Babylonian exile

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As Babylonian exile (often Babylonian captivity ) is an era of Jewish history called. It begins in 597 BC. Chr. With the first capture of Jerusalem and the Kingdom Judah by Babylon King Nebukadnezar II. And lasts up to the conquest of Babylon 539 v. By the Persian king Cyrus II.

Exile in Babylon


From 597 BC. A substantial part of the population of Judea, especially members of the upper class, was exiled to Babylon and settled there - as was the Babylonian practice after conquests . According to the book of Jeremiah , a total of 4600 people had to leave their homes in three deportation actions by 582 ( Jer 52,28-30  EU ). There are no other historical sources on the number of exiles. The only thing that is certain is that after 597 BC Names of Hebrews from the privileged upper class appear in Babylonian documents.

Doubts about the exact dates arise almost exclusively in the chronologies of religious communities, especially among Jehovah's Witnesses . Instead of the scientifically recognized period of the 5th – 10th From 587 BC Chr. To accept the second and largest Exilierungswelle, they consist v to 607. In their view, this corresponds to the biblical chronology, according to which the exile should last seventy years ( Jer 25.11  EU ) and the return some time after the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus II in 539 BC. Took place.


Due to misinterpretations of the Tanakh and religious interests, a wrong image of exile is painted to this day. In Psalm 137 , for example, one sees the "population forced into slave labor as prisoners, thinking of Zion at the end of the day by the rivers of Babylon and weeping ". It can be assumed that the exile was perceived as a religious punishment, but outwardly the living conditions for the Jews in Babylon were comfortable. Just like other Jews settled in different colonies, they could trade, farm and build houses without compulsion. Even slavery was allowed.

Administration was the responsibility of the exiles themselves. There is no evidence of compulsory labor specifically imposed on the Jews . All that is known is that in certain cases the Babylonian population was generally forced to do short-term slave labor, for example to carry out royal building projects. In exile in Babylon, the Jews were able to preserve their traditions and religious identity. The Jews settled in and around Babylon assimilated very quickly.

For example, Jewish names were found in written documents that prove that Jews were able to make a career in the court and in the military of Nebuchadnezzar II. There are also reports of Jewish banking dynasties. According to the biblical story in the book of Daniel the Tanach , Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-Nego were among the chosen exiles who received training for the Babylonian civil service. This rapid assimilation and the associated temptation to accept a foreign religion probably also contributed to the fact that the Tanach paints a rather gloomy picture of the Babylonian exile.

In order to prevent the peculiarity of the Jews from completely disappearing in the multicultural mixture of Babylon, the Jewish theologians and scholars emphasized the peculiarity of Judaism, especially of the Jewish faith. The Torah and religious scholarship became the center of life . The Babylonian exile is considered to be one of the most fruitful times in Jewish theology. The first synagogues were probably built against the background that there was no temple at home for common prayer .

According to historical-critical biblical scholarship , the last version of the Pentateuch came into being with the priestly scriptures , in which, among other things, the regulations on circumcision ( Gen 17: 10-14  EU ) were added.


When comparing Israel and other peoples in the history of religion, a crucial difference becomes apparent. With other peoples it was customary to worship a god as long as he protects the people. But if the country is defeated, the God of the victor was stronger than the God of the loser. The Babylonian Marduk belief is an example of this. Babylon and Marduk are linked from the beginning. Therefore, the myth of Marduk loses its explanatory power when the reign of Babylon ends.

It is completely different in Israel: Exile does not lead - as perhaps expected - to the fact that belief in God is given up and the God of victor is accepted. That has u. a. two reasons:

1. Beginnings of the relationship with God: In the beginnings of the worship of God there was not YHWH , but El . Belief in YHWH is partly portrayed as a conscious decision ( Jos 24.15  EU ). YHWH also has its origins in the south, the Kenites apparently called YHWH first ( Gen 4,26  EU ). The connection between land / people and God is not as close as, for example, with the Babylonians.

2. Scripture prophecy: The scripture prophets provided an interpretation that "saved" the image of God, so to speak. It is not that God was too weak to protect his temple, king, and land, but God allows Israel to defeat because of sin. The talk of the wrath of God over this sin is the theological explanation of exile.

The End

After the Persian king Cyrus II in 539 BC Chr. Had conquered the Babylonian Empire, he allowed the return of individual groups of people to their homeland on the other side of the Tigris . The Edict of Cyrus , with which this was proclaimed, does not name any names , nor does it contain any order for the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, with its construction in 517 BC. Was started and in March of the year 515 BC. Was completed so far that the Jews could go to worship there again. ( Flavius ​​Josephus , on the other hand, reports in his work On the Originality of Judaism that the foundation of the temple was laid in the second year of Cyrus and that it was completed in the second year of Darius I. After that, construction lasted from 538 to 521 BC)

According to the Bible , the Edict of Cyrus was understood by the returnees as a call to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. And this should only be intended for them. So, citing Cyrus' orders - until the time of Ezra , only the “heirs” of the Cyrus edict were considered Jews - the population who remained in the country was refused to participate in the construction ( Ezr 4,3  EU ). This is said to have vehemently opposed the rebuilding of the temple ( Esr 4,4–16  EU ).

