The Postexilic History of Israel. I.

By Professor Willis J Beecher, D.D.,

Auburn, N. Y.


These papers will be rudimentary. Their purpose is to mark out the lines of the evidence, within the field traversed, so as to facilitate the work of the student who wishes to examine the evidence for himself. In the present state of the questions involved, no student can reach satisfactory conclusions, except by an original study of the evidence.

Of course, I present the evidence from the point of view I myself have reached ; but what I mean to do is to present the evidence, and not merely the point of view. It is by design that I repeat this word evidence seven times, in these few sentences. What we have to do is to examine the evidence; and this is a different thing from accepting some traditional opinion, either old or new, and is equally a different thing from reading all sides, and then guessing out an opinion by the law of averages.


The limits of the seventy years.—The seventy years so familiarly spoken of, following Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10, may perhaps be regarded as a round number, rather than an exact number; though there are at least three ways in which it can be counted as exact. It is just seventy years, counting one of the terminal years, from the death of Josiah, B. C. 608, to the first year of Cyrus, 538 B. C.; it is just seventy, counting both the terminal years, from the deportation of Daniel, 605 B. C., to the first year of Cyrus, reckoned as 536 B. C.; it is just seventy years, counting one terminal year, from the burning of the temple, B. C., 586, to the completing of Zerubbabel's temple, B. C. 516. We have no need to trouble ourselves to decide between these possible interpretations of the phrase.

The sources of the history.—The Biblical sources of information for the history of the period are the concluding chapters of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles; the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations; the books of Ezekiel and Daniel; some psalms, Ps. 137, for example; the genealogies in I Chronicles; and incidental notices elsewhere. Some of these books will be further noticed hereafter. The student who really cares to know the history for himself should read these books carefully enough so that he will be able to make a reasonably full and correct statement of their contents. He cannot master the historical information contained in them at any cheaper rate than this.

Ancient extra-biblical sources of information for the time we are considering are the writings of Berosus,2 and of other oriental historians, preserved by Josephus and others (see especially Josephus Cont. Apion, I. 19-21, and Ant. X. xi. 1); and occasional items in the inscriptions of the Babylonian and Persian kings. The Greek historians, Herodotus, B.C. 484 to about 400, Ctesias, B. C. 398 and earlier, and Xenophon, about B. C. 444-357, wrote popular histories, including these times, but without that careful regard for facts that characterizes the oriental historians. Josephus, about A. D. 100, repeats the accounts given in the Bible. Both he and the Greek historians give some additional statements of fact that are worth noting.

The chronology.—The dates for this and the subsequent times can be best studied by referring them to the scheme known as the canon of Ptolemy. Whatever be true of certain views of history implied in this canon, no one disputes its correctness as a scheme for giving names to the years in their succession. By this canon, the years for the time now under consideration are named as follows:

B. C. 625-605 are the 21 years of Nabopolassar.

B. C. 604-562 are the 43 years of Nebuchadnezzar.

B. C. 561-560 are the 2 years of Evil-merodach.

B. C. 559-556 are the 4 years of Neriglissar.

B. C. 555-539 are the 17 years of Nabonidus.

B. C. 538-530 are the 9 years of Cyrus.

In this table, the year that is called the first year of any king is ordinarily that which begins with the new moon of the spring equinox next after he comes to the throne. It is convenient to adopt this mode of notation, because it is that in which most dates are given, in ancient writings, and we thus avoid confusion. But in following it we need to keep in mind that the actual accession of a king commonly occurred during the year previous to that which is called his first year, and that events occurring between the first of January and the new moon of the spring equinox belong, by this style, to the concluding months of the old year, and not to the opening months of the new year. For such events, the year of the Christian era is one year later, by our usual style of reckoning, than it is if reckoned in the ancient style.

