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(ex' ile) The events in which the northern tribes of Israel were taken into captivity by the Assyrians and the events in which the southern tribes of Judah were taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Sometimes the terms “captivity,” and “carried into captivity” refer to the exiles of Israel and Judah.

History of the Exile of Israel The United Monarchy divided in 922 B.C., with the tribes located in the north known as Israel and the tribes located to the south known as Judah. Internal strife prevailed in Israel from 922 to 842 B.C.

In Old Testament times the Assyrians and Babylonians introduced the practice of deporting captives into foreign lands. Deportation was generally considered the harsher measure only when other means had failed. Rather than impose deportation, Assyria demanded tribute from nations it threatened to capture. As early as 842 B.C., Jehu, king of Israel, was paying tribute to Shalmaneser, king of Assyria. Not until the reign of Tiglath-pileser (745-727 B.C.) did the Assyrians began deporting people from the various tribes of Israel.

In 734 B.C., Tiglath-pileser captured the cities of Naphtali (2 Kings 15:29 ) and carried away as captives the inhabitants of the tribes of Naphtali, Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (1 Chronicles 5:26 ). In 732, Tiglath-pileser took control of Damascus, the capital city of Syria. At that time he appointed Israel (the Northern Kingdom) her last king—Hoshea (732-723 B.C.). Hoshea rebelled about 724 B.C. and was taken captive by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:1-6 ).

Samaria, the capital city of Israel, held out until early 721 B.C. Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C.) laid siege to the city. The eventual fall of Samaria occurred at the hands of Sargon II (722-705 B.C.). These events marked the end of the ten northern tribes (2 Kings 17:18 ).

The Assyrians exiled the Israelites into Halah, Gozan, and Media (2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:11; Obadiah 1:20 ). The Assyrians brought into Samaria people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim (2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:10 ). Sargon II recorded that 27,290 Israelites were deported.

The prophets Hosea and Amos had prophesied the fall of Israel. These two prophets proclaimed that Israel's fall was due to moral and spiritual degeneration rather than to the superior military might of the Assyrian nation. Assyria was only the “rod of mine anger”' (Isaiah 10:5 ).

History of the Exile of Judah More than a hundred years before the Babylon Exile, Isaiah, the prophet, had predicted Judah's fall (Isaiah 6:11-12; Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 10:11 ). In addition, the prophets Micah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Ezekiel agreed that Judah would fall.

Assyria's last king, Ashurbanipal, died in 630 B.C. His death marked the end of Assyrian dominance of Judah. Both Judah and Egypt sought to take advantage of Assyria's diminishing power. Judah's hopes were dashed when King Josiah (640-609) was killed at the battle of Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29 ). King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon dashed Egypt's hopes when he defeated the Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. Jehoahaz, one of Josiah's sons, ruled Judah for three months in 609 B.C. before he was deported to Egypt where he died (2 Kings 23:31-34; 2 Chronicles 36:4-8 ).

After defeating the Egyptians, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah, in 598 B.C. Jehoiakim, a second son of Josiah, served as king of Judah for eleven years (609-597 B.C.) before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:34-24:6; 2 Chronicles 36:4-8 ). Jehoiakim died in the battle at Jerusalem. His son, Jehoiachin, reigned for three months before he was exiled to Babylon (2 Kings 24:6-16; 2 Chronicles 36:9-10; Esther 2:6; Jeremiah 22:24-30;).

Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah, a third son of Joshua to rule the vassal state of Judah for eleven years (597-586 B.C.) until the fall of Jerusalem when he was blinded and taken into Exile into Babylon (2 Kings 24:17-25:7; 2 Chronicles 36:10-21; Jeremiah 39:1-7; Jeremiah 52:1-11; Ezekiel 12:12-13; Ezekiel 17:5-21 ).

There were three deportations of Jews to Babylon. The first occurred in 598 B.C. (2 Kings 24:12-16 ). The second deportation took place in 587 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-21; Jeremiah 39:8-10; Jeremiah 40:7; Jeremiah 52:12-34 ). After the second deporation, Gedeliah was appointed governor of Judah by the Babylonians but was assassinated (2 Kings 24:25 ). A third deportation, a punishment for Gedaliah's assassination, occurred in 582 B.C. (Jeremiah 52:30 ).

Life in the Exile meant life in five different geographical areas: Israel, Judah, Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt. We possess little information about events in any of these areas between 587 B.C. and 538 B.C.

1. Israel Assyria took the educated, leading people from the Northern Kingdom and replaced them with populations from other countries they had conquered (2 Kings 17:24 ). They had to send some priests back to the area to teach the people the religious traditions of the God of the land (2 Kings 17:27-28 ). Such priests probably served a population which contained poor Jewish farmers dominated by foreign leaders. When Babylon took over the area, they established a provincial capital in Samaria. Leaders there joined with other provincial leaders to stop Zerubbabel and his people from rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 4:1-24 ). Gradually, a mixed population emerged (Ezra 10:1 ). Still, a faithful remnant attempted to maintain worship of Yahweh near Shechem, producing eventually the Samaritan community. See Samaritans.

2. Assyria Exiles from the Northern Kingdom were scattered through the Assyrian holdings (2 Kings 17:6 ). Apparently, their small communities, isolated from other Jews, did not allow them to maintain much national identity. We do not know what happened to these people, thus the popular title—the lost tribes of Israel. Some may have eventually returned to their original homeland. Others may have established the basis of Jewish communities which appear in later historical records.

3. Judah The Babylonians did not completely demolish Judah. They left farmers, in particular, to care for the land (Jeremiah 52:16 ). Some citizens who had fled the country before the Babylonian invasion returned to the land after Jerusalem was destroyed (Jeremiah 40:12 ). The Babylonians set up a government which may or may not have been dependent on the provincial government in Samaria. Jews loyal to the Davidic tradition assassinated Gedaliah, the governor (2 Kings 25:25 ). Then many of the people fled to Egypt (2 Kings 25:26; Jeremiah 43:1 ). People remaining in the land continued to worship in the Temple ruins and seek God's word of hope (Lamentations). Many were probably not overjoyed to see Jews return from Babylon claiming land and leadership.

4. Babylon The center of Jewish life shifted to Babylon under such leaders as Ezekiel. Babylon even recognized the royal family of Judah as seen in 2 Kings 25:27 and in recovered Babylonian records. Exiled Jews based their calendar on the exile of King Jehoichin in 597 ( Ezekiel 1:2; Ezekiel 33:21; Ezekiel 40:1 ). Jehoiachin's grandson, Zerubbabel, led the first exiles back from Babylon in 538 (Ezra 2:2; Haggai 1:1 ). Most of the exiles in Babylon probably followed normal Near Eastern practice and became farmers on land owned by the government. Babylonian documents show that eventually some Jews became successful merchants in Babylon. Apparently religious leaders like Ezekiel were able to lead religious meetings (Ezekiel 8:1; compare Ezra 8:15-23 ). Correspondence continued between those in Judah and those in Exile (Jeremiah 29:1 ), and Jewish elders gave leadership to the exiles (Jeremiah 29:1; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 14:1; Ezekiel 20:1 ). 1 Chronicles 1-9 , Ezra, and Nehemiah show that genealogies and family records became very important points of identity for the exiles. People were economically self-sufficient, some even owning slaves (Ezra 2:65 ) and having resources to fund the return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:6; Ezra 2:69 ). Still, many longed for Jerusalem and would not sing the Lord's song in Babylon (Psalm 137:1 ). They joined prophets like Ezekiel in looking for a rebuilt Temple and a restored Jewish people. They laughed at Babylonian gods as sticks of wood left over from the fire (Isaiah 44:9-17; Isaiah 45:9-10; Isaiah 46:1-2 ,Isaiah 46:1-2,46:6-7; Jeremiah 1:16; Ezekiel 20:29-32 ). A Babylonian Jewish community was thus established and would exercise strong influence long after Cyrus of Persia permitted Jews to return to Judah. These Jews established their own worship, collected Scriptures, and began interpreting them in the Aramaic paraphrase and explanations which eventually became the Babylonian Talmud, but continued to support Jews in Jerusalem.

5. Egypt Jews fled Jerusalem for Egypt (2 Kings 25:26 ) despite God's directions not to (Jeremiah 42:13-44:30 ). Many Jews apparently became part of the Egyptian army stationed in northern border fortresses to protect against Babylonian invasion. As such, they may have joined Jews who had come to Egypt earlier. Archaeologists have discovered inscriptions at Elephantine in southern Egypt showing a large Jewish army contingent there also. They apparently built a temple there and worshiped Yahweh along with other gods. These military communities eventually disappeared, but Jewish influence in Egypt remained. Finally, a large community in Alexandria established itself and produced the Septuagint, the earliest translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek.

The Edict of Cyrus in 538 B.C. (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4 ) released the Jews in Babylon to return to their homeland. Though conditions in the homeland were dismal, many Jews did return. The preaching of Haggai and Zechariah (520-519 B.C.) urged these returning captives to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was completed in 515 B.C., the date which traditionally marks the end of the Babylonian Exile.

Gary Hardin

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Exile'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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