Jeremiah 25: The Jewish captivity in Babylon

This post is part of my biblical prophecy series.

Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, destroyed the wall and temple of Jerusalem in 587 BCE [1]. Many Jews were deported to Babylon, a process that had begun ten years earlier due to a previous attack on the city by Nebuchadnezzar.

In the year 605 BCE, the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign,  Jeremiah makes the following prophecy:

9 Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations.

10 Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle.

11 And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.

12 And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations.

Summary of the prophecy:

– Jerusalem will be destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

– After seventy years have passed, the king of Babylon will be punished and Babylon will be made desolate.

Straightforward Interpretation

The first part of the prophecy – the destruction of Jerusalem – seems to be widely accepted.

The second part of the prophecy was not fulfilled. Cyrus the Great of Persia captured Babylon in 539 BCE, and in 538 BCE decreed that Jews were permitted to return to their homes. This puts the end of the captivity at 49 years following the destruction of Jerusalem (or 59 years following the initial pillaging of Jerusalem in 597). Furthermore, Babylon was not made desolate, but continued to be a thriving city for many centuries [2].

Apologist Interpretation

Apologists tend to rely on other parts of the Bible (notably Daniel) to adjust the figure of 59 years to 70 years. Daniel claims that he and other Jews were captured prior to the attack on Jerusalem in 597 [3]. This brings the elapsed period to 68 years. To make it to 70, some rather suspect manipulations of calendars, and their interpretations must be done.

Even if these computations are correct, it still remains that Babylon was not made desolate.

Explanation

Ex eventu. This prophecy suffers from the same problem that the Jeremiah 7:14 prophecy does, namely that the author could have written it after the occurrence of the events they predicted.

At the very least, the author was likely alive to see the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar [4], so this part of the prophecy could easily have been made ex eventu. He probably would have died by the time Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, but of course this is the part of the prophecy that fails.

Fail. The second part of the prophecy did not come to pass. This is a false prophecy made in Isaiah too (Isaiah 13:17).

High probability. Even if we can believe that the prophecy was, as the author of Jeremiah 25 claims, made in 605 BCE, then the author would have been aware of a massive conquest of Syria and Phoenicia that Nebuchadnezzar had just achieved [5]. It is not a stretch of the imagination to predict that this hugely successful conqueror intent on expanding his territory would not only wish to take Jerusalem, but would be quite capable of doing so.

Vagueness. Although the prophecy is specific about the time period involved (70 years), it is not specific about what exact events or dates mark its beginning or end. Without such specificity, one can usually appeal to a range of vaguely plausible arguments for adjusting the start and end points back and forth as needed in order to make up the needed period.

[1] Wikipedia entry on the Babylonian captivity.

[2] Wikipedia entry on Babylon.

[3] When Was Judah’s 70-Year Babylonian Captivity?

[4] Wikipedia entry on the Book of Jeremiah.

[5] Wikipedia entry on Nebuchadnezzar.

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One Response to Jeremiah 25: The Jewish captivity in Babylon

  1. Johnny says:

    Great article! The Israelites was taking into Captivity the year 597/98 and Jerusalem was destroyed 586/87 SO 59 years in captivity is the right year all according to Ezekial 40:1

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