The historicity of the accounts.—There is no important dispute in regard to the Biblical sources, except in the case of the book of Daniel. This has commonly been regarded as historical, and still is commonly so regarded; but many scholars now hold that it is principally, or at least largely, fiction. The only reasons urged for this view are the character of the events recorded, and the form in which they are recorded. Since this is the case, the proper way for the student to do is to accept the facts provisionally, until he has studied them and compared them with the contemporary facts; when he has done this, and not till then, he will be in position to judge them, with reference to final acceptance or rejection.

The dated events.—To obtain a distinct idea of this period, one needs to get clearly in mind the principal dated events in it. The following list of these, in the earlier part of it, is abridged from the thirty-seventh and the fortieth Inductive Studies, in the Old Testament Student for June, 1888:

  • 608 B. C. Death of Josiah, king of Judah, in battle with Necho of Egypt. Not far from the same date (a little earlier, according to Josephus Ant. X. v. 1; but cf. 2 Kgs. 23:29), the final overthrow of Nineveh by the Medes and Nabopolassar, king of Babylon; and the marriage of Nebuchadnezzar, son of Nabopolassar, to the daughter of the Median king.

  • 607 B. C. 1st year of Jehoiakim, 2 Kgs. 23:34; 2 Chron. 36:5.

  • 607-605 B. C. Certain prophecies of Urijah and of Jeremiah, Jer. chaps. 26 and 7-10. Successful campaigns of Nebuchadnezzar, sent by Nabopolassar against Egypt, Coelosyria, and Phoenicia, Berosus in Jos. Cont. Apion, I. 19.

  • 605 B. C. 3d year of Jehoiakim. 21st year of Nabopolassar. Accession of Nebuchadnezzar, who hurried to Babylon for that purpose, followed later by his Jewish, Syrian, Phoenician, and other captives, Berosus as above. Daniel and his companions carried away, and Nebuchadnezzar's civil service training school formed, Dan. 1:1-16.

  • 604 B. C. 4th year of Jehoiakim, and 1st of Nebuchadnezzar, Jer. 46:2 ; 25:1. The decisive battle of Carchemish, 46:2. Jeremiah prophesying against the nations, and against Israel, 46:1-49:33; 25:1-38, especially ver. 13. Baruch writing Jeremiah's prophecies, Jer. 45; 36:1-8.

  • 603 B. C. 5th of Jehoiakim, and 2d of Nebuchadnezzar. Baruch's second roll, Jer. 36:9-32. Daniel and his companions complete their three years' training, and Daniel explains the king's dream, Dan. 1:5, 16-21; 2:1-49.

  • 598 B. C. 7th of Nebuchadnezzar. 3023 persons deported, Jer. 52:28. Possibly, siege of Tyre begun, Jos. Cont. Ap. I. 21.

  • 597 B. C. 11th of Jehoiakim, and 8th of Nebuchadnezzar. Jehoiakim killed. Short reign of Jehoiachin, also called Coniah, and Jeconiah. The great deportation to Babylon. Accession of Zedekiah. 2 Kgs. 24:6-16; 2 Chron. 36:9-10; Jer. 36:30-31; 22:18-30; 24:1, etc.

  • 596-594 B. C. Jews in Babylonia, Judah, and Egypt, Jer. 24. Jeremiah's letter to the Babylonian Jews, and incidents connected with it, Jer. 29. His prophecy concerning Elam, 49:34-39.

  • 593 B. C. 4th of Zedekiah. Hananiah and Jeremiah, Jer. 27 and 28. Zedekiah's special act of homage, Jer. 51:59-64. Jeremiah prophesying against Babylon, Jer. 5o and 51.

  • 592 B. C. 5th of Zedekiah. Ezekiel prophesying among the exiles by Chebar, Ezek. 1:2 and chaps. 1-7.3

  • 591 B. C., last half. 6th of Zedekiah. Ezekiel prophesying among the exiles in regard to the prevalent idolatry and the approaching fate of Jerusalem, chaps. 8-19. Daniel recognized as an especially great man, Ezek. 14:14. Zedekiah's perjury and rebellion, Ezek. 17:2-21; 2 Kgs. 24:19-20; 2 Chron. 36:12-13a.

