Judah’s Captured King Enjoys Babylon’s Largesse

Date- 592/1 BCE

Current Location- Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Language and Script- Neo-Babylonian?; cuneiform

Biblical Verses- 2 Kings 24-15; 25-27–30


Babylonian Ration List

General Information-

• 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.

Circumstances of Discovery and Acquisition- German archaeologists discovered the ration tablets during excavations at Babylon at the beginning of the 20th century. The tablets were found in a remarkable structure at the northeast corner of the city’s massive southern palace. This structure consisted of fourteen large, vaulted rooms with unusually thick walls. The archaeologists originally thought that this had been the substructure for Babylon’s famous Hanging Gardens, but this identification has since been abandoned. More likely, the area was a type of royal storehouse.