Siege of Jerusalem (587 BC)

The siege of Jerusalem (circa 589–587 BC) was the final event of the Judahite revolts against Babylon, in which Nebuchadnezzar II, king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, besieged Jerusalem, the capital city of the Kingdom of Judah. Jerusalem fell after a 30-month siege, following which the Babylonians systematically destroyed the city and Solomon's Temple.[1][2] The Kingdom of Judah was dissolved and many of its inhabitants were exiled to Babylon.

Siege of Jerusalem
Part of the Jewish–Babylonian War (601–586 BC)

Jerusalem is on fire (The Art Bible, 1896)
Date589–587 BC
Jerusalem, Judah

Babylonian victory

Judah is annexed as a Babylonian province
Kingdom of Judah Neo-Babylonian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Zedekiah Surrendered Nebuchadnezzar II
Unknown Unknown
Casualties and losses
Many slain, 4,200 others taken to captivity Unknown

During the late 7th century BC, Judah became a vassal kingdom of Babylon. In 601 BC, Jehoiakim, king of Judah, revolted against Babylonian rule despite the strong remonstrances of the prophet Jeremiah.[2][3] Jehoiakim died for reasons unclear, and was succeeded by his son, Jeconiah.[4][5] In 597 BC, the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem, and the city surrendered.[2][6] Nebuchadnezzar pillaged Jerusalem and deported Jeconiah and other prominent citizens to Babylon; Jeconiah's uncle, Zedekiah, was installed as king.[2][7] Later, encouraged by the Egyptians, Zedekiah launched a second revolt, and a Babylonian army was sent to retake Jerusalem.[2]

On Tisha B'Av, July 587 or 586 BC, the Babylonians took Jerusalem, destroyed the First Temple and burned down the city.[1][2][8] The small settlements surrounding the city, and those close to the western border of the kingdom, were destroyed as well.[8] According to the Bible, Zedekiah attempted to escape, but was captured near Jericho. He was forced to watch the execution of his sons in Riblah, and his eyes were then put out.[9]

The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple led to a religious, spiritual and political crisis, which left its mark in prophetic literature and biblical tradition.[9][8] The Kingdom of Judah was abolished and annexed as a Babylonian province with its center in Mizpah.[2][9][8] The Judean elite, including the Davidic dynasty, were exiled to Babylon.[8] After Babylon had fallen to Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, in 539 BC, he allowed the exiled Judeans to return to Zion and rebuild Jerusalem. The Second Temple was completed in 516 BC.

Biblical narrative


Whereas the Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle provides information about the siege of Jerusalem in 597 BC, the only known records of the siege that culminated in Jerusalem's destruction in 587 BC are found in the Hebrew Bible.[10]


The Jews are led away into prison in Babylon. The city is on fire, and the Ark of the Covenant is taken. Wood engraving after the original painting by Eduard Bendemann (1872)

In 601 BC, during the fourth year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar II unsuccessfully attempted to invade Egypt and was repulsed with heavy losses.[9] The failure led to numerous rebellions among the Kingdoms of the Levant which owed allegiance to Babylon, including the Kingdom of Judah, where King Jehoiakim stopped paying tribute to Nebuchadnezzar II and took a pro-Egyptian position.

In 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II laid siege to Jerusalem.[9] Jehoiakim died during the siege and was succeeded by his son Jeconiah at an age of either eight or eighteen. The city fell about three months later, on 2 Adar (March 16) 597 BC. Nebuchadnezzar II pillaged both Jerusalem and the Temple and carted all of his spoils to Babylon. Jeconiah and his court and other prominent citizens and craftsmen, along with a sizable portion of the Jewish population of Judah; According to the Book of Kings, about 10,000 were deported from the land and dispersed throughout the Babylonian Empire.[9]

Nebuchadnezzar II installed Jeconiah's uncle, Zedekiah as vassal king of Judah, at the age of 21.[9] However, despite the strong remonstrances of Jeremiah and others, Zedekiah revolted against Nebuchadnezzar II by ceasing to pay tribute to him and entered an alliance with Pharaoh Hophra. Nebuchadnezzar II returned to Judah, aiming to capture Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:1).



Nebuchadnezzar began a siege of Jerusalem in January 589 BC.[11][12] Many Jews fled to surrounding Moab, Ammon, Edom and other kingdoms to seek refuge.[13] The Bible describes the city as enduring horrible deprivation during the siege (2 Kings 25:3; Lamentations 4:4, 5, 9). The city fell after a siege, which lasted either eighteen or thirty months.[12] In the eleventh year of Zedekiah's reign (2 Kings 25:2; Jeremiah 39:2), Nebuchadnezzar broke through Jerusalem's walls, conquering the city. Zedekiah and his followers attempted to escape but were captured on the plains of Jericho and taken to Riblah.[9] There, Zedekiah's followers, including his own sons, were executed. After being forced to watch their executions, Zedekiah had his eyes gouged out and was taken captive to Babylon (2 Kings 25:1–7; 2 Chronicles 36:12; Jeremiah 32:4–5; 34:2–3; 39:1–7; 52:4–11), where he remained a prisoner until his death.[9]



According to the Bible, following the fall of Jerusalem, the Babylonian general Nebuzaradan was sent to complete its destruction. The city and Solomon's Temple were plundered and destroyed, and most of the Judeans were taken by Nebuzaradan into captivity in Babylon, with only a few people permitted to remain to tend to the land (Jeremiah 52:16). Archaeological evidence confirms that the city was systematically destroyed by fire.[1][8] Archeological evidence also indicates that towns close to the kingdom's western border and small villages in Jerusalem's near vicinity were destroyed.[8]

Gedaliah, a Judean, was made governor of the remnant of Judah, the Yehud Province, with a Chaldean guard stationed at Mizpah (2 Kings 25:22–24; Jeremiah 40:6–8). The Bible reports that, on hearing this news, Jews who had fled to Moab, Ammon, Edom, and in other countries returned to Judah (Jeremiah 40:11–12). Gedaliah was assassinated by Ishmael son of Nethaniah two months later, and the population that had remained and those who had returned then fled to Egypt for safety (2 Kings 25:25–26, Jeremiah 43:5–7). In Egypt, they settled in Migdol (it is uncertain where the Bible is referring to here, probably somewhere in the Nile Delta), Tahpanhes, Memphis (called Noph), and Pathros in the vicinity of Thebes (Jeremiah 44:1).



There has been some debate as to when Nebuchadnezzar's second siege of Jerusalem took place. According to the Hebrew Bible, the city fell in the fourth month of Zedekiah's eleventh year. It is agreed that Jerusalem fell the second time in the summer month of Tammuz (as recorded in Jeremiah 52:6). However, scholars disagree as to whether this dates to 586 BC or 587 BC. William F. Albright dated the end of Zedekiah's reign and the fall of Jerusalem to 587 BC whereas Edwin R. Thiele offered 586 BC.[14] In 2004, Rodger Young published an analysis in which he identified 587 BC for the end of the siege, based on details from the Bible and neo-Babylonian sources for related events.[15]

586 BC

The inscription on this clay tablet highlights the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II and the surrender of Jehoiakim in 597 BC

Thiele's reckoning is based on the presentation of Zedekiah's reign on an accession basis, which he asserts was occasionally used for the kings of Judah. In that case, the year that Zedekiah came to the throne would be his zeroth year; his first full year would be 597/596 BC, and his eleventh year, the year that Jerusalem fell, would be 587/586 BC. Since Judah's regnal years were counted from Tishri in autumn, that would place the end of his reign and the capture of Jerusalem in the summer of 586 BC.[14][16]

587 BC


The Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle (BM 21946), published in 1956, indicates that Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem the first time putting an end to the reign of Jehoaichin, on 2 Adar (16 March) 597 BC, in Nebuchadnezzar's seventh year.[17] Jeremiah 52:28–29 gives the relative periods for the end of the two sieges as Nebuchadnezzar's seventh and eighteenth years, respectively. (The same events are described at 2 Kings 24:12 and 2 Kings 25:8 as occurring in Nebuchadnezzar's eighth and nineteenth years, including his accession year.) Identification of Nebuchadnezzar's eighteenth year for the end of the siege places the event in the summer of 587 BC, which is consistent with all three relevant biblical sources—Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and 2 Kings.[15][18]

