Notes from a talk at the LJCC
Exile in Babylon: The world of cuneiform and the Jewish exile
Dr Irving Finkel (British Museum)
[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed. This post is formatted for LiveJournal; if you are reading it on Facebook click on "View original post" for optimal layout.]
The Siege of JerusalemA court chronicler of Nebuchadnezzar wrote thirty chronicles on clay tablets, all arranged in order like a diary. From the Babylonian PoV, ¶ they were concerned ¶ not with G-d ¶ but with the Egyptians, who were supposed to be under Babylonian hegemony. [My notes were taken rather fast here, and I'm not confident of their meaning.] They went to go and deal with them, and along the way [put down rebellions against Nebuchadnezzar in the Levant].
597 BCE was the date of the first siege of Jerusalem; this has been known since the nineteenth century. The chronicler wrote:
The seventh year: In the month Kislev the king of Akkad mustered his army and marched to Hattu [i.e. Syria]. He encamped against the city of Judah and on the second day of the month Adar he captured the city (and) seized its king [Jehoiakin]. A king of his own choice [Zedekiah] he appointed in the city (and) taking the vast tribute he brought it into Babylon.
Jehoiakin was about eighteen at the time. Looking out the window one day he saw the might of the Babylonian army, and, stopping only to collect his mother, he surrendered very quickly. As the Babylonians normally did, they took everyone who was possibly of any use, and took them to Babylon, by foot.
This was the first of many disasters to overcome the Jewish people. But what actually happened to them in Babylon?This is how Jerusalem was taken:
Jeremiah 39:1-5 ירמיהו לט א-לט ה In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem, and besieged it. In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth of the month, the city [wall] was breached. Then all the ministers of the king of Babylon came in, and sat in the middle gate—Nergal Sharezer, Samgar Nevo, Sar Sechim, Rav Saris, Nergal Sharezer, Rav-Mag—with all the remainder of the king of Babylon's ministers. When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the warriors saw them, they fled, and exited from the city by night via the king's garden, by the gate between the two walls; and [Zedekiah] went out towards the Jordan valley. But the Chaldean army pursued after them, overtaking Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho; and when they had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon to Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he gave judgment upon him. בַּשָּׁנָה הַתְּשִׁעִית לְצִדְקִיָּהוּ מֶלֶךְ־יְהוּדָה בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָעֲשִׂרִי בָּא נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ־בָּבֶל וְכָל־חֵילוֹ אֶל־יְרוּשָׁלִַם וַיָּצֻרוּ עָלֶיהָ׃ בְּעַשְׁתֵּי־עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה לְצִדְקִיָּהוּ בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרְבִיעִי בְּתִשְׁעָה לַחֹדֶשׁ הָבְקְעָה הָעִיר׃ וַיָּבֹאוּ כֹּל שָׂרֵי מֶלֶךְ־בָּבֶל וַיֵּשְׁבוּ בְּשַׁעַר הַתָּוֶךְ נֵרְגַל שַׂרְאֶצֶר סַמְגַּר־נְבוּ שַׂר־סְכִים רַב־סָרִיס נֵרְגַל שַׂרְאֶצֶר רַב־מָג וְכָל־שְׁאֵרִית שָׂרֵי מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל׃ וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר רָאָם צִדְקִיָּהוּ מֶלֶךְ־יְהוּדָה וְכֹל אַנְשֵׁי הַמִּלְחָמָה וַיִּבְרְחוּ וַיֵּצְאוּ לַיְלָה מִן־הָעִיר דֶּרֶךְ גַּן הַמֶּלֶךְ בְּשַׁעַר בֵּין הַחֹמֹתָיִם וַיֵּצֵא דֶּרֶךְ הָעֲרָבָה׃ וַיִּרְדְּפוּ חֵיל־כַּשְׂדִּים אַחֲרֵיהֶם וַיַּשִּׂגוּ אֶת־צִדְקִיָּהוּ בְּעַרְבוֹת יְרֵחוֹ וַיִּקְחוּ אוֹתוֹ וַיַּעֲלֻהוּ אֶל־נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ־בָּבֶל רִבְלָתָה בְּאֶרֶץ חֲמָת וַיְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ מִשְׁפָּטִים׃
About four years ago a tablet came to light, describing the second siege of Jerusalem 587/6 BCE:
(Regarding) 1.5 minas (0.75kg) of gold, the property of Nabū-Šarrūssu-ukīn, the chief eunuch, which is entrusted to Arad-Banitu the eunuch which he sent to [the temple] Esangila: Arad-Banitu has delivered [it] to Esangila.There was only ever one chief eunuch at a time. Hebrew נבו רב־סריס שרסכים corresponds to Babylonian Nabū-Šarrūssu-ukīn. רב־סריס is a calque of the Babylonian rab šarēši. This is a positive identification of the man involved. The names of kings mentioned in the Bible are known from archaeology, but to find a normal person too is quite extraordinary. It also means that the gratuitous information in the Bible can be taken literally.
In the presence of Bel-usat, son of Aplaya, the royal bodyguard [and of] Nadin, son of Marduk-zer-ibni.
Month XI, day 18, year 10 [of] Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.
Arrival in Babylon
When Jehoiakin went to Babylon, he was put in a fairly open prison. There is a tablet in Berlin [piccy] which gives a list of people being fed at the expense of Nebuchadnezzar's court. Jehoiakin king of Judah is mentioned by name.
The Lament of Nabu-shuma-ukin is in the British Museum. It's written by a man in prison. It begins, "This is the lament of the weary Nabu-shuma-ukin the son of Nabū-kudurri-uṣur when he was in prison." Nabū-kudurri-uṣur is Nebuchadnezzar. Nabu-shuma-ukin was in jail because of a slander in the court.
He says mankind can never be trusted because they lie, they have forked tongues, etc. [Unfortunately, I neither got the English here, nor can find it online. No doubt it'll be available in the British Museum, but there's a limit to how far I'll go to blog these notes...]
This reads like the words of a modern person. It is very learned, and quotes from many other pieces of literature including the Epic of Gilgamesh.
There are a series of requests to Marduk to get him out of there.
Nebuchadnezzar is succeeded by Amel-Marduk (Heb: Evil-Merodach אֱוִיל מְרֹדַךְ). It's a bizarre name; it means Man of Marduk—an old-fashioned name from the third millennium BCE. Nabu-shuma-ukin must have made an arrangement with his god that if he got out of there he would change his name, and circulate this [story].
The Chronicle of Jerachmeel, written in the twelfth century by a rabbi in southern France (and located in the Bodleian Library) recounts the story as we know it from the Bible, but adds extra information. It says that when Jerachmeel was in prison in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-Merodach the king's son was at the same time in prison because of slander which the king believed.
This is the first time ever an ancient Babylonian inscription can be confirmed by something written eighteen centuries later and two thousand miles away! It shows that ancient writers had sources at their disposal which they don't. One never really knows what has been lost.
In the tablet with the rations [piccy], the craftsmen—goldsmiths etc—mentioned by Jeremiah are also mentioned.
When the Jews arrived in Babylonia, it was a total disaster because their Temple had been destroyed, and Jerusalem razed to the ground. They found themselves [lacuna]
Ten years apart [lacuna] two incursions of people. [Presumably refers to Nebuchadnezzar's carrying off the Jews into exile was split between deportations in 598/7 BCE and 588 BCE.]
What does this mean? The Judaean and Babylonian stock were cousins. Both spoke Aramaic (and either Hebrew and Babylonian), but you couldn't tell them apart by looking at them. They were refugees. It was up to them to make their way in the Babylonian world as best they could.
What would happen to them taken from a provincial capital (Jerusalem) and arriving in the cities where they were settled?
Daniel 1:3 says:
Daniel 1:3-1:7 דנייאל א ג-א ז Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service. וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לְאַשְׁפְּנַז רַב סָרִיסָיו לְהָבִיא מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמִזֶּרַע הַמְּלוּכָה וּמִן־הַפַּרְתְּמִים׃ יְלָדִים אֲשֶׁר אֵין־בָּהֶם כָּל־מאוּם וְטוֹבֵי מַרְאֶה וּמַשְׂכִּלִים בְּכָל־חָכְמָה וְיֹדְעֵי דַעַת וּמְבִינֵי מַדָּע וַאֲשֶׁר כֹּחַ בָּהֶם לַעֲמֹד בְּהֵיכַל הַמֶּלֶךְ וּלְלַמְּדָם סֵפֶר וּלְשׁוֹן כַּשְׂדִּים׃ וַיְמַן לָהֶם הַמֶּלֶךְ דְּבַר־יוֹם בְּיוֹמוֹ מִפַּת־בַּג הַמֶּלֶךְ וּמִיֵּין מִשְׁתָּיו וּלְגַדְּלָם שָׁנִים שָׁלוֹשׁ וּמִקְצָתָם יַעַמְדוּ לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ׃
None of the commentaries of Daniel has ever taken any notice of the emphasised sentence. But it's of extreme importance because it says they were handpicked and trained to read and write cuneiform. (It can't mean Aramaic as they already knew that.)
