Friday, November 2, 2012

Socio-Historical Background of the Bible: Part 5 (609 BC - 538 BC)

The Babylonian Invasion

After the death of King Josiah, Judah was thrown into a period of political chaos which culminated in its invasion at the hands of the Babylonians. At least as far as the Biblical record can be trusted, Josiah was able to oversee the complete centralisation of power in Judah, to institute the formation of a monolithic religion and to apparently unite the nation and its surrounding territories - violently, if necessary - under a single nationalist ideology. Upon his death, his immediate political project seems to have been undone in a hurry and the nation began to be torn apart, both from within and without.

The spark for all these difficulties can be identified with the decline of Assyrian Empire and the resulting power vacuum it created. Initially, this spurred an assertion of independence in Judah: free from the Assyrian yoke, Josiah was able to implement his political program in Judah without interference and Judah stood - for perhaps the first time in its history - as a strong, dominant power in the region. In the shadows of the Assyrian empire, however, emerged two more empires: those of Babylonia (who delivered the final blow to the Assyrian empire in 605 BC) and Egypt (who had allied themselves with Assyria). Judah found itself trapped between these two powers - both geographically and politically - and the competing forces would eventually tear the nation apart. Like a planet passing between two suns, Judah found itself pulled towards two powerful spheres of influence simultaneously, and the internal strain generated would prove too much.

Josiah, as we saw in the last post, allied himself with the Babylonians against the Assyrians and their Egyptian allies. After he was killed in battle by the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II, his son, Jehoahaz, was installed on the throne by "the people of the land" (i.e. the same coalition that had installed Josiah). The Egyptian military presence, which by this time had stretched its influence far into the Levant, ensured that a king without sympathies to the Egyptian empire would not last long. Indeed, Jehoahaz was deposed just three months into his reign by the Egyptian Pharaoh and sent into exile in Egypt. He was replaced by king Jehoiakim, who agreed to make Judah a vassal state and to pay an onerous tribute to the Egyptians. In order to do this, he "exacted the silver and the gold from the people of the land" (2 Kings 24:35), another indication of the hardship placed on rural communities by imperial conquest. Signs of reprieve would fleetingly arrive in short time, though.

In 605 BC, the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians decisively in a battle at Carchemish, and Jehoiakim used the opportunity to transfer allegiance to the Babylonians in return for their protection. Babylon agreed, and for the next three years Judah was a Babylonian vassal state. Here, though, his allegiance began flip-flopping periodically between the Egyptians and the Assyrians, which should give some indication of the confused political state in the region during his reign. With the war between the Egyptians and Babylonians continuing apace, he transferred his allegiance back to the Egyptians and ceased paying tribute to Babylon sometime shortly before 600 BC. The reasons behind his equivocation are not easy to elucidate with any certainty, but his switching of allegiances may reflect his judgement on the state of the war (i.e. which side appeared more likely to claim victory in the region) or - perhaps more likely - the divided loyalties that existed within Judah itself. As I shall explain in more detail below, there was apparently a genuine rift that existed in Judah at the time about where it's loyalties should be placed: with Egypt, with Babylon or with neither. Jehoiakim's dithering on the issue may simply be a reflection of the irreconcilable rifts that existed within his court.

In any case, the Babylonian reaction to this transference of loyalty was predictably swift and harsh, and by 598 BC the Babylonians had come to occupy the majority of the land of Judah and were knocking on the gates of Jerusalem. It was in this year that Jehoiakim died without explanation. Some have averred that the Biblical text implies that he was killed by marauding bands of foreign warriors (cf. 2 Kings 24:2) but the Bible doesn't say so specifically, noting simply that Jehoiakim "slept with his ancestors" (v. 6). In any case, it's difficult to see how he might have been exposed directly to the presence of such foreign warriors when Jerusalem apparently stood strong for several more months after his death. The possibility of a domestic plot to end his life cannot be discounted, as there is Biblical precedent for the assassination of kings in siege situations: for instance, the murder of King Pekah in the Kingdom of Israel in the face of the Assyrian advance in 734 BC (see part 3). Jehoiakim had also apparently angered religious figures in the nation during his reign through his persecution of prophets (Uriah was killed, and Jeremiah put on trial for his life at the hands of the king), and the religious figures in Jerusalem must have held considerable political clout in the city since the reforms of Josiah. Whatever the case, the final defence of Jerusalem was left to Jehoiakim's son Jehoiachin, but he was capable of resisting the Babylonians for only 3 months. The fortified walls of Jerusalem were finally breached, and the Babylonian forces spilled into the city in 598 BC.

Jehoiachin submitted voluntarily to the Babylonians, and was taken immediately into forced exile to live within the city of Babylon. He was joined by many other members of the Jerusalem elite, including Ezekiel (who we will discuss below) and other members of the Jerusalem priesthood. Jehoiachin's story shall be resumed shortly. For now, though, we will focus on the events within Judah following the first Babylonian invasion and the deposition of their king.

Rebellion and Exile

 After sending King Jehoiachin into exile, the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar II installed a man by the name of Zedekiah onto the throne in his place. Predictably, Zedekiah was to act as a puppet-king to Nebuchadrezzar II and would be required to pay onerous tributes to the Babylonian empire. As was an all too common in the history of Israel and Judah, however, Zedekiah decided after just three years to turn away from the obligations he had towards his conquerors and to sow the seeds of rebellion.

In 594 BC he hosted an international conference in Jerusalem, where leaders were summoned from the nearby regions to discuss (presumably) their relationship with the Babylonian Empire. The Babylonian king naturally viewed this activity as subversive, and requested that Zedekiah visit him in Babylon to explain his actions and to reaffirm his loyalty to the king. This apparently patched things up for a while, but the decisive break came when Zedekiah rebelled against the Babylonians and allied himself with the Egyptians in the year 589 BC. The Babylonians invaded Judah and laid siege to Jerusalem for a second time, though this siege proved to be more gruesome and prolonged. In 587/586 BC, the Babylonians forces camped outside the walls of Jerusalem for months, preventing anyone (or anything) from entering or leaving. The horrors of such a city siege in the ancient world are difficult to overstate. Cities were so dependant on rural areas to supply it with provisions, that when such avenues of supply were cut-off the city was usually only able to sustain itself for a matter of weeks before starvation and disease began to run rampant. It is worth quoting the Biblical account of this siege (Lamentations 4) at length to convey the abject misery it entailed:

How the gold has grown dim,
   how the pure gold is changed!
The sacred stones lie scattered
   at the head of every street.

The precious children of Zion,
   worth their weight in fine gold—
how they are reckoned as earthen pots,
   the work of a potter’s hands!

Even the jackals offer the breast
   and nurse their young,
but my people has become cruel,
   like the ostriches in the wilderness.

The tongue of the infant sticks
   to the roof of its mouth for thirst;
the children beg for food,
   but no one gives them anything.

Those who feasted on delicacies
   perish in the streets;
those who were brought up in purple
   cling to ash heaps.

[...]

 Happier were those pierced by the sword
   than those pierced by hunger,
whose life drains away, deprived
   of the produce of the field.

The hands of compassionate women
   have boiled their own children;
they became their food
   in the destruction of my people.

The Lord gave full vent to his wrath;
   he poured out his hot anger,
and kindled a fire in Zion
   that consumed its foundations.

The will of the king and his immediate entourage were soon broken by the conditions that had left such an indelible imprint on the mind of the author of Lamentations, and they attempted to flee the city through a hole that they had made in the wall. The Babylonians had the city completely surrounded, however, and Zedekiah was soon apprehended. For his role in the rebellion, he watched as his sons were" slaughtered... before his eyes", had these same eyes "put out" by the soldiers and was then carried away - blind, childless and "in fetters" - to Babylon (2 Kings 25:7). His subsequent fate is not recorded, but he would prove to be the last ever king of Judah.

The fate of those left behind in the city, however, was no less grim. The Babylonians immediately sacked the Temple - the last holy place remaining in Judah, and quite literally the earthly house of YHWH - breaking its "bronze pillars", taking away "the pots, the shovels, the snuffers, the dishes for incense, and all the bronze vessels used in the temple service" as well as all "the gold, and what was made of silver" (v. 13-15). The Temple - along with the kings house and much of the rest of the city - were "burnt down" (v. 9) and the great walls around the city were also destroyed (v. 10). Much of the population - certainly all of the remaining elite - were carried away into exile in Babylon. According to the Biblical account, the only people who were left in Judah were "the poorest people of the land, to be vine-dressers and tillers of the soil" (v. 12). While some of these accounts might be viewed as somewhat embellished, the archaeological record does paint a picture of widespread destruction and a precipitous decline in population within Judah during the period of Babylonian exile. The economic aftermath of the exile will be explored more fully in part 6, but for now we need only note that Judah had been lain to waste and the last embers of its independence had been extinguished. Judah was now just another Babylonian province.

The Resistance

With the Temple and the king's residence destroyed, and with all the elite members of Jerusalem now deported, the royal Davidic lineage was at an end. In its place, the Babylonians elected a governor named Gedeliah, who was a member of a prominent Jerusalem family at the time. At this point, the society of Judah (or what remained of it) was divided between professing loyalty to Egypt, professing loyalty to Babylon and those who rejected loyalty to both. Those who believed that the loyalties of the Judahites should lie with Babylon could mostly be found among the exiled populations, and I'll address them in the next section. Here, though, it's important to demonstrate the political ambivalence that divided those who remained behind.

We learn from the Book of Jeremiah (a prophet active at the time of the Babylonian exile, though we cannot be sure how much of the material in this book can be traced directly back to him) that immediately after assuming power, Gedeliah was viewed as a target for assassination by certain revolutionary Judahite groups (Jer 40:13-16). This is one crucial difference between the Babylonian occupation and the earlier Assyrian occupation: in this instance, the occupation does seem to have been met by an organised resistance, as compared with some hundred years of relative stability in the Assyrian case. According the the account in Jeremiah 41, one "Ishmael son of Nethaniah son of Elishama" went to eat bread with Gedeliah along with ten of his men in the year 582 BC - under what pretext, we cannot be sure. In any case, Ishmael and his men used the opportunity to "[strike] down Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan with the sword and [kill] him" (41:2), before laying waste to all the guards and the Judahite consort present as well. We must be clear what this act represents: a political assassination in protest against imperial designs. This kind of reactionary militarism was to become a regular occurrence in the history of Judah and Israel, and we shall explore similar instances in future posts.

In the Biblical account, though, the actions of the assassin are rather unequivocally denounced. In order to emphasise the mindlessly violent disposition of the perpetrator, we get gory details about his future movements. In addition to murdering all the Judahites present in Gedeliah's court, Ishmael during his escape enconounters some eighty pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to leave offerings at the Temple. For seemingly no reason, he simply slaughters seventy of them, before crudely disposing of their bodies in a well (itself an unthinkably hostile gesture, given the rules which govern burial of the dead in Judaism). The remaining ten men are then kept as hostages, and remain with Ishmael as he attempts to flee. The polemical subtext of this account is rather clear: Ishmael (and presumably other would-be resisters) weren't really acting in the best interests of Judah, and were in fact little better than common thugs who did not hesitate to slaughter their own people. This appears to be the Biblical view, but it stands to reason that from an alternative perspective, these groups who violently opposed the Babylonian occupation probably saw themselves as freedom fighters, who would have deeply resented the pro-imperial overtures emanating from the exiled community in Babylon (and preserved in Biblical books like Ezekiel and Jeremiah). What we really have here, then, is yet another manifestation of the moral ambiguities inherent to political violence: one man's terrorist is always another man's freedom fighter.

At this point Ishmael decides to flee for "the Ammonites" with his hostages, but is stopped on the way by a Judean militia headed by one "Johanan son of Kareah". Given that the king of Judah was in exile at this time - along with virtually all the other people of power in the region - it seems likely that this militia must have been a private, self-assembled one which operated with relative autonomy - though towards what aims we cannot be certain. The historicity of this specific scene needn't concern us especially, but what it does appear to show is a state of lawlessness and violence, where the normal structures of society had completely broken down, and competing militia groups had risen up to fill the power vacuum. This is partly speculation on my part, but it does seem to be borne out by the Biblical account.

In any case, Johanan is unable to contain Ishmael at this encounter, and the latter flees. This leaves Johanan with a quandary: he knew that there would soon be a Babylonian reprisal for the assassination of their puppet leader and he knew that the Judahite people (including himself) would be left to bear the consequences. As a result, he attempts to organise for his group to flee to Egypt at the first opportunity. At this point, Jeremiah is depicted as delivering them (and other would-be runaways) a prophecy from God, an order to remain in the land of Judah. The prophet is rebuffed, though, and taken with the aspiring refugees into the land of Egypt. In the meantime, the Babylonians invade the land of Judah for a third and final time, quashing definitively whatever little resistance there remained to meet them.

This account of the travails of Johanan and Jeremiah in the Bible may not have much basis in historical fact, but they almost certainly reflect the kind of situation the Judahites were faced with in their first decade and a half under Babylonian occupation. Firstly, the fact that the governor of Judah was assassinated and the fact that the Babylonians still had at least some militia forces to mop up in their final invasion in 582 BC indicates that there was violent resistance to their imperial designs within Judah that - in the absence of any government - must have been spontaneously organised. The reasons why the Babylonians may have been met with a degree of opposition that the Assyrians never seem to have faced are worth exploring briefly.

Now it is certainly plausible enough that there was popular resistance to the Assyrian occupation as well - the available historical sources documenting this earlier period are far more sparse than those detailing the Babylonian occupation - but the reaction in the Babylonian case does seem to have been markedly more vehement and more sustained (the Assyrians, for example, were never required to seize the territory in three separate waves of military campaigning). In part, this may have been a reaction to two different modes of empire. In the Assyrian case, much time and effort was expended in its vassal states investing in "nation-building" (to use the modern terminology), particularly so far as governance and economic growth were concerned. It may have been borne of a rather paternalistic chauvanism, but the Assyrians took pride in exporting their systems of writing, account-keeping and governance, and the consequence was a rapid growth in urbanisation in many of the regions under the Assyrian yoke (including Judah). Where their vassal states experienced genuine economic growth, the benefit to Assyria came in the form of increased tribute. In other words, the Assyrian model of empire building had the capacity to benefit both the empire and the vassal state economically (much in the same vein as the later Roman empire), which - at least in the case of Judah - may have dampened popular resistance towards the empire.


The Babylonians, on the other hand, appear to have had a rather different modus operandi, at least in the Judahite case. Here, the ruling city of Jerusalem was looted for everything it was worth in the first invasion, and presumably little was left that might have been used for restimulating economic growth and international trade. In the second invasion, the power structure at the centre of the state was completely dismantled, and most of those capable of wielding political power over the territory (including most of the scribes, priests and statesmen) were sent into exile. The loss of such experience and skill from the centre of the Judahite society rendered any possibility of an ordered, productive society ever re-emerging from the glowing embers of the conquered state far less likely. Finally, after the third invasion, the Babylonians seem to have abandoned any pretence of governing the land of Judah at all. What happened in the 44 years between the final Babylonian invasion of 582 BC and the eventual liberation of Judah in 538 BC is almost completely unknown, but there is there is little evidence for the implementation of any kind of strong, centralised political structure. The "capital" of the state had been officially moved from Jerusalem to the northern city of Mizpah, but it is unclear what kind of government presided there. The fact that virtually no writings survive from Judah during this period - in addition to an archaeological record which evidences a precipitous population decline in the region - tells the story of a land laid almost completely to waste, one which the Babylonians never had any interest in ever developing economically. The exploitative nature of the Babylonian occupation may go some way to explaining the degree of resistance it faced - at least initially - within Judah during the early stages of the 6th century BC.

The Exile

As we noted in the previous section, it seems that many Judahites fled the region in the aftermath of Gedeliah's assassination and in the lead-up to the final Babylonian invasion. The subsequent depressed economic state of the region probably led to further waves of emigration, as people left the stagnant region in search of better opportunities. Based on archaeological evidence (and the Biblical account itself) it seems that many of these refugees ended up in Egypt, which experienced a flourishing of Semitic communities at this time. The expulsion of the Hebrew people from their land (whether forced or voluntary) marks the first stages of the Jewish diaspora, which (as we shall see in future posts) would continue for many centuries to come. Some of the Jewish communities established in Egypt would remain there, as future Jewish communities continued to be established all around the Mediterranean in reaction to a seemingly endless succession of imperial occupations.

The other half of the Babylonian enforced diaspora, however, found themselves living as captives in Babylon. It is this community that we know the most about, because their experiences are the virtually the only ones to have achieved a written expression that has survived to the modern day. As has already been noted, many - probably most - of these exiled Judahites were drawn from the "elite" segments of their society. Among them we find scribes, priests and even King Jehoiachin. The preservation of their culture - particularly its religious aspects - was taken seriously, and we can reasonably postulate that many of the Old Testament texts must have taken on a somewhat recognisable form during this time, or at least the period shortly succeeding it. This implies that the exiled Judahite community retained a degree of autonomy in their land of exile, and the Biblical material that can be most reliably dated to this period exhibits a conspicuous lack of anti-Babylonian sentiment. The question immediately presents itself: why should this be?

Before answering this question, we must first concede that the experience of the exile was scarcely a pleasant one for those who found themselves in Babylon. Perhaps the most famous expression of this is Psalm 137, which expresses a genuine longing for the now distant land of Zion. The final verse - where the author fantasises about dashing the children of the Babylonians against rocks - is an indication of genuine anger and resentment, one often overlooked when scholars try to downplay the degree of suffering experienced by those in Babylonian exile. Similarly, the prophetic texts from this time (most notably Ezekiel and Jeremiah) do not attempt to downplay the misery of the Babylonian invasion, they merely couch it in theological terms which absolve the Babylonians from moral culpability (see next section). But perhaps that only makes the question more perplexing: if there was an undeniable degree of suffering involved in the exile, why do the Babylonians get off so lightly in the Biblical texts?

Part of the answer surely lies with the on-going influence of King Jehoiachin. We know from the Bible and independent archaeological evidence that Jehoiachin was treated comparatively well by his Babylonian captors. In addition to being afforded (along with the other exiles) the relative luxury of continuing to practice his religion and to speak in his native tongue, he was also given relatively generous rations as compared to other captives. The production and preservation of sacred literature during this time also points to a degree of freedom which belies the language of "bonds" and "fetters" sometimes used in the Bible in connection with the exile. Given that he had surrendered to the Babylonians willingly (2 Kings 24:12), that he was treated favourably by them and that he was (presumably) involved in the literature penned at this time, can there be any surprise that the literature penned in and around this time was comparatively gentle in its depiction of the Babylonians?

Ezekiel in this respect is particularly noteworthy: in forty-eight chapters, scarcely a single bad word is spoken against the Babylonians. In fact, the Babylonians are depicted as acting with YHWH's explicit help and support (e.g. 26:7-14). Perhaps even more noteworthy is Ezekiel's attitude towards Zedekiah, the man named king by the Babylonians in Jehoiachin's absence. Ezekiel denounces him as the "evil prince of Israel" (21:25) and condemns him for his rebellion against Babylon (2:3). Similar sentiments can be found in Jeremiah, who likens those who remained in Judah (including Zedekiah) to "bad figs" (24:16-17), councils those in exile to "seek the welfare of" (i.e. assist) Babylon (29:7) and to serve its king (27:17). What this all points to is the fact that the exiled community had gathered round Jehoiachin as the only legitimate king of Judah, and - at his instigation, or at least under his watchful eye - penned a whole host of texts that justified the legitimacy of his rule and denounced the illegitimacy of those who had stayed behind in Judah after the first wave of exile. The surprisingly pro-Babylonian tone of these texts can be seen as a way of strengthening the continuing political legitimacy of those in exile, over and against those who had fled to Egypt (which remained an enemy of Babylon at the time) and those unlucky few who remained in Judah. The full force of this argument, however, requires an understanding of the theology of the period, particularly in how it was influenced by the circumstances of the Babylonian invasion.

The Theology of the Exile




If it is true - as the exiled authors claimed - that Jehoiachin was a good and legitimate king, then why was it that YHWH had decided to move against Israel? More to the point, why should he have moved against Israel so soon after the reforms of Josiah, which finally saw all the aberrant religious practices removed from the land of Israel? Disasters can provoke theological soul-searching at the best of times, but the issue facing the exiled Judahites seems to have been particularly pronounced. Given all that they had done to placate YHWH, why had he still seen fit to visit his wrath so vehemently against them? If the previous inequities which faced them were the consequence of wicked kings and an unfaithful population, why had the rectification of these facts done nothing to curb God's anger?

The texts from this period exhibit a great deal of doubt and uncertainty, and clearly demonstrate to us that the theology crystalised during Josiah's time was not necessarily of any help or comfort. The author of Lamentations (2:20-22) almost appears to directly rebuke YHWH for what he had done to Judah:

Look, O Lord, and consider!
   To whom have you done this?
Should women eat their offspring,
   the children they have borne?
Should priest and prophet be killed
   in the sanctuary of the Lord?

 The young and the old are lying
   on the ground in the streets;
my young women and my young men
   have fallen by the sword;
on the day of your anger you have killed them,
   slaughtering without mercy.

 You invited my enemies from all around
   as if for a day of festival;
and on the day of the anger of the Lord
   no one escaped or survived;
those whom I bore and reared
   my enemy has destroyed.

From this, the author goes on to conclude his work by asking YHWH "Why have you forgotten us completely? Why have you forsaken us these many days?" (5:20) and then speculating that "you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure" (5:22). These are not the confident ruminations of an individual who felt he understood his god with any confidence, but the mournful cries of a man whose theology that had been cast into a morass of utter confusion and despair.

Nonetheless, the authors of this time clearly set themselves the task of providing an explanation for the events that wouldn't require the entire theological edifice they had created to be torn down. The first theological solution to the problem was to identify that the Babylonian invasion was indeed a sign of YHWH's strength rather than a sign of his weakness. In the ancient world, it was often assumed that a nation's strength was directly proportional to the strength of its god(s), which goes some way to explaining why the gods of powerful nations were worshipped with such alacrity in the region (including in Israel and Judah prior to Josiah's religious reforms). These gods could be absorbed into the polytheistic pantheon of a given nation without the need for much theological teeth-gnashing: many gods inhabited the world, so there was little sense in forgoing the opportunity to worship just one more who had already proven the efficacy of his powers. For the Judahites who lived in the shadow of Josiah, however, such hedging of ones theistic bets had ceased to be an option. The religion of Judah had become entirely centralised under a single god, whose power and pre-eminence (in the land of Judah at least) had been enforced by fiat with the destruction of the places of worship devoted to all the other gods. If Judah had been destroyed by foreign forces who worshipped foreign gods, this could have only been possible with the direct complicity of YHWH. And if YHWH had seen fit to inflict such violence on the people of Judah, then it stands to reason that they must have done something to anger him.

But, again, why would YHWH have been so angry if the Judahites had finally turned away from centuries of polytheistic worship towards the monolatrous worship of YHWH? The theology of the Book of Kings made it quite clear that God's punishment (for instance the destruction of Israel and the Assyrian annexation of Judah) was a response to the "evil" of the people and the kings who oversaw them. So, if Josiah had truly "turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might" (2 Kings 23:25) then what could have possibly driven YHWH to such anger? The solution to this problem first consisted of absolving Josiah and (to a lesser extent) subsequent kings for direct responsibility for what had happened. The text added to the Book of 2 Kings after the death of Josiah attempts to make it plain that YHWH still held a grudge for the gross "provocations" of king Manasseh (23:26-27; cf. Jer 15:4):

Still the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. The Lord said, ‘I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel; and I will reject this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.’

In other words, the theology of the Book of Kings (and therefore of the centralised Judahite religion) was not challenged by the Babylonian invasion: it was merely a sign that a generation could be punished for the iniquities of their forebears (not so coincidentally a major theme in the Torah, which was likely completed in more or less its present form shortly after the period of exile). But a second problem arises: if YHWH, in a very literal sense, occupied the Jerusalem Temple, and if this temple was to be the central focus of all worship, what was to be done pursuant to its destruction? It's not entirely clear how the exiled Judahites responded to this problem, or what form their religious worship took (only that it persisted and that it remained entirely separate from the Babylonian religion), but we can perhaps piece together some speculations based on the fragmentary evidence we have in the Bible.

Firstly we should note that many of the the hymns that were used in the Temple (in a liturgical context) prior to its destruction were collated and - if they weren't already - expressed in a written form. These would contribute to the Book of Psalms we have today, and we can presume that they continued to be sung (albeit mournfully) by the exiles in Babylon (Ps 137) outside of the Temple context. Secondly, the importance of God's law (i.e. the Torah, or the elements of it which had been penned by this time) was strongly emphasised in the writings from this nime. Notions here of sacrifices and other ritual forms of worship that would have been performed at the Temple are largely ignored, and the adherence to God's laws are now taken to be the central duty of the Judahites. This deviation from the law is also cited as a central reason for the wrath that has just been visited upon them (e.g. Jer 9:13; 32:23 etc.). Additionally, this notion of adherence to God's law is tied in with the Egyptian Exodus (and God's covenant with the Hebrews via the mediation of Moses), and explicit parallels are drawn between this event and the plight of the Judahites exiled in Babylon (e.g. Isaiah 40:3-5; 55:12–13). Although we can be relatively confident that the Exodus was an important event in the mythology of the Northern Kingdom, the Babylonian exile appears to have been the event that secured its place as one of the most defining events in the history of the Hebrew people as a whole.

But perhaps the most important theological development here - particularly as it impacts on our modern world - is that by the end of the exile we find the very first unambiguous declaration of monotheism in the history of Israel and Judah. In the book of Deutero-Isaiah (i.e. Isa 40-55), penned at the very end of the exile period, are the words: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god" (44:6). In response to the trauma of being conquered, being thrown into exile and watching as the house of their God was destroyed by marauding foreigners, the exiled community developed a theory of their God which placed his reign of influence not merely beyond the Temple of the land of Israel and Judah, but as a universal and (perhaps?) all-powerful being who had literally no equal. The religion of Josiah, far from being destroyed by the conquering Babylonians, was taken and built into something far grander, and far more universal as a seemingly inevitable reaction to suffering they had undergone. I've been saying throughout these posts that the content of theology can often be explained as a reaction to the forces of history, and the development of monotheism in the religion of the Judahites serves as a perfect example.

No comments:

Post a Comment