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Judah in the Neo-Babylonian Period

Judah in the Neo-Babylonian Period: The Archaeology of Desolation

Avraham Faust
  • Book Info
    Judah in the Neo-Babylonian Period
    Book Description:

    The Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. was a watershed event in the history of Judah, the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the exilic period, during which many of the biblical texts were probably written. The conquest left clear archaeological marks on many sites in Judah, including Jerusalem, and the Bible records it as a traumatic event for the population. Less clear is the situation in Judah following the conquest, that is, in the sixth century, a period with archaeological remains the nature and significance of which are disputed. The traditional view is that the land was decimated and the population devastated. In the last two decades, archaeologists arguing that the land was not empty and that the exile had little impact on Judah’s rural sector have challenged this view. This volume examines the archaeological reality of Judah in the sixth century in order to shed new light on the debate. By expanding research into new avenues and examining new data, as well as by applying new methods to older data, the author arrives at fresh insights that support the traditional view of sixth-century Judah as a land whose population, both urban and rural, was devastated and whose recovery took centuries.

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-641-9
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  2. List of Figures, Tables, and Graphs
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    In the summer of 586 b.c.e., the Babylonian army defeated Judah and conquered Jerusalem.¹ The Temple was destroyed, and Judah lost its independence. The Babylonian conquest left clear archaeological marks and destruction layers in many sites including Jerusalem, Lachish, Ein Gedi, Kh. Rabud, Arad, Tel Ira, Ramat Rahel, and many others (fig. 1).² The destruction of Judah and mainly Jerusalem that is also recorded in the books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Lamentations and others, was a traumatic event for the population of Judah. Thus, the opening verses of Lamentations (1:1–3) begin:

    How lonely sits the city, that...

  5. Chapter 1 The End of the Iron Age in Judah: Primary Archaeological Data
    (pp. 21-32)

    The common view until the 1990s was that the sixth century b.c.e. was a period of desolation. This view was based on the data from dozens of excavations, mostly in urban sites.¹ Herzog summarized the consensus: “the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 b.c.e. is the event which terminated the rather short third urban phase [i.e., the Iron Age urban phase] in the history of ancient Israel” (1997b, 278).

    Those who challenged the traditional view of sixth-century Judah as desolate claimed that it is the archaeologically less-known rural sector that prospered during this period. Generally speaking, they agreed that...

  6. Chapter 2 Judah in the Sixth Century b.c.e.: A Rural Perspective
    (pp. 33-72)

    As we have seen, there is an agreement that the urban centers in Judah and Philistia were destroyed during the Babylonian campaign, and the debate over the reality in the sixth century concentrates on the situation in the rural sector. It is in this settlement sector that the various scholars claim settlement continued to exist and even flourished in the sixth century b.c.e. Thus, Lipschits, for example, after referring to the “termination of one of the characteristic features of Judean settlement: large, important cities were laid waste, and urban life effectively came to an end,” added that “in contrast, the...

  7. Chapter 3 Greek Imports and the Neo-Babylonian Period
    (pp. 73-92)

    The previous chapters have shown that with the present state of knowledge, we cannot identify pottery specific to the sixth century b.c.e. Our lack of knowledge was explained as resulting either from the fact that there was little settlement at the time or because the pottery did not have any unique characteristics and was similar to the late Iron Age and the Persian period. The two arguments are not mutually exclusive. It is possible that the settlement in this period was sparse and that the pottery was of transitional character. The former is responsible for the fact that even the...

  8. Chapter 4 Social and Cultural Changes in Judah: The Iron Age to the Persian Period
    (pp. 93-118)

    In the previous chapters we have attempted to overcome the problem of our inability to identify ceramic assemblages of the sixth century b.c.e. First, we developed a method to recognize the rural settlement that could have existed during the transition from the Iron Age to the Persian period through reference to settlement continuity (instead of dating sites through pottery). Second, we discussed the presence and absence of Greek pottery in the region. We have seen that almost all settlements, both urban and rural, suffered a major blow during the transitional period from the late Iron Age to the Persian period....

