Discuss the end of the country Judah, from Josiah’s death until ca. 580 b.c.e. Use all the sources available to you: the Hebrew Bible, archaeology, Babylonian writings, Egyptian writings, Northwest Semitic inscriptions, etc.
Assyria’s power waned due to in fighting and civil war following the reign of Asshurbanipal (668-627 b.c.e.)
Egypt and Assyria formed a cooperative alliance. With the ebb in Assyrian power, Egypt assumed control over most of Syria-Palestine, including Judah. Judah most likely became an Egyptian vassal state during Josiah’s reign.
Evidence for Egyptian control of and presence in Judah comes from several sources:
1) 2 Kings 24:7 mentions that during the first siege of Jerusalem “The king of Egypt did not come out of his land again, for the king of Babylon had taken all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the wadi of Egypt until the Euphrates.” This stretch of territory includes Judah.
2) Judean troops fought in the Egyptian military. Josephus, citing the Babylonian historian Berossus, notes that following Babylonian victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 b.c.e. “the prisoners—the Jews, Phoenicians, Syrians, and those of Egyptian nationality—were consigned to some of his [Nebuchadrezzar’s] friends, with orders to conduct them to Babylonia...”
3) Hundreds of Egyptian prestige items (scarabs, amulets, etc.) have been found at Lachish and Jerusalem.
4) Several high-ranking Judean officials bore Egyptian personal names at this time, perhaps in order to fit in with their imperial overlords. (e.g., the various Pašhûr’s mentioned in Jer 20:1; 21:1; 38:1)
5) Pharaoh Neco II was able to interfere in Judean dynastic succession and put a king of his choosing on the throne (2 Kgs 23:33)
610 BCE Josiah dies at Megiddo
It is unclear what exactly transpired at Megiddo. Josiah may have supported Babylon against Assyria and Egypt (by military means according to 2 Chr 35:20-24). This could explain why Pharaoh Neco II killed him at Megiddo (2 Kgs 23:29).
Following Josiah’s death, “the people of the land” put his son Jehoahaz on the throne (2 Kgs 23:30).
Neco II, however, imprisoned Jehoahaz at Riblah in northern Syria, while the Egyptians were waging war against the Babylonians at Haran, and put Jehoakim on the throne instead (2 Kgs 23:33-34). Following the Egyptian defeat, Neco brought Jehoahaz back to Egypt.
In 605 BCE, the Babylonians under crown prince Nebuchadrezzar decisively defeat the Egyptians at Carchemish and Hamath (ABC 99).
In the twenty-first year [605 BCE] the king of Akkad stayed in his own land. Nebuchadrezzar his eldest son, the crown prince, mustered (the Babylonian army) and took command of his troops; he marched to Carchemish which is on the bank of the Euphrates, and crossed the river (to go) against the Egyptian army which lay in Carchemish… fought with eachother and the Egyptian army withdrew before him. He accomplished their defeat and to non-existence (beat?) them As for the reast of the Egyptian army which had escaped defeat (so quickly that) no weapons reached them, in the district of Hamath the Babylonian troops overtook and defeated them so that not a single man [escaped] to his own country.
The Oracle against Egypt in Jeremiah 46:1-12 also describes the Egyptian defeat
In 604/3 BCE Nebuchadrezzar then went on to capture Egyptian holdings in Syria-Palestine, following a scorched earth policy judging by the heavy destruction layers at Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron.
Adon, the king of Ekron, wrote a letter to Neco II informing him that “[the forces] of the king of Babylon have reached Aphek” and asking for military aide.
During this time, Jehoakim transferred his alliance from Neco II to Nebuchadrezzar (2 Kgs 24:1).
Jehoakim probably began work on a new palace using corvée labor at this time. A recently discovered 7th century seal bears the inscription “Belonging to Palayahu, who is over the corvée labor” Jehoakim’s extravagant building projects are criticized in Jer 22:13-17.
According to the Babylonian chronicle, Nebuchadrezzar attempted to invade Egypt in 601 BCE, but was repelled (ABC 101).
Year 4 [601 BCE]: The King of Akkad sent out his army and marched into Hatti land. [They marched] unopposed through Hatti land. In the month of Kislimu [November-December] he took the lead of his army and marched toward Egypt. The king of Egypt heard and sent out his army; they clashed in an open battle and inflicted heavy losses on each other. The king of Akkad and his army turned back and [returned] to Babylon.
Herodotus also reports on this battle:
“with his land army, he [Neco] met and defeated the Syrians [=Babylonians] at Magdolus, taking the Syrian city of Cadytis [= Gaza?] after the Battle” (2.159)
Following the Egyptian victory, Nebuchadrezzar spent a year in Babylon repairing his chariot forces. The Egyptian victory in 601 BCE and the absence of the Babylonian army from Syria-Palestine probably prompted Jehoakim to switch alliance again.
