When Jerusalem fell to the conquering Babylonians in 587 BC, most of what was important to the Hebrew people was gone. They lost their holy city, the Temple was destroyed, and the Davidic monarchy ended (Beasley 221). Following the destruction of Jerusalem, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadrezzar, deported most of the population to other cities, including Babylon. These exiles remained there for about fifty years until the Persian forces, under king Cyrus, took the city of Babylon in 539 BC. The Persian policies concerning captured and exiled peoples were quite different than those of the Babylonians, and because of this King Cyrus allowed the exiles to return to Jerusalem in 538 BC to rebuild the city and the Temple.
However, even though the exiles were allowed to return to their ancestral homeland of Judah, many of the people chose not to return but to remain in the recently conquered city of Babylon. There are many contributing factors concerning why these Hebrew exiles chose to remain. Even so, it is difficult to understand why a people, who were located in Palestine for over a millennium and who had such strong religious beliefs and practices, would choose to abandon the location of their now destroyed sacred Temple and ancestral home after being exiled for only fifty years.
One contributing factor for the exile’s choice to remain in Babylon was the quality and level of social life that they experienced while in Babylon. Many of them maintained their identity and status within the Babylonian settlements. This suggests a well-developed social structure among the Hebrew exiles (Blenkinsopp 152). They also had the benefit of personal freedom and the ability to manage their own community life. An example of this are the “elders of the diaspora”, who aided the leader of the exiles, ex-king Jehoiachin, in conducting community affairs. The presence of elders among the Hebrew exiles suggests that the settlements within Babylon governed themselves similarly to pre-exilic urban existence, even to the point of maintaining gatherings for decisions and the hearing of prophets (Smith 97). The exiles were also allowed to live according to their own customs, were able to purchase property, and could even own slaves (Hayes 483). Some of the exiles may have actually had other Hebrews as slaves since the their laws allowed them to...
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...esolite condition of Jerusalem they faced if they returned. These are only a few of the total possible problems and factors that affected the choice of many of the Hebrews during the Babylonian exile and immediately following during the post-exilic period.
Ackroyd, Peter, Exile and Restoration. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968.
Beasley, James R., et al., An Introduction to the Bible. Nashville: Abington Press, 1991.
Blenkinsopp, Joseph, A History of Prophecy in Israel. Louisville: Westminster John
Knox Press, 1996.
Hayes, John H. and J. Maxwell Miller, ed. Israelite and Judean History. Philadelphia:
The Westminster Press, 1977.
Grabbe, Lester L., The Persian and Greek Periods. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.
Vol. 1 of Judaism From Cyrus to Hadrian. 2 vols. 1992.
Metzger, Bruce M., and Roland E. Murphy, ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible.
New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1994.
Newsome, James D., By the Waters of Babylon. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979.
Smith, Daniel L., The Religion of the Landless. Bloomington: Meyer-Stone Books, 1989.
Whitley, Charles Francis, The Exilic Age. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1975.
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