  • 590 B. C. 7th of Zedekiah, Ezek. 20:1 sq. Ezekiel prophesies ultimate restoration, but for the present, rebuke and downfall.

  • 588 B. C. 9th of Zedekiah. Jerusalem invested, 10th day of 10th month, say in January B. C. 587, Ezek. 24:1 sq.; 2 Kgs. 25:1; Jer. 52:4; 39:1. Jeremiah advises against resistance, and his services are afterward recognized by Nebuchadnezzar, Jer. 21; 39:11-14; 40:1-5, etc. Ezekiel's wife dies, an emblem of the hopelessness of the case of Jerusalem; he prophesies against Judah, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Philistia, and the Cherethites, Ezek. chaps. 24-25

  • 587 B. C. 10th of Zedekiah, and 18th of Nebuchadnezzar. Interval of siege, owing to Egyptian interference; hard times for Jeremiah, Jer. 37. The three Hebrew men and the fiery furnace, Dan. 3, according to Septuagint of Dan. 3:1. In the 10th month, Ezekiel denounces Egypt for being a staff of reed to Judah, and threatens forty years' desolation, Ezek. 29:1, 6, 11-15 sq. Jeremiah's land purchase, Jer. 32. 832 persons deported, Jer. 52:29.

  • 586 B. C. 11th of Zedekiah, and 19th of Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel prophesies against Pharaoh, first month; Jehovah has broken one of Pharaoh's arms, and will break both, Ezek. 30:20. Third month, he prophesies again concerning Pharaoh, comparing him to the Assyrian, 31:. First day of same month he prophesies against Tyre, for exulting in the downfall of Jerusalem, 26:1 sq. Fourth and fifth months, capture of Jerusalem and burning of temple, 2 Kgs. 25:3-21 ; 2 Chron. 36:18-20; Jer. 52:6-27; 39:4-10o. Gedaliah made governor, and assassinated in the seventh month, 2 Kgs. 25:22-25; Jer. 40:5-41:o. Flight of the people to Egypt, and incidents there, 2 Kgs. 25:26; Jer. 41:11-44:30.

  • 586-570 B. C. Within this time, the termination of the 13 years' siege of Tyre, by Nebuchadnezzar. See writers cited by Josephus Ant. X. xi. 1, and Cont. Ap. I. 21, and Ezek. 29:17. Within this time, also, Nebuchadnezzar's madness? Dan. 4.

  • 585 B. C. May 28, great solar eclipse, separating the Median and Lydian armies, so Herodotus and the astronomers. Ezekiel has a visit, in the 10th month, from one who gives details of the capture of Jerusalem, Ezek. 33:21, and utters several prophecies, including that of the dry bones, chap. 37. The first and fifteenth days of the twelfth month, he uttefrs wailings over Egypt; Pharaoh shall go to Sheol, where Asshur, Elam, Meshech, Edom, the princes of the north, and the Zidonians await him, Ezek. 32:1, 17 sq.

  • 582 B. C. 23d of Nebuchadnezzar. Deportation of 745 persons from Judah, Jer. 52:30. According to Jos. Ant. X. ix. 7, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt.

  • 572 B. C. 25th of Jehoiachin's exile, and 14th after destruction of Jerusalem, Ezek. 40:1. Ezekiel's visions of the new temple and holy land begin.

  • 570 B. C. 27th of the exile of Jehoiachin, Ezek. 29:17. Egypt promised to Nebuchadnezzar, in recompense for his fruitless service against Tyre.

  • 568 B. C. 37th of Nebuchadnezzar. An expedition against Egypt mentioned in a fragment of an inscription of Nebuchadnezzar.4 Whether Josephus is correct in saying that Nebuchadnezzar had previously, in his 23d year, invaded Egypt, Ant. X. ix. 7, is a question. See Rawlinson's Ancient Monarchies, vol. III., chap. viii.

  • 562 B. C. Death of Nebuchadnezzar, and accession of Evil-merodach.

  • 561 B. C. 1st year of Evil-merodach. At the close of the year, that is, early in B. C. 560, Jehoiachin released and honored, 2 Kgs. 25:27-30; Jer. 52:31-34.

  • 559-556 B. C. The four years of Neriglissar.

  • 559-530 B. C. The 30 years of Cyrus, king of Persia, according to Herodotus. Perhaps dated from his accession to the throne of Persia, though Herodotus is commonly understood as reckoning from the time of his conquest of the Medes.

  • 555-539 B. C. The 17 years of Nabonidus.

  • 550 B. C. 6th of Nabonidus. Cyrus conquers the Medes, and becomes their sovereign; so one of the Cyrus inscriptions, as' commonly understood.5

  • ? B. C. 1st year of Belshazzar. A vision of Daniel, chap. 7. From the inscriptions, it is known that Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus. In what sense he reigned, or how long, is not so well known. His reign was within the 17 years of Nabonidus.

  • ? B. C. 3d of Belshazzar. Another vision of Daniel, chap. 8. This was while the Medes and Persians together, the former being sub6rdinate, were pushing west, north, and south, from Shushan as a centre, 8:4, 20, 2, 3.

  • 539 B. C. 17th of Nabonidus. Belshazzar's feast, Dan. chap. 5. Early in the year, a battle, in which the Babylonian forces were defeated. In July, Gobryas, the general of Cyrus, occupied Babylon without serious opposition; the Greek stories in regard to the taking of the city are partly patched up from events that occurred generations earlier. In the latter part of the year, Cyrus assumed the sovereignty. The book of Daniel says that the new emperor was Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, and that he was about 62 years old, Dan. 5:31; 9:; 11:1; 6:28. This Darius is not mentioned in the inscriptions, or in the other ancient writings. To account for him, many hypotheses have been offered. Inasmuch as Ahasuerus is the name used in Ezra 4:6, for Cambyses, it is possible that Darius the son of Ahasuerus is no other than Cyrus the son of Cambyses himself, in which case Dan. 6:29 (28) should be translated " the reign of Darius, even the reign of Cyrus the Persian." But it is not an absurd hypothesis that there may have been a Median sovereign co-regnant with Cyrus, one or the other being subordinate.

  • 538 B. C. 1st year of Cyrus, and 1st year of Darius the Mede. Daniel makes supplication for the holy city, Dan. chap. 9, cf. i:1. The decree for the return under Zerubbabel, Ezra 1:1.

  • 536 B. C. 3d year of Cyrus, Dan. 10:1, cf. 1:21. A vision of Daniel, Dan. chaps. 10-12.

If anyone will take the trouble to get these dated events, in their order, clearly into his mind, so that he can trace -the sequences that obtain among them, he will find himself amply repaid. One needs to do this far more thoroughly than is common, even among scholars, as preliminary to the study of certain especially important problems that belong to the history of this period. The most important of these problems is that of the sacred literature produced within the seventy years. To this period the older traditional view assigns the completing of the books of Kings and Jeremiah, and the books of Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel, with some of the psalms; the present opponents of that view dispute the claims of some of these books, and assign to the seventy years the composition of certain other parts of the Bible, notably the opening chapters of Deuteronomy, the closing chapters of the same, the parts of Leviticus which they regard as the oldest, the last twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah, and other portions of the earlier prophetic books. The next paper in this series will consider, in outline, some of the problems thus presented, while the following paper will take up the history of the return under Zerubbabel.



1) In treating of this period, I shall necessarily repeat some things I have already published in the Old Testament Student—in the Sunday School lessons, beginning with the number for January, 1886, and in the thirty-seventh and fortieth of the Inductive Studies, in the number for June, 1888.

2) Berosus was a Babylonian priest who flourished after Alexander the Great, and translated into Greek the history of Babylonia, dedicating the work to one of the kings named Antiochus. His work is principally known through the fragments now found in Josephus, and through those preserved by Polyhistor and Apollodorus, two writers of the first century before Christ, as these fragments are now found in Eusebius and Syncellus. Collections of the remains of Berosus have been made by Fabricius, in his Biblioth. Graeca, tom, xiv.; by Richter (Leipz. 1825); by Didot (1848); and in Cory's Ancient Fragments. Fuller accounts of Berosus and his writings may be found in the Encycl. Brit., in McClintock and Strong's Biblical Cyclop., or in other like works. Berosus is cited in most books that treat of Assyrian or Babylonian matters, and the citations may be found in those books by index.

3) It is evident that Ezekiel sometimes counts the years from the new year after Jehoiachin's exile, that is counts them the same as the years of Zedekiah, cf. Ezek. 24:1 and 2 Kgs. 25:1, or Ezek. 26:I with 2 Kgs. 25:2. But it is also possible that Ezekiel sometimes adopts the different way of counting which reckons the eleventh of Jehoiakim as the first year of Jehoiachin's exile, as in 2 Kgs. 25:27 cf. Ezek. 33:21. Hence it is possible to set most of the dates in Ezekiel a year earlier than is done in this list, provided there should be found a reason for doing so.

4) For a pretty full account of the inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar, see Hebraica, Apr., 1887, p. 164 sq. Other notices, some of them very full and valuable, including accounts of inscriptions now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, or in the possession of the University of Pennsylvania, may be found in Hebraica, Oct., 1884, p. 118 ; Apr., 1885; Apr., 1886, pp. 171, 173; Apr., 1888, p. 174; Oct,, 1888, p. 74 sq. Numerous as these inscriptions are, they relate chiefly to building operations, contracts, acts of worship, etc., and contain but little information concerning historical events. Some of them were until lately attributed to an earlier Nebuchadnezzar, but this view is now generally abandoned. Among the most important of them for historical purposes, are the following:

1. The Boundary Stone Inscription, published by Dr. H. Hilprecht, 1883, and in W. A. I., vol. V. Iv.-lix. See Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, Apr., I884, and Jan., 1886, and Hebraica as above.

2. At least one inscription, and perhaps more than one, on the rocks bordering the Nahr-el-kalb, or Dog river, a little north of Beirut. It is so mutilated that not much of it is legible. See Proceedings of the Society of Bib. Arch., 1881.

3. Three terra cotta cylinders in the Boulak museum, supposed to have come from Defenneh (Tahpanhes, Daphnai), Egypt. See Sayce in Academy, Jan. 19, 1884, and " Defenneh," in fourth Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Fund, p. 51.

4. Perhaps, two large inscriptions in Wady Brissa, in the Lebanon, described by Cl. Ganneau, in the Times, Dec. 29, 1883.

These are historically interesting, not for any events described in them, but because they confirm some statements in the old historians regarding Nebuchadnezzar as a builder, and because they indicate the presence of Nebuchadnezzar in the Lebanon region, and in Egypt, cf. Jer. 43:8-11, and context.

5. A fragmentary tablet, mentioning an expedition of Nebuchadnezzar to Egypt in his 37th year. See Pinches in the Trans. of the Sac. of Bib. Arch., vii. 2, and Schrader, Aegypt. Zeitschrift, 1879, and K. A. T., 2d ed., p. 363 sq.

Brief notices of 2 and 5, may be found in the Encyc. Brit., " Nebuchadnezzar," and in the admirable article on " Babylonia and Assyria," by Dr. Francis Brown, in the Encyc. Americana, I. 382.

5) For determining the range of events, the inscriptions of the kings that directly followed Nebuchadnezzar are chiefly important because they contain the proper names found in the Bible, and in the Greek historians, thus confirming the general historicity, at least, of these writings. Two inscriptions of Cyrus, however, are more definite. One is a cylinder, mentioning his exploits in general, his ancestry, and his religious policy. See Sir H. Rawlinson, in Trans. of the Royal Asiatic Society, N. S. xii. 70 sq., Jan. 1880, and Canon Rawlinson, in the Contemporary Review for Jan., 188o. The tablet is a dated narrative. See Pinches, in Trans. of the Soc. of Bib. Arch., vii. 139 sq.