bound to the Persian dynasty by ties of gratitude would strengthen his realm against Egyptian invasion. Thus did Providence "stir up the heart of Cyrus" to a liberal course towards the Israelites, and employ him as an unwitting instrument in the reconstitution of a people whose mission was not yet accomplished. Cyrus, accordingly, in the first year of his rule at Babylon, 538 B.C., forty-eight years after the destruction of Jerusalem issued an edict in which he allowed and recommended the return of all the Hebrews in his domain to the fatherland, ordered the rebuilding of the Temple, for which a subsidy from the royal treasury was granted, directed the sacred vessels seized by Nabuchodonosor to be sent back, and urged all Isralites to contribute to the restoration of public worship. The extreme liberality of the Persian monarch in the matter of the Temple is less surprising when we consider that a restored Jerusalem was inconceivable without a restored sanctuary. Semitic cities and districts rose or declined with the shrines of their deities, and Cyrus's largeness towards the Jews in religious affairs is quite in keeping with his rehabilitation of certain Babylonian temples and the return of images to their former abodes, as witnessed by his inaugural proclamation (Records of the Past, new series, V, 143 sq.). That the Northern Israelites dwelling in Assyrians Mesopotamia were not similarly favoured is to be explained not merely by the much longer time elapsed since their political extinction — a lapse which had permitted them to become rooted to the land of their exile — but principally to the absence of any desire on their part to set up the old symbolic, half-heathen sanctuaries of Jehovah. They too had learned the stern lesson of the Captivity. It was a province of the Persian Empire and not a Kingdom of Juda, that Cyrus had determined to create, and therefore Zorobabel, the grandson of Joachin, alias Jechonias (1 Chronicles 3:17-19), and therefore the heir-royal of the Davidic line, was to be only its governor. He was a young man who had never known any court but that of Babylon, and so far as history records never violated the surprising trust placed in him by attempting to recover the crown of his fathers. A contrary thesis has been defended on insufficient grounds by Sellin (Serubbabel, Leipzig, 1898). Sassabasar, "the Jewish prince" mentioned in the first Book of Esdras, is identical with Zorobabel. He and Josue, the high-priest, were entrusted with the Temple furniture, and made the leaders of the gola, or expedition of the returning Jews. Besides a considerable number of slaves, 42, 360 followed Zorobabel on the long journey to Judea. The data about this repatriation in the Book of Esdras are fragmentary. "Every man went into his own city" and from the latter particulars we should infer that the body of the immigrants took up their abode in the small cities and towns outside, and mostly to the south of Jerusalem. The latter must have been little more than a ruin. The returned exiles found the neighbouring tribes and races, the Samaritans, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, installed at nearly at many points on Jewish soil, alongside pitiful remnants of their countrymen, it must have needed the authority, if not the force, of the Persian Emperor to make room for the Israelites on their former homesteads. Under Zorobabel the struggling community enjoyed autonomy in its internal affairs. In the absence of the old system of royal administration, the primitive organization by clans and families, partially resumed in captivity, gained added vigour, and the heads of these sections, the "princes" and "elders", represented them in all general assemblies.

But the new Israel was less a political than a religious community. Only a fraction of the 250,000 or more Jews who had gone into the East could have lived to return, and, allowing for natural increase among the captive people, a still smaller part of those who might have looked upon Judea as their home returned from the Exile to dwell within its borders. Only the most patriotic and religious, the zealous elite, answered the call of Cyrus and migrated from their abodes, which had become fixed, moved by a desire to restore the theocracy in a purer form with the "house of God" as its heart and centre (cf. Ezra 1:5). One of the first measures, therefore, to which the leaders addressed themselves was the rebuilding of the altar of burnt-offerings upon whose dedication the faithful rejoiced at the resumption of the daily sacrifices. Within less than a year after the corner-stone of a new Temple was laid. But an obstacle was encountered in the jealousy of the Samaritans, the half-heathen neighbours on the north. They were largely represented in the alien elements living among the Jews, and viewed with distrust the reorganization of a religion and community in which they would not fill in important, much less a predominent role. They accordingly asked to join in the construction of the Temple. Zorobabel declined their aid by referring to the decree of Cyrus. Hereby he inaugurated that policy of separation from all contaminating influences long followed by later leaders of Israel. But the Samaritans, if they could not assit, could hamper the enterprise by intrigues at the Persian court. Owing to these difficulties the work was suspended, and the zeal of the people cooled. It was not till these were aroused by the reproaches of the prophets Aggeus (Haggai) and Zacharias that Zorobabel and Josue could begin anew the work under Darius Hystaspis (521), sixteen years after its suspension. The external obstacles had been removed by a decree of Darius; the undertaking was pushed vigorously, and four years later the second Temple was completed. But those who had seen the Temple of Solomon sadly confessed that the new sanctuary could not bear comparison with the glory the former.

