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4.

Babylonian records pertaining to the decline and fall of Judah: summary of the
evidence in light of Jeremiah/Kings/Chronicles.

The years following the division of the kingdom shortly after the death of Solomon (ca. 930), a 200-hundred-year
period followed by a period of 135 years during which Judah survived alone, can be identified as the decline and fall of
Judah. The historic-theological narrative of Kings and Chronicles tell us of the events leading to the unavoidable
destruction of the Southern kingdom.
The book of Kings portrays the early history of the northern kingdom as one of great political instability and
lawlessness. The Biblical writers regard idolatry as the fundamental reason why the Israelite dynasties did not survive (1
Kgs.13:1-10, 14:7-11, 16:1-4). And in the case of Judah, the authors make even more explicit the state of decline in Judah
by making a contrast against the enjoyed abundance during Solomon's golden age. It is said, for instance, how Rehoboam
lost the treasures of the temple at the hands of Shishak king of Egypt (1 Kgs. 14:25-16, 2 Chr. 12:1-2), and the peace that
Solomon had established was replaced by continual warfare until the kingdom finally came to an end with the destruction
of Jerusalem at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.
In order for us to have the political context behind the Biblical accounts, we need to discuss some major events in
the period after the fall of Samaria in 722 in which Judah is left alone in the scene. Because from that time on the Biblical
picture is that of decline, being the focus of the Biblical writes the nation's spiritual health, expressed in their loyalty to the
Mosaic Covenant. But in addition to that, extra-Biblical sources helps us to see that such decline was extended also to the
political and military spheres at the hands of the Assyrians, in the first place, Egyptians and finally the Babylonians. We
are going to discuss briefly on the first two and then focus on the latter.
The kingdom of Judah was part of the political unit created by the imperialistic Assyrian advance in the SyrianPalestinian region. As several of the kingdoms in this region, it was reduced to a vassal status. A better fate actually, than
its northern brother condemned to obliteration. Such is the political context in which we read the accounts of Judean Ahaz
going to Damascus to meet with Tiglat-Pileser and asking for help against the Aramean and Israelite threat, saying: "I am
your servant and vassal. Come up and save me." (2 Kgs. 16:7-10). Shortly after, the end of the Northern kingdom came at
the hands of Shalmaneser V, according to the Biblical record of 2 Kgs.17:1-6, in 722 B.C.
The vassal status of Judah is well attested in the Biblical text. We have already mention Ahaz's asking for help
and sending gifts (gold and silver for the Temple). Then his successor, Hezekiah, it is said in 2 Kgs. 18:7 that he rebelled
against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. The narrative then tells us that Sennacherib attacked Jerusalem (ca. 701)
and all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them, so forcing the Judean king to give him all the silver that was found
in the temple and the treasuries of the golden palace (2 Kgs. 18:13-19:37, 2 Chr. 32:1-22, Isa. 36-37). This event could fit
as part as Sennacherib's military effort to secure Assyrian position against a widespread revolt in Syria-Palestine after
Sargon's death in 705. His annals list a number of cities besieged and taken by him. He does mentions Hezekiah as "a bird
in a cage"; however, he does not claim to have taken Jerusalem. He only tells us that after his return to Nineveh, Hezekiah
sent him tribute. Although, he does not mention the reason why he retrieved his attack on Jerusalem, a withdrawal there
was, in any case. The Biblical account fill the gap stating that, according to Isaiah's words, the angel of the LORD went out
and put to death 185,000 soldiers in the Assyrian camp (2Kgs.19:35-36). Of the destruction of Lachish, although is not
mention in the annals, excavations in Tell ed-Duweir have revealed the remains of the Assyrian siege ramp (as portrayed in

