Babylonian captivity

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Babylonian captivity

Babylonian captivity, in the history of Israel, the period from the fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.) to the reconstruction in Palestine of a new Jewish state (after 538 B.C.). After the capture of the city by the Babylonians some thousands, probably selected for their prosperity and importance, were deported to Mesopotamia. The number of those who remained is disputed by scholars. Such deportations were commonplace in Assyrian and Babylonian policy. The exiles maintained close links with their kinsmen at home, as is clear from Ezekiel, the prophet of the early years of the Exile. In 538 B.C., Cyrus the Great, the new master of the empire, initiated a new attitude toward the nations and decreed the restoration of worship at Jerusalem. The century following this decree was critical in the history of the Jews, for it is the time of their reintegration into a national and religious unit. For parts of the period, Ezra and Nehemiah are the best sources. The prophesied 70 years of captivity were fulfilled when the new Temple was completed in 516 B.C. For the papal captivity at Avignon, which is also called the Babylonian Captivity, see papacy.
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Babylonian Captivity

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Babylonian captivity refers to Babylon's capture of the Hebrew people of Judah in the sixth century BCE.

The Northern and Southern Kingdoms

Israel reached the height of its political power about 1000 BCE. Under the rule of King Solomon, Jerusalem was enlarged, a palace and the first great temple were constructed, and a wall was built surrounding the city. Part of the wall still stands (see Wailing Wall).

When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam lacked the strength of character and charisma necessary to hold the kingdom together (see Judaism, Development of). Civil war broke out, and Israel was divided into two countries. The Northern Kingdom, consisting of a population descended from ten of the original twelve tribes of Israel, retained the name Israel. The Southern Kingdom, consisting of descendants of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, was known as the House of David, or simply Judah.

Although Judah was vastly outnumbered, two important political and religious considerations gave it the advantage. First of all, Judah's kings continued the bloodline of the respected King David. Second, and most important, mighty Jerusalem was its capital city and the home of the Great Temple, the only place sacrifice could be offered. Israel may have made up most of the "body" of the Hebrew people, but Judah housed its soul.

This situation prevailed for some three hundred years. The biblical books of Kings and Chronicles tell a story of intrigue, war, and conflict that prompted warnings and admonitions from the Hebrew prophets. In the early years of the eighth century BCE, Israel fell to Assyria. Although Jerusalem was besieged as well, it resisted successfully, aided by a plague that broke out in the camp of the enemy, forcing the Assyrians to withdraw. Biblical history records that the Northern Kingdom, or Israel, was taken off into captivity and oblivion, forever after known as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

The Lost Tribes of Israel

There are many theories purporting to locate the tribes. Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, declared their final resting place to be Europe. In his view, known as the "British-Israel" theory, the tribe of Ephraim settled in Britain, and Armstrong insisted that "the Queen of England sits on the throne of David." Mannaseh, following the prophecy of Genesis 48:14, became the "fruitful vine" who "climbed over the wall" to America. Even now, according to Armstrong, the Western nations, ignorant of their heritage, await the coming of the Promised One, for "the scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, and the obedience of the nations is his."

Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, claimed to have been shown golden plates hidden on Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York. These plates, when translated, became the Book of Mormon. It tells the story of how three of the Ten Lost Tribes migrated to the Americas, mingling with the local populations to produce the great Central American civilizations existing in the sixteenth century at the time of European contact.

Others have followed historical clues leading south to Ethiopia where, in 1930, Emperor Haile Selassie came to power, calling himself "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah." Before his rise to power, Haile Selassie's name was Ras Tafari Makonnen. Descendants of African slaves living in Jamaica believed his ascension to the throne was a fulfillment of prophecy. Believing themselves to be descendants of one of the lost tribes, and Haile Selassie to be a descendant of King David, they established the religion of Rastafarianism. Ethiopia is one of the supposed hiding places of the lost Ark of the Covenant. The Queen of Sheba, mentioned in the book of Kings, is thought by some to be Ethiopian. She visited King Solomon in Jerusalem, and tradition has it she returned home with a son, whose descendants spirited away the Ark of the Covenant before the Babylonians could capture it (see Ark of the Covenant).

Another theory says simply that Jews from the north returned to live with their brothers and sisters following the release of the Southern Kingdom from their Babylonian captivity.

What really happened to Israel will probably never be known for sure. What we do know is that Assyria sent her own colonists to live in the land they now called Samaria. This colonization was the root of the conflict between Jews and Samaritans that would be so prevalent seven hundred years later, prompting Jesus' familiar parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10.

The Captivity

Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel, lived on as an independent nation until 586 BCE. Through the work of good kings like Hezekiah and Josiah, the people underwent periods of revival and renewal. But major prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah foretold their end. It happened, according to 2 Kings 25, at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. After a fierce, prolonged siege, the walls of Jerusalem were breached and the city, along with its beautiful Temple, destroyed. The Ark of the Covenant disappeared. The Temple furnishings were carted back to Babylon. The cream of Israel's youth, including a young man named Daniel who would gain fame and recognition in a lion's den, were carried away from their home and spiritual center. In the stark words of 2 Kings 25:21, "So Judah went into captivity, away from her land."

While Judah was in captivity, something very important happened to direct the course of Judaism and its offshoots, Christianity and Islam. The religion of Judaism became solidly monotheistic. Judaism is often thought of as a monotheistic religion going all the way back to Abraham, or at least as far back as Moses. But even the Ten Commandments delivered at Sinai leave room for polytheism: "I am the Lord your God... You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:2, 3). Strict monotheism would not recognize "other gods." The Psalms continue this theme. The Hebrew God YHVH, translated into English as Yahveh or Jehovah, is said to be superior to the "gods of the nations." Worship of the Canaanite God, Baal, was a constant problem addressed by the Hebrew prophets. Idol worship in the tradition of Jeroboam, son of Nebat (1 Kings 16:31), plagued the religious leaders for generations, causing Israel to sin again and again, according to the religious historians who compiled Kings and Chronicles. Indeed, the prophets said this was the very sin that, along with the neglect of the command to follow a Sabbath rest for their fields, caused God to allow the Babylonian captivity in the first place (2 Chronicles 36:15-21).

The captivity lasted for some generations. While some Jews eventually returned to Judah, others remained in Babylon, which later became Persia. The captivity can be said to have ended with the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

After the Captivity

After Judah's return from captivity, idol worship is never mentioned again. What happened to the Hebrews in the generations of their exile that caused this change?

Some say the people had learned their lesson. They repented of their sin and scourged the last vestige of idol worship out of their religion, as God had planned.

Others suspect Persian influences. A few years after the captivity, Babylon was surrounded by Persian armies. The city was considered to be impregnable, and the Babylonians thought they could attain victory simply by sitting behind their very secure walls and admiring their famous hanging gardens until the Persians got tired and left.

According to Daniel 5, the Babylonian king Belshazzar decided to celebrate early the departure of the Persians and threw a victory party. In the midst of the drunken revelry someone got the idea that it might be a good time to bring out the golden dishes and cups stolen from the Temple at Jerusalem. In judgment against this blasphemy, the God of the Hebrews brought the party to an abrupt halt. The fingers of a man's hand appeared in the air and began to inscribe a message. The "writing on the wall" came directly to the point: "You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting" (Daniel 5:27). The reign of Babylon was over. That very night the river supplying water to the city was dammed. Persian soldiers, entering under the walls by means of the dry riverbed, conquered the city. Babylon was no more.

The religion practiced by the Persians was Zoroastrianism, a strict—and perhaps the first—monotheistic religion (see Apocalypse). Traces of Persian religion are found throughout Judaism after the return. Monotheism is there, certainly, but also Zoroastrian apocalyptic ideas about duality, prophecy, and the nature of good and evil. Although the Bible never mentions Zoroastrianism, it certainly seems more than coincidental that so much of its influence, especially monotheism, appears in Judaism right after the Jews' first encounter with it.

It was during the Persian rule that the events of the book of Esther take place. Esther is the only book of the Bible that never once, except possibly in code, uses the word "God." It is a fascinating story about a Hebrew peasant who becomes Queen of Persia, saving the Hebrew people.

