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Old Babylonian Period

Old Babylonian Period

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The Old Babylonian Period describes south Mesopotamia in the period about 2000-1600 BC. The early years saw a number of important states dominating the region: Isin, Larsa, Eshnunna and, from 1894 BC, Babylon. Babylon was ruled by a dynasty of Amorite kings. The sixth ruler was Hammurapi. who defeated the other southern states and expanded his control into north Mesopotamia. On the death of Hammurapi the empire gradually shrank over about 150 years. Nonetheless, Babylon remained an important power until it was sacked by the Hittite king, Mursili I, in about 1595 BC.

During the Old Babylonian period literary activity flourished with scribes composing and recording religious, poetic and 'scientific' works in Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform. Perhaps the most famous monument is the stele of Hammurapi, now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Babylon was a really strange city. What if I tell you that there was a marketplace where men could buy a young woman?

In the first book of the Histories Herodotus wrote that:

Once a year, in every village, this is what the Babylonians used to do. They used to collect all the young women who were old enough to be married and take the whole lot of them all at once to a certain place. A crowd of men would form a circle around them there. An auctioneer would get each of the women to stand up one by one, and he would put her up for sale. He used to start with the most attractive girl there, and then, once she had fetched a good price and been bought, he would go on to auction the next most attractive one. They were being sold to be wives, not slaves. All the well-off Babylonian men who wanted wives would outbid one another to buy the good-looking young women, while the commoners who wanted wives and were not interested in good looks used to end up with some money as well as the less attractive women.

All of the young women of a village were taken to a marketplace. Here a crowd of men circled them. Then an auctioneer got every woman to stand up near each other. Starting from the most attractive, he organized an audition to sell them.

Rich men bought the most beautiful ones at high prices, while the poor men took the least beautiful without paying for them: instead, they were paid themselves! Everyone, even a stranger, could have bought the woman he wished.

Strange as it may be, this custom wasn’t unique to the Babylonians. It was also practiced by the Veneti, an old Illyrian tribe, who lived in the northeastern part of Italy near the Adriatic Sea.

However, this tradition didn’t last forever. After the Persians conquered Babylon, many Babylonian men couldn’t afford anymore to spend their money to buy a wife. So, they were constrained to prostitute their young daughters: an even worse and misogynist fate than to be sold in a market.

As for the Veneti, we have no information about the old evolution of this practice, so we can’t tell when it disappeared.

Economy and Trade

Good geographical position of Babylon has contributed to the development of trade. Financial operations were mostly in the hands of priests. For payments, people were using silver, rarely gold in the form of bars, rings, gold plates. Trade was no longer only in the hands of the state. However, merchants also started to trade. The trade was internal (they imported slaves, cattle, spices, stones, wood and metal) and external (exported wool, oil, grain, craft products). The gold was purchased in Nubia, silver in Elam, copper in Cyprus and southern Arabia, the timber according to the type in Armenia and in the Amanus Mountains. Babylon is a transit country for trade from India towards entire Mediterranean area. Commercial jobs performed in front of witnesses with the King’s recognition.

The Late Babylonian Empire

Babylonia was the name by which southern Mesopotamia had become known after the time of Hammurabi, the great king who had reigned in the eighteenth century BCE. It was he who had made ancient Babylon one of the greatest cities of Antiquity. The late Babylonian period, the subject of this article, falls in the sixth century BCE, more than a thousand years after Hammurabi’s time.

The Babylonian empire of the mid-1st millennium is often labelled the “Neo-Babylonian” empire. This is to distinguish it from the earlier Babylonian empire of the early-middle 2nd millennium, of king Hammurabi’s time. However, the preferred term here is Late Babylonian, as it reflects the fact that the Mesopotamians of this period were true heirs to the great Mesopotamian civilization which had emerged some three thousand years before. In particular, the society and culture of the late Babylonians and the Assyrians share a common heritage and show marked similarities.

Indeed, one of the most notable features of Babylonian civilization of this period was that it consciously looked back to the earlier period of ancient Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar, the king with whom this period is most associated, and his contemporaries cherished their cultural past and saw it as their duty to protect it, to restore it and to keep faith with it in their own art and architecture.

There were, however, significant differences between those times and this – how could there not be, when the world had changed so much. In this article we will acknowledge that many aspects of life and society were similar to those which had been operating at the time of Hammurabi, and indeed even under the Sumerians but we will focus on the differences which affected the Mesopotamian civilization in the first millennium.

Government and politics

The Babylonian empire covered all of Mesopotamia and Syria, including Judaea, and stretched to the borders of Egypt, on the one had, and into Asia Minor, on the other. It covered what had been the heartlands of the Assyrian empire, and owed a huge debt to Assyria the Babylonians adopted the governing machinery that had run that empire, with its provincial governors, native vassals and strategically placed garrisons, merely changing the personnel. How else could they have taken over such a huge territory so quickly? They even adopted the same imperialist policies, for example deporting conquered peoples to places far from their home (the most famous case being Nebuchadnezzar’s deportation of thousands of Jews from Jerusalem to exile in Babylon and other cities in Mesopotamia, but the city of Ascelon also suffered the same fate).

The King

As with all previous Mesopotamian states, the Babylonian empire was a monarchy. The king was central to the governing system an inadequate king soon led to weaknesses within the state. this was partly because the king’s role was not simply political, in the modern sense of the word it was religious as well. He was believed to be critical to the wellbeing of his subjects in that he alone could perform certain religious rites which ensured divine blessings on the people. Under the Assyrians, whose roots lay in a northern Mesopotamian tradition, the king entered into a compact with the gods at the beginning of his reign, and this compact would endure until his death. In southern Mesopotamia, the compact had to be renewed each year, at the time of the New Year festival (this may reflect the greater anxiety which the climate of the south imposed on the people, with the fierce but life-giving waters of the Euphrates sometimes overflowing their banks in devastating floods). If the king did not perform this rite properly (one that involved some humiliation, even pain, for himself) then the year ahead would not go well for the people as a whole.

In the days when Mesopotamia had been divided into a multitude of city-states, or even when a realm was confined mostly to Mesopotamia, this was not a problem. Kings lived in their cities except during the campaigning season, and so would have found it easy to fulfill their religious obligations. When however the kings ruled a large empire, issues would have arisen which called them away from their capital (where the spring festival must take place). This became a major issue under the last king, Nabonidus, who spent ten years away from Babylon. During this time the New Year festival could not be performed properly, and this led to a widespread feeling of desertion, not just by the king but by the gods as well (and especially by the chief god, Marduk, the patron-god of Babylon). This would be a material cause for the downfall the state.

What made this situation worse was that the kings were not native Babylonians. Their ancestors had been chiefs of a nomadic tribe called the Kaldu (known to us as the Chaldeans). The Chaldeans had been the principle enemies of the Babylonians for generations before seizing Babylon and other cities in Mesopotamia, an even that had only come about very recently, as Assyria collapsed.

The first two Chaldean kings of Babylon, Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar, had been very careful to fulfill all the duties of a traditional Babylonian monarch – restoring temples, ensuring the canals and dykes on which the irrigation systems depended were working properly, and above all performing their religious duties faithfully. Indeed, under them the temples, religious avenues and ceremonial became more impressive than ever before. This, plus the undoubted fact of their success, and the great inflow of wealth into Babylon and southern Mesopotamia that this brought, made them acceptable to the people. Nabonidus (and perhaps his two short-reigned predecessors), on the other hand, were not so punctilious, as we have seen. This made it all the easier for the people of Babylonia to turn to another foreigner, the Persian, Cyrus, as an alternative ruler who would treat their traditions with greater respect.

Over-mighty temples

One of the notable features of the late Babylonian state and society was the increased prominence of the temples. Thousands of years before this time, temples had dominated Sumerian society, and had stood at the very heart of the early Mesopotamian city-states. As time went by, however, their importance had diminished, and their privileges curtailed. Their power had become overshadowed by that of kings such as Sargon of Akkad and Hammurabi of Babylon, and their economic power had been undermined by the growth of large estates in the hands of kings and nobles, and by the rise of private property and a private business sector.

The renewed importance of the major temples may well date to the period of anarchy which afflicted Babylonia (and many other parts of the Middle East) in the 11th and 10th centuries BCE. During that troubled period, Mesopotamian people, especially the farmers, probably turned to the temples for refuge, putting themselves at the service of the only remaining authority, the local priests. The temples then became the centers of social, economic and cultural life of southern Mesopotamia. This position was confirmed under the Assyrian domination, who relied on the temples to maintain stability in the area. They treated them with great respect, and bestowed favors on them by exempting them for most taxes.

The Assyrians kept all their subjects under tight control and, favored though they were, the temple priesthoods were no exception. On occasion the Assyrians levied forced loans on them. The collapse of their empire, however, freed the temples from this political control. The new Chaldean kings of Babylonia found themselves dependent upon the goodwill of the temple priesthoods to help them maintain power over their subjects. It is hardly surprising that Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt and adorned the great sanctuaries, and abstained from interfering with their organization, contenting themselves with a 20% share in their revenues.

Nabonidus, on the other hand, tried to bring the temples under closer control by appointing royal officials to supervise their financial and economic activities. This new policy was no doubt dictated by the difficulties he had in financing the powerful army he needed to face the new Persian threat: he needed to get control of the temples’ great wealth. The expenditure of his predecessors had been prodigious – their rebuilding projects in Babylon and elsewhere must have drained the royal treasury, and though tribute flowed in from Syria, the need to deal with repeated rebellions may well have made the costs of empire outweigh the revenues.

Nabonidus’ temple policies, probably more than anything, aroused the hostility of the priests, who turned the people against him.

The law

One of the features which shows clearly that the late Babylonians were heirs and continuators of the ancient Mesopotamian civilization is that the laws of Hammurabi, embodied in his famous code but probably dating to much earlier, were still in force in Nebuchadnezzar’s time. Although no law code survives from the sixth century BCE, and indeed may well not have been written, the ancient laws being deemed sufficient, the legal cases of which we have records show exactly the same principles in the way they are handled, with the same logic and judgements.

Economy and Society

The society and economy of Babylonia was recognizably similar to that of a thousand or two years previously. The land was still tilled by peasants, many of whom worked as tenants or laborers on temple estates agriculture, as in all pre-modern societies, was by far the predominant economic activity. Craftsmen were still (or more accurately, again) largely employed by the temple priesthoods, who again had control of a huge part of Babylonia’s economy. However, it is likely that, under the late Babylonian kings, the economy of ancient Mesopotamia reached hitherto unmatched heights. Much new land was opened up to cultivation and irrigation systems were expanded and upgraded.

The countryside was covered by large estates, owned by kings, nobles, officials and, above all, temples. These were partly let out to tenants, free and, more often, unfree serfdom seems to have been more widespread at this time than previously, probably a result of the age of chaos of the 11th and 10th centuries BCE when farmers put themselves under the protection of priests and other powerful figures to escape marauding raiders. Partly the estates were farmed directly, with the aid of slaves and hired labour, under the management of land stewards.

The temples

The temples of the late Babylonian period formed social and economic units almost independent of the royal government. They owned large estates, carried out extensive trade, both within and outside Mesopotamia, and controlled many production units, ranging from numerous small craft workshops to major industrial workplaces such as shipyards and warehouses. Their economic activities were directed by senior temple employees who commanded the labour of thousands of workers, including officials, overseers, scribes, accountants, business agents, ship crews, artisans, builders, peasants, hired laborers and slaves. The major temples were enormously wealthy, enjoying the produce of their estates, the profits from their trade, the temple taxes levied on the wider community, and their share in the sacrifices offered in the sanctuaries.

Slaves were an important class within late Babylonian society, many of them working alongside free or semi-free labour in the fields. There was also a distinct class of temple slaves, people of both sexes who had been devoted to lifelong service to the temples by their parents (often for financial reasons). Their status was passed on from one generation to another, and they had a privileged status within temple society. they undertook all kinds of work, from menial to highly skilled. They had no independent wealth – they usually owned no property – but they were fed and housed by the temple in conditions much superior to those of other slaves.


Alongside the temple economy, there flourished what we today would call a “private sector”. How large this was it is impossible to say, but it was certainly significant. There are records of temples hiring ships from private merchants and some business people grew very rich. The Eglibi family, for instance, made fortunes in property, commerce (including the slave trade) and banking. These were just the most successful of a prominent class of merchants, shippers, bankers and business agents it is likely that many of them worked sometimes on their own account, and sometimes for temples (though the distinction was probably fairly blurred).

The late Babylonian period saw banking become a major feature of economic life. A minted metal coinage was not yet in circulation, but the Babylonians used pieces of silver of various standardized shapes and weights. These were based on a unit of silver – three-tenths of an ounce -called a shekel. Though the practice of using bits of metal to facilitate trade in Mesopotamia dated back at least to the 2nd millennium BCE, the adoption of a silver standard was new, and had a number of benefits: it made accounting much simpler, facilitated transactions, and was easy to store and handle. This encouraged the development of credit, which oiled the wheels of commerce. The late Babylonian period saw commerce flourish as never before in Mesopotamia.

Money lending and other banking operations, such as holding clients’ money on deposit, arose also, as well as businesses using debt to finance their activities, many farmers fell into chronic debt.

The bulk of trade within Mesopotamia was carried by ships. The records of the transactions of the temple of Uruk reveal this very clearly. This great temple had estates scattered throughout Mesopotamia, from which it drew different products. It was constantly transporting goods between its different centers, and also conducting trade, both short and long-distance. Within Mesopotamia itself, all the cities were located on the rivers Euphrates and Tigris or their branches, and all had quays for the loading of river craft. Long-distance trade could be conducted up the river Euphrates to jumping-off points (the city of Harran being the most important) into Syria – and thence to Egypt – and Asia Minor and down the Euphrates to the ports on the Gulf (Ur, being the best known), where goods from or to southern Arabia and India could be bought and sold.

The case of the temple of Uruk shows how integrated southern Mesopotamia was at this time. Gone were the economically self-sufficient city-states of earlier periods the busy river traffic now knit the region together into a single economic area. Most the great historic cities of ancient Mesopotamia, such as Uruk, Sippar, Nippur and Ur, still thrived, and all received lavish embellishment from the kings but the economic unification of the region, and the royal munificence, benefitted Babylon most of all.

Babylon, the great city

Resources on a vast scale were devoted to rebuilding and beautifying what was already one of the greatest cities of Antiquity. By the end of the late Babylonian period it was probably the most magnificent city on earth. It had over 100,000 inhabitants living in it (at a time when 20,000 was a substantial city), and its great ziggurat, temples, palaces, ceremonial way and city gates caused Herodotus, the widely-travelled Greek geographer and historian, to exclaim, “it surpasses any city in the known world”.

The city was roughly square shaped, bisected by the river Euphrates. It was surrounded by two sets of walls, an inner wall and an outer wall. Each of these was in fact a double wall, the first with the gap between filled with earth and rubble and a road built on top, on which chariots could ride the second with a military road between the walls, along which troops could be quickly deployed. The inner wall was punctuated by eight great gates, one of which, the Ishtar gate, functioned as the ceremonial entrance to the city and led on to the wide royal avenue down which the great processions of the city were held.

At the center of the city stood a colossal ziggurat, 90-meter high. A little distance from this was the temple of Marduk, the chief of the gods and patron-deity of Babylon, a massive complex of imposing buildings and spacious courtyards. Adjacent to this was the royal palace. In contrast to Assyrian palaces, the buildings here, though very large, aimed for beauty, not fear the walls decorated with floral patterns and bright colors were designed to please the eye not to inspire awe.

The kings’ summer palace was located on the outskirts of the city, just inside the outer walls. Of the fabled “Hanging Gardens of Babylon’” there are as yet no signs in the archaeological record. Nevertheless, given that the Assyrians developed beautiful parks and gardens, it is likely that the Babylonian kings also paid considerable attention to creating beautiful artificial landscapes for their pleasure.

Culture and Religion

The culture of the late Babylonian era was marked by a pervasive reverence for the ancient Mesopotamian traditions, giving an almost antiquarian flavor to the period. The kings devoted huge resources to rebuilding historic temples and promoting age-old religious rituals. All the historic cities of southern Mesopotamia – by this time regarded as holy cities, and the land of Babylonia as a sacred land – witnessed works of temple reconstruction, sometimes on a huge scale.

Languages and scripts

The regime revived aspects of antiquity which had long been in disuse. Whereas the Assyrians had adopted Aramaic as the language of government, because it was in wide use for everyday purposes throughout their empire, the Babylonian monarchs reintroduced Akkadian, which was by their time known only to a few officials and priests, and which required the mastery of thousands of cuneiform symbols to write. The royal chronicles indeed used an ancient version of the Akkadian script which had not been used for over a thousand years. They even reintroduced words from the long dead Sumerian tongue. Ancient names for regions were used – Babylonia, for example, was called “Sumer and Akkad”, a label which had gone out of use a thousand years before – and archaic expressions were revived.


The late Babylonians had a passion for collecting statues and other works of art from previous ages. This confused the archaeologists who were first to uncover ancient Mesopotamian sites, as they found pieces which had clearly been made hundreds, even thousands of years, apart, which were located in the same place and on the same level (i.e. of the same time). They eventually realized that they had uncovered what can only be described as museums, where pieces from throughout Mesopotamia’s history had been collected, stored, and no doubt displayed.

Like the Assyrians before them, they also collected ancient texts, with a particular emphasis on ancient chronicles and king lists.

The tide of change

However, the wider world had experienced great transformations since the time of Sargon of Akkad and Hammurabi, and Mesopotamia was not immune from these changes. As we have seen above, the Akkadian tongue (or “Old Babylonian” as it is also known) had been replaced by Aramaic in popular use, and the cuneiform script had been replaced by alphabetic writing. These developments were echoed in the religious sphere. The worship of the ancient Mesopotamian pantheon was becoming more narrowly confined to the Babylonian urban elite, and that of the Aramaic moon god Sin was spreading through their empire.

Passing on a legacy

It is important to note, however, that the late Babylonian period was not exclusively one of defending the past against encroachments from more recent developments. The late Babylonians preserved ancient Mesopotamian knowledge, but they also advanced it. This can be seen most clearly in the sciences, notably astronomy. Astronomical observations continued to be made, (even though recorded in a by-now archaic cuneiform script), a process which did not stop with the loss of independence under the Persians. In fact, Babylonian astronomical knowledge continued being refined under the Persians and then the Seleucids. It then merged with Greek scientific knowledge to provide the basis of the works of such great scholars as Ptolemy (c. 100-170 CE).

Further Study:

TimeMaps resources:

Related articles on the society and culture of ancient Mesopotamia:

Sources on Ancient Babylon


The main sources I have used for the history of ancient Mesopotamia are:

Roux, G., Ancient Iraq, Penguin, 1992, is a very readable overview of the subject for the general reader.

Saggs, H.W.F. The Babylonians, Macmillan, 1988, is, despite its name, a comprehensive and scholarly coverage of ancient Mesopotamian civilization up to the end of the Neo-Babylonian empire in the 6th century BC.

Roaf, M., A cultural atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East, Andromeda, 1990, is a superbly illustrated and highly informative introduction to the subject.

A lavishly illustrated work on archaeology for the general reader which includes good coverage of ancient Mesopotamia, is Renfrew, C. (ed.), Past Worlds: The Times Atlas of Archaeology, Times Books, 1995, p. 98-9 122-7 132-5 154-7.

A work on general archaeology aimed more at students, but readable and with very good coverage of ancient Mesopotamia, is Scarre, C. (ed.), The Human Past, Thames & Hudson, 2005, p. 232, 432ff.

For an insightful look at government in ancient Mesopotamia, see Finer, S. E., The History of Government, I, Ancient Monarchies and Empires, OUP, 1999, p. 104ff.


The University of Chicago has produced a superb site on Ancient Mesopotamia.

An informative website on ancient Mesopotamia is the British Museum’s Ancient Mesopotamia.

Wikipedia has its usual vast amount of information on Babylonian Empire (which, like some other websites, it calls the “Neo-Babylonian Empire”).

Political Change and Cultural Continuity in Eshnunna from the Ur III to the Old Babylonian Period

Unlike the formation of complex states and state societies, the collapse of these entities only recently has received more comprehensive treatment in anthropological and socio-historical literature (e.g., Tainter 1988 Yoffee and Cowgill 1988 Sharer 1993). For archaeological research this interest is of much more importance than often is acknowledged: archaeological remains unearthed are often found - and preserved best - in connection with the very end of a political or social system such as a destruction or an abandonment. In short, the archaeological evidence is a direct reflection of the flaws and shortcomings of a political or social system, whose ultimate failure results in the formation of the archaeological context.1

Most studies of collapse are based on societies in Meso-America, Oceania, India and Africa, especially the Mayan and the Harappan civilization. While these studies cover a large temporal and geographical area, it is interesting to note that, with very few exceptions, most of them focus on pre-literate societies. This is an important point because this focus also defines a general concept of collapse. Gupta's introductory remarks to his discussion of Late Harappan culture state: "What happens when the urban fabric of a culture disintegrates? People, by and large, leave the urban settlements and migrate elsewhere. Similarly material culture becomes poor" (Gupta 1993: 50). A similar concept is apparent in Sharer's discussion of the Mayan collapse when he states that ". over the years a number of theories have been proposed to account for this collapse, recognized from the archaeological record by the abandonment of the largest and most sophisticated Maya centers in the lowland rainforests of Guatemala" (Sharer 1993: 427). The underlying assumption in both cases is that political collapse can be equated with a decline or disappearance of material culture. Sharer (ibid.) is quite aware of this dilemma when he points out that ". it must be borne in mind that, unlike the demise of civilizations known from the historical record, the Maya, like Harappan society, represents an example of collapse identified solely from archaeological context." A recent study on the collapse of complex societies by J. Tainter (1988) has helped to articulate the nature of this dilemma: in his introduction Tainter distinguishes between several types and notions of collapse - such as political or economic collapse (Tainter 1988: 4). His book concentrates on collapse as a political process, defined as ". a rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity" (ibid.), and found in a decline of

  • 1. Stratification and social differentiation
  • 2. Coordination and organization of individuals and groups
  • 3. Economic specialization
  • 4. Administrative and 'behavioral' control
  • 5. Scale and quality of architecture, art and science
  • 6. Information exchange on an individual and corporate level
  • 7. Scale and organization of resource management
  • 8. Territorial scale of a political unit
  • (after Tainter 1988:4 (summarized))

The definitions for the collapse quoted above for the Mayan and Harappan culture would fit largely under point 5 of Tainter's list. However, it is important to recognize that, with the exception of this very point, Tainter's characteristics of collapse largely describe non-empirical phenomena which in archaeology can only be inferred secondarily by interpretive analysis. The difference in definitions by Tainter on the one side and Gupta and Sharer on the other side corresponds to M. Schiffer's definition of systemic contexts as opposed to archaeological contexts (Schiffer 1987: 1 - 2): Tainter's definition of collapse is based on observations made in systemic contexts, either contemporary or in historical writing, while the collapses of the Maya and Harappan culture as outlined by Gupta and Sharer is solely based on the empirical impression which they had left in the archaeological record. This disappearance or decline of material evidence identified in archaeological context will be referred to here as "cultural collapse". While political and cultural collapses might well co-occur, the question arises as to what degree they can be equated. Does the disappearance of a socio-political system necessarily have to be reflected in a negative impact on the material culture, such as the decline in quality, numbers and sizes of type fossils which are considered to be characteristic? If not, two important questions arise:

  • 1. How can a political collapse be ascertained in archaeological context other than by decline of material culture?
  • 2. In what other way than decline does material culture reflect or respond to a political collapse?

There is no easy answer to either of these questions. Again, however, it has to pointed out that collapse in archaeological contexts has mostly been studied for non-literate societies. Political collapses in historical periods are obviously widely attested and have been examined (e.g. Yoffee 1979), but this research tends to concentrate on written records. Once the historical facts have been established, an additional detailed and cumbersome analysis of the archaeological assemblage may seem redundant and unnecessary. However, such an interdisciplinary approach which combines archaeological material, social history and philology, practiced on a suitable test case, not only holds the potential of revealing new and interesting insights into this particular example but a more detailed knowledge of patterns in which the demise of a sociopolitical system has left its imprints on the archaeological evidence would, by virtue of suitable analogies, give interesting clues for establishing new paradigms for the detection of political collapse in non-literate societies. The following research proposal will outline the potential of such an analysis on a suitable test case.

The discussion has so far dealt only with collapse in descriptive/observational terms. Interpretations of collapse are necessarily bound to specific schools of thought: following the Darwinist model of biological evolution, several scholars, spearheaded by L. White, have developed an evolutionist model for cultural development. White's universalistic approach, addressing 'culture' rather than individual cultures, was modified by J. Steward who recognized the impact of particular environmental preconditions on individual systems (Steward 1955: 30 - 42). The success or failure of a particular system depends on its ability to adapt to environmental challenges. While adequate dynamics within the system guarantee its successful adaptation to and flourishing within its ecological setting, inadequate dynamics will result in a failure to adapt, resulting in the ultimate breakdown of the system. Human behavior in this approach is a mere reaction to environmental challenges: under similar conditions humans are seen to react similarly and human action therefore becomes predictable. This evolutionist/adaptationist approach, which remained the dominant model of state formation for a long time and which was also followed by Flannery (1972), Fried (1967) and Service (1975), has now come under increasing attack and often has been countered with a "political model". The latter puts more emphasis on individual political decisions as a prime mover, rather than as a mechanical secondary response to environmental challenges, in the development of state and society, leaving the outcome of any development much less predictable than in the adaptationist models (see Brumfiel and Earle 1987: 1 - 4 for an overview). Such an approach, for example, was applied by Yoffee when analyzing the collapse of the Old Babylonian state, which, he concludes, was less the outcome of environmental constrains (cf. Stone 1977) than of misguided political decisions, namely - ". the failure to integrate the traditional, locally autonomous controls within and among city-states within the sociopolitical organization" (Yoffee 1979: 14).

The main difference between these approaches lies in the identification of the main agent of change, in the one case the environment, in the other the human agent. However, since in the adaptationist model changes only occur because of environmental challenges, state and society would rest in an equilibrium under stable conditions a collapse could not occur. The relevance and accuracy of either model will have to be checked carefully on the test case chosen below.

A study involving the collapse of complex state societies, especially those which may be labeled empires, cannot avoid looking at the antagonism between center and periphery. The fact that centers exhibit greater variability in architectural and artifactual assemblages naturally has resulted in a research focus on centers. To study the impact of political collapse on material culture in a larger ('imperial') state entity, however, a more 'peripheral' test case may provide data of more immediate relevance. Some thoughts on this have been elaborated by Service (1975: 313 - 314): in the case of a collapse he sees the technologically advanced center suffer "the penalty of taking the lead," while its hinterland, having enjoyed the "privilege of backwardness," can borrow technological innovations from the center, thereby skipping the earlier stages of their development: "with all other things constant, therefore, some of the newly civilized societies of the frontier have an increasing evolutionary potential that the original center steadily loses in the very act of successfully dominating its own local environment." This concept overemphasizes the importance of technological innovation on formative processes of the state. How can the difference between collapse in the center and the periphery be conceptualized on a political level?

Since administrative and political control in "provincial" or "peripheral" regions is installed and organized from a remote center, its archaeological imprints should be identifiable as 'non-local' or 'foreign'. Such traits, which should be distinct from their local counterparts, can be expected on administrative-bureaucratic, religious, socio-political and socio-economic levels, evidence of which should be apparent in the surviving material assemblage. If a state collapse results in a reduced territorial control of the center, then it is likely that the political system at least in the more remote periphery changes from an 'imperial' or 'foreign' to a regionally limited local rule. In addition, it is reasonable to assume that a center is more affected by a political collapse - whatever its origin may be - than a peripheral area where a clear change, but not a break, can be expected on the political and administrative level. It it therefore likely that a peripheral site would complement the knowledge about the relation between material culture and political collapse as observed at the center in a significant way.

The research topic suggested here will therefore focus on the impact of a political development - in this case a political collapse - on the material culture of a complex society. The general underlying hypothesis to be tested is that political collapse and the decline or disappearance of some categories of material culture are not to be taken as coterminous and cannot be used reciprocally while the disappearance of a political system leaves its imprint on the surviving material culture that change may not be expressed in any decrease in scale, size or quality of type fossils.

This implies that political collapse has to be identified by means other than the decline of material culture for this study it is therefore vital to choose a test case for which written information is available. The historical information about the nature and structure of this state entity, its governmental as well as non-governmental institutions, will be scrutinized carefully against the archaeological context any changes in quality and quantity will be noted and evaluated as to its potential relevance to the political changes. A 'peripheral' site will be preferred to a political center to facilitate the identification of administrative, social, and ideological factor belonging to the center by their non-local character.

An ideal test case for the hypothesis outlined above can be found in the empire of the Third Dynasty of Ur (2112 - 2004 B.C.).2 Following the demise of the Akkadian state - the first undisputed 'empire ' in Mesopotamian history (see Liverani (ed.) 1993) - the Ur III represents an interesting symbiosis between a "Sumerian" tradition going back to the Presargonic city-states and an "Akkadian" heritage of a large super-regional state (Becker 1985). While the predominance of Sumerian writing and the centralization of political power in the south give the image of a "Neo-Sumerian Renaissance," the concept of world rule, expressed in the Akkadian empire by royal titulary such as "King of the Universe" (shar kishshati) and "King of the four World Quarters" (shar kibrat arba'im) and the deification of the king under Naramsin (cf. Farber 1982), was also clearly an underlying concept of the Ur III state. Indeed, four of the five Ur III rulers were deified during their lifetimes (Wilcke 1974: 178-179 Selz 1992: 2582). There are numerous textual attestations of temples built for them (Limet 1975) and regular offerings for living and deceased rulers (Sigrist 1989 Englund 1992: 87 - 88, for Umma). Archaeological manifestations for a deceased kings' cult can be found in the royal tombs of the Ur III kings at Ur, which are semi-subterranean house structures with numerous offering installations (Woolley 1974).

Under its second king, Shulgi (2094 - 2047 B.C.), numerous reforms created the most centralized and bureaucratic state apparatus so far attested in the ancient Near East. These reforms included the creation of an army with large numbers of conscripts, the reorganization of the temple households (which effectively became possessions of the state), a unified administrative system for southern and northern Babylonia, the creation of crown lands, the centralization of industries into production centers, the creation of a law collection ('Codex Shulgi'), and the standardization of the calendar as well as of the measuring and writing systems (Steinkeller 1991: 16 - 17). In geographical terms, the Ur III state controlled Babylonia, the East-Tigrisland, parts of the Zagros and Elam. The state was divided into provinces, usually successors of previous city states, governed by a local city ruler (ensí) in addition, a military governor (shagina) with virtual independence from the city ruler was appointed to most provinces by the central government. Differences in the taxation system divided these provinces into a core area and periphery (Steinkeller 1991: 17f.). The periphery was formed by a 'defense zone' along the east bank of the Tigris from Urbilum to Tutub and Der (excluding Elam) its military personnel paid a special tax (mu-túm lugal, later gún ma-da) in livestock or agricultural produce (Maeda 1992). This tax revenue was paid into the 'bala', an enormous redistribution system with large central collection centers, from which provinces belonging to the core area could draw supplies. Best known among these places is Puzrish-Dagan near Nippur, which dealt with livestock and animal products (Sigrist 1992).

