History of the Neo-Babylonian Period (612-539 BCE)
Babylon, like Assyria,
had long been a significant power in the ancient Near East. From about 1894 BCE until 1595 BCE, Babylon was led by a
dynasty of Amorite kings, of whom Hammurabi (1792-1750) is the best known. He effectively controlled the southeastern
end of the Fertile Crescent from the Persian Gulf
1595 and 1175 BCE, the Mesopotamian Valley was nominally under the control of the
Hittites from Asia Minor, and the Kassites who appear to have been from the eastern mountain
area. During this period, however, there
were many times of relative independence and areas of local control.
the Assyrian period, Babylon
never lost hope of independence. In the
confusion following the death of Ashurbanipal (sometime between 631 and 627), Nabopolassar, who had been an Assyrian-appointed governor
in the Persian Gulf area, declared himself
king. He occupied the throne of Babylon on November 22,
Nabopolassar (626-605) was the founder of the independent
Neo-Babylonian (Chaldean) Empire. In
alliance with the Medes, and with the help of his brilliant son Nebuchadrezzer (Nebuchadnezzar), he captured and destroyed Nineveh, the capital of
the Assyrian Empire. In 609, Pharaoh Neco of Egypt
on his way to help the defeated Assyrian army was challenged by Judean forces
under King Josiah at Megiddo. Josiah was killed in the battle, and Neco proceeded to Carchemish
on the Euphrates River where he joined the remnants of
the Assyrian power. In 605, the Babylonians
attacked, and in a crucial battle finally defeated the Egyptian/Assyrian
coalition. With this defeat, Assyria
passed away forever, and Egypt
never again became a dominant power. Neco returned to Egypt, defeated, but on the way
took Jehoahaz as prisoner, and put Jehoiakim on the Judean throne as his puppet king.
Nebuchadrezzar (Nebuchadnezzar) (605-562) became king on the death of his
father on August 15, 605. He built Babylon to the height of
its splendor as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, employing many
artisans and craftsmen on vast building projects. He led three attacks against Jerusalem: (1) In 605 he forced Jehoiakim
to change his allegiance to Babylon, took some of the temple treasures and
numerous captives including Daniel and his three companions to Babylon (II
Kings 24:1; Daniel 1:1-8). In 601, an
indecisive but bloody battle between Egypt
and Babylon resulted in the return of the
Babylonian army to Babylon. This withdrawal was probably the cause of the
Judean switch back to an Egyptian alliance (Jeremiah 27:9-11; II Kings
24:1-7). A series of
Babylonian-supported raids on the tribes around Judah
(Jeremiah 49) prepared the way for Nebuchadnezzar’s second attack on Jerusalem. (2) By 598 Babylon
was ready to resume the pressure on Judah
and besieged Jerusalem
in early autumn. Jehoiakim
died on December 7, 598, and was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin
who surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar on March 16, 597. He was taken captive to Babylon along with Ezekiel, all the nobles
and craftsmen, over 10,000 leading citizens, and all that remained of the
temple treasures. (II Kings
24:10-17). Zedekiah, Jehoiakim’s
uncle, was placed on the throne in Jerusalem. (3) In 587, Zedekiah rebelled, and on July
19, the Babylonian army entered Jerusalem,
destroyed the temple, burned the city, and took Zedekiah and others captive to Babylon. A local governor, Gedaliah,
was put in charge of the Judean territory.
This date marks the final overthrow of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
Evil-Merodach (562-560) “Man of Marduk,” assumed
the throne on the death of Nebuchadnezzar.
He was an unimportant king who was assassinated by Nergalsharezer,
Nergal-Sharezer (560-556) not important.
Labashi-Marduk (555) son of Nergal-sharezer
reigned nine months before he was assassinated by Nabonidus. Not important.
Nabonidus (555-539) Usurped throne. He was a devotee of the moon-god Sin, and
introduced many religious reforms in Babylon
that were unpopular with the people and lost him popular support. He lived ten years in the desert city of Tema. He engaged in literary pursuits and religious
reforms, leaving his son Belshazzar as co-regent (and effective king) during
most of his reign (Daniel 5). Babylon fell to the
Persians under Cyrus in 539).
