Many Jews Thrived in Babylonian Captivity

Sept. 27 2016

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

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount