By the Waters of Babylon: An Introduction to the History and Theology of the Exile

By the Waters of Babylon: An Introduction to the History and Theology of the Exile

By the Waters of Babylon: An Introduction to the History and Theology of the Exile

By the Waters of Babylon: An Introduction to the History and Theology of the Exile

Excerpt

Every human story of any significance at all is a tale of hope and despair. In our schemes of categorization, those tales in which hope predominates are termed "comedies," while those in which the despair is master are "tragedies." The two theatrical masks, one smiling, the other frowning, which are represented in some form in nearly every playhouse in the world, are an attempt to symbolize the dark and the light of life.

The story which this book undertakes to tell is, on the face of it, a narrative of calamity, a tale of physical suffering and of spiritual disillusion. And so it should, from one vantage point at least, be labeled a tragedy and shelved alongside the Antigones and the Macbeths in the library of the human heart.

Yet one consideration prevents such a cataloging, one lyric echo in the midst of the brutal noises. It is the faith of the people who are caught up in the mélange of cracked hearts and broken bodies. It is their conviction that the God whom they worship will somehow impose a meaning upon all the violent events, or that, if that meaning is already there, he will lead them to understand it. And it is their further faith that, when that meaning is discovered, it will be a quality of compassion and grace which are present only because he has placed them there.

To some this tale will appear a supreme example of man's ability to delude himself, a case study in his penchant for whistling through the graveyard of his buried hopes. For others, who have seen far more flagrant cruelty and desolation than this story entails, the hope which survived the great disasters at the end of the Old Testament period will seem all too easy and trivial.

But in between, there are many who have been touched by the events related in this volume and who have taken with greatest seriousness both the tragedy and the hope. And they will have found in the faith in God which spawned that hope—a faith sometimes flickering, sometimes misplaced, sometimes sterilely institutionalized, but also frequently courageous and vital—a key to the unlocking of all human confrontations with tragedy. They will find a prelude to the ultimate expression of human hope, the Easter faith in the Risen Christ.

This volume attempts to tell the story of the Jewish people during those years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., to profile the Jewish experience under Babylonian rule, and to sketch the shape of those hopes which led to Jerusalem's restoration under the Davidic princes Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel.

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