Social location of the laments: Response from Palestine during the exilic period

Social location of the laments: Response from Palestine during the exilic period

Introduction:

The kingdom of Judah was fallen on 587 defeated by the Babylonian. They destroyed many cities and the Temple in Jerusalem. Judah was in crisis. They lost their land, their family and even the Temple, which took a very important place for their nation. Due to this, the people lament and even questioned to Yahweh. The paper deals on the social background of the people lived in Palestine during the exilic period.

Background of the destruction of Judah:

            The Babylonian troops under the command of Nebuzaradan, the captain of the royal bodyguard destroy Jerusalem. The Temple, the royal palace and homes of citizens were burned. The city walls which were already broke were pulled down. Treasurers and vessels from the Temple, as well as reusable bronze were taken away. The top priests, some surviving royal officials and commanders and provincial leaders were taken to Riblah and executed in the presence of Nebuchadrezzar.[1]

Many of the Judean cities were destroyed. Archaeological excavations at many Judean sites show the evidence of destruction. The destruction made a disruption in the industry and economics of the country.[2]The population of the land of Judah was drained away. Aside from those who were exile to Babylon, thousands have died in the battle or died because of starvation and disease. Some were executed while many had fled for their lives.[3] Due to this, the population decrease.

Social background during exile:                 

During the exile, some priests were left behind and at any rate during the first period people still made offerings. Outside the capital the cult carried on as usual. This was the case under Zedekiah, as testified by Ezekiel. The reformers’ party had been weakened, therefore life went on with a more or less peaceful cooperation between Israelites and foreigners who came in from Edom, Moab, and other adjacent territories, or who had been brought from the east by the Assyrians when they captured Samaria.[4]

The last reigning Davidic king, Zedekiah, was defeated and went into exile and even his sons were slaughtered. The Babylonian authorities allowed the Judah to have their own autonomy. They appoint an official named Gedaliah, who was the son of Ahikam.[5] He came from a prominent family. His grandfather was a royal secretary and a high governmental official under Josiah. He set up his administrative center or capital at Mizpah, north of Jerusalem. Mizpah continued as the capital of Judah for over a century until Nehemiah’s refortification of Jerusalem.[6]

Gedaliah tried to persuade the people of Judah to cooperate with the Babylonians and rebuild their lives and future, despite the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem.[7] Nebuzaradan, the captain of the Babylonian bodyguard has taken a step that the people can have a normal life again. The poor people, who did not own anything were given vineyards and fields, there was also some redistribution of property to the benefit of previously landless classes. Gedaliah encouraged the Judean to continued agricultural works and live peacefully. Jews from neighboring areas like Moab, Ammon, Edom etc. who fled from the country returned and submitted themselves to Gedaliah’s authority.[8] His viewed as cooperation with the Babylonians were posing as a threat to the future hopes of Davidic house and was assassinated by Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah. The other Judahite and Babylonian imperial representatives who were at Mizpah were also killed and some fled away.[9]

After further killings, Ishmael and his force were opposed by other Judean officers, especially Johanan the son of Kareah. The Judean population was in no mood to support the ambitions of a would-be Davidic messiah. Without the sympathy and support of the general population, which seems to have placed its hope in the non- Davidic Gedaliah? Ishmael’s plans flattered and he took refuge in Ammon.[10]

Continuation of Cultic Life:

It is believed that the cultic activity was still continued after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The book of Jeremiah 41:5 was also given an opinion that cultic worship was continued in Judah during the exilic period and Mizpah seems to have been one of the sites of such worship. It can also be possible that the cultic activity can also be continued at the site of Jerusalem because there was no reference that the altar was burned while the Temple was burning. Thus it may have remained in use. Also, the cultic laments in the book of Lamentations seem to presuppose worship at the site of the destroyed sanctuary and city.[11]

Even though the Temple was burned to the ground, it was still a holy spot and a pilgrim still continued to journey even from northern Israel. There were godly people who mourned over Zion and long for its restoration but they were helpless and do more than dream. The desire of restoration did not come from them.[12]

The nature of emergence:

The dogma which the people believe was that the assurance of Yahweh’s eternal choice of Zion as his earthly seat, and his unconditional promises to David of a dynasty that would never end sheltered the nation. But Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion had doubt the theology which they believe and longing. The status of God was also begun to question. Israel faith had always been a monotheistic and did not allow any place for other gods. They declared that the pagan gods to be ‘no gods’. But their theology collapsed under the pagan gods. Temptation began to fall and their ancestral faith become sensitive. Even those people who used to received the prophetic word were despair. They fear that Yahweh had cut off in his wrath and cancelled her destiny as his people.[13]

Conclusion:

            The defeat of the Kingdom was not enough for the Babylonian; they destroy many of the cities including Jerusalem and even the Temple. The intellectual people were deported and this made their population decrease. Many of the priests, including the high priest were killed. Their economic status was also degraded. The people suffer and due to these, they lament but in one way they still have a hope for restoration that Yahweh will lead the people out from their sufferings.       

[1] J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (Louisville: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1986), 416.

[2] J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, 417.

[3] John Bright, A History of Israel, 3rd edition (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1981), 344.

[4] Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, Vol- II (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991), 591, 592.

[5] Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001), 297.

[6] J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, 423, 424.

[7] Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, 297.

[8] J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, 424.

[9] Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, 297.

[10] J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, 424.

[11] J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, 426.

[12] John Bright, A History of Israel, 345.

[13] John Bright, A History of Israel, 347, 348.

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