The Babylonian language is a Semitic language, closely related to Hebrew and Aramaic. The Babylonians' idea was to Babylonise them so that when they went back, they wouldn't be any more trouble.
The Book of Daniel goes on to say these people became judges and magistrates and diviners and high officials in the court.
What was on the curriculum? There is a large group of tablets to do with the school curriculum. So we know what Daniel and his colleagues would have studied. First, they would have learned their first signs; then they would have learned to write their name; then they would have learned to write quotations from literature. [Speaker showed a picture of a practice tablet.]
This tablet [piccy] relates a story called the Baby in the Bulrushes. It is about the birth of Sargon I "the Great" (2400 BCE). Sargon's mother was a priestess. She was supposed to be chaste and virginal, but became pregnant. She put baby Sargon in a basket of bulrushes lined with pitch and put him on the Tigris. A hewer fetching water took him, and took him for his own son; Ishtar goddess of war looked after him, and eventually he became king. This is an old story—there are a few older copies than this one.
This resonates with the story of Moses. Of course, in our version it's the princess who rescues the baby. But the Egyptians pay his mother, unknowingly, to suckle the child.
Another tablet [piccy] lists the regnal years of the early kings who lived before the flood. Like in the Bible, where the people before the Flood live for centuries, the antediluvian monarchs in Babylonian records are also unnaturally long [only their reigns were ten plus times longer!].
The Epic of Gilgamesh [piccy]. When in the 1870s George Smith discovered the epic in Nineveh, the world was thrown into confusion when the Babylonian equivalent of the Flood was found. This goes back to at least 2000 BCE. They are so close there is no way they can be independent.
The Babylonian curriculum also included the story of the Flood.
So the Judaeans when they were educated in Babylonian culture, had these three motifs in mind.
The Flood story is also known from elsewhere; e.g. a tablet brought to the British Museum going up to the point when Utnapishtim closes the door. The god says draw the plan on the ground, and the plan must be a circle. In the Epic of Gilgamesh there are detailed descriptions, but they never say what shape it is. Noah's Ark looks a bit like a coffin! People think of the Ark as looking like a seagoing ship. So the idea it was circular is very revealing.
People used round coracles called gufa to cross the Tigris; these are depicted on ancient art. They must have been very hard to steer. However, they never sink. The Ark was never meant to go anywhere; it was merely intended to stay above the rising waters. Hence the person who wrote the story must have been inspired by these gufa.
The Tower of Babel
The description of the Tower of Babel in the Bible is a piece of anti-Babylonian propaganda. The tenor of the text derives from the fact that the ziggurat which loomed over Babylon for them symbolised the Babylonian arrogance against which they struggled.
מִגְדּוֹל means a tower, which everyone knows is cylindrical and goes up with straight sides. But of course a ziggurat does not. This made it look like a building which was never finished. Maybe this profile provoked the conception that the work of the Tower had been interrupted.
The shape of the tower was as follows:
_____ | | _____ |
It was built out of baked brick, as described in the Bible. The Assyrians built out of stone, but the Babylonians, who brought their empire to an end when Nebuchadnezzar was a child, built out of mud. Hence the remark in the Bible (Gen. 11:3):
They told each other, "Let's make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." So they used brick for stone, and slime for mortar. וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵהוּ הָבָה נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים וְנִשְׂרְפָה לִשְׂרֵפָה וַתְּהִי לָהֶם הַלְּבֵנָה לְאָבֶן וְהַחֵמָר הָיָה לָהֶם לַחֹמֶר׃
After the Greeks conquered the Persian Empire, Seleucus built a new capital, Seleucia on the Tigris; because the Tower was no longer maintained, it began to fall apart, and for hundreds of years people would go and raid it for bricks, because the bricks of Nebuchadnezzar were of such good quality.
Every tenth brick was stamped with his name to make sure no one forgot who had built it. After a while, though, the brickmakers got fed up with this and made a stamp with the text in reverse. One of them went and added his own name, in Aramaic!
One brick got brought to the British Museum, which had some of the signs upside down. The stamp must have had type which could be taken out of the matrix and washed, and then someone put it back in upside down. Hence: the Babylonians must have invented movable type! But the only thing they produced with it was these bricks.
The East India House Inscription [piccy] is made of stone, written in four columns. It's all about what Nebuchadnezzar did for Babylon, and how wonderful he was.
The writing here (and on the bricks) was deliberately archaic. It's the kind of writing that Hammurabi, from 1200 years earlier, would have read easily. Why would the king writing for the populace do this? Answer: The "Ye-Olde-Tea-Shoppe" principle: people respect the authority of age. Even if people couldn't read the writing, it gave the impression Nebuchadnezzar had been king forever, and would be king forever.
A document drawn up by the most learned of scribes [piccy] wrote down the most ancient signs from the beginning of writing, and next to that the corresponding modern sign, and next to that a number. This is how they learned to use the very old pictographic writing.
The Tower of Babylon was the centre of Babylonian theology. The idea was that the nearer you got to heaven, the more likely Marduk would hear you. The scale model in Berlin [lacuna]
A tablet from an architectural training college gives the dimensions of the ziggurat. There were two measurements called the cubit: the old one and the new one. It was crucial to make sure you had the right one! So they described the ziggurat with such accuracy that it allowed the scale model to be produced. This allowed us to identify the ditch that is all that is left today as the remains of the ziggurat.
In the same way they looked out of the window [lacuna] so the authors of the Bible [lacuna]
When the Judaeans arrived in Babylon, what happened to them there is somewhat analogous to the Jews who arrived in British at the time of the Second World War. They divided into three groups: those who became English and married out and vanished, a medium group lived as Jews and did basic Jewish things, but weren't highly practising, and a third group who wait to go back to Jerusalem; the essence of their existence is that one day they will go back and rebuild the Temple (corresponding to the ultra-Orthodox today).
The same must have happened to the Judaeans in Babylon. When Cyrus came in 539 BCE, not all of the Judaeans went back to Jerusalem; the greater number stayed in Babylonia.
The Monotheistic Theology of Babylon, and Origin of the Bible
There were thousands of gods in Babylon; however one tablet [CT 24, 50, BM 47406] portrays them as all facets of the chief god Marduk:
Urash is Marduk of planting
Lugalidda is Marduk of ground water
Ninurta1 is Marduk of the hoe
Nergal2 is Marduk of war
Zababa is Marduk of battle
Enlil is Marduk of lordship and consultations
Nabu is Marduk of accounting
Sin3 is Marduk as illuminator of the night
Shamash4 is Marduk of justice
Adad5 is Marduk of rain
Tishpak is Marduk of troops
Great Anu is Marduk of...
Shuqamuna is Marduk of the container
is Marduk of everything
- The big Assyrian war god
- God of pestilence
- [The moon god]
- [The sun god, and god of justice]
- [Storm god, called Hadad in the Bible.]
[I came upon this tablet a short while after I heard this talk, I forget whether it was when I visited the British Museum with aviva_m or green_knight. At any rate, it was very exciting to see this three thousand year old tablet just after learning about it.]
At the time, there were people looking askance at their own two-thousand year old theology and saying maybe all these gods were [facets of Marduk]. At this time Marduk shifted from being the king of the gods to being the sole god. Nebuchadnezzar regarded himself as servant of Marduk.
The Judaeans who arrived in Babylonia, who were supposed to have been monotheistic, but were somewhat rocky on the subject, were in dire peril of disappearing. Consider what happened to the Israelites [after their exile: we never hear of them again]. It was, faced with this danger of assimilation, that the Bible as a body of writing was brought into existence, by the spiritual leaders of that period—the prophets—to answer the question: How is it that if we are the Chosen People, we are in such a mess?
Of course, the whole of the body of the Bible was not written in exile! When Jehoiakin came to Babylon, he brought with him all of his scrolls and so forth. They wove together all the sources they had and wove them into an all-encompassing masterpiece. Consider the cross-references in the Bible to other works: the book of the Chronicles of Judah, the Book of the Wars of the Lord, etc. Like Nebuchadnezzar, they all had their chronicles; but as far as the Bible is concerned, all the chroniclers of the Bible cared about is whether each king was G-d-fearing, so they left everything else out.
