Aftermath of Carchemish

The critics allege that the opening statement of the Book of Daniel—that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem in Jehoiakim's third year—is pure fiction. The date is much too early, they say. The precise span of Jehoiakim's third year is uncertain, but the end of it could not have fallen later than October 605 (1). The critics insist that although Nebuchadnezzar may have exacted tribute from Judah as early as 604, the first actual Babylonian siege of Jerusalem did not occur until 597.

Yet the account in Daniel 1 is consistent with other ancient sources. The most important of these is the Babylonian Chronicle, a contemporary listing of important events during the reigns of the Babylonian kings. The Chronicle reports that in the early summer of 605, the Babylonians and Egyptians fought a major battle at Carchemish, a city in northern Syria. The Babylonians, under the leadership of their crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar, crushed the Egyptians and pursued fleeing enemy soldiers all the way to Hamath, far to the southwest. Not one Egyptian survived to return home (2). The Book of Jeremiah (Jer. 46:2) and other sources indicate that Pharaoh Necho was himself present at the battle (3). If he was, he was undoubtedly among the casualties. The Chronicle continues with the claim that Nebuchadnezzar then "conquered all of Ha[ma]th" (4). That is, he moved immediately to assert control over all the kingdoms nearby that had previously been friendly with Egypt. It is inconceivable that he would not have pressed his advantage after he routed Egyptian forces and deprived Egypt of a leader. Josephus reports that at this time, Nebuchadnezzar "occupied all Syria, with the exception of Judaea, as far as Pelusium [on the Egyptian border]" (5). Immediately afterward, his father died, and he hurried back to Babylon to take control of the kingdom.

The Book of Daniel agrees that Nebuchadnezzar did not occupy Judah in 605. It says only that he approached Jerusalem and threatened war. The expression "besieged" (Dan. 1:1) can refer merely to action preliminary to a siege (6). Jehoiakim was able to appease the aggressor by giving him hostages and treasure. That Nebuchadnezzar took Jewish captives before he returned to Babylon for his coronation is confirmed by Berosus, a Babylonian priest who died in about 250 BC. In his history of Babylon, quoted by Josephus, Berosus says,

Being informed ere long of his father's death, Nebuchadnezzar settled the affairs of Egypt and the other countries. The prisoners—Jews, Phoenicians, Syrians, and those of Egyptian nationality—were consigned to some of his friends, with orders to conduct them to Babylonia, along with the heavy troops and the rest of the spoils; while he himself, with a small escort, pushed across the desert to Babylon (7).

Spoils and Captives

The following chart gives an overview of the events connected with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The Babylonians came against Judah not just in 605, but repeatedly, and took captives at four different times: in 597, 586, and 581 (or 580) as well as in 605. Altogether, about 15,000 men, women, and children made the arduous thousand-mile trek from Judah to Babylon.

Jehoiakim The Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish. Bab.
  Nebuchadnezzar threatened Jerusalem, then retreated after receiving spoil and hostages. The hostages included Daniel and his three friends. Dan. 1:
  Nabopolassar died. Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon to establish his position as successor. Bab.
  Nebuchadnezzar took the throne of Babylon. Bab.
  Jehoiakim paid yearly tribute to Nebuchadnezzar. 2 Kings
601   Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. 2 Kings
  Nebuchadnezzar attacked Egypt. After the two armies had collided in fierce combat, both withdrew with heavy losses. Judah renewed its alliance with Egypt. Bab.
  While Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt his military machine, the Babylonians and their allies sent raiding parties to harass Judah. Bab.
2 Kings
  Nebuchadnezzar undertook a new campaign in the west. Bab.
  Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem, evidently without a battle. Bab.
Jos. Ant.
Jehoiachin Nebuchadnezzar bound Jehoiakim in chains to take him to Babylon, but, perhaps in reaction to some word of defiance, slew him instead and cast his body outside the city walls to lie there unburied (9). After appointing Jehoiachin to rule over Judah, Nebuchadnezzar carried spoil back to Babylon, arriving in time for the New Year's celebration on April 13. 2 Chron.
Jer. 36:30
2 Kings
  After the coming of the new year, Nebuchadnezzar, for reasons unknown, sent forces to take Jehoiachin and bring him to Babylon. 2 Chron.
  Jehoiachin resisted, provoking the Babylonians to besiege Jerusalem. 2 Kings
  after   June
Zedekiah Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and Jehoiachin surrendered. Nebuchadnezzar then led into exile the king, the king's family, and all the most able citizens of the realm. The men numbered 3023. All the captives, families included, numbered about 10,000. Among them was Ezekiel. Nebuchadnezzar removed more treasure from the Temple and placed Zedekiah on the throne. 2 Kings
2 Chron.
Jer. 52:28
Ezek. 1:2
  Zedekiah received ambassadors from neighboring lands to plot rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar. Jer. 27-28
  Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and encircled it with his army. Jer. 39:1
  The Babylonians ended eighteen months of siege by breaking through the wall. Zedekiah and his soldiers fled by night and were captured in the plains of Jericho. After his sons were killed before his eyes, Zedekiah was blinded and taken to Babylon. Jer. 39:
  2, 4-7
Gedaliah The Babylonians began the work of demolishing the city. When they had stripped everything of value from the Temple, they burned every important building and tore down the city walls. The chief men of the city were killed. Deserters and some of the poor, 832 men together with their families, were taken to Babylon. Allowed to do as he pleased, Jeremiah chose to join the poor who would remain in the land. The Babylonians appointed Gedaliah as governor over the remnant. Jer. 52:   12-29
Jer. 39:
2 Kings
none Gedaliah was assassinated by an agent of the king of Ammon. Johanan and the other leaders of residual Judean forces persuaded the remnant that they should ignore Jeremiah's counsel and flee to Egypt. Jeremiah was forced to accompany them. Jer. 40:
Jer. 41:
  16 to
  The Babylonian general Nebuzar-adan took another 745 men and their families into captivity, thus emptying the land of its Jewish inhabitants. Jer. 52:30

After their successful assault upon Jerusalem in 605, the Babylonians removed some of the vessels in the house of God (verse 2). They took also a group of young men meeting five requirements (verses 3-4).

  1. The young men were related to the royal family.
  2. They were "children," meaning that they were in their early teens or younger.
  3. They had "no blemish" and were "well favoured." In other words, they were good looking. This requirement was not unusual. In every ancient Middle Eastern court, it was customary to let only good-looking people serve as the king's attendants.
  4. The young men were "skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science." Not only were they well educated, but also they were intelligent enough to use and apply what they had learned.
  5. They were able "to stand in the king's palace." That is, they were a gracious addition to the court. Having tact, self-confidence, and the other traits of a winning personality, they were highly presentable even to a king.

Disposal of the Spoils

The plundered sacred vessels were taken to the treasure house of Nebuchadnezzar's god (v. 2). The many inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar that archaeologists have unearthed make it plain that he was indeed a sincere believer in the gods of Babylon. His motive in giving his god a gift from the spoils of the Jewish Temple was twofold: to express gratitude for help in victory, and to assert the superiority of his god over the god of Israel. Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar felt that just as the nation of Judah would henceforth pay tribute to him, so Judah's god should henceforth pay tribute to his god.

No doubt Nebuchadnezzar credited not only his god, but also his own prowess for his victory over Judah, but he was mistaken. "And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand" (v. 2). Judah's humiliation was the Lord's doing.

Fate of the Captives

The young captives from Judah entered a new life with several abhorrent, or at least disagreeable, aspects.