The picture of Ur III society traditionally presented in scholarly literature identifies three distinct classes: free citizens (lú), semi-free 'serfs' (gurush), and house slaves (arad) (see Gelb 1972 and 1979). Abundant ration lists from the Ur III period have been seen as evidence for a large group of semi-free laborers, living in family structures, being employed largely in vast agricultural and irrigation projects. Such a clear-cut view is now gradually being reconsidered (e.g. Steinkeller 1987). Likewise, the private economic sector, which was gravely neglected because of the predominance a predominance of state and temple archives, has now received more attention (Waetzhold 1987 Neumann 1992 van Driel 1994).

In spite of its elaborate setup the Ur III state did not survive much longer than a century. Various factors appear to have contributed to its decline: environmental causes such as a reduced stream flow in the Euphrates and Tigris and the loss of agricultural land due to increasing salinization (Jacobsen 1982 compare, however, Powell 1985) indicate a failure or incapability to adapt to ecological deterioration indeed, a famine is reported under its last king, Ibbi-Sin (2028 - 2004 BC Jacobsen 1953). External threats were present in the form of recurring invasions by Elamites (Wilcke 1970) and Amorites (Edzard 1957 Buccellati 1966), who themselves may have been forced to migrate southwards into Mesopotamia due to a natural disaster (Weiss et al. 1993). To prevent such nomadic incursions, a defensive wall was built across northern Babylonia in the year Shu-Sin 4 (Edzard 1957: 33). However, even under normal circumstances the extensive bureaucracy necessitated by centralized control and redistribution left very little room to account for internal variabilities in case of a crisis its inflexibility is likely to have choked the economy (Civil 1991: 38 - 39 Gomi 1984). While the actual end of the Ur III state in Ibbi-Sin's year 24 (2004 B.C.) was caused by an Elamite invasion, the state appeared to have been in decline for several decades: the latest year dates of Ibbi-Sin on texts from various cities (Eshnunna: year 2, Susa: year 3,: Girsu: year 5 Umma: year 6 Nippur: year 7 (Edzard 1957: 45)) indicate a substantial loss of territory early in his reign - all of the defensive zone east of the Tigris and even parts of the core territory.

The Ur III state was succeeded by a number of smaller to medium-sized states struggling for supremacy in Mesopotamia for the next 250 years. The onomasticon of their dynasties clearly indicates an Amorite origin (Edzard 1957: 39 - 43). During Ibbi-Sin's reign a local official, Ishbi-Erra, had declared himself independent from Ur at the city of Isin, founding the First Dynasty of Isin (Falkenstein 1950, Jacobsen 1953, Edzard 1957: 46 Wilcke 1970: 55 - 56, van Dijk 1978). This state was the predominant power in Mesopotamia for the earlier part of the 20th century B.C., until its rival, the city of Larsa, gained increasing power and dominated the political scene until the late 19th century B.C.. Concurrently, a number of other dynasties, such as Uruk, Kazallu, Eshnunna, and Babylon, held control over parts of Mesopotamia (Edzard 1957: 100 - 180). Around 1800 B.C. an Amorite ruler, Shamshi-Addu, gained control over Assyria and Upper Mesopotamia, creating a large, albeit short-lived, empire (Dalley 1984 Wu Yuhong 1994). The struggle for supremacy in Babylonia was finally won by Hammurapi of Babylon when he defeated Larsa in the year 1761 B.C.. The long decline of the Old-Babylonian state, precipitated by environmental or man-made factors, have been studied by Yoffee (1979).

Relatively little research has been done on the state and administration during these periods (see Kraus 1974 for aspects of kingship, Yoffee 1977 for its economic function). A number of kings, especially in the Dynasty of Isin, retained a divine aspect like the Ur III kings (Kraus 1974: 242). A strong emphasis on genealogy has been interpreted as an Amorite trait ("Ostkananäisch ", Kraus 1965, 1974: 254). A fair amount of data on Old Babylonian society is available from a large number of economic and legal texts. Law collections from Isin, Eshnunna, and Babylon supplement the insight into the social structure (Yaron 1988 Roth 1995). It appears that, as in the Ur III period , three major classes are present (awilum, mushkenum, wardum). Whether these should be equated with "free citizen", "serf," and "slave" is as yet a matter of dispute (see Kraus 1973: 288 - 321).

It is apparent that the collapse of the Ur III state and the emergence of its successors form an ideal test case to study origins, mechanisms, and outcome of political collapse. An unparalleled amount of both historical and especially economic textual data allows multivariate insights into its structure. While archaeological data, therefore, is non-essential here for identifying this collapse, it is available in abundance, in particular from sites in the core area itself at Ur, Uruk, and Nippur, allowing a broad comparison between textual and archaeological information. There is less archaeological evidence from the periphery or defensive zone east of the Tigris. An exception to this, however, can be found in the city of Eshnunna which presents an excellent test case fulfilling virtually all requirements outlined above.

A historical framework for Eshnunna can be pieced together from building inscriptions, year dates, letters, and seal inscriptions both from Eshnunna and elsewhere, thus establishing a relative chronology of 28 rulers over 300 years (2065 - 1762 B.C.). 3 The site itself, modern Tell Asmar, is located east of the Diyala river within the plain some 50 km northeast of modern Baghdad. In the Ur III period it was a well-attested city and capital of an Ur III province with the same name its location east of the Tigris but close enough to the core area appears to have created an enigmatic situation in the taxation system: while it paid the gún ma-da tax characteristic of the periphery (according to Steinkeller's core-periphery model) it also seems to have been part of the bala system characteristic of the core area (Steinkeller 1991: 19 note 12). Ur III year dates are attested at least from Shulgi's year 30 (2065 B.C.) onwards. Save for a few names of city rulers, not too much is known about Eshnunna in the Ur III period until the rule of Shu-Sin, when a city ruler, Ituria, built a temple for his divine overlord (Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1943: 135 - 136 [Building Inscription no. 1]), to which a palace was attached soon afterwards. Ituria was still in power when Ibbi-Sin ascended the throne however, Eshnunna seems to have broken away from Ur almost immediately afterwards as Ibbi-Sin's year 2 is the latest Ur III date attested in Eshnunna. This break seems to be associated with the succession of Ituria's son Shu-ilija 4 the fact that his name is written with a divine determinative and his assumption of title "king", both of which are exceptions at Eshnunna, indicate that he followed closely the example set by his former masters. Shu-ilija maintained good relationships with Ishbi-Erra of Isin as did his successor Nurahum, who apparently received help from Isin to win a battle against Subartu. The names of two rulers succeeding Nurahum, Kirikiri and Bilalama, appear to be Elamite indeed, at that time Eshnunna appears to have had fairly close links to Elam. A political overlordship of any other power cannot be detected even though the rulers succeeding Shu-ilija only held the title 'ensí / ishshakum' like contemporary rulers from Mari at Ashur. An ever pressing problem, Amorite incursions, could be assuaged by an intermarriage of Nurahum's daughter with an Amorite family of very high status, a truce which, however, seems to have fallen apart during Bilalama's reign (Whiting 1987: 27). The city was sacked during the time of Bilalama's successor Usurawassu, possibly by Anum-muttabbil 5 of Der, and temporarily may have lost its independence to that city. Not a lot is known for a number of following city rulers (Azuzum, Urninmar, Urningishzida, Ipiqadad I, Abdi-Erah, Shiqlanum, Sharrija, Belakum, Ibalpiel I), a situation that changed with Ibalpiel II, who assumed the royal title again. This resurgence of Eshnunna's power may well be connected to a decline of Isin and Larsa as power bases in the mid-to-late 19th century BC. Ibalpiel's successor .Ipiqadad II kept this title and, as the first ruler since Shu-ilija, assumed divine status, a practice now followed by all remaining rulers of Eshnunna. His son Naramsin expanded Eshnunna's territory considerably into northern Babylonia and possibly even gained temporary control over Ashur. The last ruler, Ibalpiel II, grandson of Naramsin, formed diplomatic ties with Mari in the eyes of Babylon's rising power (Charpin 1991 Joannes 1992). In spite of this, Eshnunna was conquered by Babylonian troops in Hammurapi's year 31 (1762 B.C.), thus ending 250 years of independence.

Excavations were undertaken by the Oriental Institute (Chicago) between 1930 and 1935 most of the archaeological evidence dating to the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods was excavated in an area of 3 hectares in the center of the mound, the core of which is formed by the so-called "Shu-Sin (formerly read 'Gimil-Sin') Temple and the Palace of the Rulers" (pl. 1) which was excavated in two seasons between 1930/31 and 1931/32 (Frankfort 1932, 1933 Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940). It appears that for most of the time this area housed Eshnunna's government or at least parts of its administration. The Shu-Sin Temple was built in the style of a Babylonian Temple with entrances on axis and a broadroom cella. The palace was added shortly after the completion of the temple since its bricks bond with the 'kisu' of the temple (pl. 2 a). Unfortunately, the palace plan for the earliest period is incomplete, unexcavated in virtually all residential sections. A sequence of two thronerooms, parallel to the arrangements in the palaces at Ur and Mari (Heinrich 1984), administrative quarters, and a "palace chapel" dedicated to an unknown deity are clearly identifiable. Successive rulers rebuilt the palace and the Shu-Sin temple at higher level, in the course of which, however, they added and changed the layout of both considerably. Already at the level above the one dated to Ur III/Ituria, the Shu-Sin temple was desecrated and turned into a workshop, thus reflecting a change of political fortune. The palace was rebuilt substantially under Bilalama (pl. 2 b) its violent destruction by heavy burning possibly reflects Eshnunna's confrontation with Der under the rule of Usurawassu. The rather flimsy and incoherent reconstructions dating to the next series of rulers may indicate not only a decline of Eshnunna itself but also a shift away from this building, as the so-called "Azuzum building" farther south on the site may indicate. Very substantial rebuildings at a higher level, undertaken by rulers from Ibalpiel I to Ipiqadad II (pl. 2 c), may indicate Eshnunna's resurgence as a super-regional power, indicated best by the laying of the foundation for the Southern Building, a new unfinished palatial structure south of the Shu-Sin Temple and the palace, by Ipiqadad II. An interesting indication of divine royal ideology is found in the construction of the so-called Naramsin Audience Hall: its function is uncertain but the double-recessed niches along its outer wall give the notion of a religious building (Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1943: 100 - 115). Naramsin, who was among the deified rulers of Eshnunna, appears to have picked up an old tradition which had disappeared otherwise from Eshnunna with the collapse of the Ur III state. Unfortunately, site degradation has obliterated the latest phases of the palace.

This building complex proved to be very rich in finds. No exhaustive list is attempted here, but among the most important items were some 1400 tablets - largely economic documents and letters - and inscribed seal impressions. Most of these texts were well stratified and can be correlated with an architectural phase. The economic documents name commodities, business procedures, and names most of them have year dates. Other objects include terracotta figurines and plaques, seals (mostly cylinder seals but also stamp seals), metal objects (tools / weapons) and numerous kinds of artifacts (Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940: 235 - 243). The finds were divided between the Oriental Institute expedition and the Iraq Department of Antiquities. Virtually all artifacts, therefore, are either in the Oriental Institute Museum or the Iraq Museum. All tablets from the 1930/31 and 1931/32 campaigns are located in the Oriental Institute tablet room.

The foregoing discussion should provide sufficient evidence to show that Eshnunna, especially the Shu-Sin Temple and the Palace of the Rulers, is a prime candidate to provide evidence for political developments and material culture before, during, and after a collapse. While keeping the definition of the material flexible, the research will focus primarily on this building complex. The justification for this limitation can be found in the large size of the archaeological assemblage coming from it moreover, this building housed organs of state organization, state cult, and at times production centers of various specializations it is therefore likely to provide variegated and - while necessarily incomplete - still representative samples of information. Within the material introduced above the following analytical steps will be taken:

Since Jacobsen's summary of the historical data in the publication of the final volume on this building complex (Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940: 116 - 200) and Edzard's analysis of this period (Edzard 1957), the Old Babylonian letters from Eshnunna have been published (Whiting 1987), filling in a large number of gaps. This information has been included in Wu Yuhong's recent political history of this period (Wu Yuhong 1994). Any possible synchronism with Babylonian and Assyrian chronology must be examined carefully and incorporated into Eshnunna's sequence. Additional information from the texts found on two other Old Babylonian sites -Tell Harmal (Shaduppum) and Ishchali (Neribtum) - have already been incorporated into Wu Yuhong's study. As available, the result from recent excavations on Old Babylonian sites in the Hamrin region such as Tell Haddad and Tell al-Sib (ancient Me-Turan Mustafa 1983), Tell Suleima and Tell Yelkhi will also be incorporated (Roaf and Postgate 1979 a and b).

For their time the stratigraphic observations made by the excavators, H. Frankfort, S. Lloyd and Th. Jacobsen, were remarkably good. However, while intrusive features such a drains or pits were usually carefully analyzed and assigned to their proper phase (see Frankfort in Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940: 1), the section drawings show that floor lines were assumed to run straight and horizontally, essentially following a 'same height equals same date' system of stratigraphy (id. pl. VIII). The case is further complicated by the fact that different periodizations were used in the site plans (with 6 phases) and sections (with 8 phases), which do not correspond. Artifacts are classified in an even simpler way by giving their position in relation to the burnt palace level dating to Bilalama ("higher" or "lower than Bilalama level"). The process is not helped by the fact that locus numbers often were not changed when digging progressed into a lower phase, so that the exact level from which an artifact came often cannot be determined from the published record. Moreover, the dating of architectural levels to individual rulers often was based on extremely thin evidences, leaving many chances for circular conclusions.6 A more neutral terminology, such as Roman numerals shown in the section drawings, would have been preferable. So far the palace and temple have only been published in three composite plans, each containing two superimposed phases. None of these plans carries any elevations, leaving the reader totally afloat as to the size of depositions between individual phases or slopes in a single phase.

A first step, therefore, will be to sort out the relative stratigraphy of this building. This will be done by using the field notebooks, the locus cards, and the available original plane table sheets which carry the needed elevations. Due to the possibility of re-use, inscribed building material (such as bricks, door sockets etc.) will be used only as a second step. After critical re-evaluation the architectural composite plans will be divided in order to obtain individual phase plans.

It has already been pointed out that the identification of an artifact's findspot - especially the attribution to a particular phase - is often hampered by the excavator's continued use of the same locus number beyond a given level. However, when expressing dissatisfaction with the information currently available in print, it has to be pointed out that throughout the excavation the general importance of recording artifact proveniences was well recognized. Often the individual object cards will provide valuable information in addition, the accession dates on these cards create a link to the relevant field diary entries which may provide more information. An inconsistency observed on the tablet catalogue cards in the first season (1930/31) actually turned out to be helpful for proveniencing the objects: locus numbers consistently were not assigned right away, so the excavator (in this case T. Jacobsen) noted the relative position of each tablet to a visible point such as a vertical drain. This information was then crossed out when the locus number was assigned but luckily can be recovered. So far all reference points could be identified, giving a chance not only to observe vertical, but also horizontal patterns of artifact distributions. By not only using tablet year dates to date levels but also use stratigraphy to put unknown year dates into a chronological framework, Jacobsen's approach was visionary and at that time unprecedented, even though occasionally a bit uncritical. Still, it appears that the original field records, much more than the final publication, will allow the reconstruction of a fairly detailed relative sequence of the artifactual assemblage.

Since the aim of this study is not a comprehensive site publication, no attempt shall be made to analyze each artifact individually often enough it will be sufficient for the purpose of this study to establish the presence/absence or quantity of particular artifact types. This obviously excludes artifact types whose functional or ideological significance is quintessential to the success of this study (see point e, f below).

The 1400 cuneiform documents from the area of the Shu-Sin temple and the Palace of the Rulers are the most important source of information for this study. As a corpus they form one of the largest archaeologically well-provenienced text assemblages currently available from the Near East. Thus, they deserve a well thought-out approach which hereafter shall be referred to as "text-archaeology" and will need some explanation:

Some of the basic ideas of this approach have already been laid down by Frankfort and Jacobsen who realized that ". the tablets gained a significance which they could never have possessed if treated in the usual way as mere texts without reference to the circumstances of their discovery and to the exact stratigraphy of Tell Asmar" (Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940: 1). Provenience, though, appears to have been seen as a vertical, not a horizontal, dimension when the excavators state that ". in many cases this material (i.e., the tablets) gained its full value only when studied in relation to the stratigraphic sequence" (ibid., my emphasis). New ideas for the archaeological use of cuneiform documents were outlined by Gibson (1972) and successfully applied by Stone (1981, 1987) and Zettler (1991, 1992), who also provided a model case of incorporating seal impressions into this approach (Zettler 1987). Using their ideas and refining them, I undertook a study on the texts from the Old-Babylonian Mari palace as a test case for text-archaeology which - with over 15000 tablet - certainly represents a prime candidate for this approach (Reichel 1994). By entering information such as provenience, date, business clause(s), sender and receiver of texts or items, sealing person etc. into a database it was possible to do quantitative analyses upon this material, identifying individual archive holders and revealing connections between business clause, business procedures and the findspot of a text. Thus, not only significant new insights into the function of several palace units could be obtained the "spatial dimension" of many texts revealed information of great relevance which otherwise was not discernible in the texts.

The archeological observations on artifact proveniences at Mari at least in the earlier excavations, though, were mediocre at best. Many texts were published without any findspot and in no case is there any hint on stratigraphic differentiation. Compared to this, the situation at Tell Asmar is much better, making up for a much smaller number of texts.

As pointed out before, most of these texts are business documents - written in Sumerian - such as receipts, accounts, or records of outgoing produce. As in Mari, a number of formulae are used to describe the business (mostly shu ba-ti and zi.ga). These, the names and functions of the persons involved, the nature or object of the business venture, the date, sealings (if applicable), and findspot of these texts will be entered into a database. A first step will be the restoration of the text assemblage as found in the archaeological context.7 The directions of analysis from there will be both horizontal and vertical: on a horizontal level contemporary assemblages will be analyzed for occurrences of the same names and items the nature of each archive should help to identify the function of the attached institutional unit and help to reconstruct a circulation pattern of goods and information within the buildings. On a vertical level (i.e., stratigraphically within the same spatial unit), changes in the nature of the text assemblages should indicate changes in the functions performed in the respective attached units. Combining the result of both of them, the changes in the functional layout of the palace and temple can be observed and evaluated.

Further analytical and interpretive steps will be described below.

Artifacts deemed as 'individually significant' (see above s.v. c)) for the purpose of this study will be studied carefully, using typological, stylistic, and functional criterias. Aside from the obvious questions of spatial distribution (presence / absence / quantity) in a locus, the following questions - using seal impressions as an example - will be asked amongst others:

  • - Seal motive: are there any predominant motives (such as presentation scenes, "King and the Cup") in a particular phase? In any particular room / archive? Attached to any particular profession or transaction? Are there changes throughout time?
  • - Formula of the inscription: what kind of formulae are present? Are they attached to particular profession? Any changes throughout time?
  • - Nature of sealing: what object / container was it attached to? Which names / seal motives occur with which type of sealing? Do the types of sealed objects change throughout time?

Other objects which deserve closer scrutiny in this category are terracotta figurines and plaques. The list will certainly have to be augmented.

While the study of each object type itself is subject to individual approaches, no artificial separations should be created. Assemblages of artifacts, regardless of the variability of their nature, which were found together will have to be examined to gauge functional interrelations. Particularly important is the relationship between cuneiform texts and their archaeological environment. The identification of "activity areas" in archaeological context has been practiced mostly in non-literate societies outside the Near East (cp. Kent 1984, 1987, 1990), but promising attempts have been made in the Near East at Arslantepe (Turkey) in the Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age I period (Frangipane and Palmieri 1983) and at Nippur for the Old Babylonian period (Franke 1987).

The combination of all the evidence obtained in this analysis should help to identify the functional layout of palace and temple in each period involved. This will help to address the following issues:

  • 1. Nature of the institution(s): What kind of institutions are involved in the administration and use of the palace and temple? Do palace and temple as such form one institution or 'household'? At times of external control (Ur III), does it form part of a larger "Royal Household"? Which ideological values are attached to these institutions (such as the Shu-Sin temple)? Do these values change and how?
  • 2. Administrative procedures: What do the administrative procedures reveal about the social and economic setup within these buildings? Do the observed transactions reflect closed redistributive systems (e.g., the bala system) or an open, free flow of goods or items? When do changes occur? How do they manifest themselves?
  • 3. Spheres and action radii: How are the spheres of action of each institution defined? Do they extend beyond the palace, across the province, the Ur III state, or even into foreign states? How do these spheres change from Ur III to the Old-Babylonian period?
  • 4. Behavioral patterns: What does the artifact assemblage tell about the people working or living in this complex? Are there substantial changes in subsistence (changes in pottery and tool assemblages) or ritual / religious beliefs (changes in religious / ritual artifacts such as terracotta figurines and reliefs)? What do the texts tell about social interconnections (family bonds / tribal interrelationships?) and social status?
  • 5. Ethnicity: What does the onomasticon gathered from these texts indicate about the ethnicity of people involved in the administration of this complex? Do changes occur (such as the appearance of Amorite and Elamite names)? Are certain groups characteristic of certain functions within the administration?
  • 6. Ideology: What is the nature of the state administered here? What is the nature of the rulership (deified king, city ruler etc.)? How is this reflected in the monumental art (architecture) and small-scale art (seals)? Are there changes? How do they manifest themselves?

The integrated picture drawn from these observations cannot may not general enough to devise a universal model explaining cultural change in cases of political collapse. However, new insights from this study will certainly help to explain the various processes surrounding such a phenomenon in a complex society. It is hoped that such an attempted synthesis in a literate society will allow us to devise useful paradigms for collapse research in non-literate societies by helping to identify and explain phenomena which are not apparent solely from an archaeological context, thus making an important contribution to the general understanding of an important developmental process.

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All the illustrations included in this paper are reproduced courtesy of The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

*In accordance with the rules of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of the University of Chicago this dissertation proposal was approved by the dissertation committee and successfully defended at a public hearing. The members of the committee are:

This document was published on-line for the first time on 11 June 1997, courtesy of the Oriental Institute Research Archives. The only changes from the version approved by the Faculty of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations include minor editorial corrections, normalization of the typographical presentation of ancient names, and some small changes to accommodate the HTML encoding. HTML encoding was done by Charles E. Jones

1 Note: My subsequent use of the terms "empire," "center," "periphery" is customary and will not be explained in any detail here. No positive or negative value is meant to be attached to any of them.

2 See Gadd 1971 for a comprehensive, though not recent, summary.

3 Unless otherwise specified, this summary follows Jacobsen in Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940, Edzard 1957 and Wu Yuhong 1994.

4 For this reading of the name as opposed to Ilushuilija see Whiting 1977b and Wu Yuhong 1994.

5 Read Ilum-mutappil by Wu Yuhong.

6 So, for example, the date of the original palace building to Shu-Ilija is based on one broken impression of his seal found ". beneath a mass of brickwork" (Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940: 32, 144 no. 8).

7 For a comprehensive definition of the term "archive", which has been avoided here, see Veenhof 1986.

1. Early Life Of Daniel In Babylon

The first chapter of Daniel is a beautifully written, moving story of the early days of Daniel and his companions in Babylon. In brief and condensed form, it records the historical setting for the entire book. Moreover, it sets the tone as essentially the history of Daniel and his experiences in contrast to the prophetic approach of the other major prophets, who were divine spokesmen to Israel. In spite of being properly classified as a prophet, Daniel was in the main a governmental servant and a faithful historian of God’s dealings with him. Although shorter than prophetical books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, the book of Daniel is the most comprehensive and sweeping revelation recorded by any prophet of the Old Testament. The introductory chapter explains how Daniel was called, prepared, matured, and blessed of God. With the possible exceptions of Moses and Solomon, Daniel was the most learned man in the Old Testament and most thoroughly trained for his important role in history and literature.

The Captivity of Judah

1:1-2 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.

The opening verses of Daniel succinctly give the historical setting which includes the first siege and capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. According to Daniel, this occurred “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah,” or approximately 605 b.c. Parallel accounts are found in 2 Kings 24:1-2 and 2 Chronicles 36:5-7. The capture of Jerusalem and the first deportation of the Jews from Jerusalem to Babylon, including Daniel and his companions, were the fulfillment of many warnings from the prophets of Israel’s coming disaster because of the nation’s sins against God. Israel had forsaken the law and ignored God’s covenant (Is 24:1-6). They had ignored the Sabbath day and the sabbatic year (Jer 34:12-22). The seventy years of the captivity were, in effect, God claiming the Sabbath, which Israel had violated, in order to give the land rest.

Israel had also gone into idolatry (1 Ki 11:5 12:28 16:31 18:19 2 Ki 21:3-5 2 Ch 28:2-3), and they had been solemnly warned of God’s coming judgment upon them because of their idolatry (Jer 7:24— 8:3 44:20-23). Because of their sin, the people of Israel, who had given themselves to idolatry, were carried off captive to Babylon, a center of idolatry and one of the most wicked cities in the ancient world. It is significant that after the Babylonian captivity, idolatry never again became a major temptation to Israel.

In keeping with their violation of the Law and their departure from the true worship of God, Israel had lapsed into terrible moral apostasy. Of this, all the prophets spoke again and again. Isaiah’s opening message is typical of this theme song of the prophets: They were a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward… Ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (Is 1:4-6). Here again, the ironic judgment of God is that Israel, because of sin, was being carried off captive to wicked Babylon. The first capture of Jerusalem and the first captives were the beginning of the end for Jerusalem, which had been made magnificent by David and Solomon. When the Word of God is ignored and violated, divine judgment sooner or later is inevitable. The spiritual lessons embodied in the cold fact of the captivity may well be pondered by the church today, too often having a form of godliness but without knowing the power of it. Worldly saints do not capture the world but become instead the world’s captives.

According to Daniel 1:1, the crucial siege and capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah.” Critics have lost no time pointing out an apparent conflict between this and the statement of Jeremiah that the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon was in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jer 25:1). Montgomery, for instance, rejects the historicity of this datum. 36 This supposed chronological error is used as the first in a series of alleged proofs that Daniel is a spurious book written by one actually unfamiliar with the events of the captivity. There are, however, several good and satisfying explanations.

The simplest and most obvious explanation is that Daniel is here using Babylonian reckoning. It was customary for the Babylonians to consider the first year of a king’s reign as the year of accession and to call the next year the first year. Keil and others brush this aside as having no precedent in Scripture. 37 Keil is, however, quite out of date with contemporary scholarship on this point. Jack Finegan, for instance, has demonstrated that the phrase the first year of Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah actually means “the accession year of Nebuchadnezzar” 38 of the Babylonian reckoning. Tadmor was among the first to support this solution, and the point may now be considered as well established. 39

What Keil ignores is that Daniel is a most unusual case because he of all the prophets was the only one thoroughly instructed in Babylonian culture and point of view. Having spent most of his life in Babylon, it is only natural that Daniel should use a Babylonian form of chronology. By contrast, Jeremiah would use Israel’s form of reckoning which included a part of the year as the first year of Jehoiakim’s reign. This simple explanation is both satisfying and adequate to explain the supposed discrepancy. However, there are other explanations.

Leupold, for instance, in consideration of the additional reference in 2 Kings 24:1 where Jehoiakim is said to submit to Nebuchadnezzar for three years, offers another interpretation. In a word, it is the assumption that there was an earlier raid on Jerusalem, not recorded elsewhere in the Bible, which is indicated in Daniel 1:1. Key to the chronology of events in this crucial period in Israel’s history was the battle at Carchemish in May-June 605 B.C., a date well established by D. J. Wiseman. 40 There Nebuchadnezzar met Pharaoh Necho and destroyed the Egyptian army this occurred “in the fourth year of Jehoiakim” (Jer 46:2). Leupold holds that the invasion of Daniel 1:1 took place prior to this battle, instead of immediately afterward. He points out that the usual assumption that Nebuchadnezzar could not have bypassed Carchemish to conquer Jerusalem first, on the theory that Carchemish was a stronghold which he could not ignore, is not actually supported by the facts, as there is no evidence that the Egyptian armies were in any strength at Carchemish until just before the battle that resulted in the showdown. In this case, the capture of Daniel would be a year earlier or about 606 b.c. 41

In the present state of biblical chronology, however, this is too early. Both Finegan 42 and Thiele, 43 present-day authorities on biblical chronology, accept the assumption that the accession-year system of dating was in use in Judah from Jehoash to Hoshea. Thiele resolves the discrepancy by assuming that Daniel used the old calendar year in Judah which began in the fall in the month Tishri (Sept.-Oct.) and that Jeremiah used the Babylonian calendar which began in the spring in the month Nisan (March-April). According to the Babylonian Chronicle, “Nebuchadnezzar conquered the whole area of the Hatti country,” an area that includes all of Syria and the territory south to the borders of Egypt, in the late spring or early summer of 605. This would be Jehoiakim’s fourth year according to the Nisan reckoning and the third year according to the Tishri calendar.

Still a third view, also mentioned by Leupold, 44 offers the suggestion that the word came in Daniel 1:1 actually means “set out” rather than “arrived” and cites the following passages for similar usage (Gen 45:17 Num 32:6 2 Ki 5:5 Jon 1:3). Keil, following Hengstenberg and others, also supports this explanation. 45 This argument, which hangs on the translation “set out” (for the Hebrew bo’), is weak, however, as the examples cited are indecisive. In verse 2, the same word is used in the normal meaning of “came.”

Both of Leupold’s explanations given as alternates are far less satisfactory than the method of harmonization offered by Finegan and Thiele. The probability is that Wiseman is right, that Daniel was carried off captive shortly after the capture of Jerusalem in the summer of 605 B.C. In any case, the evidence makes quite untenable the charge that the chronological information of Daniel is inaccurate. Rather, it is entirely in keeping with information available outside the Bible and supports the view that Daniel is a genuine book.

According to Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, described as “king of Babylon,” besieged Jerusalem successfully. If this occurred before the battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar was not as yet king. The proleptic use of such a title is so common (e.g. in the statement “King David as a boy was a shepherd”) that this does not cause a serious problem. Daniel does record, however, the fact that Jehoiakim was subdued and that “part of the vessels of the house of God” were “carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god.” “Shinar” is a term used for Babylon with the nuance of a place hostile to faith. It is associated with Nimrod (Gen 10:10), became the locale of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:2), and is the place to which wickedness is banished (Zee 5:11).

The expression he carried is best taken as referring only to the vessels and not to the deportation of captives. Critics, again, have found fault with this as an inaccuracy because nowhere else is it expressly said that Daniel and his companions were carried away at this time. The obvious answer is that mention of carrying off captives is unnecessary in the light of the context of the following verses, where it is discussed in detail. There was no need to mention it twice. Bringing the vessels to the house of Nebuchadnezzar’s god Marduk 46 was a natural religious gesture, which would attribute the victory of the Babylonians over Israel to Babylonian deities. Later other vessels were added to the collection (2 Ch 36:18), and they all appeared on the fateful night of Belshazzar’s feast in Daniel 5. Jehoiakim himself was not deported, later died, and was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin. Jehoiakim, although harrassed by bands of soldiers sent against him, was not successfully besieged (2 Ki 24:1-2).

Jewish Youths Selected for Training

1:3-7 And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful, in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar and to Hananiah, of Shadrach and to Mishael, of Meshach and to Azariah, of Abed-nego.

