Many Jews Thrived in Babylonian Captivity

While the 6th-century-BCE capture and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was undoubtedly a national catastrophe—bringing with it the loss of sovereignty and of the main center of religious worship, as well as great deal of human suffering—a recent study suggests that many of the large numbers of Jews who found themselves exiled to Babylonia managed to flourish there. This account does not, in fact, conflict with the biblical narrative:

According to the Bible . . . [Judah’s last monarch], King Jehoiachin, was given special treatment—even over other imprisoned kings (2 Kings 25:30; Jeremiah 52:31-34). Moreover, cuneiform ration lists discovered in Nebuchadnezzar’s South Palace in Babylon show that captive kings and high officials received monthly rations of grain and oil.

The lives of non-royal Judahites, too, are preserved in Babylonian records. Texts from Nippur contain the names of Judahites who served as witnesses in land contracts. The Judahite identity of the witnesses is revealed by their names, [which are formed using elements of the Tetragrammaton]. . . .

Records from the city of Susa (the biblical Shushan, where the book of Esther is set) refer to Judahites . . . serving as royal courtiers, and in Sippar, a few [presumably Jewish] names appear under the designation “royal merchant.” However, the majority of [the] evidence that the Babylonian exile wasn’t so bad [stems from] cuneiform texts from in and around a settlement called “Judahtown” (Babylonian āl-Yāḫūdu).

Read more at Bible History Daily

More about: Ancient Near East, Babylonian Jewry, Exile, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood