Israel in Exile: The History and Literature of the Sixth Century B.C.E.

Israel in Exile: The History and Literature of the Sixth Century B.C.E.

Israel in Exile: The History and Literature of the Sixth Century B.C.E.

Israel in Exile: The History and Literature of the Sixth Century B.C.E.


The period of the Babylonian Exile (597/587 520 B. C. E.) is one of the most enthralling eras of biblical history. During this time, Israel went through what was probably its deepest crisis; at the same time, however, the cornerstone was laid for its most profound renewal. The crisis provoked the creation of a wealth of literary works (laments, prophetic books, historical works, etc.) whose development is analyzed in detail by the methods of social history, composition criticism, and redaction criticism. The history of this era is hard to grasp, since the Bible has almost nothing to say of the exilic period. The author nevertheless attempts to illuminate the historical and social changes that affected the various Judean groups, drawing heavily on extrabiblical and archaeological evidence. His study also includes the treatment of the exile in later biblical material (Daniel, Tobit, Judith, apocalyptic literature). Thirty-five years after Peter Ackroyd's classic Exile and Restoration, this book summarizes extensively the results of recent scholarship on this period and builds on them with a number of its own hypotheses. Paperback edition is available from the Society of Biblical Literature (


Like all volumes in the Biblische Enzyklopadie series, this book comprises four major sections:

The first section attempts to sketch the “biblical picture of the exilic era,” even though the Bible contains only sporadic information about this period. First we examine why the exilic period represents a yawning gap in the historical tradition of the Bible. Then we describe how this gap was slowly filled in the narrative tradition of late books (often apocryphal) such as Daniel, Bel and the Dragon, 1 Esdras, Tobit, and Judith, until this “historical vacuum” found a central role in the apocalyptic conception of history.

There follows in the second section a reconstruction of the “history of the exilic period,” to the extent that the fragmentary biblical and extrabiblical sources and archaeological evidence permit. We attempt to present the history of the various Jewish groups in Babylonia, Judah, and Egypt, relating it organically to the history of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (627-539 B.C.E.) and the early Persian Empire (539-520). We also test a new kind of historiography, which examines the role of mentality in political history and avoids the distortions occasioned by partisanship—privileging Israel, say, or even the Babylonian golah. Here I draw on insights gained by Sonderforschungsbereich 493, which has been meeting at Miinster since the beginning of 2000: here Protestant and Catholic biblical scholars and church historians have been working side by side with scholars in such fields as ancient Near Eastern studies, Egyptology, ancient history, and philology to study the “functions of religion in the ancient societies of the Near East.” the historical section concludes with a short description of the social and religious changes experienced by Israel during the exilic period.

The primary focus of this volume appears in the third section, which examines the “literature of the exilic period.” Approximately half the material in the Hebrew Bible came into being or was substantially shaped during this era. First we examine the major literary genres of exilic literature, then discuss in detail the documents that can be assigned to this period with reasonable assurance. This discussion includes their literary . . .

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