Israelite prisoners flee burning Jerusalem

The Jewish Connection to Israel: Chapter Four – The Exile to Babylon

When we left off, it was around 960 BC. King Solomon has just finished building the first temple. The Israelites lived (relatively) peacefully, as a powerful nation with an advanced society.

An easy breezy era ahead, right? Well… read the title of this chapter again. it literally says The Exile to Babylon.
As nations tend to do, when there is no external threat against which to unite, the society becomes divided from within. And as king Solomon perished, things started to crumble.
The Israeli nation is composed of 12 tribes. When king Solomon died, the 10 northern tribes refused to submit to his son.
The result? The kingdom is divided into two separate kingdoms – one in the north (that got to keep the name – Israel) and one in the south (named Judah, that got to keep their capital in Jerusalem).
Next, corruption starts to spread in both kingdoms, as well as idol worshiping – breaking the first two commandments.

Kingdoms of Israel and Judah map 830
Kingdoms of Israel and Judah | Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg: FinnWikiNoderivative work: Richardprins / CC BY-SA

That’s the worst of this chapter, right? Ummm… no. 
The first disaster strikes. A new superpower rises in the middle east – the Assyrians. The Assyrians lived in Mesopotamia (the area of modern day Iraq), and started conquering territories as early as 1100 BC. With each successful conquest their hunger grows – first they conquer Babylon, then Syria, then Armenia. Sadly, in 722BC, they conquer Israel as well.

The Assyrians are smart. To establish their control of the conquered population and to prevent revolts, they invent a new policy. The conquered people are to be deported from their lands to other areas all over the empire. And more than that – they are deported to different areas of the empire. This forces all the different people of all the different nations to mix with one another, thus creating new cultures while losing their original cultures and religions.
The same policy is applied to the conquered tribes of Israel. To this day, it is unknown what happened to the 10 Israeli tribes that were conquered and deported. That is why they are called “The Ten Lost Tribes”.
And then there were two. Two tribes, that is, that still live in Judah, saved from the fate of their brothers.

Okay. People were exiled, and we are down to two tribes. So what’s up with the exile to Babylon?
Good question. Here’s what’s up – as the time went on, Judah found itself geographically stuck in a battle for power.
Three superpowers are fighting each other – the Assyrians, who conquered Israel. The Babylonians, who regained control from the Assyrians and grew stronger and wiser. And the Egyptians, which you might remember from chapter two, parts one and two.
And in the middle of it all, the tiny kingdom of Judah.
In around 620 BC, Judah became a tribute state of Egypt. And a bit later, in 605 BC, the Egyptians lost to Babylonians, turning Judah to a tribute state of Babylon.
But wait, there’s more.
4 years later, the Babylonians suffer a defeat, and the king of Judah defects back to Egypt.
The Babylonians cannot let this one slide. They appoint a new king to Judah, and deport 10,000 professionals, wealthy and craftsmen from Judah to Babylon.

Tissot The Flight of the Prisoners
Israelite prisoners flee burning Jerusalem

In a poor sequel to the story of his predecessor, the new king of Judah… defects.
Deja vu
The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar decides that enough is enough. He conquers Jerusalem, burns it, and destroys the temple that Solomon built. He then exiles the Israelites to Babylon.
And so, in 586 BC, the Hebrew kingdom finds its end. From the conquest of king David, to the glory of Solomon’s temple, to the ashes of a spectacular society.
And a new era begins – the Exile to Babylon.

Is there any hope? Will the Jewish people ever return to Israel?
Stay tuned, as our story continues in Chapter Five – Return from Babylon and The Second Temple in Jerusalem!
Wait. Basically yeah, you’re right. That kinda was a spoiler… I mean, you now know that the Jews do return to Israel.
But when? And how? And what do they do when they return?
Well, stay tuned, as our story continues in Chapter Five – Return from Babylon and The Second Temple in Jerusalem, no spoilers edition!