What Ancient Tablets Reveal about Jews in Babylonian Exile https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/history-ideas/2018/07/what-ancient-tablets-reveal-about-jews-in-babylonian-exile/

July 26, 2018 | Laurie Pearce
About the author:

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 on theTorah.com: https://thetorah.com/judean-life-in-babylonia/