Archaeological Backgrounds of the Exilic and Postexilic Era Part 3: The Archaeological Background of Ezra -- By: Edwin M. Yamauchi

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 137:547 (Jul 1980)
Article: Archaeological Backgrounds of the Exilic and Postexilic Era Part 3: The Archaeological Background of Ezra
Author: Edwin M. Yamauchi


Archaeological Backgrounds of the Exilic and Postexilic Era

Part 3:
The Archaeological Background of Ezra

Edwin M. Yamauchi

[Edwin M. Yamauchi, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, History Department, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.]

[Notes: Much of the material in this article is from the introduction and commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah, which the author has contributed to The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, forthcoming), and is used here with the permission of the editor and of the publisher.]

[Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of four articles delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 6–9, 1979.]

The Babylonian Exile

Whereas the population of Israel (the northern kingdom) in the eighth century has been estimated at 500,000 to 700,000, the population of Judah in the eighth to the sixth centuries has been estimated at between 220,000 and 300,000.1 Population estimates for cities are made on the basis of forty to fifty persons per dunam or one thousand square meters. As there are four dunams per acre, this would be an estimate of 160 to 200 persons per acre.

Broshi suggests that Jerusalem was swelled by refugees from the north when Samaria fell in 722 B.C.2 and expanded to 500 dunams or 25,000 persons. At the time of Nehemiah the city had contracted to 120 dunams or 6,000 persons.3

Judah had escaped the attacks of Tiglath-pileser III when Azariah (Uzziah) paid tribute to the king,4 though Gezer was captured. But when Sennacherib attacked Judah in 701, he deported numerous Jews especially from Lachish. His annals claim that he deported 200,150 from Judah,5 but this is no doubt an error for 2,150.6

The biblical references to the numbers which were deported by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar are incomplete and somewhat confusing. They have given rise to conflicting interpretations as to the actual number of Judeans and the percentage of the population deported.

Until 1956 no extra-biblical evidence was available to confirm the attack on Judah in Nebuchadnezzar’s first year.7 Either in

that year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign or soon after,...

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