It is unclear what happened to Jehoakim at this time. 2 Kings 4:6 reports that “slept with his fathers,” while 2 Chronicles 36:6 reports that Nebuchadrezzar took him bound to Babylon. The Lucianic recension of these verses states that Jehoakim was buried in the Garden of Uzza, and Josephus says that the he was killed by Nechudarezzar after the capture of Jerusalem. In any case, Jehoachin was king during the first Babylonian invasion.
In 598/97, Nechudadrezzar personally suppressed the Judean revolt, exiled Jehoachin and other elite individuals to Babylon (2 Kgs 24:14-16; Jer 52:28), took treasures from the temple and palace (2 Kgs 24:13), and installed Zedekiah on the throne (2 Kgs 24:17). The Egyptians did not act to rescue their vassal state (2 Kgs 24:7).
Year 7, month Kislimu [Dec-Jan]: The King of Akkad moved his army into Hatti land, laid siege to the city of Judah [= Jersualem], and on the second day of the month of Addaru he captured the city and seized its king. He appointed in it a king of his liking, took heavy booty from it and sent it to Bablyon (ABC 102)
The envoys from Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon mentioned in Jer 27:3 were probably members of an anti-Babylonian conclave held in Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah.
In 596-94 BCE, Nebucahdrezzar had to deal with Elam in the east and a revolt among his own officers. The anti-Babylonian faction in Jerusalem may have taken this as a sign of weakness.
According to the Rylands IX papyrus, Pharaoh Psametik II went on a victory tour in Palestine in 591 BCE following his successful Nubian campaign. His presence may have precipitated anti-Babylonian sentiment and may have been seen as a challenge to Babylonian hegemony in the region.
In 588 BCE, Zedekiah revolted against Babylon (2 Kgs 24:20; 2 Kgs 24:18-25:1) Ezek 17:15 reports that Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadrezzar “by sending ambassadors to Egypt in order that they might give him horses and a large army.”
Throughout this time period, Jeremiah urged submission to the Babylonians.
In 588 BCE, the Babylonians lay siege to Jerusalem. The city holds out for a year and a half before the food supply runs out and the wall is breached (2 Kgs 25:3-4; Jer 52:6). Numerous Babylonian style arrowheads have been recovered from the northern wall of Jerusalem.
During the siege, the Babylonian army temporarily withdrew from Jerusalem after the Egyptian army came out to Palestine in force under Pharaoh Hophra (Jer 37:5). Classical sources have the Egyptian army fighting Tyre and Sidon, which suggests that Hophra was more interested in restoring his coastal territory than helping Judah.
The Babylonians captured Jerusalem in 586 BCE; Zedekiah attempted to flee the city with an armed retinue, but was captured and brought to Nebuchadrezzar at Riblah. There, his sons were executed and he was blinded (2 Kgs 25:4-7). The Babylonians burn the temple and palace exiled a further 832 Judeans in 586 (2 Kgs 25:9-11; Jer 52:29)
Jerusalem was destroyed and burnt. Lachish stratum II was destroyed by fire; most other Judean towns in the Shephelah, Negev, and Judean desert including Tel Batash (Timnah), Ramat Raḥel, Gezer, Beth-Shemesh, ‘Ein-Gedi V, Arad, and Tell Beir Mirsim were destroyed as well; a few cities North of Jersulaem, such as Mizpah, may have survived.
Judah relied heavily on Egyptian military assistance during the Babylonian invasion.
The Kittim mentioned in the Arad letters were most likely Aegean mercenary troops (supplied by Egypt?)
The Arad letters also mentions an Edomite threat to Judah, which fits well with the Oracle against Edom in Obad 10, 12-14. It is thought that Edom did not support Judah’s rebellion and may have supported the Babylonian war effort.
Lachish letter three mentions that “general Coniah, son of Elnathan has gone down to Egypt,” presumably to procure military aid.
Following the fall of Jerusalem, some Judean regiments remained on the field, perhaps as guerilla warriors (Jer 40:7)
Nebucahdrezzar appointed Gedaliah, a member of a local aristocratic family, as governor of Judah (Jer 40:5). Gedeliah’s headquarters were in Mizpah and he encouraged the remaining Judeans to rebuild and cultivate the land (Jer 40:9-10). He was killed in ca. 581/0 BCE by Ishmael, son of Netaniah, a member of the royal household, with the support of the Ammonite King (Jer 41:1-16). Gedeliah’s assassination sparks further Babylonian recriminations: as a result, Nebuchadrezzar probably exiled another 745 individuals to Babylon (Jer 52:30).
Cogan, Mordecai. “Into Exile: From the Assyrian Conquest of Israel to the Fall of Babylon.” In The Oxford History of the Biblical World, edited by Michael D. Coogan, 242-275. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Grayson, A. K. Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. Texts from Cuneiform Sources 5. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2000.
King, Philip J. and Lawrence Stager. Life in Biblical Israel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Mazar, Amihai. Archaeology of the Land of the Biblical 10,000-586 b.c.e. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.
Miller, Maxwell J. and John H. Hayes. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. 2nd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.