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Is the Bible’s Depiction of the Jewish Exile in Babylon Accurate?

Some 2,600 years ago, the Jews were forcibly taken to Babylon, where they remained as exiles for about 70 years. According to the Bible, God predicted some of the living conditions that the Jewish exiles were to experience in Babylon: “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and have sons and daughters. . . . And seek the peace of the city to which I have exiled you.” (Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7) Did the Jews actually experience these living conditions?

Researchers have analyzed over 100 clay tablets that appear to be from ancient Babylon or nearby. The tablets show that many Jewish exiles maintained their cultural and religious identity while peacefully submitting to Babylonian rule. The tablets, dated from 572 to 477 B.C.E., include rental agreements, business ventures, promissory notes, and other financial records. “These documents,” says one reference work, “provide glimpses into the lives of ordinary people in a rural setting: they till the land and build houses, pay taxes, and render services to the king.”

Cuneiform tablet found in Judahtown

This important collection of documents also reveals the existence of a sizable Jewish community at a place named Al Yahudu, or Judahtown. Four generations of Jewish names are inscribed on the tablets, some with ancient Hebrew letters. Before the tablets were found, scholars knew very little about the lives of Jewish exiles in Babylon. Dr. Filip Vukosavović, a member of the board of directors of the Israel Antiquities Authority, says: “Finally through these tablets we get to meet these people, we get to know their names, where they lived and when they lived, what they did.”

Exiled Jews enjoyed a measure of freedom in Babylon

The exiled Jews enjoyed a measure of freedom to move around. They lived “not only in Al-Yahudu, but also in a dozen other cities,” says Vukosavović. Some of them developed skills in various trades, which later proved useful in rebuilding Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 3:8, 31, 32) The Al-Yahudu tablets also confirm that many Jews chose to remain in Babylon even after their forced exile ended. This indicates that they did indeed experience relatively peaceful conditions in Babylon, just as God’s Word indicated.