In explanation of how Daniel and his companions found the way to Babylon, Daniel records that the king “spake unto Ashpenaz,” better translated “told” or “commanded,” to bring some of the children of Israel to Babylon for training to be servants of the king. The name Ashpenaz, according to Siegfried H. Horn, “appears in the Aramaic incantation texts from Nippur as ‘SPNZ, and is probably attested in the Cuneiform records as Ashpazdnda.” Horn goes on to identify him as, “the chief of King Nebuchadnezzar’s eunuchs (Dan. 1:3).” 47 The significance of the name Ashpenaz has been much debated, but it seems best to agree with Young that “its etymology is uncertain.” 48

It is probable that by eunuchs reference is made to important servants of the king, such as Potiphar (Gen 37:36), who was married. It is not stated that the Jewish youths were made actual eunuchs as Josephus assumes. 49 Isaiah had predicted this years before (Is 39:7), and Young supports the broader meaning of eunuch by the Targum rendering of the Isaiah passage which uses the word nobles for eunuchs. 50 However, because the word saris means both “court officer” and “castrate,” scholars are divided on the question of whether both meanings are intended. Montgomery states, “It is not necessary to draw the conclusion that the youths were made eunuchs, as Jos. hints: Tie made some of them eunuchs,’ nor to combine the ref. after Theodt., with the alleged fulfillment of Is 39:7.” 51 Charles writes in commenting on the description in Daniel 1:4, no blemish, “The perfection here asserted is physical, as in Lev. 21:17. Such perfection could not belong to eunuchs.” 52 All agree, however, that saris, translated “eunuch” in Isaiah 56:3, refers to a castrate. Ultimately the choice is left to the interpreter, although, as indicated above, some favor the thought of “court officer.”

Those selected for royal service are described as being “the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes.” The reference to the children of Israel does not mean that they were selected out of the Northern Kingdom which already had been carried off into captivity, but rather that the children selected were indeed Israelites, that is, descendants of Jacob. The stipulation, however, was that they should be of the king’s seed, literally “of the seed of the kingdom,” that is, of the royal family or of “the princes”—the nobility of Israel.

The Hebrew for the princes is a Persian word, partemim, which is cited as another proof for a late date of Daniel. However, inasmuch as Daniel lived in his latter years under Persian government as a high official, there is nothing strange about an occasional Persian word. As a matter of fact, it is not even clear that the word is strictly Persian, as its origin is uncertain. 53

In selecting these youths for education in the king’s court in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar was accomplishing several objectives. Those carried away captive could well serve as hostages to help keep the royal family of the kingdom of Judah in line. Their presence in the king’s court also would be a pleasant reminder to the Babylonian king of his conquest and success in battle. Further, their careful training and preparation to be his servants might serve Nebuchadnezzar well in later administration of Jewish affairs.

The specifications for those selected are carefully itemized in verse 4. They were to have no physical blemish and were to be “well favoured,” that is, “good ones in appearance.” They were to be superior intellectually, that is, “skilful in all wisdom” and their previous education, such as was afforded royal children or children of the nobility, was a factor. Their capacity to have understanding in “science” should not be taken in the modern sense, but rather as pertaining to their skill in all areas of learning of their day. In a word, their total physical, personal, and intellectual capacities as well as their cultural background were factors in the choice. Their training, however, was to separate them from their previous Jewish culture and environment and teach them “the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.”

The reference to Chaldeans may be to the Chaldean people as a whole or to a special class of learned men, as in Daniel 2:2, i.e., those designated as kasdi‚m. The use of the same word for the nation as a whole and for a special class of learned men is confusing, but not necessarily unusual. The meaning here may include both: the general learning of the Chaldeans and specifically the learning of wise men, such as astrologers. It is most significant that the learning of the Chaldeans was of no help to Daniel and his companions when it came to the supreme test of interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Their age at the time of their training is not specified, but they were probably in their early teens.

Although an education such as this did not in itself violate the religious scruples of Jewish youths, their environment and circumstances soon presented some real challenges. Among these was the fact that they had a daily provision of food and wine from the king’s table. Ancient literature contains many references to this practice. A. Leo Oppenheim lists deliveries of oil for the sustenance of dependents of the royal household in ancient literature and includes specific mention of food for the sons of the king of Judah in a tablet dating from the tenth to the thirty-fifth year of Nebuchadnezzar II. 54 Such food was “appointed,” or “assigned, in the sense of numerical distribution.” 55

The expression a daily provision in the Hebrew is literally “a portion of the day in its day.” The word for “meat” (Heb. pathbagh), according to Leupold, “is a Persian loan word from the Sanscrit pratibagha.” 56 Although it is debatable whether the word specifically means “delicacies,” as Young considers that it means “assignment,” 57 the implication is certainly there that the royal food was lavish and properly called “rich food” (as in the RSV). 58

The bountiful provision of the king was intended to give them ample food supplies to enable them to pursue their education for a three-year period. The expression so nourish them three years literally refers to training such as would be given a child. The goal was to bring them to intellectual maturity to “stand before the king,” equivalent to becoming his servant and thereby taking a place of responsibility.

In verse 6, Daniel and his three companions—Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah—are mentioned as being children of Judah included among the captives. These only of the captives are to figure in the narrative following, and no other names are given. The corrupting influences of Babylon were probably too much for the others, and they were useless in God’s hands.

The name of Daniel is a familiar one in the Bible and is used of at least three other characters besides the prophet Daniel (1 Ch 3:1, a son of David Ezra 8:2, a son of Ithamar and in Neh 10:6, a priest). Conservative scholars, however, find a reference to the prophet Daniel in Ezekiel 14:14, 20 and Ezekiel 28:3. As pointed out in the Introduction, critics usually dispute the identification of Ezekiel’s mention of Daniel as the same person as the author of the book as this would argue against their contention that the book of Daniel is a second century b.c. forgery. As noted previously, however, it would be most significant and natural for Ezekiel, a captive, to mention one of his own people who, though also a captive, had risen to a place of power second only to the king. Jewish captives would not only regard Daniel as their hero, but as a godly example. The contention of critics that Ezekiel is referring to a mythological character mentioned in the Ras Shamra Text (dated 1500-1200 b.c.) is, as Young states, “extremely questionable.” 59

The change in the name of Daniel and his three companions focuses attention upon the meaning of both their Hebrew and Babylonian names.

Scholars are generally agreed that Daniel’s name means “God is judge” or “my judge is God” or “God has judged.” Hananiah, whose name also appears elsewhere in the Bible, referring to other individuals (1 Ch 25:23 2 Ch 26:11 Jer 36:12 etc.) is interpreted as meaning “Jehovah is gracious” or “Jehovah has been gracious.” Mishael (Ex 6:22 Neh 8:4) may be understood to mean “who is He that is God?” 60 or “who is what God is?” 61 Azariah may be interpreted, “The Lord helps” 62 or “Jehovah hath helped.” All of the Hebrew names of Daniel’s companions appear again in other books of the Old Testament in reference to others by the same name. Significantly, all of their Hebrew names indicate their relationship to the God of Israel, and in the customs of the time, connote devout parents. This perhaps explains why these, in contrast to the other young men, are found true to God: they had godly homes in their earlier years. Even in the days of Israel’s apostasy, there were those who corresponded to Elijah’s seven thousand in Israel who did not bow the knee to Baal.

All four of the young men, however, are given new names as was customary when an individual entered a new situation (cf. Gen 17:5 41:45 2 Sa 12:24-25 2 Ki 23:34 24:17 Est 2:7). 63 The heathen names given to Daniel and his companions are not as easily interpreted as their Hebrew names, but probably they were given in a gesture to credit to the heathen gods of Babylon the victory over Israel and to further divorce these young men from their Hebrew background. Daniel is given the name of Belteshazzar, identical to Belshazzar and meaning “protect his life,” 64 or preferably “May Bel protect his life” (see Dan 4:8). 65 Bel was a god of Babylon (cf. Baal, the chief god of the Canaanites).

Hananiah was given the name of Shadrach. Leupold interprets this as being a reference to the compound of Sudur, meaning “command,” and Aku, the moon-god. Hence the name would mean “command of Aku.” 66 Young considers the name a perversion of Marduk, a principal god of Babylon.

Mishael is given the name of Meshach. Leupold considers this to be a contraction of Mi-sha-aku meaning, “who is what Aku (the moon-god) is?” Montgomery holds that the first part of Mishael means “salvation,” following Schrader and Torrey but rejecting an alternate translation “who is what god is?” followed by most modern commentaries. 67 Montgomery is probably right, although Young does not feel the identification of this name is sufficient to give a definition. 68

Azariah is given the name of Abed-nego which probably means “servant of Nebo” with Nebo corrupted to nego. Keil does not venture an opinion on the meaning of Shadrach or Meshach, but agrees with the interpretation of Abed-nego. 69 Nebo was considered the son of the Babylonian god Bel.

Daniel, in his later writing, generally prefers his own Hebrew name, but frequently uses the Babylonian names of his companions. The fact that the Hebrew youths were given heathen names, however, does not indicate that they departed from the Hebrew faith any more than in the case of Joseph (Gen 41:45).

Daniel’s Purpose Not to Defile Himself

1:8-10 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.

Daniel and his companions were confronted with the problem of compromise in the matter of eating food provided by the king. No doubt, the provision for them of the king’s food was intended to be generous and indicated the favor of the king. Daniel, however, “purposed in his heart” or literally, “laid upon his heart” not to defile himself (cf. Is 42:25 47:7 57:1, 11 Mal 2:2). The problem was twofold. First, the food provided did not meet the requirements of the Mosaic law in that it was not prepared according to regulations and may have included meat from forbidden animals. Second, there was no complete prohibition in the matter of drinking wine in the Law but here the problem was that the wine, as well as the meat, had been dedicated to idols as was customary in Babylon. To partake thereof would be to recognize the idols as deities. A close parallel to Daniel’s purpose not to defile himself is found in the book of Tobit (1:10-11, RSV) which refers to the exiles of the northern tribes: “When I was carried away captive to Nineveh, all my brethren and my relatives ate the food of the Gentiles: but I kept myself from eating it, because I remembered God with all my heart.” A similar reference is found in 1 Maccabees (1:62-63, RSV), “But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant and they did die.” 70

The problem of whether Daniel and his companions should eat the food provided by the king was a supreme test of their fidelity to the law and probably served the practical purpose of separating Daniel and his three companions from the other captives who apparently could compromise in this matter. His decision also demonstrates Daniel’s understanding that God had brought Israel into captivity because of their failure to observe the law. Daniel’s handling of this problem sets the spiritual tone for the entire book.

Keil summarizes the problem in these words:

The command of the king, that the young men should be fed with the food and wine from the king’s table, was to Daniel and his friends a test of their fidelity to the Lord and to His law, like that to which Joseph was subjected in Egypt, corresponding to the circumstances in which he was placed, of his fidelity to God (Gen. 39:7 f.). The partaking of the food brought to them from the king’s table was to them contaminating, because forbidden by Law not so much because the food was not prepared according to the Levitical ordinance, or perhaps consisted of the flesh of animals which to the Israelites were unclean, for in this case the youths were not under the necessity of refraining from the wine, but the reason of their rejection of it was that the heathen at their feasts offered up in sacrifice to their gods, a part of the food and the drink, and thus consecrated their meals by a religious rite whereby not only he who participated in such a meal participated in the worship of idols, but the meat and the wine as a whole were the meat and the wine’ of an idol sacrifice, partaking of which, according to the saying of the apostle (1 Cor. 10:20 f.), is the same as sacrificing to devils. Their abstaining from such food and drink betray no rigorism going beyond the Mosaic law, a tendency which first showed itself in the time of the Maccabees… Daniel’s resolution to refrain from such unclean food flowed, therefore, from fidelity to the law, and from steadfastness to the faith that ‘man lives not by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3). 71

Daniel’s handling of this difficult situation reflects his good judgment and common sense. Instead of inviting punishment by rebellion, he courteously requests of the prince of the eunuchs that he might be excused from eating food which would defile his conscience (1 Co 10:31). Although critics attempt to equate this abstinence with fanaticism and thereby link it to the Maccabean Period, 72 there is no excuse for such a charge since Daniel handles the situation well. Leupold points out that Daniel did not object to the heathen names given to them nor to their education which involved the learning of the heathen, including their religious view. 73 This was not a direct conflict with the Jewish law. Here Daniel is exercising a proper conscience in matters that were of real importance.

When Daniel brought his request to the prince of the eunuchs, we are told that God had brought Daniel into favor and compassion with him. The King James Version implies that this predated his request. It is more probable that it occurred at the time the request was given, as brought out by the literal rendering of the Hebrew, “God gave Daniel favour” and so forth. As Young puts it, “The sequence of ideas is historical.” 74 The word “favour” (Heb. hesed) means kindness or good will. The translation “tender love” (Heb. rahami‚m ) is a plural intended to denote deep sympathy. It is clear that God intervened on Daniel’s part in preparing the way for his request.

The prince of eunuchs, however, was not speaking idly when he replied to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king,” for indeed it was not an overstatement that, if he did not fulfill his role well, he might lose his head. Life was cheap in Babylon and subject to the whims of the king. The prince, therefore, did not want to be caught changing the king’s orders in regard to the diet of the captives. If later they showed any ill effects and inquiry was made, he would have been held responsible. The expression “worse liking” (i.e., worse looking, poor in comparison) does not imply any dangerous illness but only difference of appearance, such as paleness or being thinner than his companions. Although the prince could have peremptorily denied Daniel’s request, Ashpenaz attempted to explain the problem. This opened the door for a counterproposal.

Daniel’s Request for a Ten-Day Test

1:11-14 Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants. So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.

Daniel’s next step was to appeal to the steward who had immediate charge of Daniel and his companions for a ten-day test. Montgomery observes, “Dan. then appeals privately to a lower official, the ‘warden,’ as the Heb. word means, who was charged with the care of the youths and their diet… Tradition has rightly distinguished between this official and the Chief Eunuch.” 75 The King James Version indicates this request is made to Melzar (Heb. Hamelsar). The probability is that this is not a proper name and simply means “the steward” or the chief attendant. 76 The Septuagint changes the text here to indicate that Daniel had actually spoken to “Abiezdri who had been appointed chief eunuch over Daniel.” Critics, such as Charles, have used this as a basis for questioning the text of Daniel with the idea that Daniel would not speak to the steward but would rather continue his conversation with the prince of eunuchs. Young, after Calvin, refutes this idea, however, and holds that Daniel’s action is perfectly natural and in keeping with the situation. 77 Having been refused permission for a permanent change in diet, Daniel naturally took the next course of attempting a brief trial. As Montgomery says, “An underling might grant the boon without fear of discovery.” 78 The chief steward, not being in as close or responsible a position as the prince of eunuchs in relation to the king, could afford to take a chance.

The proposal was to give a ten-day trial, a reasonable length of time to test a diet and yet one that would not entail too much risk of incurring the wrath of the king. The request to eat “pulse” or vegetables included a broad category of food. Young agrees with Driver that this did not limit the diet to peas and beans but to food that grows out of the ground, i.e., “the sown things.” 79 Calvin may be right that Daniel had a special revelation from God in seeking this permission and for this reason the youth made the proposal that at the end of the ten days their countenance (or appearance) should be examined and judgment rendered accordingly. 80 The steward granted their request, and the test was begun.

Daniel’s Request Granted

1:15-16 And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat. Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink and gave them pulse.

At the conclusion of the test, Daniel and his companions not only were better in appearance but also were fatter in flesh than those who had continued to eat the king’s food. Although God’s blessing was on them, it is not necessary to imagine any supernatural act of God here. The food they were eating was actually better for them. On the basis of the test their request was granted, and their vegetable diet continued.

God’s Blessing on Daniel and His Companions

1:17-21 As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. Now at the end of the days that the king had said he should bring them in, then the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king communed with them and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azatriah: therefore stood they before the king. And in all matters bf wisdom and understanding, that the king enquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm. And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus.