For example, consider the long tracts saying A begat B begat C begat D. Why is that there? They did not want their daughters to marry Babylonians. They wanted a complete list of who they were. If their daughter met someone, the father would say "who are you?" and if his ancestors did not turn up in the lists in the Bible, the father would say "forget it!"
Before the Bible, the Judaean identity was the most elusive and abstract around: they had no Temple, nothing in their hands, no visible presence of their G-d (statues, etc); indeed their G-d was the only god around without a wife!
At the beginning of Genesis, the Jewish vision of the Creation of the world is rather shaky (what happens before everything begins). If the Jewish story begins with the Creation of the world, then when the book came into being, because they didn't have their own stories, they took the stories they saw around them and reused them: Sargon in the bulrushes, the Flood story, but with forgiveness and optimism added.
The concept of the Chosen People existed in antiquity. When Sennacherib's herald Ravshakeh came to Jerusalem, he said:
I.e. "We're here because of your G-d. If it weren't for your G-d we wouldn't be here." To which the people on the gate replied:
2 Kings 18:19-18:25 מלכים ב יח יט-יח כה Please tell Hezekiah, thus saith the great king, the King of Assyria: "In what trust are you trusting? You say (but they are empty words), 'I have counsel and strength for the war.' Now on whom are you trusting, to rebel so against me? Now, see, you're relying on this staff of a bruised reed—that is, on Egypt. But if you lean on it, it will go into your hand, piercing it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust him. If, though, you tell me, 'We trust in the Lord our God; wasn't it Him whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah took away, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, at this altar in Jerusalem shall you worship? Now therefore, please give pledges to my lord the King of Assyria; I will give you two thousand horse, if you're only able to find riders for them all.' How would you turn away the face of the least of my master's servants, and trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? Now, have I now come up against this place to destroy it without the Lord? The Lord said to me, 'Go up against this land, and destroy it.'" אִמְרוּ־נָא אֶל־חִזְקִיָּהוּ כֹּה־אָמַר הַמֶּלֶךְ הַגָּדוֹל מֶלֶךְ אַשּׁוּר מָה הַבִּטָּחוֹן הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר בָּטָחְתָּ׃ אָמַרְתָּ אַךְ־דְּבַר־שְׂפָתַיִם עֵצָה וּגְבוּרָה לַמִּלְחָמָה עַתָּה עַל־מִי בָטַחְתָּ כִּי מָרַדְתָּ בִּי׃ עַתָּה הִנֵּה בָטַחְתָּ לְּךָ עַל־מִשְׁעֶנֶת הַקָּנֶה הָרָצוּץ הַזֶּה עַל־מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יִסָּמֵךְ אִישׁ עָלָיו וּבָא בְכַפּוֹ וּנְקָבָהּ כֵּן פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ־מִצְרַיִם לְכָל־הַבֹּטְחִים עָלָיו׃ וְכִי־תֹאמְרוּן אֵלַי אֶל־ה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ בָּטָחְנוּ הֲלוֹא־הוּא אֲשֶׁר הֵסִיר חִזְקִיָּהוּ אֶת־בָּמֹתָיו וְאֶת־מִזְבְּחֹתָיו וַיֹּאמֶר לִיהוּדָה וְלִירוּשָׁלִַם לִפְנֵי הַמִּזְבֵּחַ הַזֶּה תִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ בִּירוּשָׁלִָם׃ וְעַתָּה הִתְעָרֶב נָא אֶת־אֲדֹנִי אֶת־מֶלֶךְ אַשּׁוּר וְאֶתְּנָה לְךָ אַלְפַּיִם סוּסִים אִם־תּוּכַל לָתֶת לְךָ רֹכְבִים עֲלֵיהֶם׃ וְאֵיךְ תָּשִׁיב אֵת פְּנֵי פַחַת אַחַד עַבְדֵי אֲדֹנִי הַקְּטַנִּים וַתִּבְטַח לְךָ עַל־מִצְרַיִם לְרֶכֶב וּלְפָרָשִׁים׃ עַתָּה הֲמִבַּלְעֲדֵי ה׳ עָלִיתִי עַל־הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה לְהַשְׁחִתוֹ ה׳ אָמַר אֵלַי עֲלֵה עַל־הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת וְהַשְׁחִיתָהּ׃
2 Kings 18:26 מלכים ב יח כו-יח כו Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; don't talk with us in Judaean [i.e. Hebrew] in the hearing of everyone here on the wall. דַּבֶּר־נָא אֶל־עֲבָדֶיךָ אֲרָמִית כִּי שֹׁמְעִים אֲנָחְנוּ וְאַל־תְּדַבֵּר עִמָּנוּ יְהוּדִית בְּאָזְנֵי הָעָם אֲשֶׁר עַל־הַחֹמָה׃
[Piccy: Cuneiform with the aramaic alphabet on, in order; written in three columns.] It's a practice tablet of a boy learning to write. This tells us (a) the order is the same as the modern one (b) people learned to read and write Aramaic from their grandmothers. (Even today people learn basic reading at home, not in school.