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the reliefs) up to the walls, with its Hebrew counterpart within the walls. The death of Sennacherib at hands of his sons (2
Kgs. 19:37, Isa. 37:38) is also attested by Assyrian sources and the Babylonian Chronicles.
Consequently, due Sennacherib's invasion of Judean cities, Hezekiah's successors, beginning with Mannaseh, had
the task of rebuilding and recovery of the kingdom, reflected briefly in 2 Chr. 33:14-16, and also in the extensive
archeological record. In addition to this, the Judean kingdom returned to its vassal status under the ruling empire of the
moment. There seems to be evidence in the Assyrian records from the reigns of Esarhaddon (681-669) and Ashurbanipal
(669-631) that Mannaseh remained a loyal vassal to Assyria for much of his long reign. The records mention him as
provider of forced labor for the building of Esarhaddon's palace, and during Ashurbanipal's reign the Judean forces fought
on the Assyrian side in the king's first campaign in Egypt (667). However, the mention in 2 Chr. 33:10-13 that Manasseh
was taken prisoner to Babylon fits the political context of the time. Because of a civil war between Esarhaddon's sons,
Assyrian control was weakening in Syria-Palestine so the possibility of a revolt was very high. Ashurbanipal (the final
victor) was campaigning in Babylonia against his brother, when Manasseh was taken to the capital. His release, we know
from the Biblical text was because he humbled himself before the Lord, then we also note that he enjoyed a degree of
freedom to undertake works of rebuilding. This civil war was a window of opportunity for Egypt to enter into the political
scene as a powerful player. With Ashurbanipal occupied regaining control elsewhere in his empire, Pharaoh Psammetichus
I extended Egyptian influence into Syria-Palestine, ceased to be an Assyrian vassal and instead became its ally against the
Babylonians (and its allies the Medes). It is in the midst of such international conflict that we find Josiah (639-609) in
2Kgs. 23:29-30 and 2 Chr. 35:20-24. Pharaoh Necho II was marching to his ally's aid thorough the Palestinian coast ("The
Way of the Sea") when pious king Josiah confronted him and found his death on the plain of Megiddo in 609 B.C. (2
Chr.35:22).
It is very interesting to note that before the discovery and publication of the Babylonian Chronicles, 2 Kgs. 23:29
was translated so that Pharaoh Necho went up against Assyria. Thus the context from these records and the Biblical
account combined give us a fuller picture of the events. Also we know of the fall of Nineveh (prophesied by Nahum and
Zephaniah) from the records of Nabopolassar's twelfth year (612 B.C.). The text says that the Medians went against
Nineveh, rushed and seized the town of Tarbisu, a town belonging to the province of Nineveh. And a terrible defeat and
massacred they inflicted upon the entire population.
From 608 to 586 the Judean kingdom survived under the dominion of the Neo-Babylonian empire. In order to
have a fuller picture of this period we will draw from the Biblical record and from the Babylonian Chronicles (BC) which
covered the years 608 to 594.
The death of Josiah (609) brought upon the loss of independence that they might have had during the decline of
the Assyrian power. Such situation is seen in the fact that Pharaoh Necho imprisoned the recently enthroned king,
Jehoahaz, then he appointed Eliakim and changed his name to Jehoiakim. In addition, he imposed a large tribute on Judah
(2 Kgs. 23:33-35, 2 Chr. 36:1-4). At this point, the records of the twenty-first year of Nabopolassar (605) tell us that the
army of Akkad, commanded by Nebuchadnezzar II, defeated Egypt at Carchemish, and the further at Hamath, they killed
off all the Egyptian army. The prophet Jeremiah also mentions the Egyptian's defeat at Carchemish (Jer. 46:1-28, cf. Ezq.
29:17-21) as "a day of vengeance" on God's enemies.
With Egypt out of the scene, the Babylonians set out to achieve the total dominion of the Levant. This region
represented a tremendous potential for them of not only a steady supply of goods, raw materials and tributes, but also as a

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strategic-military outpost beyond the Euphrates from where they could prevent any future Egyptian invasion. So
Nebuchadnezzar II marched into Syria-Palestine (or Hattu) during his first regnal year (604). In this context we place the
events described in 2 Kgs. 23:36-24:6 when we see Jehoiakim becoming a full vassal of Babylonia for three years until he
rebelled in the fourth year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign (601). The BC tell us that in this year, Babylonia marched against
Egypt and that both sides suffered severe losses. It is around this time that Jehoiakim rebelled. It may be the case that he
thought Babylonia was weak enough for him to defy it. But that only brought the invasion of several foreign nations (2
Kgs.24:2-2), the insight of the Biblical writer is that the LORD sent those nations in order to remove the wicked king from
His presence, and that He was not willing to forgive (2 Kgs.24:3-5).
During the next ten years Nebuchadnezzar led other seven campaigns directed at establishing Babylonian control
over Hattu. In his seventh year (598/597), he marched to Hattu, and encamped against the city of Judah. He captured the
city and seized the king Jehoiachim, Jehoiakim's son (2 Kgs. 24:8-17, 2 Chr.36:9-10). This time, Nebuchadnezzar impaired
the kingdom's sociopolitical stability by deporting part of its leading citizens, the entire force of fighting men, skilled
workers and artisans to Babylon (Dan.1:1-6, Ezq. 17:11-14). There is evidence in a fragmentary inscription which lists
deliveries of oil to people dependent of the royal household in Babylon, the Judean king being one of them (cf. 2 Kgs
25:27-30).
According to 2 Kgs. 24:17, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Mattaniah as king and changed his name to Zedekiah. "A
king of his own liking", according to the Babylonian Chronicles, who would rule the diminished kingdom for eleven years
until 586 B.C. In his ninth year, however, Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, under the false hope that Egypt was
a powerful ally (Ezq. 17:11-21). Moreover, he did not pay attention to the word of the Lord through Jeremiah (Jer. 27:1215) and did not surrender to the king of Babylon; thus, he brought judgment to him and his people (2 Kgs. 25:1-21, 2 Chr.
36:17-20, Jer. 52:4-27).
There is no information of this period in the Babylonian Chronicles; however, it is clear that securing and
stabilizing Babylonian dominion was a matter of supreme importance. They put policies in place in order to abolish the
existence of vassal kingdoms, and as a result they extended their dominion as far as the border of Egypt. In this context,
we place the Babylonian siege to Jerusalem. The city fell after two years, with all supplies and food exhausted, and turned
into a Babylonian province. Such was the new policy, in contrast to the Assyrian which allowed the small kingdoms to
continue as economic bridges between it and Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar turned this region into impoverished and devastated
provinces. He made use of the riches, material and human, of the local Levantine kingdoms to develop the devastated areas
of Babylonia after the Assyrian wars. This falls in contrast to the Assyrian deportation, which was directed to break the
spirit of the conquered peoples by mixing them with other populations and forcing them to assimilate into the mosaic of the
Assyrian-Aramean nations that the empire comprised, the Babylonians had a more pragmatic objective.
A final note regarding the Davidic line is important, because Nebuchadnezzar exercised a more radical solution
and punishment against the Judean king. Zedekiah was harshly punished, left without descendants and dignity. Thus,
apparently, the Davidic dynasty was brought to an end. However, the book of Kings does not end with the destruction of
Jerusalem but with the peaceful, although sad, account of Jehoiachim living in Babylon (2 Kgs. 25:27-30, Jer.52:31-34).
The flame of the Davidic line was flickering but still alive, because God's promises never fail.