The closing section of Daniel 1 is a summary of the three years of hard study and the result of God’s blessing upon the four faithful young men. The word children is better translated “youths.” By the time they completed their education, they were probably nearly twenty years of age. In addition to their natural intellectual ability and their evident careful application to their studies, God added His grace. The article precedes the name of God, and by this is meant that He is the true God. By knowledge and skill (or intelligence) is indicated that they not only had a thorough acquaintance with the learning of the Chaldeans, but that they had insight into its true meaning (James 1:5). Calvin is probably wrong that they were kept from study of the religious superstitions and magic which characterized the Chaldeans. 81 In order to be fully competent to meet the issues of their future life, they would need a thorough understanding of the religious practices of their day. Here the grace of God operated, however, in giving them understanding so they could distinguish between the true and the false. They not only had knowledge but discernment.

The expression “in all learning and wisdom” has reference to literature and the wisdom to understand it. As Keil puts it, Daniel “needed to be deeply versed in the Chaldean wisdom, as formerly Moses was in the wisdom of Egypt (Acts vii. 22), so as to be able to put to shame the wisdom of this world by the hidden wisdom of God.” 82

Although all four youths shared in an intelligent understanding of the literature of the Chaldeans and were able to separate wisely the true from the false, only Daniel had understanding “in all visions and dreams.” This was not a foolish boast but an actual fact necessary to understand Daniel’s role as a prophet in the chapters which followed. In this, Daniel differed from his companions as a true prophet. His ability to discern and interpret visions and dreams primarily had in view the interpretation of the dreams and visions of others. However, this did not include the ability to know Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2, which Daniel received only after earnest prayer and it did not necessarily as yet give Daniel the capacity to have visions and dreams himself as he did in chapter 7 and following.

Daniel’s capacity included distinguishing a true dream from one that had no revelatory meaning and also the power to interpret it correctly. God’s hand was already on Daniel even as a young man much as it was on Samuel centuries before. Although critics like Montgomery and others deprecate the significance and the importance of the prophetic gift in Daniel on the assumption of a second century date for the book, it becomes quite clear as the book progresses that though Daniel differed somewhat from the major prophets, his contribution is just as important and in fact, more extensive than that of any other book of the Old Testament. 83 To no other was the broad expanse of both Gentile and Hebrew future history revealed in the same precision.

In verse 18 the conclusion of their period of preparation is marked by a personal interview before Nebuchadnezzar, and they were brought into his presence by the prince of eunuchs himself. The expression at the end of the days means at the end of the three-year period. At this time, apparently all of the young men in training were tested by the king.

Under Nebuchadnezzar’s searching questions, Daniel and his three companions, named with their Hebrew names, were found “ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.” By this is meant that they had high intelligence and keen discernment in the matters which they had studied. The statement that they were “ten times better,” literally, “ten hands,” at first glance sounds extravagant but signifies that they were outstandingly different. Even this praise, however, is mentioned in such a matter of fact way and so evidently due to the grace of God that Daniel is delivered from the charge of boasting. Their straightforward character and honesty, as well as the deep insight of these young men into the real meaning of their studies, must have stood in sharp contrast to the wise men of the king’s court, who often were more sly and cunning than wise. Nebuchadnezzar, himself an extraordinarily intelligent man as manifested in his great exploits, was quick to respond to these bright young minds.

Chapter 1 concludes with the simple statement that Daniel continued unto the first year of king Cyrus. Critics have seized upon this as another inaccuracy because, according to Daniel 10:1, the revelation was given to Daniel in the third year of Cyrus. The large discussion that this has provoked is much ado about nothing. Obviously to Daniel, the important point was that his ministry spanned the entire Babylonian empire, and he was still alive when Cyrus came on the scene. The passage does not say nor necessarily imply that Daniel did not continue after the first year of Cyrus—which, as a matter of fact, he did.

The attempts to dislodge both verses 20 and 21 as illustrated in the comments of Charles, who wants to put them at the end of the second chapter, have been satisfactorily answered by Young. 84 Charles argues, “If the king had found the Jewish youths ten times wiser than all the sages of Babylon he would naturally have consulted them before the wise men of Babylon, and not have waited till, in ii.16, they volunteered their help.” 85 This is, however, an arbitrary change in the text. If the events of chapter 2 follow chronologically at the end of chapter 1, they had demonstrated only proficiency in study, not ability to interpret dreams as in chapter 2. There is no indication in chapter 1 that they were immediately given the rank of chief wise men. Therefore, they were not called to interpret the dream of chapter 2. A similar situation is found in chapter 5, where Daniel, even with his record of interpreting dreams and visions, is not called in until others have failed. Critics are too eager to change the text of Scripture to suit their interpretations.

As is pointed out in the discussion of Daniel 2:1, it is entirely possible that the vision of Daniel 2 and the interpretation of the dream occurred during the third year of Daniel’s training, before the formal presentation of the four youths to the king. This would take away all objections concerning the statement of Daniel 1:20, as it would make Daniel’s graduation after the events of Daniel 2. That the book of Daniel is not written in strict chronological order is evident from the placing of chapters 5 and 6 before chapters 7 and 8, out of chronological order. In any case, there is no justification for arbitrary criticism of Daniel’s record.

The narrative as it stands is beautifully complete—an eloquent testimony to the power and grace of God in a dark hour of Israel’s history when the faithfulness of Daniel and his companions shines all the brighter because it is in a context of Israel’s captivity and apostasy. In every age, God is looking for those whom He can use. Here were four young men whose testimony has been a source of strength to every saint in temptation. Certainly Daniel would not have been recognized as a prophet of God and the channel of divine revelation if he had not been a man of prayer and of uncompromising moral character, whom God could honor fittingly. Daniel and his companions represent the godly remnant of Israel which preserved the testimony of God even in dark hours of apostasy and divine judgment. The noble example of these young men will serve to encourage Israel in their great trials in the time of the end.

36 J. A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, pp. 113-16.

37 Carl Frederick Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, p. 60.

38 Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, p. 202.

39 Hayim Tadmor, “Chronicle of the Last Kings of Judah,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 15:227.

40 D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings, pp. 20-26.

41 H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Daniel, pp. 47-54.

43 Edwin R. Thiele, Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, p. 166.

46 Edward J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel, p. 38.

47 Siegfried H Horn, Seventh Day Adventist Dictionary of the Bible, p. 83.

49 Flavius Josephus, The Works of Flavius Josephus, p. 222.

52 Robert H. Charles, The Book of Daniel, p. 7.

53 *In his discussion, Leupold observes correctly, “Critics should use uncertain terms with proper caution” (Leupold, p. 59).

54 A. L. Oppenheim, “Babylonian and Assyrian Historical Texts,” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, p. 308.

56 Leupold, p. 62. See Montgomery, pp. 127-28 for a complete discussion cf. Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon to the Old Testament, p. 834.

58 The privilege of sitting at the king’s table is discussed by Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, pp. 120-23.

67 Montgomery, pp. 128-29 Brown, Driver, and Briggs, p. 567 Horn, p. 724.

70 Cf. Tudith 12:1-4 Book of Jubilees 22:16 and the interesting account in Josephus, Life 3 (14), where we hear of certain Jewish priests in Rome who avoided defilement with Gentile food by living solely on figs and nuts (cf. Montgomery, p. 130).

73 *Leupold credits Kliefoth as expressing this concept (Leupold, p. 66).

76 Cf. Leupold, p. 70 Keil, p. 81.

79 Young, p. 46 cf. Montgomery, p. 132.

80 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, 1:105.

Old Babylonian Period - History


While the Bible is not primarily a history book, a proper
understanding of the Old Testament texts must include an understanding
of the history of the day. The Bible does concern itself closely with
historical events, though not with all of history. Rather, the
biblical texts relate the history of God’s dealings with men and his
provision and application of salvation for mankind. It is with this
history-within-history that the Bible deals – with those particular
events, happenings and individuals through which God acts to provide
and to apply salvation, and to reveal himself. This history of
salvation – this history of redemption – is referred to by theologians
as ‘heilesgeschichte’, a German word which means simply ‘holy
history’. The outline history below is a skeleton look at at least a
part of this heilesgeschichte.

There are parts of history which are not covered by Biblical
accounts. For example, between the second and the third major
divisions of Old Testament history – between the time of Abraham and
the 12 patriarchs and the time of the deliverance out of slavery in
Egypt – there is a gap in the biblical account of 400 years, in which
we learn almost nothing from the pages of Scripture. Does this mean
that nothing of significance occurred in the world-at-large? In terms
of Egyptian history many significant events occurred in these
centuries. During this time that, for example, at least two major
Egyptian dynasties rose and fell, most of the pyramids were built, and
there was a major religious upheaval that saw the attempt to make one
god – Ammon-Ra, the Egyptian sun god – the only god of Egypt. As far
as Biblical history was concerned, however, nothing of
heilesgeschichte importance happened, so the narrative skips quickly
over the period.
We see this selective portrayal of history in the lives of
individual biblical characters as well. Moses was 80 years old when
he began his major work, yet we know almost nothing of his first 80
years because the biblical authors deemed they were of no significance
in God’s holy history. Again, while we find in the New Testament
records accounts of his birth, of one incident at age 2, and another
at 12, we really learn little about Christ’s early years. With these
exceptions, we know nothing of him until he reaches the age of 30.
From this point until his death at 33 we have a wealth of information,
though it is apparent that even this is but a select account, and not
a full biography. Indeed, fully one third of all we know about Jesus
of Nazareth concerns only the last week of his life hardly a balanced
biography. The writers of the New Testament were recording those
events which, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they
determined to have holy-history significance.
The Bible then is concerned with this religious viewpoint. When
we begin examining biblical records in the context of the history of
the near east we going to find much missing that we’d like to have
there indeed, many have found this sufficient reason to allege
historical inaccuracies. But we must keep in mind that the Bible is
not concerned with giving us a complete socio-politico-economic
history of the middle east. Vis-a-vis redemptive history, biblical
accounts are completely accurate.
The Old Testament is the history of a people, and of its
development into a nation. Whereas one normally studies history in
order to understand who we are and how we got here, holy history is
studied in order to understand who God is and what is our relationship
to him. This holy history, then, has a unique function. Yet, most
people have no idea of the historical framework around which the
biblical events must be fitted. Thus, to facilitate this I will
attempt to summarize the history of the Old Testament.

The biblical account opens with a period known as The Beginnings.
This period, recounted in the Book of Genesis (or Beginnings),
chapters 1 through 11. Here it is that we find the introduction of
the theme of creation and the setting of the stage for the drama of
redemption. And here we are told that all things came into being as a
direct result of the power, the plan, and the activities of God. Man,
as created, had a relationship with God, but then sin entered and the
relationship was broken. Thus mankind became estranged from God
because of his sin and God’s punishment for that sin. For indeed, God
does punish sin. But he also, so we are told, rewards those who will
repudiate sin to seek him. This period of beginnings ends with the
birth of national groups. Here we have accounts of the flood,
demonstrating God’s judgment on mankind’s sin, and of Noah, who
demonstrates God’s willingness to deliver even in the midst of
judgment. And we find an account of the development of nations,
explaining something of the diversity of men.


As the nations developed, God worked to select one group through
which he would work uniquely to provide knowledge of himself and of
his salvation one nation which would be the focus of his redemptive
history. He chose for himself a rather unlikely individual to begin:
one Abram, who lived in Ur of the Chaldees.
The Chaldees was an ancient empire located in the southern
portion of the Tigris-Euphrates river valley, on the northern end of
the Persian Gulf. Ur was its chief city, a major center of commerce
and of civilization of the day. And there, God appeared and offered
to one man a special covenant.
The concept of a covenant is extremely important throughout the
scriptural writings. A covenant was an agreement between two parties,
but a rather one-sided agreement, in which one party made all the
promises and established all the conditions for its fulfillment the
other party was free only to accept the covenant or to reject it he
could not change its conditions. Today we often use this concept in
the execution of wills of inheritance. Frequently, inheritances are
bestowed only upon the acceptance and fulfillment of certain
requirements laid out by the deceased party. The inheritor may reject
the terms of the inheritance if he desires, but if he does he will not
receive the inheritance. To receive what is promised, he must first
meet the conditions stipulated.
What, then, is the covenant which God offers to Abram? We find
it in Genesis 12:2,3 where God says to Abram:

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

And what we have is the holy, all-powerful, righteous God,
against whom man rebelled, who looks down and decides he wants to re-
establish a relationship with at least a portion of that mankind
which, through its own doing, had estranged itself from him. To this
end God offers a framework within which he and mankind may get
together again. This, then is the beginning of heilesgeschichte, and
it begins with God.
But were Abram and his descendants to take this covenant for
their own benefit only? God says, ‘Through you all the nations will
be blessed.’ That is, through Abram and his descendants, through that
nation which will, by God’s intervention, spring forth from Abram’s
loins, salvation will be made available to all of mankind. In
exchange, Abram is promised a special relationship to God, a family of
importance, and a land to live in. Abram’s job was to respond to
God’s covenant by faith.
By faith, then, Abram moved from Ur of the Chaldees to the land
of Palestine, trusting in God’s ability to fulfill the promises he had
made. Not only did Abram move to Palestine but, it seems, as a
further demonstration of his trust in God he began walking around
acting as if he owned the place, despite opinions to the contrary from
the various peoples who were already occupying the land. As a further
demonstration of his faith, Abram took for himself a new name –
Abraham – to signify that he was to become the father of multitudes.
When he arrived in Palestine, Abraham built an altar to the Lord,
and there he called upon his name. This statement becomes significant
in light of passages such Joshua 24:2,14,15 in which we are told that
prior to God’s appearing, Abram and his family were pagans,
worshipping the gods of the Chaldeans. But, as a response to the
vision, and to the promises made, Abraham literally switched gods,
becoming thereby the progenitor of a nation destined to become the
central fulcrum of God’s redemptive history.
Eventually, Abraham had eight children. But only one – Isaac –
became the successor of Abraham to God’s covenant. Isaac in turn had
two sons, but the older, Esau, sold his birthright to Jacob the
younger, and with it his right to continue the covenant of the Lord.
Jacob then became the father of 12 sons who became the twelve
patriarchs of the tribes of Israel.
The end of this second period of Old Testament history finds this
family of shepherds, to avoid famine, moving down to Egypt where one
of its number – Joseph – has become a leader of some importance. The
family moves into the land of Goshen in Egypt, located along the
northern banks of the Nile River, which was ideal for the shepherding
it practiced. Following this move into Egypt comes a gap in the
biblical records of 400 years in which this people grows and develops,
but about which little is said.

The third period of this history of Israel is probably the most
important. This period is known as the period of bondage and
deliverance, of the birth of that nation which God, now nearly 500
years earlier, had promised to Abraham. In modern Jewish, and some
Christian, thought, this period is referred to simply as the Exodus.
The term ‘Exodus’ may refer strictly to the leaving of Egypt, but it
is frequently used to address the entire period of time between the
leaving of Egypt and the nation’s arrival and settling in the land of
As this period opens, the descendants of Abraham have multiplied
exceedingly. From a family of 70 shepherds in 400 years Abraham’s
descendants come to number between 1.5 and 2 million. Now Egypt
begins to fear them, and they are forced into slavery.
Eventually, in response to Israel’s cries against its bondage,
God raises up a man whom he has specially prepared to deliver the
Israelites out of Egypt, to guide them across the wilderness and
settle them in the land he promised to their ancestors. In the first
stage of this journey, Moses does indeed lead them out of Egypt, but
instead of leading them northwest along the Mediterranean coast –
along that route which was later to be known as the Way of the
Philistines – as one might expect one heading to Palestine to do, he
leads the Israelites south into the Sinai peninsula, where they camp
at Mt. Sinai.
Why does Moses do this? We are told specifically that God did
not allow him to follow the Way of the Philistines because he knew
that the Israelites would probably become discouraged and turn back.
Remember that at this point in time the twelve tribes were nothing
more than a ragtag mob of liberated slaves the last thing they
resembled was a nation. Therefore, before anything else, it fell to
God to weld them into a nation experienced in depending on his
provision. So as the Israelites journey into the wilderness they
experience a number of events through which God teaches them absolute
dependence on him.
At Mt. Sinai a number of events occurred, the most important of
which is that God renewed the Abrahamic covenant. Here also the
Hebrews are given the Mosaic Law, a system of rules and laws designed
to govern the way they live together, worship, and conduct
governmental affairs. Here at Sinai this ragtag mob begins to become
a nation.
From Sinai the Israelites moved northward, where they came to
rest at Kadesh-Barnea. From here God intended they move into the land
to take possession, but the Hebrews balked, becoming discouraged at
reports of giant Canaanites and their mighty walled cities. Israel
rebelled and refused to enter. As punishment, therefore, God made
them wander in the desert for 40 years until all those who were 20
years of age or older had died. And in the end, because of lack of
faith, even Moses was forbidden to enter the promised land. But even
these apparent setbacks were to be a part of holy history.
And even in the midst of his punishment, God continued to provide
the Hebrews’ needs. They received manna from heaven to eat, and God
appeared to them as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night to
guide them in their wanderings. They even had continued opportunity
for worship in the tabernacle which God commanded them to build.
Thus, even here we see a principle of God’s dealings with man – he may
punish, but he never abandons.
Eventually, when their wanderings were completed, under Moses’
leadership the Hebrews moved up to the Jordan River where they camped
opposite the city of Jericho. Now at last they were ready to move
into Canaan. Here Moses died and was succeeded by Joshua. This ends
the third period of Old Testament history.


The death of Moses found the Hebrew tribes camped on the brink of
the Jordan River under a new leader. Moses commanded the people to
obey Joshua as they did him, and under Joshua they were finally ready
to take for themselves the land God had promised them.
Prior to its conquest by the Hebrews, the land of Canaan was
politically divided into relatively weak city-states which had no
unified means of defense against attack, and so Israel was free to
move against various centers of power which were more or less
independent of one another.
Joshua’s first target was Jericho, an ancient center of
civilization which was protected by exceedingly high walls. The
significance of Jericho lay in the fact that it was for fear of high-
walled cities that Israel had refused to enter the land 40 years
earlier. Now once again they found themselves face to face with city
walls, but this time they obeyed God and moved into the land. God
prevailed and Jericho fell.
Following the conquest of Jericho, Joshua allied himself with the
peoples of Gibeon and defeats the city of Ai, making it possible for
the Hebrews to occupy the central portions of the land and thereby
divide it for conquer. From his position in the center of the land
Joshua first moved southward, conquering the southern cities, and then
marched north. Through gradual conquest the Hebrews established
themselves as the dominant force in Canaan, though many of the
original Canaanite inhabitants remained in the land.
Next the land was divided, and each of the twelve tribes was
given a ‘possession’ – a specific geographical area which was made the
property of that tribe. In exchange for the exclusive right to
inhabit that region, each tribe was to settle and develop it.
Additionally, it became the responsibility of a tribe to drive out any
remaining Canaanites from its possession. This ends the fourth period
of Old Testament history.

The fifth period is the time of the judges. By the close of the
fourth period each tribe had settled in its own area, becoming
virtually independent of the others. Though there were advantages to
this independent arrangement, there were a number of disadvantages as
well. Each tribe was bound to the others only by shared familial
ties, and by the one central sanctuary at which all tribes worshipped.
The tabernacle which Moses had constructed in the wilderness was set
up in the middle of Canaan at a place called Shiloh, enabling all the
tribes to able to come to worship.
During the period of the judges we find intense rivalry and
conflict between the various tribes. Ephriam in particular was
warlike, conducting many raids on the other tribes. And all the
tribes together were under constant attack from other groups –
Moabites and Ammonites in the east, Edomites from the south, Aramites
to the north, and other marauding tribes of the day. The biblical
texts were quick to place theological significance on these attacks,
speaking of something of a cycle of sin which seemed to repeat itself
continuously throughout Israel’s history. The cycle always began with
the fall of the Hebrews into sin, which most frequently took the form
of idolatry, as inspired by the pagan tribes which shared the land
with the Israelites. Incensed by this Israelite faithlessness, God
would punish, usually by bringing in a marauding tribe from outside
the land for a time of oppression and plunder. The Hebrews would then
repent, crying out to God for salvation, and in response God would
raise up a judge who would unite the tribes and lead them to victory
against the invaders. After the victory, the judge would remain and
rule over the tribes.
The land of Canaan and the political organization of the tribes
was of such great diversity that it seems there were times in which
several judges were ruling simultaneously. There might, for example,
have been a threat to some of the northern tribes from the Aramites to
the north, while the Ammonites simultaneously threatened from the
east. A judge might arise in the north to unify and lead the
threatened northern tribes while a counterpart was doing the same in
the east. With such a situation among the tribes it becomes extremely
difficult to attach dates to the rules of the judges. In fact, even
the length of this period is a subject of much controversy some
scholars estimate the rule of the judges all told lasted as little as
150 years, while others insist it was as long as 400. The main
purpose of the scriptural accounts is to show something of the anarchy
of the time, and God’s faithfulness during this time to deliver using
human agents as instruments of his deliverance.

The sixth period of Old Testament history opens with the dawn of
a new threat against the Israelites. Previously, threats had taken
the form of marauding tribes – Moabites, Ammonites, et al – who were
concerned mainly with raiding and plundering, and had little interest
in remaining in the land. But at the end of the fifth period came a
new threat – the Philistines.
The route previously mentioned leading along the Mediterranean
coast from Egypt up past Canaan through Tyre was called the Way of the
Philistines. The Phillistines were seemingly a group of people who
had apparently lived in Crete, south of Greece. Apparently, some
Cretians left Crete and moved southeastward, attempting to settle in
Egypt. They were repulsed by the Egyptians and, being a sea-going
people, subsequently settled the coastal plains area between Egypt and
Palestine. During the period of the judges in Israel they began to
move northward along the coast, going probably as far north as Mt.
Carmel. From there they moved inward, but not, as other tribes had
done, simply to raid and plunder but to capture territory to settle
in. It was against these Philistines that Sampson, the last of the
judges, fought most of his battles.
It became quickly apparent that they would have to unite to meet
this new invasion. Under Samuel, then, they crowned as king one Saul,
whose primary primary concern was to be the war against the
Philistines. Though he did manage to win some preliminary battles,
Saul soon ran into trouble, apparently for two reasons.
First, he rebelled against God, who consequently removed his
spirit from Saul. Second, he was unable to follow up his initial
victories. Eventually, at a crucial battle at Mt. Gilboa, Saul was
killed. The coastal plains area the Philistines were attempting to
settle enters the valley of Jezreel at the hill of Megiddo. Gilboa is
quite a ways to the east of the plains area, just on the edge of the
Esdraelon valley. During later battles Saul allowed the Hebrews to
move much further inland that they had ever been before. This
incursion was significant, and here Saul lost his life.
Even before Saul’s death, however, Samuel had been called upon to
anoint another king over the Hebrews: a young man named David. At
first, David was an assistant of sorts to Saul, a musician in his
courts and a soldier in his army. But as Saul’s fortune deserted him
he grew increasingly suspicious of any threat to his throne, and David
came under suspicion. Eventually, David was forced to flee to the
wilderness where he became an outlaw leader of a roving band. To
escape the pursuits of Saul, David made his headquarters in the
wilderness of Judah, in the southern sector of the country. David had
been born and raised in Bethlehem, a southern town, and therefore he
knew the southlands very well. David moved a bit further south than
Bethlehem and engaged in his pirate-like activities in the terrain he
knew best.
After Saul’s death, the southern half of Israel crowned David as
king, and David established his headquarters at Hebron, where he ruled
for seven years. Eventually the northern tribes crowned him as well,
and David found himself with a problem. If he were to move north and
establish a northern city as his throne the southern tribes would feel
deserted. If, on the other hand, he were to remain in the south and
establish his throne in a southern city, he would isolate the northern
tribes, who perhaps already thought of David as something of a
southerner. David shrewdly chose as his capital a city which lay on
the boundary between the northern and southern halves of his kingdom,
a city which had until that time not been occupied by the Hebrews –
the Jebusite city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was highly defensible,
surrounded as it was on three sides by very deep valleys. David
conquered the city and, in its southern portion, between the valleys
of Hinon and Kidron and a hill later to be called the Mount of Olives
to the east, David used the hill of Ophel to found his capital. Thus
did Jerusalem come to be known as the City of David.
As it was for Saul before him, David’s primary task was to drive
out the Philistines from the land. Unlike Saul, however, David was
successful. After defeating the Philistines, David went on to
establish the Hebrews as not only a kingdom but an empire – the major
empire of the ancient world in David’s day, stretching from the Tigris
River in the east down to Egypt in the south. Through a series of
shrewd political and military alliances Israel became the superpower
of the ancient world.
At his death, David was succeeded by his son Solomon. David was
known as a man of war, but by the time of Solomon wars had ended.
Solomon’s primary task, then, became the consolidation and protection
of the empire. He reorganized it and, most importantly, he extended
the boundaries of the city of Jerusalem to encompass a hill which was
sometimes known as Mt. Moriah on which he constructed a great temple
to the Hebrew God.
Solomon also centralized power in Jerusalem, instituted a draft
for military service, and charged high taxes. These became the three
weaknesses of his empire, and the central issues of grievance for
which the northern tribes eventually rebelled and seceded from
Solomon’s empire to establish their own government.
Solomon had sinned against God. To consolidate the empire he had
entered into political alliances with other kings, alliances which
were sealed in the then-customary way in which all alliances were
sealed – by the marriage of Solomon to a daughter or a sister of the
king. These wives of Solomon’s came to settle with him in Jerusalem,
bringing with them, among other things, their pagan gods which they
with great zeal then attempted to introduce into Israel. This angered
Yahweh greatly, who promised to punish Solomon by tearing away the
kingdom from him.

Following the reign of Solomon, then, comes the establishment of
the Divided Kingdom. Beginning at this time, the Hebrews were divided
into two groups. One of these groups, consisting of 10 of the 12
tribes, occupied the northern part of the land, which was then called
either Israel or Samaria (after its capital city of Samaria). None of
this kingdom’s kings came from the line of David, and none followed
the God of the Old Testament entirely. As a result, the northern 10
tribes have a history of doing evil in God’s sight. As a matter of
fact, several of the northern kings are reckoned by secular history as
having been quite credible rulers, and rather significant in their
day. But they did not follow Yahweh, and thus found themselves
outside of God’s salvation history. The biblical judgment on these
kings was that they were only evil continuously.
The other group of tribes, the two remaining tribes plus half of
the tribe of Ephriam – whose land had been captured in a raid by the
southern tribes against the northern in order to establish a buffer
zone for the city of Jerusalem – formed the nation of Judah, retaining
its capital in David’s City. All the kings of Judah – some twenty in
all – came from the Davidic line of these twenty, six were commended
by God as good (actually, eight were considered good, but two of these
turned bad in their latter years).
As a result of this division of the nation, the Hebrews were
reduced from world power to two relatively weak nations which found
themselves getting caught up in the power play of the international
politics of the day. In addition to Egypt in the south and Syria to
the north, they were hard-pressed pressed by Midianites, Moabites,
Ammonites and assorted other wandering tribes. But the real major
threat came during the eighth century BC as a people living in the
northeastern portion of the Tigris- Euphrates River Valley began to
grow in importance, sweeping into the ancient world to establish an
empire. These people were called the Assyrians, and, though several
cities served as their capital, their most important city was Ninevah.
Under their king, Tiglath-Pileser, the Assyrians moved in and
conquered. Making warfare as brutal as possible, they used the terror
of their coming as a weapon, savaging their conquered enemies as
arguments to persuade others to surrender. Eventually, the Assyrians
moved into Palestine and, after some years of struggle, in 722 BC the
northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed and the most part of its
people taken into exile. They never returned.
The southern kingdom of Judah remained as a vassal state under
Assyrian domination, even eventually gaining some measure of
independence when Assyria began to decline. Even as Assyria waned,
however, Babylonian power was growing in the east, and Judah quickly
found itself a vassal state again, this time of the Babylonian empire.
This was however, after their brief taste of freedom, little to the
liking of the Hebrew people but a series of rebellions managed only
to exhaust Babylonian patience and, in 586 BC, Judah was overrun by
Babylonian armies which destroyed Jerusalem, burned the temple and
took the Hebrew people into captivity in Babylon. Thus ended the
seventh period of Old Testament history.

The eighth period of this history is the period of the exile or
captivity of Judah. Following the sack of Jerusalem, the Judaic
leadership was relocated in the general vicinity of Babylon, where it
lived in exile for seventy years. Then in 539 BC, the Meads and the
Persians joined forces against Babylon, defeated it, and overthrew its
empire. In an effort to placate subject peoples and engender feelings
of good will toward this new empire, one of the first acts of the
Medo-Persians was to declare all exiled peoples free to return to
their homelands, to rebuild their cities and live in peace as subjects
of the Medo-Persian empire. Thus, Under the leadership of Ezrah,
Nehemiah, Shish-bazar and others, the Hebrews began their return to
Judah to rebuild Jerusalem. In 516 BC the newly rebuilt temple was
dedicated, officially closing the seventy years of captivity.

The final period of Old Testament history concerns the
restoration, in which Jerusalem was rebuilt and the worship of Yahweh
– from which the Jews never again wandered – re-established.

Before closing this brief history, a couple of notes must be made
about leaders and leadership-types in the Old Testament.

During these periods of Hebrew history there were a number of
different types of leaders as far as God was concerned. There was a
class of special leaders – leaders such as Abraham, Moses, Joshua and
the judges – which God raised up as need demanded. There was no
necessary connection between them their leadership was not passed on
from father to son. There were, however, other regular leaders whose
position was inherited. The two major groups of this type as far as
the Old Testament accounts are concerned were the kings – particularly
the kings of Judah – and the priests. The priests were the primary
religious leaders in the Hebrew nations, but when this hereditary
leadership failed in its function it was necessary for God to raise up
special religious leaders to fill the void. From the time of Moses on
these special religious leaders were called prophets. Abraham and
Moses, along with some of the judges, were called prophets. These
prophets were primarily God’s spokesmen to an errant nation, and have
traditionally fallen into two groups – the writing prophets and the
nonwriting prophets.
Prophets were popping up at unexpected times throughout Israel’s
history. But from the middle of the divided kingdom through the
restoration of Judah after the Babylonian captivity we find more
prophets appearing than at any other time in history. Why? Well,
this was a period in which evil and rebellion was on the rise, and
thus Israel was in more need of God’s special messages and divine
guidance than at other times in her history. And thus the historical
background for the books of the prophets which we find in the Old
Testament are the periods of the Divided Kingdom, the Captivity and
the Restoration. The last three books of the Old Testament – Haggai,
Zaccariah and Malachi – discuss the restoration period. The rest deal
either with the divided kingdom, or the divided kingdom plus the
Throughout this period of Old Testament history the people were
worshipping God, thinking about philosophical questions of suffering,
of the good life, of struggling with life, and so on. Some of these
thoughts they wrote down, and we find them today as part of the Old
Testament – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon –
the Wisdom Writings.

Introduction to the Post-Exilic Period

As mentioned in the preface, Old Testament history clusters around two "watersheds," the Exodus from Egypt and the Exile to Babylon.

All five of the books we are studying were written in Judah during what is known as the Post-Exilic Period, that is, the hundred years or so that follows the return from exile in Babylon that began about 537 BC.