History of the Persian Period (539-331 BCE)
"Cyrus the Great," became king of the small nation of Elam in 559, but rapidly expanded his territory
by conquering Persia, Media,
and Lydia. In 539 he conquered Babylon
and was welcomed as a supporter of the true faith of Marduk,
traditional god. Babylonian domination
of the ancient Near East came to an end. Within a year, he had issued his decrees
allowing the restoration of regional worship in the empire. II Chronicles 36:22-23 preserves the Hebrew
version of these restoration decrees (cf. Jeremiah 25:12-14; Isaiah
44:28-45:7). About 536 Zerubbabel led Return No. 1 with about 50,000 Jews to Jerusalem (Ezra 1-6) to
rebuild the temple. Work progressed slowly
and then stopped because of the lethargy of the Jews and the opposition of the
expanded Persian Empire into North Africa, conquered Egypt in 525. It was probably during his reign that the
Samaritans were able to order a work-stoppage on the temple in Jerusalem.
Hystaspes (522-486) (He is not Darius the Mede of Daniel 5:30). During his reign Haggai and Zechariah stirred
up the Jews to complete work on the temple.
After four years work, the completed temple was dedicated in 516. Darius's "Behistun
Inscription," a multilingual monumental record, was the inscription which
provided the key to deciphering cuneiform writing for modern scholars. His only major defeat was at the hands of the
Greeks at Marathon in 490.
I (486-465) is
identified with King Ahasuerus of Esther. Persepolis,
his capital was a major building project during his reign. Malachi's reforms probably occurred during
this period. He challenged Greece, but was beaten at Salamis in 480.
Artaxerxes I (Longimanus)
(464-424). Ezra the priest led return no. 2 in 458 (Ezra
7-10) to seek religious reform. In 445,
Nehemiah, the appointed governor, and former cupbearer to Artaxerxes,
let return no. 3 to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem
(Nehemiah 1-7). Later, about 433,
Nehemiah returned from Persia
to Jerusalem to
carry out certain reforms. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian,
say the Old Testament canon was complete during the reign of Artaxerxes.
Leading up to the Babylonian Captivity
Assyria, the city-state of Babylon
had long been a strong power. With the
death of Ashur-banipal (ca. 627) a series of local rebellions broke out. Then Nabopolassar, a local Babylonian leader, was crowned king
on November 22, 626 BCE.
By 622, Nabopolassar had
captured Nippur. He gained control of the whole lower end of
the Tigris/Euphrates valley and the traffic on the river.
Nabopolassar forced the Assyrians back to Assur. Assyria appealed to Egypt
for help, and then dug in on the west bank of the Euphrates.
The Babylonian army, with support from the Medes, destroyed Nineveh, the Assyrian
capital. The remnants of the Assyrian
army retreated westward to Haran. Assyrian king Ashur-u-ballit appealed again to Egypt, but Pharaoh Neco II (610-595), was slow responding.
The Babylonian armies, under crown-prince Nebuchadrezzar
(Nebuchadnezzar), launched a surprise attack on Carchemish in late May. The Assyrian/Egyptian coalition was badly
defeated, and Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon gained control of the whole western
end of the fertile crescent. Nebuchadrezzar took hostages and temple-treasures to Babylon (Daniel 1:1; II
Kings 24:1). Jehoiakim
became a Babylonian vassal. On August
15, 605, Nabopolassar died, and Nebuchadrezzar
became King of Babylon. He returned to
the city, leaving Palestine and Egypt free of
serious interference for six or seven years.
Jehoiakim unwisely decided to withhold the
annual tribute payment to Babylon. Nebuchadrezzar
returned and put Jerusalem
under siege (II Kings 24:1-6). Jehoiakim died on December 7, 598, and was succeeded by his
By mid-winter, the situation in Jerusalem
was desperate, and on March 16, 597, Jehoiachin
surrendered. He was taken captive, along
with 10,000 of the leading citizens, and much booty from the temple. He was exiled to Babylon in chains (II Kings 24:7-17). His uncle, Zedekiah, was made king as a
Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, and Jerusalem was again
besieged on January 15 (Jeremiah 52:1-4; II Kings 24:18-25:2).
July 19, the Babylonian army entered Jerusalem.
Zedekiah escaped through the royal garden (Kidron?)
but was captured near Jericho, blinded by his
captors, and taken in chains to Babylon. On August 15, the temple was burned, and the
sacrifice ended for 70 years until the rebuilding and rededication in 516 (II
©1997, Gordon College,
Wenham, MA 01984
Fr. Tadros Malaty