Babylon Destroys Jerusalem and Temple

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This fourth installment from The Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus comments on the destruction of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple in 586 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon not only levels and torches the city, he also loots, levels and obliterates with fire the entire temple complex. He then proceeds to kill some of the city's inhabitants while taking the rest as captives. Other study materials in this series are listed at the bottom of this article.

The siege of Jerusalem

Now the King of Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar) was very intent and earnest upon the siege of Jerusalem. He erected towers upon great banks of earth, and from them repelled those that stood upon the walls. He also made a great number of such banks round about the whole city, whose height was equal to those walls.

Those within Jerusalem bore the Babylonian siege with courage and alacrity, for they were not discouraged, either by the famine, or by the pestilential distemper, but were of cheerful minds in the prosecution of the war. Those miseries, however, within oppressed them also, and they did not suffer themselves to be terrified, either by the contrivances of the enemy, or by their engines of war, but contrived still different engines to oppose all the other withal. They endured this siege for eighteen months, until they were destroyed by the famine, and by the darts that the enemy threw at them from the towers.

Judah's king captured

Now the city was taken on the ninth day of the fourth month, in the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah. They were indeed only generals of the King of Babylon, to whom Nebuchadnezzar committed the care of the siege, for he abode himself in the city of Riblah.

When the city was taken about midnight, and the enemy's generals were entered into the temple, and when Zedekiah was sensible of it, he took his wives, and his children, and his captains, and his friends, and with them fled out of the city. He fled through the fortified ditch, and through the desert; and when certain of the deserters had informed the Babylonians of this, at break of day, they made haste to pursue after Zedekiah. They overtook the king not far from Jericho, and encompassed him about.

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem
Jeremiah Lamenting Jerusalem's Destruction
Rembrandt, 1630

But for those friends and captains of Zedekiah who had fled out of the city with him, when they saw their enemies near them, they left him, and dispersed themselves, some one way, and some another, and every one resolved to save himself. The enemy took Zedekiah alive, when he was deserted by all but a few, with his children and his wives, and brought him to Nebuchadnezzar.

Zedekiah's punishment

When Zedekiah was come, Nebuchadnezzar began to call him a wicked wretch, and a covenant-breaker, and one that had forgotten his former words, when he promised to keep the country for him. He also reproached him for his ingratitude, that when he had received the kingdom from him, who had taken it from King Jehoiachin (in 597 B.C.), and given it to him, he had made use of the power he gave him against him that gave it. "But," said he, "God is great, who hated that conduct of thine, and hath brought thee under us."

When Nebuchadnezzar had used these words to King Zedekiah, he commanded his sons and his friends to be slain, while Zedekiah and the rest of the captains looked on. After this, he put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him, and carried him to Babylon.

And these things happened to Zedekiah, as Jeremiah and Ezekiel had foretold to him, that he should be caught, and brought before Nebuchadnezzar, and should speak to him face to face, and should see his eyes with his own eyes; and thus far did Jeremiah prophesy. But he was also made blind, and brought to Babylon, but did not see it, according to the prediction of Ezekiel.

Temple pillaged and destroyed

And now it was that the King of Babylon sent Nebuzaradan, the general of his army, to Jerusalem, to pillage the temple, who had it also in command to burn it and the royal palace. He was also to lay the city even with the ground, and to transplant the people into Babylon.

Accordingly, Nebuzaradan came to Jerusalem in the eleventh year of King Zedekiah, and pillaged the temple, and carried out the vessels of God, both gold and silver, and particularly that large laver which Solomon dedicated, as also the pillars of brass, and their chapiters, with the golden tables and the candlesticks.

When he had carried these temple treasures away, he set fire to its buildings in the fifth month, the first day of the month, in the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, and in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. He also burnt the palace, and overthrew the city. Now the temple was burnt four hundred and seventy years, six months, and ten days after it was built.

Prisoners taken captive

But the general of the Babylonian King now overthrew the city to the very foundations, and removed all the people, and took for prisoners the high priest Seraiah, and Zephaniah the priest that was next to him. He also took for prisoners the rulers that guarded the temple, who were three in number, and the eunuch who was over the armed men, and seven friends of Zedekiah, and his scribe, and sixty other rulers; all which, together with the vessels which they had pillaged, he carried to the King of Babylon to Riblah, a city of Syria.

So the King commanded the heads of the high priest and of the rulers to be cut off there; but he himself led all the captives and Zedekiah to Babylon. He also led Josedek the high priest away bound.

When Nebuchadnezzar was come to Babylon, he kept Zedekiah in prison until he died, and buried him magnificently. He also dedicated the vessels he had pillaged out of the temple of Jerusalem to his own gods, and planted the people in his own country, but freed the high priest from his bonds.

Our Notes

King Nebuchadnezzar ruled the Babylonian Empire from 605 to 562 B.C. His three attacks against Jerusalem are as follows.

605 B.C.
This first attack marked the start of the slow, painful end to the Kingdom of Judah. It is mentioned in Daniel 1:1 - 2, 2Kings 24:1 and Jeremiah 25. The attack was in response to Judah's King Jehoiakim, who had been a vassal of Babylon for three years (2Kings 24:1), rebelling against the empire.

After Nebuchadnezzar overcomes Jerusalem he takes captive the prophet Daniel and his friends, as well as others of noble birth (Jeremiah 27:20), and relocates them in Babylon. He also takes as booty only some the vessels in the temple (2Chronicles 36:7). Jehoiakim is allowed to remain king.

597 B.C.
Jerusalem is attacked a second time only three months into the reign of Judah's eighteen year old King Jehoiachin (2Kings 24:12 - 15, 2Chronicles 36:9 - 10). The king is captured and taken as prisoner back to Babylon. The prophet Ezekiel, and others, are also taken into captivity (Ezekiel 1:1 - 3). Zedekiah is installed by Nebuchadnezzar as the new puppet ruler of Judah (2Kings 24 - 25, Jeremiah 37:1).

586 B.C.
Nebuchadnezzar initiates his third and final attack on Jerusalem (2Kings 24 - 25, Jeremiah 39, 52, 2Chronicles 36). This time, he levels and burns the entire city. He also completely loots, levels and destroys with fire Jerusalem's famed temple. All the treasures found in God's house are taken out of the land and into Babylon. Judah's King Zedekiah is captured, has his eyes gouged out, and is taken into captivity. Almost all those left alive are also taken into captivity.

Recommended Articles
What Is the Bible's First War?
Where Did Israel Go into Captivity?
List of Greatest Old Testament Events!
History's Greatest Empires!
The Life of Ezekiel the Prophet
Was Daniel a Eunuch?
Kingdoms of Israel and Judah Map
Where Did Israel Migrate After Captivity?

Biblical History by Josephus
with Background Notes!
The Tower of Babel
Saul Is Made Israel's King
Solomon Builds Jerusalem's Temple
Babylon Destroys Jerusalem and Temple
Alexander the Great Visits Jerusalem!
Herod the Great Conquers Jerusalem
Herod Rebuilds the Temple

Excerpts taken from
Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus
Book 10, Chapter 8
Edited, expanded and ©

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