If you're just getting familiar with the Old Testament, here's a quick glance at where these books fit:

  1. Patriarchs (1800-1500 BC) -- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
  2. Exodus (1400 BC) -- Moses
  3. Conquest and Judges (1400-950 BC) -- Joshua, Gideon, etc.
  4. Monarchy (950 to 587 BC) -- Saul, David, Solomon, and the Divided Kingdom
  5. Exile (604 to 537 BC) -- the Jewish community lives in Babylon
  6. Post-Exilic Period (537 to 430 BC) -- rebuilding the temple and walls of Jerusalem. Malachi, last book of the Old Testament, written about 430 BC.
  7. Intertestamental Period (430 BC to 6 BC) -- Greeks desecrate temple, Maccabee Rebellion, Hasmonean Dynasty, Romans conquer, Herod the Great.
  8. Life of Jesus of Nazareth (6 BC to 27 AD)
  9. The Early Church (27 AD to 95 AD). Last books of New Testament written about 95 AD.

Overview of Post-Exilic Books

We're studying five books in this series -- Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Here's a quick overview so you can see where we're going. Instead of progressing in order of the books as they appear in the Bible, I've arranged the lessons in approximate chronological order. Here's what we'll cover in the 10 lessons.

  1. Returning to Rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1-6). This historical passage covers the period from Cyrus's proclamation, and includes the return of the first group from Babylon about 537 BC, the rebuilding of the temple, work stoppages due to enemies, and the completion and dedication of the temple about 515 BC.
  2. Realigning Priorities (Haggai 1-2). This is a short prophetic book of four prophecies given about 520 BC designed to encourage the Jewish leaders to get started again on rebuilding the temple.
  3. Encouragement for the Builders (Zechariah 1-6). Zechariah is a longer prophetic book that I've broken up into two lessons. The first lesson contains prophecies given about 520 BC designed to encourage the Jews to complete the temple project. Zechariah's prophecies come with some rather bizarre images to interpret.
  4. Prophecies of the Messiah (Zechariah 7-14). The second half of Zechariah contains four prophecies without a specific date. These point to the coming Messiah, a call to righteousness, an indictment of false shepherds, the final battle, and the New Jerusalem.
  5. Confession and Repentance (Ezra 7-10). After studying the prophecies leading up to the completion of the temple, we return to Ezra's narrative. Ezra leads a new caravan of Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem about 458 BC. Then we see how Ezra deals with the people's sins of intermarrying with non-believers.
  6. Nehemiah's Prayer (Nehemiah 1:1-2:8). Nehemiah hears of the plight of Jerusalem and offers a prayer to God that can serve as a model for us of a prayer of confession and intercession. We see a tough, spiritual leader in action.
  7. Restoring the Wall (Nehemiah 2:9-7:73). Jerusalem's wall has been broken down. Nehemiah organizes resources and teams, then completes the task in 52 days -- all amidst stiff opposition from Judah's enemies. But Nehemiah has to deal with intermarriage with non-Jews -- again.
  8. Repentance and Revival (Nehemiah 8-13). Now Ezra takes center stage again by reading and explaining God's law to the entire nation. The result is a genuine spiritual revival, and a final celebration of the completion of the wall.
  9. Love, Worship, and Marriage (Malachi 1-2). Now we move to the Prophet Malachi, who writes sometime between 460 and 430 BC. His first three prophecies concern the need for sincere worship, and faithfulness to a covenant of marriage, rather than easy divorces.
  10. Justice, Tithing, Purifying, and Judgment (Malachi 3-4). We conclude with Malachi's last three prophecies concerning purifying God's people, faithfulness in tithing, and the future Day of Judgment when the wicked are punished and the righteous vindicated. A final promise looks forward to John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah.

A Quick Guide to the Exiles of Israel and Judah

James J. Tissot, 'The Flight of the Prisoners' (1898-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York.

The super-powers that conquered Israel and Judah -- both the Assyrians and the Babylonians -- responded to rebellious kings by destroying their cities and deporting thousands of their leaders and leading families to other places in the empire, leaving the local populations poor and leaderless. Let's look at these exiles.

Assyrian Captivity (began 740 to 722 BC). Assyria conquers many cities in both Judah and Israel, though not Jerusalem. They begin to deport people from the Northern Kingdom of Israel into exile about 740 BC (1 Chronicles 5:26 2 Kings 15:29). When Samaria the capital falls after a three-year siege, thousands more are deported (2 Kings 17:3-6 18:11-12). Most of these exiled Jews assimilate into the peoples of the lands where they are taken, and never return in any large numbers. The Assyrians go a step further and bring displaced peoples from other regions to settle in Israel. Those Israelites that remain retain a kind of Yahweh worship that mixes with worship of pagan gods of the land and of the displaced persons brought by the Assyrians. This group is known as the Samaritans, and opposed the Jews who return from exile from Babylon. They were still rejected by the Jews in Jesus' day.

Babylonian Captivity (began 604-587 BC). The Babylonians, who succeed the Assyrians as a superpower, conquer rebellious Judah and seek to subdue it by three deportations in 604 BC, 597 BC, and finally in 587 BC, when Jerusalem is destroyed and all the leaders exiled, leaving only the poorest in the land. The Jewish faith, however, experiences a renewal while in exile, a return to observance of the Mosaic Law. Though many Jews eventually prosper in Babylon and have no desire to return, many long to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple, the center of their faith and the locus of the sacrificial system that remits their sins.

Rise of the Medo-Persian Empire

Cyrus, King of Persia (Cyrus II to historians), is known as Cyrus the Great because he is the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. In 559 BC, he receives from his father reign over the minor Persian kingdom of Anshan, in what is now southwest Iran. Cyrus is ambitious. His kingdom is a vassal of the overlord Astyages who rules the vast Median empire. But Cyrus rebels. By 550 BC he has captured the capital at Ectabana and overthrown Astyages, taking control of all the vassal kingdoms of the Medes, uniting them with the Persian kingdoms, and forging the great Medo-Persian empire that lasts for more than 200 years. Next, he turns his attention to putting down a rebellion in Assyria. Finally, he turns to Babylon. (For more details see Appendix 4. The Medo-Persian Empire.)

The Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great (Larger map)

The Fall of Babylon

Babylon is ruled by Nabonidus (556--539 BC). He isn't much interested in governing or commanding the army. Instead, he spends years at a time away from the capital city pursuing his hobbies. He leaves his son Belshazzar to command the army and rule in Babylon as co-regent. The Babylonian Empire, strong under Nebuchadnezzar, is now growing old and weak.

Moreover, there are rumors of the rising power of the neighboring Medo-Persians, united 549 to 546 BC under Cyrus the Great (559--530 BC). After putting down a rebellion in Assyria, Cyrus now turns his attentions to the once-great Babylonian Empire.

Medo-Persian Attack on the Babylonian Empire, Fall 539 BC (larger map)

In October, 539 BC, a great battle occurs at Opis, a regional capital located at a crossing of the Tigris river, 47 miles (76 km.) north of the city of Babylon. The Babylonian army is attacked by Cyrus's Medo-Persian army of overwhelming numbers, delivering the Babylonians a crushing defeat. Almost immediately, the nearby city of Sippar -- less than 40 miles (about 60 km.) north of Babylon -- surrenders. And in a short period of time, the Medo-Persian army is at the gates of Babylon.

Though accounts differ, it seems that Babylon fell to the Medo-Persians without a fight.[1] Daniel's account of the handwriting on the wall of the royal palace describes the swiftness of Babylon's fall. Daniel the Prophet is summoned to interpret the cryptic words on the wall. He declares

"This is what these words mean:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.

Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.

Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians."
(Daniel 5:26-28)

God's execution of this sentence is swift:

"That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two." (Daniel 5:30-31)

Overnight, the vast Babylonian Empire is under the control of Cyrus the Great -- and things change rapidly for the Jewish exiles.

The Province of Judah (Yehud)

A remnant of the Jewish community in Babylon returns in several migrations, beginning about 537 BC (Ezra 1-6) led by Zerubbabel (grandson of Jehoiachin, a former king of Judah) and Jeshua, the high priest. We're told that another company comes with Ezra about 458 BC (Ezra 7-8).

After building homes in various towns in Judah, the Jews seek to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Due to opposition from the surrounding provinces -- the Amorites, the Samaritans, and the Arabs -- they are hindered and finally have to stop. God sends two prophets about 520 BC -- Haggai and Zechariah -- who inspire the people to complete the temple about 515 BC.

Rebuilding the Walls under Nehemiah

However, Jerusalem's walls are still broken down, making the city defenseless. Any attempts to restore the walls are met by sharp opposition from enemies that obtain restraining orders from various kings of Persia -- including Artaxerxes (464-424 BC). But Nehemiah is cupbearer to Artaxerxes, who appoints him to be governor of Judah and complete the walls -- trumping previous anti-Jewish policies (445 BC). After developing building teams and assembling the needed materials, Nehemiah leads them to complete the walls in 52 days and later leads in a great celebration as the Jews march around the city on the top of the newly repaired walls.


While Nehemiah is primarily the civil governor during this time, Ezra, a priest and scribe, is the spiritual leader. By means of a Scripture-reading marathon, the people's hearts are touched, and they begin to repent of sins and pledge themselves to serve God faithfully.

Later, however, we see signs of the revival waning. Like Ezra before him, Nehemiah has to deal with the vexing problem of intermarriage with the surrounding non-Jewish people that directly affect the integrity of the Jewish people. Sometime in this period God sends the Prophet Malachi to challenge the people's complacency and spiritual drifting. Malachi is the last Old Testament book to be written, perhaps as late as 430 BC, and closes the Post-Exilic Period that we are studying.

John Singer Sargent, detail of 'The Triumph of Religion: Frieze of the Prophets' (installed 1895, East Wall), Boston Public Library. Left to right: Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah.


[1] Both the Babylonian Chronicle and the Cyrus Cylinder describe Babylon being taken "without battle." The Greek historians Herodotus and Zenophon report a siege of the city. Daniel's account implies that Babylon was taken in one night.

Copyright © 2021, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastorjoyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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Babylon’s History with the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris

The ancient city of Babylon has an interesting history of relationship to its rivers and waterways.

Mesopotamia was a civilization that built up around the area between the western Euphrates and the eastern Tigris rivers literally translated, it means ‘land between the rivers’. The city of Babylon was situated in the southern part of Mesopotamia where a confluence of rivers flows into the Persian Gulf and marshlands exist as a result. There is little rainfall there due to the close proximity of the Western desert and the far distance from any mountain ranges.

Geography of Babylon

Nevertheless, there is no stone in the earth. Instead the low gradient of many rivers turns the soil into thick alluvial deposits of sediment. This soil is fertile and can produce much barley and emmer wheat, a main condition in the population growth that brought about the eminence of Ancient Babylon.

The stoneless earth was easy to dig into for the construction of canals and subsidiary waterways that irrigated the land. These rivers made communication between the villages and cities on the rivers possible spreading a culture of similarity.

Building Hydraulic Projects

The rivers were literally the arteries of the land. However, these tributaries could change direction at any time, shifting their course from one bed to another. The Babylonians tried to control this by building lateral canals, dams and diversions. Nevertheless, sometimes it was impossible to prevent and whole regions formerly populated could become temporarily abandoned.


Sometimes terrible droughts would affect the land, lowering river levels to below ground and this could be dangerous for political regimes. As Leick states: ‘Again and again we see that strongly centralized states collapsed after decades of bad harvests.’ Eventually, when the knowledge of the Babylonian system of waterways was lost under the rule of the Parthians, Babylon disappeared completely.

Babylonian’s relationship to its Rivers

The importance that Babylonian society ascribed to rivers is obvious in some sources. The standard Babylon lexicon lists fields first, then cities, regions and countries, buildings, mountains and then rivers, canals and dykes. Rivers and subsidiaries headed by the Tigris and Euphrates, human-made waterways and marshes were all included.

These cuneiform texts were often copied to be used in schools. In the Creation Epic “Enuma Elish” (“In the Beginning”), the god Marduk ‘separates the primordially mingled waters into the sweet underground ocean and the salty sea’ and then creates sources of fresh water, rains and the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. City maps record the location of rivers. Twelve have survived and show how important rivers and waterways were for the Babylonians in orientating themselves to the land, where rivers could separate fields, villages, regions and cities.

History of the Rivers

Urban centers developed along the main waterways during the Early Dynastic Period (from c.2600 to 2350 B.C.). After the Isin State was established (c.2017 B.C.) following the fall of the UrIII State in about 2000 the supply of water became an increasingly pressing concern for the south. It was necessary to invest heavily in hydraulic projects like the building of new canals.

Nevertheless there was still a war between Isin and its neighbor Larsa who each cut off each other’s water supply, weakening the land. Larsa managed to gain a temporary advantage by digging a major new canal and gaining control over the Gulf ports and in 1794 King Rim-Sin of Larsa conquered Isin proving how important access to water could be.


King Hammurabi (c.1792-1750 B.C.) was soon to take over. He ruled only a small part consisting of Babylon itself plus Kish, Sippar and Borsippa. At home he concentrated on improving the economic base of his kingdom by building canals. He later managed to conquer an area similar to that of the former UrIII State, meaning he conquered all the major cult centers and trade routes from north to south and east to west. One of the most pressing concerns after this was conquest was in building up large parts of land who had suffered because of flooding and neglected waterways.

Babylon in the Seventeenth Century B.C.

By the end of the seventeenth century the ecological situation seems to have worsened especially in the south whilst in the north the lack of maintenance of important waterways became a problem. The Kassite dynasty (c.1600-1155 B.C.) led a new approach to the problem building their hub of state where the rivers Tigris and Euphrates come closest together, (about 30 km west of modern Baghdad.)

Under the Kassite rule the government invested irrigation works in particular to boost agricultural production. In the fourteenth to thirteenth centuries corvée labour was introduced as the members of the general population began to built irrigation channels and hydraulic projects, whilst also keeping them in good repair. Under Nebuchadnezzar the Euphrates River bank was strengthened with huge walls of baked brick.

Babylon’s Trade over Water

Trade was very important in Babylon, which was a prime producer of luxury goods. Ancient cities like Ur enjoyed a great volume of mercantile transactions during the third and early second millennium B.C., especially for sea-borne traffic in the Persian Gulf, but by the end of the second millennium the area was nearly deserted because of the deterioration of the soil and a shift of the waterway that connected the area with the Gulf.

Such changing fortunes were relatively common as rivers in the alluvial plain could change course and a city could sometimes lose its harbor altogether, as happened to Nippur at the end of the Old Babylonian Period the commercial district responsible for water trade was the harbor or karum, which was traditionally located outside city walls.

The Karum

There is not much written evidence found about the karum. All we know is that there was a ‘harbor-master’ and scribes worked there also in an administrative and judicial set-up. However, we do know that the institution remained independent from the crown or city and thus provided a somewhat stabilizing social force.

The karum was a public place where locals and strangers could meet. It provided an integral part in supplying the cities with imported raw materials for various branches of Babylonian manufacture. It also exported Babylonian goods.

Area HH

Undoubtedly the most important 2nd millennium BC complex found on the site is the Mitanni Palace and Temple. This complex is located at the highest point on the mound and was constructed of a distinctive red mud-brick.

The palace was built on the same principle as the roughly contemporary palace at Alalakh, with living quarters on an upper floor, reached by staircases still preserved to a considerable height. This building followed a typical LBA palace ideal in incorporating specialist workshops, where a number of glass ingots were found, together with copper and iron slags and evidence for the manufacture of ivory objects (including the use of both hippopotamus and elephant ivory).

An area of houses just to the west of the Mitanni palace, dating to the Old Babylonian through Mitanni Periods, is one focus of the 2006-2011 research programme, which investigated cultural continuities and discontinuities during major environmental and political changes in the region.

The intact doorway at the north end of the workshop stands 3.5m tall.
The largest workshop in the Mitanni Palace, with a paved floor at one end and ovens and a drain at the other.
Glass ingots were found in the storeroom south of the workshop and, nearby, evidence of metal working, both copper and iron.

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