New Documents from Judean Exiles in Babylonia (572–477 BC)

A new publication has brought to light a collection of ancient documents from Judeans living in Babylonia from 572–477 BC. According to the news report by Haaretz

The collection consists mainly of administrative certificates – sales bonds, contracts and addresses, engraved in Akkadian Cuneiform script on clay tablets, some of which were fired in kilns.

Thanks to the Babylonian custom of inscribing each document with the date, according to the monarch’s years in power, the archaeologists could date the tablets to 572-477 B.C.E. The earliest tablet in the collection was written some 15 years after the First Temple’s destruction by Nebuchadnezzar, the Chaldean king of the neo-Babylonian era, who deported the Jews to Babylon. The latest was written some 60 years after the return of some of the exiles to Zion, which was enabled by Persia’s King Cyrus in 538 B.C.E.

Go HERE for the fuller story.

One of the clay tablets on display in the Bible Lands Museum exhibit. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi.

The publications:

  • Documents of Judean Exiles and West Semites in Babylonia in the Collection of David Sofer by Prof. Laurie Pearce (CDL Press)
  • By the Rivers of Babylon, by Wayne Horowitz, Yehoshua Greenberg and Peter Zilberg, (Bible Lands Museum and the Israel Exploration Society).

Nebuchadnezzar and the Tower of Babylon

A collection of 107 ancient cuneiform texts is making the news. They are the personal collection of Martin Shoyen, a Norwegian businessman. Among the finds is a fragmentary inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II, in which the Babylonian king boasts of gathering the peoples and leaders of the world to build a ziggurat (tower) to Marduk, the god of Babylon. In fact, he boasts of building two ziggurats—one at Babylon, and the other at Borsippa (about 18 km south of Babylon—probably the ziggurat dedicated to Nabu, son of Marduk). The texts have been translated by Andrew George (University of London).

In the fragmentary stele, Nebuchadnezzar claims:

I mobilized (all) countries everywhere, (each and) every ruler (who) had been raised to prominence over all the people of the world (as one) loved by Marduk […]

I built their structures with bitumen and (baked brick throughout). I completed them, making (them gleam) bright as the (sun)…

These boasts are reminiscent of the biblical narrative of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:

At one time the whole earth had the same language and vocabulary. As people migrated from the east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let us make oven-fired bricks.” They used brick for stone and asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth. (Gen 11.1–4 [HCSB])

The stele also depicts the king in pictorial form standing beside the ziggurat of Marduk (the tower of Babylon).

This is now one of only four visual representations of Nebuchadnezzar from primary sources.

Among the other texts from the Shoyen collection are an account of Tiglath-Pileser I‘s capture of Babylon (c.1100 BC), and the oldest known copies of the legal code of Ur-nammu (c.2040 BC). The news report by Owen Jarus does not detail the age of these copies, though. You can read the report here. The laws include a stipulation that you can buy a beer from a female tavern keeper on credit in summer, but you’ll be taxed for it in the winter. It’s interesting to see what everyday issues needed legislation 4000 years ago.