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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
The word Captivity, as applied to the people of Israel, has been appropriated, contrary to the analogy of our language, to mean Expatriation. The violent removal of the entire population of a city, or sometimes even of a district, is not an uncommon event in ancient history. As a measure of policy, no objection to it on the ground of humanity was felt by any one; since, in fact, it was a very mild proceeding, in comparison with that of selling a tribe or nation into slavery. Every such destruction of national existence, even in modern times, is apt to be embittered by the simultaneous disruption of religious bonds; but in the ancient world, the positive sanctity attributed to special places, and the local attachment of Deity, made expatriation doubly severe. The Hebrew people, for instance, in many most vital points, could no longer obey their sacred law at all, when personally removed from Jerusalem; and in many others they were forced to modify it by reason of their change of circumstances.
Two principal motives impelled conquering powers thus to transport families in the mass; first, the desire of rapidly filling with a valuable population new cities, built for pride or for policy; next, the determination to break up hostile organizations, or dangerous reminiscences of past greatness. Both might sometimes be combined in the same act. To attain the former object, the skilled artisans would in particular be carried off; while the latter was better effected by transporting all the families of the highest birth, and all the well-trained soldiery.
The expatriation of the Jewish people belongs to two great eras, commonly called the first and second Captivity; yet differing exceedingly in character. It is to the former that the above remarks chiefly apply. In it, the prime of the nation were carried eastward by the monarchs of Assyria and Babylon, and were treated with no unnecessary harshness, even under the dynasty that captured them. That which we name the first Captivity, was by no means brought about by a single removal of the population. In fact, from beginning to end, the period of deportation occupied full 150 years; as the period of return reaches probably through 100. The first blow fell upon the more distant tribes of Israel, about 741 B.C.; when Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria (), carried off the pastoral population which lived beyond the Jordan, with Zebulon and Naphtali (To this event allusion is made in ; a passage very ill translated in our received version). In the time of this conquering monarch, Assyria was rapidly rising into power, and to aggrandize Nineveh was probably a great object of policy. It is therefore credible, as he had received no particular provocation from the Israelites, that he carried off these masses of population to stock his huge city with. His successor Shalmanezer made the Israelitish king Hoshea, tributary. When the tribute was withheld, he attacked and reduced Samaria (B.C. 721), and, by way of punishment and of prevention, transported into Assyria and Media its king and all the most valuable population remaining to the ten tribes (). The families thus removed were, in great measure, settled in very distant cities; many of them probably not far from the Caspian Sea; and their place was supplied by colonies from Babylon and Susis (). Such was the end of Israel as a kingdom.—An interval of more than a century followed before Judah was to suffer a similar fate. Two separate deportations are narrated in the book of Kings, three in that of Jeremiah, while a fourth and earlier one appears in the book of . But it is pretty clear that the people of Judah, as of Israel, were carried out of their land by two principal removals. The former, B.C. 598, was directed to swell the armies and strengthen the towns of the conqueror; for of the 18,000 then carried away, 1000 were 'craftsmen and smiths, all strong and apt for war,' and the rest are called 'mighty men of valor.' It was not until the rebellion of Zedekiah that Nebuchadnezzar proceeded to the extremity of breaking up the national existence, B.C. 588. As the temple was then burnt, with all the palaces and the city walls, and no government was left but that of the Babylonian satrap, this latter date is evidently the true era of the captivity. Previously Zedekiah was tributary; but so were Josiah and Ahaz long before; the national existence was still saved.
Details concerning the Return from the captivity are preserved in the books denominated after Ezra and Nehemiah; and in the prophecies of two contemporaries, Haggai and Zechariah. The first great event is the decree of Cyrus, B.C. 536, in consequence of which 42,360 Jews of Babylon returned under Sheshbazzar, with 7337 slaves, besides cattle. This ended in their building the altar, and laying the foundation of the second temple, 53 years after the destruction of the first. The progress of the work was, however, almost immediately stopped: for Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest abruptly refused all help from the half-heathen inhabitants of Samaria, and soon felt the effects of the enmity thus induced. That the mind of Cyrus was changed by their intrigues, we are not informed; but he was probably absent in distant parts, through continual war. When Darius (Hystaspis), an able and generous monarch, ascended the throne, the Jews soon obtained his favor. At this crisis, Zerubbabel was in chief authority (Sheshbazzar perhaps being dead), and under him the temple was begun in the second and ended in the sixth year of Darius, B.C. 520-516. Although this must be reckoned an era in the history, it is not said to have been accompanied with any new immigration of Jews. We pass on to 'the seventh year of king Artaxerxes' (Longimanus). , that is, B.C. 458, when Ezra comes, up from Babylon to Jerusalem, with the king's commendatory letters, accompanied by a large body of his nation. The enumeration in Ezra 8 makes them under 1800 males, with their families; perhaps amounting to 5000 persons, young and old: of whom 113 are recounted as having heathen wives (). In the twentieth year of the same king, or B.C. 445 Nehemiah, his cupbearer, gains his permission to restore 'his fathers' sepulchers,' and the walls of his native city; and is sent to Jerusalem with large powers. This is the crisis which decided the national restoration of the Jewish people: for before their city was fortified, they had no defense against the now confirmed enmity of their Samaritan neighbors; and, in fact, before the walls could be built, several princes around were able to offer great opposition [SANBALLAT]. The Jewish population was overwhelmed with debt, and had generally mortgaged their little estates to the rich; but Nehemiah's influence succeeded in bringing about a general forfeiture of debts, or at least of the interest: after which we may regard the new order of things to have been finally established in Judea [NEHEMIAH]. From this time forth it is probable that numerous families returned in small parties, as to a secure home, until all the waste land in the neighborhood was re-occupied.
There has been great difference of opinion as to how the 70 years of captivity spoken of by Jeremiah (; ) are to be estimated. A plausible opinion would make them last from the destruction of the first temple, B.C. 588, to the finishing of the second, B.C. 516: but the words of the text so specify 'the punishing of the king of Babylon' as the end of the 70 years—which gives us the date B.C. 538—that many cling to the belief that a first captivity took place in the third year of Jehoiakim, B.C. 605. But, in fact, if we read Jeremiah himself, it may appear that in Jeremiah 25 he intends to compute the 70 years from the time at which he speaks (, 'in the fourth year of Jehoiakim' i.e.B.C. 604); and that in , the number 'seventy years' is still kept up, in remembrance of the former prophecy, although the language there used is very lax.
The great mass of the Israelitish race nevertheless remained in dispersion. Previous to the captivity, many Israelites had settled in Egypt (; ), and many Jews afterwards fled thither from Nebuzaradan (). Others appear to have established themselves in Sheba, where Jewish influence became very powerful [SHEBA].
It is maintained by some that the ten tribes intermarried so freely with the surrounding population as to have become completely absorbed; and it appears to be a universal opinion that no one now knows where their descendants are. But it is a harsh assumption that such intermarriages were commoner with the ten tribes than with the two; and certainly, in the apostolic days, the twelve tribes are referred to as a well-known people, sharply defined from the heathen (; ). Not a trace appears that any repulsive principle existed at that time between the Ten and the Two. 'Ephraim no longer envied Judah, nor Judah vexed Ephraim;' but they had become 'one nation;' though only partially 'on the mountains of Israel' (; ). It would seem, therefore, that one result of the captivity was to blend all the tribes together, and produce a national union which had never been effected in their own land. If ever there was a difference between them as to the books counted sacred, that difference entirely vanished; at least no evidence appears of the contrary fact. When, moreover, the laws of landed inheritance no longer enforced the maintenance of separate tribes and put a difficulty in the way of their intermarriage, an almost inevitable result in course of time was the entire obliteration of this distinction; and as a fact, no modern Jews know to what tribe they belong, although vanity always makes them choose to say that they are of the two or three, and not of the ten tribes. That all Jews now living have in them the blood of all the ten tribes, ought (it seems) to be believed, until some better reason than mere assertion is advanced against it.
When Cyrus gave permission to the Israelites to return to their own country, and restored their sacred vessels, it is not wonderful that few persons of the ten tribes were eager to take advantage of it. In two centuries they had become thoroughly naturalized in their eastern settlements; nor had Jerusalem ever been the center of proud aspirations to them. It was therefore to be expected that only those would return to Jerusalem whose expatriation was very recent; and principally those whose parents had dwelt in the Holy City or its immediate neighborhood. The century which followed their return was, on the whole, one of great religious activity and important permanent results on the moral character of the nation. Even the prophetic spirit by no means disappeared for a century and a half; although at length both the true and the false prophet were supplanted among them by the learned and diligent scribe, the anxious commentator, and the over-literal or over-figurative critic. In place of a people prone to go astray after sensible objects of adoration, and readily admitting heathen customs; attached to monarchical power, but inattentive to a hierarchy; careless of a written law and movable by alternate impulses of apostasy and repentance; we henceforth find in them a deep and permanent reverence for Moses and the prophets, an aversion to foreigners and foreign customs, and a profound hatred of idolatry. Now first, as far as can be ascertained, were the synagogues and houses of prayer instituted, and the law periodically read aloud. Now began the close observance of the Passover, the Sabbath, and the Sabbatical year. From this era the civil power was absorbed in that of the priesthood, and the Jewish people affords the singular spectacle of a nation in which the priestly rule came later in time than that of hereditary kings.
In their habits of life also, the Jewish nation was permanently affected by the first captivity. The love of agriculture, which the institutions of Moses had so vigorously inspired, had necessarily declined in a foreign land; and they returned with a taste for commerce, banking, and retail trade, which was probably kept up by constant intercourse with their brethren who remained in dispersion. The same intercourse in turn propagated towards the rest the moral spirit which reigned at Jerusalem. The Egyptian Jews, it would seem, had gained little good from the contact of idolatry (); but those who had fallen in with the Persian religion, probably about the time of its great reform by Zoroaster, had been preserved from such temptations, and returned purer than they went. Thenceforward it was this honorable function of Jerusalem to act as a religious metropolis to the whole dispersed nation; and it cannot be doubted that the ten tribes, as well as the two, learned to be proud of the Holy City, as the great and free center of their name and their faith. The same religious influences thus diffused themselves through all the twelve tribes of Israel.
Thus in Egypt and Arabia, in Babylonia, Assyria, Media, masses of the nation were planted, who, living by traffic and by banking, were necessitated to spread in all directions as their numbers increased. By this natural progress they moved westward as well as eastward, and, in the time of St. Paul, were abundant in Asia Minor, Greece, and the chief cities of Italy.
The extermination suffered by the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, under the Romans, far better deserves the name of captivity: for after the massacre of countless thousands, the captives were reduced to a real bondage. According to Josephus, 1,100,000 men fell in the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, and 97,000 were captured in the whole war. Of the latter number the greatest part was distributed among the provinces, to be butchered in the amphitheatres or cast there to wild beasts; others were doomed to work as public slaves in Egypt: only those under the age of seventeen were sold into private bondage. An equally dreadful destruction fell upon the remains of the nation, which had once more assembled in Judea, under the reign of Hadrian (A.D. 133); and by these two savage wars the Jewish population must have been effectually extirpated from the Holy Land itself, a result which did not follow from the Babylonian captivity. Afterwards, a dreary period of fifteen hundred years' oppression crushed in Europe all who bore the name of Israel, and Christian nations have visited on their head a crime perpetrated by a few thousand inhabitants of Jerusalem, who were not the real forefathers of the European Jews. Nor in the East has their lot been much more cheering. With few and partial exceptions, they have ever since been a despised, an oppressed, and naturally a degraded people; though from them have spread light and truth to the distant nations of the earth.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Captivities'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/c/captivities.html.