  9. Chapter 5 Settlement and Demography in Judah: The Seventh to Second Centuries b.c.e.
    (pp. 119-148)

    The five hundred years that spanned the late Iron Age, the Neo-Babylonian, the Persian, and the Hellenistic periods were troubled ones in Judah. This period started during the seventh century b.c.e. with Assyrian domination. After an interlude of Egyptian hegemony, Babylonians ruled during the late-seventh century and most of the sixth century. Persian rule followed, and lasted two hundred years. The conquests of Alexander the Great ended Persian domination, and this was followed by contesting Hellenistic dynasties, which fought over the region. Finally, the second century saw the Hasmonean revolt and expansion.

    This chapter looks at the long-term settlement and...

  10. Chapter 6 The Babylonian Destruction in Context: Nebuchadnezzar and Sennacherib Compared
    (pp. 149-166)

    The Babylonian destructions of the late-seventh and early-sixth centuries were one wave of destruction experienced by the region’s inhabitants in the late Iron Age. Another notorious wave of destructions was carried out by the Assyrians in the late-eighth century (see also the postscript of ch. 7). Both empires inflicted heavy blows upon the kingdom of Judah: the Assyrians in the time of Sennacherib in 701 b.c.e. and the Babylonians during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. The campaigns were landmarks in the history of Judah—much more than any other campaign or war. The present section will compare the outcomes of both...

  11. Chapter 7 Sixth-Century Judah as a Post-Collapse Society
    (pp. 167-180)

    Previous chapters have shown that Judah was devastated during the Neo-Babylonian campaigns of the early-sixth century b.c.e. But is it possible that devastation was so widespread? And what was expected after such destructions?

    This chapter will review the reality in the sixth century and examine the processes Judah experienced after the Babylonian destructions, in light of similar processes in other parts of the world, where “post-collapse” societies were studied. We will see that almost every aspect of the situation in Judah in the sixth century is in accordance with the reality in other such societies. Furthermore, the detailed information on...

  12. Chapter 8 Consequences of Destruction: The Continuity Theory Revisited
    (pp. 181-208)

    Due to the debate that arose in the last decade over the reality in Judah during the sixth century b.c.e., I have attempted in previous chapters to decipher the “reality on the ground” at this time. Throughout the investigations, various aspects of the debate between the traditional view of the sixth century in Judah and the supporters of the continuity theory have been examined, but only as part of a larger attempt to reconstruct settlement, social, and cultural patterns. Those investigations have led us to conclude that it is the traditional view, albeit in a somewhat more sophisticated and complex...

  13. Chapter 9 The Land of Benjamin Revisited
    (pp. 209-232)

    As we have seen, there is practically a scholarly consensus that the region of Benjamin was not devastated during the Babylonian campaigns. According to the Bible, this is the region which served as an area into which many people fled for their lives before the destruction of Jerusalem (e.g., Jer 37:12–13). After the fall of Jerusalem, the area became a new center (e.g., 2 Kgs 25:22–26; Jer 40). Settlement continuity after 586 b.c.e. and the lack of Babylonian destruction were observed in the various excavations in the major sites in the region, e.g., Gibeah (Tell el-Ful) and Bethel,...

  14. Chapter 10 Life in Judah in the Sixth Century b.c.e.
    (pp. 233-242)

    The previous chapters systematically examined the “reality on the ground” in sixth-century Judah. The region suffered greatly from the aftermath of the Babylonian campaigns, there was sharp social and cultural break with the Iron Age traditions, the population decreased dramatically, and most settlements, including rural ones, were deserted. Most of the population either died in the wars or afterwards—from punitive actions or from famine and epidemics. Others were exiled and some fled to safer and more prosperous regions. The polity had collapsed. There is currently not a single piece of evidence to indicate any form of organized political life...

  15. Chapter 11 Judah in the Sixth Century b.c.e.: Summary and Conclusions
    (pp. 243-254)

    Until not long ago, there was an agreement that the sixth century was a period of low demography, with little trade, and little material remains. This nadir was attributed to the Babylonian destructions of the late-seventh century b.c.e. in Philistia and the early-sixth century b.c.e. in Judah. This view was challenged recently by a group of researchers, predominantly biblical scholars. They revived and elaborated Torrey’s claims (although on a more moderate scale) that the exile was of little significance and that most of Judah’s inhabitants were not influenced by it. Not only was the land not empty, but most of...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-290)
  17. Author Index
    (pp. 291-297)
  18. Subject Index
    (pp. 301-302)