Babylonian captivity

As Babylonian exile (often Babylonian captivity ) is called an epoch of Jewish history. It begins in 597 BC with the conquest of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II and lasts until the conquest of Babylon in 539 BC by the Persian king Cyrus II

  • 2.1 Visual Arts
  • 2.2 Music
  • 2.3 Fiction

The Babylonian era

Commencement of exile

From 597 BC became a significant part of the population of Judea, especially members of the nobility, - as Babylonian practice for conquest corresponded - exiled to Babylon and settled there. According to the Book of Jeremiah had to 582 in three expulsion raising total of 4,600 people to leave their homes ( Jer 52, 28-30). Other historical sources to the number of exiles are not available. Sure is is just that emerge after 597 BC the name of Hebrews from the privileged upper class in Babylonian records.

Life in exile

Due to misinterpretation of the Tanakh and religious interests a false picture of exile is drawn today. Thus, for instance, in Psalm 137, the " population as prisoners forced to work as slaves, thinking at the end of the day on the rivers of Babylon and wept at Zion." It is reasonable to assume that the exile was perceived as a religious punishment, but externally were for the Jews in Babylon comfortable living conditions. Just like others, based in different colonies Jews they could operate without coercive trade, agriculture and building houses. Even slavery was allowed.

The administration was responsible for the exiles itself evidence concerning specifically the Jews imposed forced labor are not. It is only known that the Babylonian population was generally forced in some cases for short-term forced labor to carry out any order royal building projects. In the Babylonian exile, the Jews were able to preserve their traditions and their religious identity. The companies located in and around Babylon Jews assimilated quite quickly.

So you found in written documents Jewish names, demonstrating that Jews could make II career in court and in the military of Nebuchadnezzar. Also, there are reports of Jewish banking dynasties. According to the Biblical narrative in the Book of Daniel of the Tanakh included, among others, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed -nego to the elect exiles who were trained for the Babylonian government service. This rapid assimilation and the related temptation to accept a foreign religion contributed well in also means that in the Tanach a rather bleak picture is drawn from the Babylonian exile.

To prevent the peculiarity of the Jews completely goes in the multiethnic mixture Babylon, emphasized the Jewish theologians and scholars the particularity of Judaism, especially the Jewish faith. Center of life were the Torah and religious scholarship. Thus the Babylonian exile is considered one of the most fertile periods of Jewish theology. Against the background that the native temple for praying together was missing, probably the first synagogues emerged.

According to the historical-critical biblical scholarship believes dates from this time also with the priest writing the final version of the Pentateuch in which, among other things, the rules on circumcision (Gen 17:10-14 EU) have been added.

End of exile

After 539 BC conquered the Babylonian Empire, the Persian king Cyrus II allowed the return of some categories of persons to their homes beyond the Tigris. Name is called the edict of Cyrus, with which this was announced not, and it also contains no arrangement for the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, started its construction 517 BC and the BC so far in March of the year 515 was completed, that the Jews were able to pursue their worship there again. ( Flavius ​​Josephus, however, in his work On the originality of Judaism, that in the second year of Cyrus laid the foundation of the temple and it was completed in the second year of Darius I.. Thereafter, the construction lasted 538-521 BC)

According to the Bible, the edict of Cyrus has been understood by the returnees as a call to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. And this should also be intended just for them. So was denied, citing Cyrus ' alleged order - to the days of Ezra were only the " heirs " of the Cyrus Edict as Jews - the remaining population in the country, to participate in the construction. Secondly, this is said to have vehemently opposed the rebuilding of the Temple.

Some of the Jews remained in Babylon and there formed a Jewish community. The guided in their discussions of the scribes provided the basis for the written in the 6th century AD the Babylonian Talmud.

The duration of the Babylonian exile can not be uniquely determined because both the beginning and the end of different years figures are given. In a letter to the exiles to Babylon, Jeremiah prophesied, God would return after 70 years ( Jer 29,10 ), which is the correct order of magnitude.

The Return

According to the biblical books of Nehemiah and Ezra (see Ezra and Nehemiah 7.6 to 72 2.1 to 70 EU EU) 49 897 49 942 or people returned to the region of Judea, including 7337 economically impaired ( slaves ) as well as 200 and 245 singers and singers. What else regards social status of returnees, in addition to members of extended families with properties and associations of mountain people landless listed mainly priests, Levites, temple singers, gatekeepers and temple members. In Ezra 8.1 to 36 EU is talk of another 1,600 returnees. The return of this large number of people in Jerusalem led to problems in the food supply and living space allocation, which is why they met with the residents of rejection. (Ezra 3:1-13 EU, EU Ezra 4.1 to 24, 5.1 to 17 EU and Ezra Ezra 6.1 to 22 EU).

