586 to 537 B. C. Part 2
The Places of the Exile
Babylon was capital of the Babylonian Empire and one of the most famous cities of antiquity. It was located on the east bank of the Euphrates River, which is about 50 miles south of modern Baghdad. It first rose to importance in the first half of the 18th Century B. C. under Hammurabi, but reached the peak of its glory and became the most important city of Mesopotamia during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned from 605 – 562 B. C.
Nebuchadnezzar built an 11 mile, double-walled defense system around the city, with inner walls that measured 85 feet in thickness. The outer walls were 25 feet thick and had strong watchtowers placed every 65 feet. There was also an outer moat that added to the defenses of the city.
Inside the city, Nebuchadnezzar continued the work of his father, Nabopolassar, and reconstructed Babylon into one of the most beautiful cities of the ancient world. He commissioned palaces, temples, and elaborate gateways, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were regarded as one of the seven wonders of the antiquity world. The famous Ishtar Gate was decorated with enameled bricks and gave access to the Processional Way. The gate flanked the palace and the most sacred part of the city where the temple of Marduk was located (Babylon’s patron god).
Excavations have uncovered a 13 acre palace compound with several courtyards and other buildings associated with the central structure. Archaeologists have also unearthed the Cyrus Cylinder, an inscribed clay artifact that records details of the city’s capture by the Persian king Cyrus. In the rooms of a storeroom near Nebuchadnezzar’s palace were found a number of clay tablets that record ration lists, with four of them bearing the name “Jehoiachin, king of Judah”.
Babylon fell to Cyrus the Great in 539 B. C., which marked the beginning of Persian domination. The city apparently prospered for a time under Darius I and Xerxes I, but then there started to be uprisings within the country itself, and it suffered a decline after Alexander the Great conquered it in 330 B. C. His successors moved the capital from Babylon to Seleucia on the Tigris River.
Below is a picture of the Ishtar Gate. It was reconstructed to look like the first one.
Ezekiel lived here among a colony of exiled Judeans. This was by the River Chebar or “grand canal”. This river has been tentatively identified as the “Naru Kabari” or “great river” that was referred to in two cuneiform texts from Nippur. The name was given to an irrigation canal that brought water from the Euphrates in a southeasterly loop from Babylon via Nippur and back to the main river near Uruk. The modern name of the canal is Shatt en-Nil.
The name Tel-abib means “mound of the deluge” and suggests that the site had been previously destroyed by the flooding of the Euphrates River. It appears that the exiles were allowed to rebuild their settlements in Babylon on the sites of ruined cities. The site of biblical Tel-abib has not been identified, but some believe it is located in the vicinity of Nippur, about 50 miles southeast of Babylon.
This city was located about 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf at the foot of the Zagros Mountains. It was the ancient capital of the Elamite Empire. It is situated on high ground above the alluvial plain of the Karum River. Excavators at Susa have discovered evidence that it was occupied from 4000 B. C. to 1200 A. D., a period of more than 5000 years. During the Persian rule, Susa served as a royal city, along with Ecbatana, Pasargadae, and Persepolis.
Today, the excavated Susa is a large site, with four mounds that cover about 300 acres. Arachaeologists have uncovered the magnificent chief residence of Darius I, decorated with glazed brick. The palace was later reconstructed by Artaxerxes II (404 – 359 B. C.) The most famous discovery at Susa was the stele of the Code of Hammurabi done in 1723 B. C. This law code, shares many similarities with the Hebrew laws of the Old Testament. It was set forth by Hammurabi (1728 – 1686 B. C.), sixth king of the first dynasty of ancient Babylonia.
There are three persons of Old Testament significance that are associated with Susa. In the days of Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), an exiled Jewess named Esther was elevated to the status of Queen. It was also at Susa that Nehemiah served as cupbearer to Artaxerxes I when he received the disturbing report about the condition of the walls of Jerusalem. Daniel was in Susa “in a vision” when God revealed the prophetic details of the coming conquests of the city by Persia and Greece.
This is the Greek name of the city mentioned in the Aramaic of Ezra 6:2 as Achmetha. Hamadan today is located about 180 miles southwest of Tehran, the capital of modern Iran. The site was strategically located 6000 feet above sea level in the Zagros Mountains, on a caravan route that ran from Mesopotamia to the Persian plateau. Ecbatana became the capital of the Medes in the late 7th Century B. C. Because of its pleasant summer weather, it was chosen by Cyrus the Great as his summer capital. Today it is still a popular summer resort, although its winters are long and severe.
It appears that it was from Ecbatana that Cyrus issued the decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. This is suggested by the fact that Darius I later found in the fortress of Ecbatana a scroll containing an official memorandum of this decree. Ecbatana was a city noted for its luxury and splendor. Among the treasures archaeologists have uncovered there is a gold tablet with the inscription of Darius I, as well as assorted objects bearing the names of other Persian rulers. After Ecbatana’s destruction by Alexander the Great, the new city of Hamadan was gradually rebuilt. Since the fourth century A. D., Jews have been attracted to the city by its trading opportunities and by the alleged location there of the tombs of Mordecai and Esther.
After his accession to the Persian throne in 522 B. C., Darius I moved his capital to Persepolis, a site that was about 300 miles southeast of Susa and 40 miles from modern-day Shiraz. Darius built a magnificent palace there, on a stone platform 40 feet high. Thirteen of the original 72 columns of the palace still stand. Near the palace site are the remains of several tombs from the Persian era that are believed to be the burial places of Darius and several of his successors, including Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. The city’s rather remote location in a rugged mountain region probably accounts for the Greeks’ unfamiliarity with the city until it was taken by Alexander the Great in 331 B. C.
Persepolis’ triple defense wall and fortified towers were little protection against Alexander’s attack. This may have been in revenge against Xerxes I, who had put the torch to Athens 150 years earlier. The city gradually declined in importance until, starting about 200 A. D. as the city renamed Istakhr, it acquired the significance as the seat of wisdom for the second Persian Empire. It was later eclipsed, though, by the newer city of Shiraz.
Below is a picture of the remaining columns of the palace.
This city was located 40 miles northeast of Persepolis. It was the first capital of the Persian Empire and was founded by Cyrus the Great. Cyrus established the city on the site of his victory over Astyages the Mede, which gave him control over the empire. There he built lovely gardens and a fine palace. At the southwest edge of the ruined city lies the tomb of Cyrus. According to the classical writers, the tomb once bore an inscription: “I am Cyrus and I founded the Persian Empire…. Grudge me not therefore this monument.” The city was supplanted as capital by Darius I, who preferred Susa and Persepolis as his loyal seats.
Below is a picture of the tomb of Cyrus the Great.