  1. By customary Judean reckoning, the third year of Jehoiakim began on Tishri 1 in 606 and ended on the last day of Elul in 605. See Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, new revised ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 183; A. Malamat, "The Twilight of Judah: In the Egyptian-Babylonian Maelstrom," in Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 28, Congress Volume: Edinburgh, 1974 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975), 124, 129; A. R. Millard, "Daniel 1-6 and History," The Evangelical Quarterly 49 (1977): 69; Jack Finegan, Archaeological History of the Ancient Middle East (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1979), 387. The exact limits were probably September 19 of the first year, October 6 of the second. See Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 BC-AD 75 (Providence: Brown University Press, 1956), 27.
  2. A. K. Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles, vol. 5 of Texts from Cuneiform Sources, ed. A. Leo Oppenheim et al. (Locust Valley, NY: J. J. Augustin Publisher, 1975), 99.
  3. D. J. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, The Schweich Lectures of the British Academy, 1983 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 15.
  4. Grayson, 99. Wiseman, the first translator of this portion of the Chronicle, understood the text to mean, "Nebuchadnezzar conquered the whole of the land of Hatti," Hatti or Hattu being the Babylonian designation for Syria. See D. J. Wiseman, "Historical Records of Assyria and Babylonia," in Documents from Old Testament Times, ed. D. Winton Thomas (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1958), 78-79. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar, 17, now concurs with Grayson that the place name in the text is Ha-(ma-a)-tu (Hamath). The difference is immaterial for our concerns, since Hamath lies in the heart of Syria, and the chronicler's concept of the whole region of Hamath probably took in a wide area (compare with Jer. 39:5).
  5. Josephus Antiquities 10.6.1.
  6. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar, 23.
  7. Josephus Against Apion 1.19.
  8. The Bible states that Nebuchadnezzar came personally to Jerusalem both to unseat Jehoiakim (2 Chron. 36:5-6) and, three months later, in the Babylonian king's eighth year, to remove Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:8-12). The Babylonian Chronicle mentions no assault against Judah in Nebuchadnezzar's eighth year, but says that in his seventh year, he "encamped against the city of Judah and . . . captured the city (and) seized (its) king. A king of his own choice he appointed in the city (and) taking the vast tribute he brought it into Babylon" (Grayson, 102). Scholars have decided that the kings then deposed and installed were Jehoiachin and Zedekiah (Wiseman, "Historical Records," 80-81). But Scripture places this succession in Nebuchadnezzar's eight year. Also, there is no reason to think that the Chronicle would fail to substantiate an assault against Jehoiakim rather than an assault against Jehoiachin. Positing Jehoiakim as the target of the assault noticed by the Chronicle produces harmony among all the sources. The Chronicle's silence about an assault in Nebuchadnezzar's eighth year hardly proves that none occurred, for the Chronicle offers an extremely abbreviated record of events. It allots only a few lines to each year of the king's reign. Concerning his eighth year, it says only that the king spent two months at the end of the year along his northern frontier (Grayson, 102).
  9. The comment in 2 Kings 24:6 that Jehoiakim "slept with his fathers" merely means that he joined them in death. It does not mean that he was buried with them.
  10. K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1966), 165-166. In an Assyrian legal text dating 1450-1250 BC, the term sa risin is used twice in contexts that require the meaning "eunuch." In both instances, the term describes the condition to be imposed on a malefactor in punishment for his crime. See G. R. Driver and John C. Miles, eds., The Assyrian Laws (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935), 4, 388-389 (A.15.54), 390-391 (A.20.97), 463. The term sa resi occurs frequently in about thirty Assyrian legislative texts found at Calah (Nimrud). In his analysis of these tablets, dating from the first quarter of the eighth century BC, J. V. Kinnier Wilson shows that the sa resi were a distinct class of government officials. Without any reservation, he calls them eunuchs. See J. V. Kinnier Wilson, The Nimrud Wine Lists: A Study of Men and Administration at the Assyrian Capital in the Eighth Century, BC, Cuneiform Texts from Nimrud I (London: British School of Archaeology in Iraq, 1972), 13-14, 45-64, 82-83.