The history of the Jewish Captivity properly embraces the additional migration from Babylonia of about 1400 souls led by the priest and scribe Esdras (Ezra). In the sacred narrative the account of the second gola follows immediately that of the finishing of the Temple. But its true chronological setting a matter of dispute. The obscurity involving the point arises from the fact that the books of Esdras and Nehemias, the chief inspired sources for the history of the Restoration, mention in several places a King Artaxerxes, without specifying which of three Persian monarchs of that name is meant, viz. whether the first, surnamed Longimanus (465-424 B.C.) the second, Mnemon (405-362), or the third Ochus (362-338). The controversy turns on the point whether the expedition of Esdras, referred to in the first book of that name (viii), preceded or followed the first governorship of Nehemias. The hitherto accepted order places the Esdras gola in the seventh year of Artaxerxes (458 B.C.), and hence before the appointment of Nehemias, which occurred in the twentieth year of an Artaxerxes. But several exegetes have recently advanced strong reasons for reversing this order. Van Hoonacker, the leading advocate of the priority of Nehemias to Esdras, assigns the latter's expedition to the seventh year of Artaserxes II, i.e. to 398. Lagrange, according to whom the mission of Nehemias took place under the second Artaxerxes, fixes the Esdras migration as late as 355, a little more than a century after the prevalent date. Of course a revision of the temporal relations of the missions of Esdras and Nehemias postulates a serious confusion in the text and arrangement of the books bearing those names as they have come down to us. More or less involved in this chronological question is that of the respective parts of Nehemias and Esdras in the reconstruction of the Jewish theocracy. Van Hoonacker contends that the cooperation of Esdras with Nehemias, described in II Esdras (also called Nehemias), viii, occurred before Esdras had, as he claims, gone Babylon to organize the expedition in order to strengthen the new community, and that we must allow that the priest scribe's place in the task of reorganization was minor and supplementary to that of Nehemias, the governor. According to this view — and herein it is largely borne out by the terms of Esdras' commission as given by the Persian king (Ezra 7:13-26) — the charge of the priest-scribe was not the promulgation of the Law, but the embellishment and improvement of the Temple service, the constitution of judges, and other administrative measures. The question is not without an important bearing on the validity of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis of the origin of the Pentateuch. (See ESDRAS; NEHEMIAS)

The Roman captivity

Jerusalem fell before the Roman arms in August, A.D. 70, after a long and dreadful siege conducted by Titus, the son of the Emperor Vespasian and himself later emperor. Hosts of prisoners were taken in this war; the number was estimated at 97,000, being substantially all that remained of the nation in Palestine. The severity of treatment meted out to these unfortunates tells of the exasperation caused by the stubborn defence of Jerusalem. The weak and sickly prisoners were at once put to death. The rest of the concourse were gathered in the Gentile's Court of the ruined Temple and told off into various classes. All those recognized or reported as active in the rebellion were set aside for slaughter, except seven hundred young men of the finest presence, who were spared to grace the triumph at Rome. The remainder of the captives were divided into those over and those under seventeen. Of the former, part were put in chains and sent to labour in the Egyptian mines; others, including thousands of the female sex, were dispersed among the Roman cities to be victims of the inhuman public games. Those below seventeen were sold as slaves. The leaders of the rebellion, John of Gishkhala and Simon of Gerasa were carried captives to Rome to appear in the triumph of Titus; John was afterwards put to death.

About this page

APA citation. Reid, G. (1908). Captivities of the Israelites. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Reid, George. "Captivities of the Israelites." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph P. Thomas.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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