Some of the Jews stayed in Babylon and formed a Jewish community there. The discussions held in it among the scribes provided the basis for the Babylonian Talmud written in the 6th century AD .

The duration of the Babylonian exile cannot be clearly determined, as different dates are given for both the beginning and the end. In a letter to those who were deported to Babel, Jeremiah prophesies that God will bring them back after 70 years ( Jer 29.10  EU ), which is the correct order of magnitude.

Emigration from Babylon and Babylonian Judaism

According to the biblical books of Nehemiah and Ezra (see Ezra 2.1 to 70  EU and Neh 7.6 to 72  EU ) are 49,897 and 49,942 people in the region Judea returned, including 7,337 economically hearing ( slaves ) and 200 and 245 singers and singers. As far as the social status of the returnees is concerned, in addition to members of extended families with property and associations of mountain dwellers without property, mainly priests, Levites , temple singers, gatekeepers and temple members are listed. In Esr 8.1–36  EU there is talk of a further 1,600 returnees. The return of this large number of people in Jerusalem led to problems with the supply of food and the allocation of housing, which is why they were rejected by the residents. ( Esr 3,1–13  EU , Esr 4,1–24  EU , Esr 5,1–17  EU and Esr 6,1–22  EU ).

The accuracy of these detailed, coherent reports has been questioned. Four generations earlier, no more than 10,000 Judeans were exiled in Babylon, but a large number did not return. The numbers seem too high overall. Antonius Hermann Josef Gunneweg, Thomas Wagner and Werner H. Schmidt suspect that in the first few years after the victory of the Persians, returnees only arrived sporadically in Judea. It was only under Darius I that a larger, planned return movement began. The historical-political references made are also questionable. According to Ezra 6, 1–22, the temple opponents in the country are said to have called on the Persian King Artaxerxes for support, but he did not take office until 465 BC. Commenced. Accordingly, the named successor Dareios, under whom the temple construction was supposedly continued, would have to be Dareios II, who did not live until 423 BC. Became king. According to Ezra, King Artaxerxes was also one of those who ordered the construction of the temple.

After the end of the Babylonian captivity, a group of released Jews moved east along the Silk Road and settled in the economic centers of Bukhara and Samarkand at the time . Here they established a flourishing Jewish culture. Today there is only a small Jewish community left in this area of Uzbekistan .

However, a significant number of Judeans must have remained in Mesopotamia. It can be assumed that the Jewish presence will continue into the 20th century; In late antiquity, the rabbinical schools developed into a spiritual center that was considered exemplary for the entire Jewish world well into the Middle Ages. Its importance is expressed in particular in the Babylonian Talmud, which is still recognized as authoritative today . The focus of Jewish scholarship only shifted to the west ( Iberian Peninsula ) and north ( Rhineland / Northern France ) in the course of the Middle Ages , but the communities there were initially directly or indirectly under the influence of Babylonian scholars.


Chludov Psalter : The Waters of Babylon , 9th Century. Ps 137
: 1-3  EU is illustrated .

The early Christians used the term Babylon as a cover name for the Roman Empire . So they could - hidden in texts about the Babylonian exile - criticize those in power.

In a figurative sense, the Avignon papacy was and is called the Babylonian captivity of the church from 1309 to 1377, when seven popes resided in Avignon instead of Rome .

Also in a metaphorical sense, Martin Luther gave the book he wrote in 1520, which opposed what he believed to be an abuse of the seven sacraments, contrary to belief, the title Of the Babylonian Captivity of the Church .

Visual arts

Psalm 137 ( Vulgate 136), the lamentation of the Babylonian exile, artfully summarized with other biblical psalms in psalters , became the subject of pictorial representations in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages. The Utrecht Psalter , created in the ninth century, shows on sheet 77 a representation of many figures in several scenes, including the destruction of Babylon. The marginal miniatures of the Chludow Psalter illustrate the pictorial content of the Psalm in a reduced form. From the time of transition from the Middle Ages to modern times originated woodcut illustration in the first time in 1493 published world chronicle of Hartmann Schedel , an early witness to the art of printing, which was spread throughout Europe. European painting dealt with the theme well into the 20th century, recurring motifs based on Psalm 137 are the river, the lyre and the willow tree. For example, Eduard Bendemann , who was influenced by the art of the Nazarenes , portrayed a family-looking group under a willow surrounded by vines in his painting The mourning Jews in exile, based on the motif type Rest of the Holy Family on the Run, from around 1832 ; the lyre in the hand of an old man quotes the harps of Psalm 137. Ferdinand Olivier , who was also close to the Nazarenes , in his picture from 1838 The Jews in Babylonian Captivity, set a scene of people imagined according to Psalm 137 in an idyllic, shaded landscape . Babylonian captivity is the name of one of the ceiling paintings in the library of the Palais Bourbon in Paris, seat of the French National Assembly, which Eugène Delacroix made between 1838 and 1847 as a cycle of pictures for the development of ancient civilization.

The question arises whether all these artistic representations actually correspond to the historical circumstances and not rather provide an idealized picture of the Babylonian exile. The works, carried by “Christian as well as Jewish piety”, seem to arise more from “romantic ideas” and to be a projection of their creators than they could represent the living conditions at that time. Above all, it remains unclear to what extent the sensitivities expressed in Psalm 137, which is primarily the starting point for artistic interpretations, were widespread in the community of exiles.


The haunting words of Psalm 137 often served composers as models for vocal compositions. During the Renaissance , some motets were composed based on the Latin text from the Vulgate Super flumina Babylonis (e.g. by Orlando di Lasso ). The chorale An Wasserflüssen Babylon , an adaptation of Psalm 137 in text and music by Wolfgang Dachstein (1487–1553), dates from 1525 . Johann Adam Reincken (1643–1722) composed a chorale fantasy that inspired Johann Sebastian Bach's improvisation An den Wasserflüssen Babylon ( BWV 653). The Bach student Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721–1783) composed a motet under the same title.

The opera Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi , which premiered in 1842, alludes to Babylonian exile, but in which the Babylonian conqueror ultimately converts to the Jewish faith.

In 1970, Rivers of Babylon became a worldwide hit by the Jamaican reggae band The Melodians , the piece quoted from Psalm 137. The group was among the followers of the Rastafarian religion who use the term " Babylonian System " to mean Compare the exile of the Jews in ancient times with the kidnapping and enslavement of their African ancestors, the consequences of which they suffer up to the present day. Babylon as a metaphor for a place of bondage is now also used in the texts of European reggae and hip-hop musicians, with the aim of characterizing the prevailing political and economic system as corrupt , unjust and oppressive.

Also Jörg Widmann's opera Babylon , premiered in 2012 in Munich as well as in a new version in 2019 in Berlin, discussed the Babylonian exile.


The Babylonian exile can be found over the centuries as a motif in European and Anglo-American prose and poetry, for example in Luís de Camões (approx. 1524–1580), Heinrich Heine (1797–1856) and TS Eliot (1888–1965 ).

See also


  • Herbert Donner : History of the people of Israel and its neighbors in outline. Volume 2: From the royal era to Alexander the great. With a view of the history of Judaism to Bar Kochba (= floor plans for the Old Testament. 4, 2). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1986, ISBN 3-525-51666-5 .
  • Antonius HJ Gunneweg : History of Israel up to Bar Kochba (= Theological Science. 2). 2nd, improved and supplemented edition. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart a. a. 1976, ISBN 3-17-002989-4 .
  • Ernst Axel Knauf : The environment of the Old Testament (= New Stuttgart Commentary. Old Testament. 29). Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-460-07291-1 .
  • Markus Sasse: History of Israel in the Second Temple Period. Historical events, archeology, social history, religious and intellectual history. Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 2004, ISBN 3-7887-1999-0 (2nd edition, ibid 2009, ISBN 978-3-7887-1999-9 ).
  • Werner H. Schmidt : Introduction to the Old Testament. 5th enlarged edition. de Gruyter, Berlin a. a. 1995, ISBN 3-11-014102-7 .

Web links

Commons : Babylonian captivity  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Cf. H. Donner: History of the people of Israel and its neighbors in basic features. Volume 2. 1986, p. 416.
  2. Duden online gives the spelling Babylonian captivity under Babylonian , but the lower case Babylonian captivity is also common.
  3. See H. Donner: History of the people of Israel and its neighbors in basic features. Volume 2. 1986, pp. 370-381.
  4. a b cf. H. Donner: history of the people of Israel and its neighbors in basic features. Volume 2. 1986, pp. 381-387.
  5. Jörg Jeremias: Theology of the Old Testament . 2017, p. 13-18 .
  6. Cf. E. A. Knauf: The environment of the Old Testament. 1994, pp. 157-163.
  7. ^ Book 1, 154 .
  8. a b c Thomas Wagner:  Exile, time in exile. In: Michaela Bauks, Klaus Koenen, Stefan Alkier (eds.): The scientific Bibellexikon on the Internet (WiBiLex), Stuttgart 2006 ff., Accessed on April 27, 2017.
  9. a b A. H. J. Gunneweg: History of Israel up to Bar Kochba. 2nd, improved and supplemented edition. 1976, p. 136.
  10. W. H. Schmidt: Introduction to the Old Testament. 5th enlarged edition. 1995, pp. 164 and 168.
  11. Thomas Migge : Jewish Culture in Central Asia - The Last Jews in Bukhara and Samarkand. Deutschlandfunk , Nov. 13, 2013.
  12. Engelbert Kirschbaum (Ed.): Lexicon of Christian Iconography. LCI . Volume 1: General Iconography. A - Ezekiel. Special edition, (reprint). Herder, Rome a. a. 2004, ISBN 3-451-22568-9 , col. 235.
  13. Behnhaus Lübeck, 2009  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /