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The New International Encyclopædia/Babylonish Captivity

BAB'YLO'NISH CAPTIVITY, or BABYLO'NIAN EX'ILE. The name given to the deportation of Judeans to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar at the time of the conquest of the Judean Kingdom. The policy of deporting the principal inhabitants of conquered districts, as an effective means of preventing uprisings, appears to have been begun by the Assyrian monarchs, who in their inscriptions frequently refer to the execution of such a measure. So in B.C. 738, Tiglathpileser III. carried away portions of the trans-Jordanic Hebrew tribes, and at the time of the destruction of Samaria, Sargon (B.C. 721) took many captives to Assyria, and replaced them by colonists from various towns of Babylonia. The kings of the Neo-Babylonian period adopted this policy, and accordingly Nebuchadnezzar, at the time of the defection of Zedekiah (B.C. 597), carried Jehoiachin the King, the royal household, the princes and chief men to Babylonia; and ten years afterwards, when Jerusalem was finally destroyed, a second and even larger deportation took place (II. Kings xxv.). Yet it must be borne in mind that the majority of the inhabitants remained in the land, even when we subtract those who went into a voluntary exile in Egypt. Those who were taken to Babylonia were settled in various parts of Southern Mesopotamia, and it would seem that the favorable conditions existing in Babylonia induced many to leave Palestine, where the long ravages of war had brought on great distress, and to join their brethren in the Euphrates Valley. The captivity must not, therefore, be regarded as a condition of hardship. As a matter of fact, the Jews were allowed, as were all foreigners in the Babylonian domain, the greatest possible freedom, and soon became assimilated to conditions prevailing in Babylonia. Instead, however, of cultivating the soil, as they had done in their own country, they entered upon commercial life; and this change from agricultural pursuits is. perhaps, the most significant feature of the Babylonish Captivity, which profoundly influenced the future fortunes of the Jews. Traces of settlements of Jews in Babylonia may be seen in the numerous Jewish names that appear in the so-called contract tablets found in Babylonia, belonging to the Neo-Babylonian and Persian period. From these and other sources we know that many of the Jews acquired riches in Babylonia; and, on the whole, all lived in ease and comfort, if not in prosperity.

So complete was the assimilation to Babylonian ways of life that when, after the advent of Cyrus (B.C. 538) permission was given to the Jews to return to their homes in Palestine and to rebuild the Temple, only a comparatively small number availed themselves of the opportunity. Only the pious and zealous were impelled to take up the pilgrim's staff, and the sad fortunes encountered by those who did return served to discourage emigration from Babylonia on a large scale.

The period of the exile was a most important epoch in the religious life of the people. The downfall of Jerusalem was looked upon as a punishment sent by Jehovah for the people's sins in not following the injunctions of the purists, who objected to all foreign ingredients in the Jehovistic cult. The cause of the Prophets was thus strengthened by the natural catastrophe, and the new spirit manifested itself during the exile by the literary activity which now began and which gradually transformed the annals and traditions and all literary productions of the past into one grand illustration of the fundamental principle of the religion of the Prophets, that there was no god like Jehovah, and that His people Israel, who were bound to Him by the Covenant at Sinai, prospered when they were faithful to Jehovah, and that all distress, defeats, and misfortunes that mark Israel's history were punishments sent because of disobedience to His will. It was important, therefore, for the future to know exactly what was the will of Jehovah, and hence prophets like Ezekiel set themselves to work preparing codes regulating forms of worship and the conduct of life. The upshot of this movement is the production of an elaborate code by Ezra, which is promulgated by him and Nehemiah in B.C. 444 as the eternal law of the land, and which was subsequently combined with the legendary and the historical traditions of Israel to form the present Pentateuch, though it should be added that the Pentateuch itself is but a part of one great final compilation which, extending from Genesis to the end of the second book of Kings, embraced therefore, besides the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, the legends, the traditions, the law and the annals of the Hebrews — all viewed from the position of post-exilie Judaism as finally established on the basis of Ezra's Code. See Ezekiel; Ezra; Jews; Pentateuch.

The name ‘Babylonish Captivity’ is also frequently applied in Christian Church history to the residence of the Popes at Avignon, from 1309 to 1376.

Bibliography. For the history, consult Wellhausen, Israelitische und jüdische Geschichte, 3d ed. (Berlin, 1897); Ewald, The History of Israel, translated by Martineau (London, 1869-74); Guthe, Geschichte Israels und Heilgeschichte (Leipzig, 1900); Piepenbring, Histoire du peuple d'Israël (Paris, 1898); also for the special problems connected with the return from the Captivity, Koster, Het Herstel von Israel (Heidelberg, 1895); Meyer (ed.), Entstehung des Judenthums (Halle, 1896).