Some followers of the Baha'i faith see in this story a contact with Persian culture and faith that would later explain how the God of the Hebrews and Allah of Islam are in fact one and the same. Just as Persian religion and political influence aided the Hebrew people, Judaism quite literally "wed" itself to Persian culture when the Jewish woman described in the book of Esther married the Persian king, saving Judaism. This mix of cultures flowered centuries later in Persian Islam, ultimately influencing Baha'u'llah, the founder of Baha'i (see Baha'i).

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell how, by command of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Jerusalem and the Temple were rebuilt. Daniel, writing from captivity, foretells the coming of the Greeks and Romans and introduces true apocalyptic literature into the Hebrew Bible, with dates and times coded so as not to be understood "until the time of the end" (Daniel 12:4). Some Christians even refer to the book of Daniel as the Little Book of Revelation (see Apocalypse). (It is important to note that many Christian scholars believe the book of Daniel was written by at least two different authors, one of whom lived after the time of Rome but dated his book back to the time of the captivity so as to make it appear he was writing prophecy rather than history.)

Even though the Hebrews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild, they were not free from outside rule. First the Persians, then the Greeks, and finally the Romans claimed power. Until 70 CE, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple remained standing as the center of Jewish life. But after their destruction by Titus and the Roman legions, the Jews were expelled into the great Diaspora. Dating from the time prior to the Babylonian captivity, Israel would not know true independence again until the United Nations vote of 1947 granted them a shared state with the Palestinians, a vote that eventually led to the creation of the State of Israel.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Babylonian Captivity


the Avignon captivity of the papacy, the forced stay of the Roman popes at Avignon from March 1309 until January 1377 (with an interval in 1367–70). The captivity was preceded by the victory of King Philip IV of France over Pope Boniface VIII in the conflict over the prerogatives of the ecclesiastical and secular powers. Under pressure from Philip IV the Frenchprotégé, Pope Clement V (1305–14), in 1309 moved his residence to Avignon, which belonged to the king of Naples but was situated on French territory; in 1348, Avignon was bought by the pope.

The Babylonian Captivity was a manifestation of the decline of the power of the papacy, which was being undermined by the growing strength of the feudal monarchies. During the time of the Babylonian Captivity the papacy was fully dependent on the king of France (thus Clement V, bowing to the will of Philip IV, in 1312 disbanded the Knights Templars). Of the eight Avignon popes, seven were French. Under the Avignon popes the fiscal oppression of the Roman curia became even greater (such as sale of church offices and indulgences, collection of crusader tithes, annates, and so on). Vast sums were spent on the maintenance of the papal court. While residing in France, the popes did not discontinue their struggle for the subjugation of Italy (they unsuccessfully attempted to use the 1347 uprising of Cola di Rienzi toward that end) and continued to maintain close economic ties with her. Taking advantage of France’s difficulties during the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), Pope Gregory XI (1370–78) moved the papal residence back to Rome. This, however, did not improve the situation of the papacy, for the Great Schism soon began.


Renouard, Y. La papauté à Avignon. Paris, 1954.
Renouard, Y. Les relations des papes d’Avignon et des compagnies commerciales et bancaires de 1316 a 1378. Paris, 1941.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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(15.) "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church," LW 36,112-13: "If they were forced to grant that all of us that have been baptized are equally priests, as indeed we are, and that only the ministry was committed them, yet with our common consent, they would then know that they have no right to rule over us except insofar as we freely concede it.
Luther's trenchant criticisms of existing practice, especially in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), begin with rejection of a silent Latin consecration, for one must hear and believe that Christ's Body and Blood are given for us.
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They chose Jerusalem, leading to its seizure and the famed Babylonian captivity of the Jews.
The papacy was always vulnerable to being captured and controlled by a local Italian dynasty or by a foreign power, as indeed happened during the Babylonian captivity in Avignon.
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The Mesopotamian flood myth was inco= rporated into the great poetic epic Gilgamesh, and Finkel believes it was d= uring the Babylonian captivity that the exiled Jews learned the story, brou= ght it home with them, and incorporated it into the Old Testament.
Mostly paintings from the past centuries, but also a few photographs of places and modern rituals, illustrate biblical scenes and themes, such as the fall of man and original sin, Joshua, the family tree of David, the Babylonian captivity, the minor prophets, Mary, and Paul's epistles and missions.
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