In biblical studies, more than in the Bible itself, “the exile” looms large as a chronological hinge around 600 BCE. The decisive “preexilic” events of covenant, Exodus, and kingship occupy far more space than the scanty postexilic events, but of the latter, Ezra, Haggai‐Malachi, and the deuterocanonical books (see Apocrypha) are taken as the key to the final editing of the prophets and the Pentateuch. Exile as a place was Babylonia; the earlier exile (2 Kings 17.6) was rather an exchange of populations between the northern kingdom of Israel and subject areas of Assyria; mistrust of “the Samaritans” is justified by Jerusalemite biblical authors because of the “pagan” element thus mingled among them, and this mistrust is extended by postexilic returnees to those residents of Judah who had never gone into exile but had been ruled as a district of “Samaria” (Ezra 4.4).

The interchangeable Hebrew terms for exile are gôlâ and gālût, generally rendered in the Septuagint as “captivity” or “deportation.” The chief deportations took place under Nebuchadrezzar in 597 BCE (2 Kings 24.14: ten thousand including all upper classes; different figures are given in Jer. 52.28–30) and in 587/586 (2 Kings 25.11–13: “all the rest,” except the poorest). Historical details have been clarified by the Lachish ostraca and by Babylonian chronicles; also, the language of the decree of return (Ezra 1.1–4 = 2 Chron. 36.22) conforms to usages attested in the Persian chancery. Dated oracles of Ezekiel fall during his life in Babylonia; he was a priest and his diction contributed to the original dating and identification of the exilic Holiness Code (Lev. 17–24). Jeremiah describes the exile from within Judah (chaps. 50–51 as Babylon's downfall and the restoration; chap. 52 a historical appendix). Isaiah 40–66 is the chief biblical portrayal of the restoration insofar as its inner unity and relation to Isaiah 1–39 can be clarified. The “law” of Ezra (7.6, 26; Neh. 8.2) was either the Priestly (P) code alone (its materials being largely early) or, more probably, its incorporation into a whole Pentateuch definitely edited toward the end of the exile. Deuteronomy also, and with it the reedited Joshua‐Judges‐Samuel‐Kings, are varyingly related to exilic experiences; after Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, and David's last royal descendants executed (2 Kings 25.7), it could no longer be repeated that God's fidelity precluded abandoning his chosen people and land; but admission of guilt and of just punishment carried hope of restoration and a “new covenant” (Jer. 31.31).

See Dispersion


Robert North