Archeological evidence




Archaeological evidence supports the biblical account that Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 or 586 BC.[19][8] Archaeological research has shown that the Babylonians systematically destroyed the city with fire and that the city wall was pulled down.[1][8][20]

The remains of three residential structures excavated in the City of David (the Burnt Room, House of Ahiel, and House of Bullae) contain burned wooden beams from a fire started by the Babylonians in 586 BC.[21] Ash and burnt wood beams were also discovered at several structures in the Givati Parking Lot, which were attributed by the archeologists to the destruction of the city in 586 BC. Arrowheads of the socketed bronze trilobate type, associated with the destruction of cities in the Assyrian heartland by the Babylonians and the Medes, likewise first appear in the Southern Levant in the burnt layers associated with Nebuchadnezzar II's destruction of the city.[22] Samples of soil and fragments of a plaster floor recovered from one of the structures indicate that it was exposed to a temperature of at least 600°C.[23] A number of wine jars were found to contain remains of vanilla, indicating that the spice was used by the Jerusalemite elite before destruction of the city.[23]

Surrounding areas


Archaeological investigations and surveys have also revealed that, about the time the Babylonians came to besiege Jerusalem, the majority of towns surrounding Jerusalem and along the kingdom's western frontier were also completely destroyed. However, it is unclear if the array of outlying communities to the east and south of the kingdom were destroyed at that time or if it was a continuous process that occurred after the collapse of the administrative structure of the kingdom and the loss of its military force.[8]

The region of Benjamin, located in the northern Judean hill country was mostly unaffected by the invasion and became the center of the Babylonian province of Yehud, with Mizpah as its administrative center.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher (2002). The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Free Press. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-684-86912-4. OCLC 44509358. Intensive excavations throughout Jerusalem have shown that the city was indeed systematically destroyed by the Babylonians. The conflagration seems to have been general. When activity on the ridge of the City of David resumed in the Persian period, the-new suburbs on the western hill that had flourished since at least the time of Hezekiah were not reoccupied.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Bickerman, E. J. (2007). Nebuchadnezzar And Jerusalem. Brill. ISBN 978-90-474-2072-9.
  3. ^ Malamat, A. (1975, January). The twilight of Judah: in the Egyptian-Babylonian maelstrom. In Congress Volume Edinburgh 1974 (pp. 123–145). Brill.
  4. ^ Smit, E. J. (1994). "So how did Jehoiakim die?". Journal for Semitics. 6 (1): 46–56. hdl:10520/AJA10318471_285.
  5. ^ Begg, C. (1996). "The end of King Jehoiakim: the afterlife of a problem". Journal for Semitics. 8 (1): 12–20. hdl:10520/AJA10318471_366.
  6. ^ Geoffrey Wigoder, The Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible Pub. by Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. (2006)
  7. ^ The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ed. by Michael D Coogan. Published by Oxford University Press, 1999. p. 350
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Lipschits, Oded (1999). "The History of the Benjamin Region under Babylonian Rule". Tel Aviv. 26 (2): 155–190. doi:10.1179/tav.1999.1999.2.155. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (586 B.C.) is the most traumatic event described in biblical historiography, and in its shadow the history of the people of Israel was reshaped. The harsh impression of the destruction left its mark on the prophetic literature also, and particular force is retained in the laments over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in its midst. [...] most of Judah's inhabitants remained there after the destruction of Jerusalem. They concentrated chiefly in the Benjamin region and the northern Judean hill country. This area was hardly affected by the destruction, and became the centre of the Babylonian province with its capital at Mizpah. [...] The archaeological data reinforce the biblical account, and they indicate that Jerusalem and its close environs suffered a severe blow. Most of the small settlements near the city were destroyed, the city wall was demolished, and the buildings within were put to the torch. Excavation and survey data show that the western border of the kingdom also sustained a grave onslaught, seemingly at the time when the Babylonians went to besiege Jerusalem.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Smith-Christopher, D. L. (1997-01-01), "Reassessing the Historical and Sociological Impact of the Babylonian Exile", Exile: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Conceptions, Brill, pp. 7–21, doi:10.1163/9789004497719_008, S2CID 244932444, retrieved 2022-05-24
  10. ^ Lester L. Grabbe (2001). Did Moses Speak Attic?: Jewish Historiography and Scripture in the Hellenistic Period. A&C Black. p. 216. ISBN 978-1-84127-155-2. It is so easy to forget that 587 BC is exclusively a biblical date.
  11. ^ Young, Rodger C. (2004). "When Did Jerusalem Fall?" (PDF). Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society: 29. The first date is taken from Ezek 24:1, where it is said that the final siege of Jerusalem began in the tenth month of the "ninth year." ... The tenth month of that year corresponds roughly to January 589 BC.
  12. ^ a b Malamat, Abraham (1968). "The Last Kings of Judah and the Fall of Jerusalem: An Historical – Chronological Study". Israel Exploration Journal. 18 (3): 137–156. JSTOR 27925138. The discrepancy between the length of the siege according to the regnal years of Zedekiah (years 9–11), on the one hand, and its length according to Jehoiachin's exile (years 9–12), on the other, can be cancelled out only by supposing the former to have been reckoned on a Tishri basis, and the latter on a Nisan basis. The difference of one year between the two is accounted for by the fact that the termination of the siege fell in the summer, between Nisan and Tishri, already in the 12th year according to the reckoning in Ezekiel, but still in Zedekiah's 11th year which was to end only in Tishri.
  13. ^ Jeremiah 40:11–12
  14. ^ a b Edwin Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, (1st ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1951; 2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965; 3rd ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Kregel, 1983). ISBN 978-0-8254-3825-7, ISBN 978-0-8254-3825-7.
  15. ^ a b Young, Rodger C. (2004). "When Did Jerusalem Fall?" (PDF). Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society: 21–38. The conclusions from the analysis are as follows. (1) Jerusalem fell in the fourth month (Tammuz) of 587 BC. All sources which bear on the question—Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and 2 Kings—are consistent in dating the event in that year.
  16. ^ Leslie McFall, "A Translation Guide to the Chronological Data in Kings and Chronicles," Bibliotheca Sacra 148 (1991) 45.
  17. ^ D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldean Kings in the British Museum (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1956) 73.
  18. ^ Young, Robb Andrew (2012). Hezekiah in History and Tradition. BRILL. pp. 18–21. ISBN 978-90-04-21608-2. Simply put, the erroneous date of 586 B.C.E. stems from the biblical dating of the breaking down of the walls of Jerusalem and the exile of its populace "on the seventh day of the fifth month, which was the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar." ... The correct date of 587 B.C.E. for the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem may be further substantiated by examination of the end of the exile of Jehoiachin.
  19. ^ Lipschits, Oded (2019), "Jerusalem between Two Periods of Greatness: The Size and Status of the City in the Babylonian, Persian and Early Hellenistic Periods", The Hebrew Bible and History, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, doi:10.5040/9780567672698.0032, ISBN 978-0-5676-7269-8, retrieved 2022-05-23
  20. ^ Shalom, N.; Vaknin, Y.; Shaar, R.; Ben-Yosef, E.; Lipschits, O.; Shalev, Y.; Gadot, Y.; Boaretto, E. (2023). "Destruction by fire: Reconstructing the evidence of the 586 BCE Babylonian destruction in a monumental building in Jerusalem". Journal of Archaeological Science. 157: 105823. Bibcode:2023JArSc.157j5823S. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2023.105823. ISSN 0305-4403. S2CID 260106267.
  21. ^ Shiloh, Y. (1984). Excavations at the City of David I, 1978–1982: Interim Report of the First Five Seasons. Qedem, 17–24
  22. ^ Dugaw, Sean; Lipschits, Oded; Stiebel, Guy (2020). "A New Typology of Arrowheads from the Late Iron Age and Persian Period and its Historical Implications". Israel Exploration Journal. 70 (1): 64–89. JSTOR 27100276.
  23. ^ a b Amir, Ayala; Finkelstein, Israel; Shalev, Yiftah; Uziel, Joe; Chalaf, Ortal; Freud, Liora; Neumann, Ronny; Gadot, Yuval (2022-03-29). "Residue analysis evidence for wine enriched with vanilla consumed in Jerusalem on the eve of the Babylonian destruction in 586 BCE". PLOS ONE. 17 (3): e0266085. Bibcode:2022PLoSO..1766085A. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0266085. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 8963535. PMID 35349581.

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