Thursday, October 15, 2009

1) The New Babylonian Empire

In 627 B.C.E., Nabopolassar succeeds with the help of he Medes to shake off the Assyrians’ yoke, and to establish the so-called New Babylonian Empire in more or less the same area where the ancient Babylonian kingdom existed for several hundred years (it was known then as the Kingdom of the Chaldeans, mentioned as Akkad and Sumer in Gen. 11:9). Under Nabopalassar’s son and successor, Nebukadnezzar II, Babylon became the ruling empire in the world of then, with him as a kind of world leader. Both he and his father had, like the Assyrian kings before them, the aspiration to crown their successes with the conquest of Egypt. In their campaigns against that country, the Kingdom of Judah (Kings Josia, Jehoyakhin, and Zedekiah) got in their way, and was sacked by Nebukadnezzar in 587 BCE. That year marks the destruction of the Judean Kingdom, the end of the First Temple, the begin of the Jewish captivity in Babel; and, as many see it, as the begin of the “Times of the Gentiles” (more on that latter subject see below).

As it happens so often in history, the military victory got hollowed out by the influence the victims exerted on their victors. We may safely assume that the contact with the captives of Judea on the one hand, and Cyrus' humaneness on the other hand, must have had effected the mighty and victorious Babylonians. There are several sources which indicate such effects:

"And the king (Nebukadnezzar) counseled with them (i.e. his advisers), and none among them was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Asariah, and so they served the king; and in every craft and understanding which the king looked for, he found them superior tenfold to all the magicians and astrologers of his kingdom"2.

Even if this story should be fictitious, as some believe, it may very well depict the situation.

Another indication for a change of mind from terror and brutality to more humaneness is recorded in Jer. 52:31-34. There, we read about Nebukadnezzar’s successor, King Evil Merodach:

"And it happened in the seven and thirtieth year of the exile of King Jehojachin from Judah..., that Evil Merodach, King of Babel, in the first year of his ascension to the throne, lifted the head of Jehojakhin, King of Judah, and liberated him from the prison, and spoke well to him, and put this chair above the chairs of the other kings who were (captives) in Babel, and changed his prison robes, and fed him all the days of his life..."3

Interestingly enough, this Biblical record is corroborated by the inscription on a clay prism excavated in the ruins of Nebukadnezzar's palace.

King Evil Merodach's successor, Nabunaides, was a learned man. Perhaps stirred up through the contacts with the captive Jews, he began to pursue his own religious ideas, and tried to reduce Babel's many gods to one (Moon)god. As a result, he came to odds with the caste of the priests3a. In order to avoid an open confrontation, and perhaps disappointed, he left his capital and, together with his court, moved to Tema in Northern Arabia. There are indications that he tried to make this trade center to the new capital of Babylonia. Before leaving, he had put his son Belshazzar in charge of the affairs of Babylon, and thus it was he who had to deal with the country's internal affairs, including the dissatisfaction of the caste of its priests, as well as with the assault of the Persians.

All this shows that Babylon had inwardly become morbid, and that she was at the end of her ways.

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