What Ancient Tablets Reveal about Jews in Babylonian Exile

July 26 2018

After destroying the First Temple in 586 BCE, the Babylonians deported a large portion of Judea’s population to Mesopotamia. Although no documents in Hebrew or Aramaic (which would have been written on parchment) pertaining to these Jews survive, a number of extant and more durable cuneiform tablets, written in the Babylonian language, refer or appear to refer to Jews. Laurie Pearce explains that Jews can be identified by names ending in -yah, which refers to the Tetragrammaton—as in the Hebrew versions of the names Jeremiah, Elijah, Isaiah, etc.

[Such] names have long been considered as reflecting attachment to tradition, or to be markers of theological inclinations. Yet [these] names appear in contexts that also reflect Judean integration into the Babylonian administrative organization. The Babylonian onomasticon (pool of names) of the first millennium BCE includes “official names” that contain the Akkadian word šarru (“king,” cognate with Hebrew sar, “prince”), identifying individuals who served in the imperial administration.

Such names—e.g., Nabû-šar-uṣur, “O Nabû, preserve the king!” or Nergal-šar-uṣur, “Oh Nergal, preserve the king!”—were adopted by individuals desiring to join the administrative ranks or given to them at birth by parents hoping to pave the way for a child to do so. A small number of such official names pair Babylonian orthographies of the divine name with standard Babylonian predicates, thus identifying Judeans who served the administration in official capacities. . . .

One particularly instructive example is the person whose name appears in two different variations: Yāḫû-šar-uṣur and Bēl-šar-uṣur [Belshazzar], both meaning “O Lord, preserve the king!” This usage demonstrates that Babylonian scribes understood that Yāḫû- was the supreme deity among the Judeans. This is why they substituted the element bēl, “lord,” in this personal name for Yāḫû, just as they referred to their own chief god Marduk as Bēl.

Although instances of individuals bearing the name Yāḫû-šar-uṣur, attest to Judean entry into the administrative sector of the Babylonian [monarchy], the attestations of fewer than five individuals so named makes it extremely difficult to assess the extent of acculturation at this level. . . .

Judeans [even] served as royal courtiers, as did Nehemiah, whom the Bible states was a cup-bearer to the king. Cuneiform texts identify Judean courtiers as recipients of rations along with the Judean king and his family. Their positions would have granted them . . . direct interaction with the royal court.

Read more at theTorah.com

More about: Babylonian Jewry, History & Ideas, Jewish history, Names, Nehemiah


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria