Babylonish Captivity, the period during which the Jewish people who had been carried away from their country to Babylonia, with their descendants or any part of them, were forcibly detained in a foreign land. It is reckoned as beginning at some point in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, and ending in the reign of Cyrus or of Darius I. The earliest point thus fixed for the beginning of the captivity is 605 B. C, when Nebuchadnezzar, commanding the forces of his father Nabopolassar, first took Jerusalem; the latest 516, when the building of the second temple was finished. But here is an interval of 89 years, whereas the duration of the captivity is several times stated to have been 70 years. There are two periods of this length, either of which might properly be considered as measuring the captivity. Counting 70 years from 605 B. C, when Daniel was carried off, brings us to 535, or, loosely speaking, to 536, the date of the decree of Cyrus permitting the return of the Jews. This would naturally be the term of the captivity in the mind of Daniel, who refers to the prediction of Jeremiah that 70 years should "accomplish the desolations of Jerusalem." Nebuchadnezzar several times invaded Judea to punish the repeated revolts of his vassals, and at each time carried off considerable numbers, but still did not go to the extent of devastating the country.
It was not till the rebellion of Zedekiah, in 588, that he proceeded to the extremity of destroying Jerusalem, burning the temple, and carrying away all except the common people of the country. This wholesale destruction, executed in 586, would seem to be a natural period from which to date the captivity. From this time to that when the temple was reconstructed, 516, is another period of 70 years, covering just the time during which the temple worship and sacrifices were necessarily discontinued. - The indications of the extent of the captivity are not clear; but it seems certain that first and last it included a very considerable portion of the population. The few numbers given seem rather to relate to separate companies of captives. When the decree of Cyrus permitting the return was proclaimed, a company of 42,-360, besides 7,337 slaves, at once set out under Zerubbabel; and it is probable that there was a considerable stream of emigration back to Judea. But it is evident that only a small proportion of the Jewish people returned. The temple being reestablished, the priests would be among the most likely to return; and as out of the 24 courses only four went, it has been conjectured that at least five sixths of the people remained in their new homes.
There was little inducement for them to migrate to Judea, an outlying satrapy of a great empire, impoverished by war, and bordered by unfriendly peoples. They had become naturalized in their present homes, where their treatment was mild. In Psalm cxxxvii., where the exiles pour out their griefs, the only complaint as to their treatment in captivity is that they were required to sing their native songs. The burden of their imprecations is against the atrocities committed in actual warfare, and against their former neighbors, the Edomites, who had exulted over the destruction of Jerusalem. They were captives only in name. They were really colonists, not slaves. They had followed the wise advice of Jeremiah, to live peaceably with their neighbors, build houses and dwell in them, and plant gardens and eat of the fruit of them. There was nothing to prevent a Jew from rising to the highest eminence in the state. Daniel occupied an eminent position in Babylon, both under the Chaldeans and the Persians. It is no wonder that with the prudence of their race the majority chose to remain in the prosperous regions where they were born, rather than migrate to the disturbed country whence their fathers had been brought. Before long they were scattered through every province of the Persian empire.
We find no instance of hostility to them for more than half a century of Persian rule, when their ancestral enemy Hainan succeeded in exciting the suspicions of the vain and jealous Ahasuerus, the Xerxes of classical history. That they had by this time become very numerous is evinced by the loss which their enemies met in the attempt to massacre them. In the capital alone 800 were killed, and in the provinces 75,000. It was not till long after this date, when the Persian empire had fallen into disorder, that any considerable proportion of the Jewish population migrated to Palestine; and even then great numbers went to other countries, where for centuries they were known as "the dispersion." - It is probable that a portion of the descendants of the Israelite captives who had been carried to Assyria more than a century before the first Jewish deportation under Nebuchadnezzar, gradually amalgamated with the captives from Judea, so that the present Hebrews all over the world belong to the twelve tribes, not merely to the two of Judah and Benjamin and the Levites who lived among them.
This amalgamation appears to have begun early, for of the 42,000 who went up with Zerubbabel under the decree of Cyrus, about 30,000 are specially noted as belonging to Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, whence it may be fairly inferred that the remaining 12,000 belonged to the other tribes.