Biblical Archaeology Review 28:3, May/June 2002
The Babylonian Gap Revisited


By Hershel Shanks

Perhaps the greatest disaster to befall ancient Israel was the conquest, at the end of the sixth century B.C.E. and start of the fifth, by the Babylonian empire. The fall of Judah to this new regional superpower occurred in two stages: Major strongholds like the Philistine cities of Ashkelon and Ekron fell to the armies of Nebuchadrezzar (Biblical Nebuchadnezzar) in 604 B.C.E. Jerusalem was besieged in 597 B.C.E. and capitulated to the Babylonians. Under the leadership of the puppet king Zedekiah, the Judahite capital survived another decade. But when Nebuchadrezzar learned that Zedekiah had conspired with other local powers to revolt, he laid siege to Jerusalem again, wearing the people out through starvation and finally breaking through the city walls in 586 B.C.E. The city was burned to the ground and the Temple destroyed. This brought an end to Judah as an independent kingdom, and Babylon expressed its dominion over the defeated Israelites by forcibly relocating them.

Archaeology vividly verifies much of what the Bible records about the Babylonian destruction of cities like Jerusalem and Ashkelon, but it is somewhat less clear—at least to some scholars—just how total the destruction was and how all-encompassing was the dispersion of the Israelites. Were all Israelite cities destroyed, or did some survive? How extensive was the forced migration?

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