Babylonian Ration List: King Jehoiakhin in Exile, 592/1 BCE
Judah’s Captured King Enjoys Babylon’s Largesse
Current Location: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Language and Script: Neo-Babylonian?; cuneiform
Biblical Verses: 2 Kings 24:15; 25:27–30
• After a successful siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon, in 597 BCE, the young Judean king, Jehoiakhin, surrendered and was exiled to Babylon with his family and the nobility of the capital. The Bible says nothing regarding his fate in Babylon until the thirty-seventh year of his exile (561/60 BCE). The Book of Kings (2 Kings 25:27–30) reports that when Evil-Merodakh, or Amel-Marduk in Babylonian, succeeded his father Nebuchadnezzar as king of Babylon, he released Jehoiakhin from prison, granted him a position of privilege, and provided him with daily provisions. The duration of Jehoiakhin’s imprisonment is left unstated.
• Archaeologists excavating in Babylon discovered nearly three hundred cuneiform texts dating between the 10th and 35th years of Nebuchadnezzar that record the disbursal of rations from the royal storehouses. These provide some insight into those missing years of Jehoiakhin’s life in exile. There are four texts that show monthly rations for “Ya’u-kīnu, king of the land of Yahudu” (Babylonian for “Jehoiakhin, king of Judah”) along with other dignitaries, including his five sons. Since the amounts listed for Jehoiakhin are relatively large, scholars have inferred that he must have been responsible for providing for his household and retinue, suggesting that he must have enjoyed some degree of freedom in Babylon. That, in turn, suggests that he likely did not suffer the incarceration mentioned in the Bible (2 Kings 25:27) for the entire course of his exile.
• The three-inch-tall cuneiform tablet pictured here dates to Nebuchadnezzar’s 13th year. It is the only one of these four ration tablets with its date preserved.