The alphabet was written the same way—the letters are given their sounds, not their names—except for ע, which is named, as "a" is already used for א:
a bi gi da e u za he tu ia ka la me ni sa a-a-nu pe tsu qu ri shi ta
In the eighteenth century BCE the conjugation of the verb is explained with the verb "to fart". This must have been the way the teacher kept a bored class interested.
The idea of writing the Aramaic alphabet in cuneiform is probably the same.
The mother of Nabonidus lived to 105. She worshipped the moon god, and raised him to [do so too]. He tried to supplant Marduk as the supreme god with the moon god. This led to religious strife, for the first time. [But what about Akhenaton, eight hundred years earlier in Egypt, who tried to supplant polytheism with the worship of just Aton, the disc of the sun?] There was no religious prejudice before this; because every culture could incorporate gods from conquered peoples. But at the time the Jews were there, there was a tussle.
Nabonidus went for ten years to live in Tayma, in northwestern Arabia, and left his son Belshazzar as regent.
The Persian Conquest
When Cyrus arrived, he won over the Babylonian faction to support him and let the Persians in by appealing to their religious sensibilities.
Somebody laboriously erased all the inscriptions of Nabonidus; but there's one where they missed the writing on the left and right. Cyrus has gone down in history as a very enlightened monarch, but there was lots of propaganda at the time. There was a tablet which appears to have been a play to be performed in the street in which Nabonidus and Cyrus have an argument. Cyrus in it says wherever Nabonidus is in an inscription, his name will be erased.
In the last few years, documents have appeared on the black market [including] legal documenttation from Al-Yahudu, "Jew-Town", dated to the fifth year of Cyrus. This included marriage contracts and other documents written by the community of this time. These were the people who stayed in Babylonia from then until the last century
There is a marriage contract which stipulated that the money for the bride's dowry is sewn into the fringe of her coat on marriage, and if she were to divorce, the money would return with her. The Babylonians didn't use כְּתוּבוֹת like this; this was a Jewish thing.
The Babylonian Talmud was written in Iraq. Although it was not put into writing until much later, it [lacuna]
The rabbinic principles of textual exegesis are all found in Babylonian school literature—where the rabbis analyse a sentence word by word and find the word elsewhere to deduce its meaning, or use gematria—all of the principles are already found in cuneiform.
Once you had the Bible—a finite text producing the identity of the nation, the consequence is the principle that textual exegesis becomes necessary. This pattern of interpreting religious material and becoming learned in this way is a transposition from the university of Babylon.
The experience of being dumped in Babylon was the very thing that rescued Judaism. It was this which changed them from being a miscellaneous group of Judaean refugees to Jews with a book and a culture.
The Writing On The Wall
Daniel 5 tells the story of how, at the feast Belshazzar threw, in which they drank from the Temple vessels, writing appears on the wall that only Daniel can interpret. How was it that Belshazzar, who was a well-educated intelligent person, was unable to read it? In his painting of the incident, Rembrandt shows the letters vertically:
For a long time, it was thought Rembrandt asked R. Menasseh ben Israel for advice on how to represent this; Menasseh had a library interleaved with prints by Rembrandt. Menasseh went to the Talmud, where there are various explanations including this one, and brought out a treatise including a chart demonstrating this principle.
Then there was an antisemitic swell in Rembrandt scholars. They said it was nothing of the sort; he went to stay with a son-in-law who was a Bible scholar, who wrote the letters on the back of an envelope for him. This is, however, impossible: the letters are written in emulation of writing by someone who knows Jewish sources.
One of the arguments given was that if Rembrandt asked the rabbi, there's no way he would have made a mistake. The last letter seems to be a ז, not a ן. But if you X-ray the the picture, you can see that the final letter is finished, and a final ן, and the hand drawing away. Rembrandt must have sketched this, and decided it would be more powerful if the hand was still drawing the final letter.