The accuracy of this detailed, coherent reports is in doubt. Four generations previously reached only a maximum of 10,000 Judeans into the Babylonian exile, from which, however, did not return a large number. The numbers seem to be too high overall. Anthony Hermann Josef Gunneweg, Thomas Wagner and Werner H. Schmidt suggest that returnees arrived sporadically in the first years after the victory of the Persians in Judea. Only under Darius I. a larger, well-planned return movement have probably used. The historical and political references made ​​are questionable. How to by Ezra 6, 1-22 the Temple opponents have called the Persian King Artaxerxes to support in the country, he has his office, however, only 465 started BC. Accordingly, it would have to be by the said successor Darius, under the supposedly the temple continued to Darius II act, the king was not until 423 BC. King Artaxerxes heard loud Ezra also to those who ordered the building of the temple.

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


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

Was in a figurative sense, and is the avignonesische papacy from 1309 to 1377, when seven Popes resided in Avignon instead of Rome, called the Babylonian Captivity of the Church.

Also, in a metaphorical sense, Martin Luther gave the 1520 written by him writing that turned against the faith illegal in his opinion abuse, which was driven by the seven sacraments, the title of the Babylonian Captivity of the Church.

Fine Arts

Psalm 137 ( Vulgate 136), the lament of the Babylonian exile, together with other biblical psalms artfully psalteries, was in Christian Europe of the Middle Ages to the subject of pictorial representations. The resultant in the ninth century Utrecht Psalter shows on sheet 77 a -figured representation in several scenes, including the destruction of Babylon. The marginal miniatures of the Psalter Chludow illustrate the pictorial content of the psalm in reduced form. From the period of transition from medieval to modern times, the woodcut illustration is the first time in 1493 published World Chronicle by Hartmann Schedel, an early witness to the art of printing, which was spread throughout Europe. Until the 20th century, the European painting dealt with the subject, recurring motifs are inspired by the Psalm 137 the river, the lyre and the willow tree. So put Bendemann Eduard, who was influenced by the art of the Nazarenes, in his written around 1832 paintings The mourning Jews in exile after the motif type locking of the Holy Family is a family on the run acting under a group of entwined vines pasture; the lyre in the hands of an elderly cites the harps of Psalm 137 Ferdinand Olivier, who also was close to the Nazarenes, sat in his image from 1838, the Jews in the Babylonian captivity an imagined by Psalm 137 people in an idyllic scenery, shaded landscape. Babylonian captivity, ie one of the ceiling painting of the library of the Palais Bourbon in Paris, the seat of the French National Assembly, the Eugène Delacroix anfertigte as images cycle on the development of ancient civilization 1838-1837.

The question arises whether all these artistic representations actually correspond to the historical facts and not deliver rather an idealized image of the Babylonian exile. The of "Christian and Jewish piety " worn works seem more likely to arise " romantic ideas " and to be a projection of their creators, as they may represent the former living conditions. Above all, it remains unclear how far the condition, which is expressed in Psalm 137, which mainly starting point of artistic interpretations is yes, was widespread in the community of exiles.


The haunting words of Psalm 137 composers often served as a template for vocal compositions. During the Renaissance some motets were composed after the Latin text of the Vulgate Super flumina Babylonis (eg by Orlando di Lasso ). From the year 1525 the Choral dated to water rivers of Babylon, an adaptation of Psalm 137 in Words and Music by Wolfgang Dachstein ( 1487-1553 ). Johann Adam Reincken (1643-1722) composes a chorale fantasy that Johann Sebastian Bach to the improvisation on the water rivers of Babylon ( BWV 653 ) inspired. The Bach pupil Johann Philipp KirnBerger (1721-1783) composed a motet with the same title.

In the Babylonian exile and the 1842 opera Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi, first performed in plays, in which, however, the Babylonian conquerors converted to the Jewish faith at the end.

In 1970, Rivers of Babylon by the Jamaican reggae band The Melodians a global Plattenhit, the piece quotes Psalm 137 The group was one of the followers of the Rastafarian religion, use the expression of " Babylon system " to allow the compare exile of the Jews in ancient times with the abduction and enslavement of their African ancestors, under whose consequences they suffer up to the present. Babylon as a metaphor for a place of enslavement is now also available in texts of European reggae and hip- hop musician, so that should be marked as corrupt, unjust and oppressive the dominant political and economic system.


The Babylonian exile is over the centuries and over again as a motif in European and Anglo-American prose and poetry, for example in Luís de Camões (ca. 1524-1580 ), Heinrich Heine ( 1797-1850 ) and TS Eliot ( 1888-1965 ).