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Judah Under Manasseh

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The next king of Judah, Hezekiah's son Manasseh (698-642), helped the Assyrians and is listed by Ashurbanipal as one of the kings that helped him conquer Egypt. During his long, peaceful reign, Manasseh did much to develop the economy and status of Judah. He rebuilt the walls and gates of Jerusalem. On the negative side, Manasseh instituted a reign of terror (II Kings 21.16) and introduced idols into the Jerusalem Temple.
  • Following the death of Manasseh, his son Amon ruled for two years (641-640) before being assassinated.
  • His son Josiah was installed as king at the age of 8. Josiah ruled from 639-609.

Egypt Regains Land in the Levant

By the end of the 7th century, Assyria was in serious decline. Between Cimmerians and Scythian nomads to the North, and rebellious subject peoples in Babylonia and Elam to the East, Assyria was too weak to repel the Egyptians, and so the founder of Egypt's 26th Dynasty, Psammetichus I (664-610), expanded Egypt's holdings on the Mediterranean coast up to Phoenicia. Egypt and Assyria entered into an alliance and Assyria withdrew.

Once again, Judah was considered insignificant.

Despite the Egyptian aid, Ninevah fell in 612.

When Psammetichus I died in 610, his son Necho II ascended the throne. The king of Judah, Josiah (639-609), went to meet him, but was slain at Meggido, for unstated reasons. Josiah was replaced by his son Jehoahaz in 609, but the Egyptian pharaoh exiled him and replaced him with his brother Jehoiakim (608-598).

Rise of (Neo-)Babylonia

Egypt obtained control of the western territory that the Assyrians had held, but their control was of short duration. Babylonia's power was growing, and in 605 Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadrezzar) defeated the Egyptians in Syria.

The Babylonians besieged Jerusalem during which time the king of Judah died.

"In the month of Kislev [December 598], the king of Babylonia mobilized his troops and marched to the west. He encamped against the city of Judah [Jerusalem], and on the second of Adar [16 March 597], he captured the city and seized [its] king. A king of his choice he appointed there; he to[ok] its heavy tribute and carried it off to Babylon."
p. 294 The Oxford History of the Biblical World.
The Babylonians installed Zedekiah as king of Judah.

Zedekiah ruled for 11 years, but did not submit willingly to Babylonia. He conspired to rebel against the Babylonians, who responded by besieging Jerusalem in 587. In 586 Zedekiah was taken before Nebuchadnezzar, who punished him by slaying his sons before his eyes and then putting out Zedekiah's eyes so that the last thing he could remember seeing could haunt him for the rest of his life.

Nebuchadnezzar moved most of the people of Jerusalem to Babylon, leaving behind only the poor. The Babylonians then took Jerusalem. They broke down the walls around Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and took the content of the Temple to Babylon. This was the first Temple and what's known as the "first Temple period." The Romans would later destroy the second Temple.

The Babylonian Exile

This was the beginning of the Babylonian Exile, but the exile wasn't complete and the Hebrew people were not all tamed. The official appointed by the Babylonians to rule the poor people remaining in Jerusalem was assassinated, as were other Babylonian representatives. In fear of retaliation, the remaining poor of Judah, including the prophet Jeremiah, fled to Egypt.

In 539, the Babylonians fell to the Persians. The Persian King Cyrus decreed that the people of Judah might return to their land and their Temple was to be rebuilt in Jerusalem.

This was the start of the Second Temple period.

Sources:
The Bible Unearthed, by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman
The Oxford History of the Biblical World, edited by Michael D. Coogan.

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