Ancient tablets reveal life of Jews in Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon

Tue Feb 3, 2015 5:00pm EST
 
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By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A new exhibition of ancient clay tablets discovered in modern-day Iraq is shedding light for the first time on the daily life of Jews exiled to Babylon some 2,500 years ago.

The exhibition is based on more than 100 cuneiform tablets, each no bigger than an adult's palm, that detail transactions and contracts between Judeans driven from, or convinced to move from, Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar around 600 BC.

Archaeologists got their first chance to see the tablets -- acquired by a wealthy London-based Israeli collector -- barely two years ago. They were blown away.

"It was like hitting the jackpot," said Filip Vukosavovic, an expert in ancient Babylonia, Sumeria and Assyria who curated the exhibition at Jerusalem's Bible Lands Museum.

"We started reading the tablets and within minutes we were absolutely stunned. It fills in a critical gap in understanding of what was going on in the life of Judeans in Babylonia more than 2,500 years ago."

Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful ruler famed for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, came to Jerusalem several times as he sought to spread the reach of his kingdom.

Each time he came -- and one visit coincided with the destruction of Jerusalem's first temple in 586 BC -- he either forced or encouraged the exile of thousands of Judeans.

One exile in 587 BC saw around 1,500 people make the perilous journey via modern-day Lebanon and Syria to the fertile crescent of southern Iraq, where the Judeans traded, ran businesses and helped the administration of the kingdom.   Continued...

 
Ancient storage jars, believed to be from ancient Babylonia, are displayed during an exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, February 3, 2015.
REUTERS/Baz Ratner