When it comes to great empires, the first one historically recognized as such is Babylon. However, the peak of Babylon’s power was when Nebuchadnezzar II was king. Known for continuing the construction of the Babylonian kingdom that began with his father, he responsible for one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, the Hanging Gardens. However, Nebuchadnezzar II’s most popular portrayal is that in the Old Testament. By what Biblical history reads, Nebuchadnezzar II conquered Jerusalem and overtook Zedekiah, the last ruler of Judah. After Jerusalem’s fall, many Jews were exiled to Babylon.
There isn’t much detail on how Jews exiled to Babylon lived. The only accounts most people are knowing of are written in the Book of Daniel. Now, ancient clay tablets may shed light for the first time on the daily lives of Jews exiled to Babylon about 2,500 years ago.
According to an article by Reuters, it reports the clay tablets, discovered in modern-day Iraq, are now on loan to the Bible Lands Museum for an exhibition. It features more than 100 cuneiform tablets, each no bigger than an adult’s palm. Detailed transactions and contracts between Judeans driven from, or convinced to move from, Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II around 600 B.C., are inscribed on them.
For the first time, archaeologists got their chance to see the tablets, which were acquired by a wealthy London-based Israeli collector two years ago. What they found blew them away as described by Filip Vukosavovic, an expert in ancient Babylonia, Sumeria, and Assyria, who curated the exhibition.
“It was like hitting the jackpot. We started reading the tablets and within minutes we were absolutely stunned. It fills in a critical gap in understanding of what was going on in the life of Judeans in Babylonia more than 2,500 years ago.”
Apparently, Nebuchadnezzar II’s exiling of Jews to Babylon, which is now the fertile crescent of southern Iraq, didn’t mean they were slaves. As a matter of fact, the tablets reveal the Judeans traded, ran businesses, and assisted in the administration of the kingdom, as detailed by Filip Vukosavovic.
“They were free to go about their lives, they weren’t slaves. Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t a brutal ruler in that respect. He knew he needed the Judeans to help revive the struggling Babylonian economy.”
The Jerusalem Post also reported on this exhibit, concentrating more on the stories inscribed on the ancient tablets. In Akkadian script, details on trade in fruits and other commodities, taxes paid, debts owed, and credits accumulated were written. As a matter of fact, one Judean family was historically chronicled for four generations, starting with a father named Samak-Yama, followed by his son, then his grandson, then his grandson’s five children. All of them have Biblical Hebrew names, many which are still used today.
It wasn’t reported if the exhibit was time sensitive, but for those who attended, it is amazing to see all 100 tablets on display. To learn more about this exhibit, the official website for the Bible Lands Museum details the exhibit showcasing the tablets known as “By The Rivers Of Babylon.” A video promoting the exhibit is attached below for your viewing.
[Image via Reuters]