Babylon had little to no contact with ancient Israel after the mention of the city in Genesis 11. Prior to their conquest to Assyria, Merodach-Baladan sent diplomats to Jerusalem to create an alliance with Babylon against Assyria. King Hezekiah was warned about making a treaty with kingdoms beyond the river considering “days are coming when all that is in your house, and that which your ancestors have stored up until this day, shall be carried to Babylon” (2 Kngs 20:17). The Babylonian king Nabopolassar eventually destroyed the capital city in Nineveh in 612 BCE (which was then rejoiced in triumphal excess in the book of the prophet Nahum). Finally Nebuchadnezzar I put an end to the Assyrian empire at the battle of Carchemish in 605 BCE beginning the period of the Neo-Babylonian Empire as the major world power in the ANE (Becking 2018, 506).
Nebuchadnezzar II wanted to strengthen his control of the Levant and territories near Egypt. The Babylonian Chronicle records the event in 598-597 BCE paralleling 2 Kings 24:8-12 in lines 12 and 13: “He campaigned ag[ainst] the city of Judah and on the second day of the month Adar he captured the city and seized the king. A king of his own […] he appointed in the city. He took a vast tribute and took it to Babylon” (Becking 2018, 506). The two kings in mention were most likely Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. Although Nebuchadnezzar established his own king in Jerusalem to keep control of Judah as long as they stayed in accordance with their, albeit forced, vassalage. When inklings of rebellion and consortium with Egypt began to arise, the Babylonians responded with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and deportation of the Judeans to Babylon.
By means of archaeology, there have been a few discoveries with give historical foundation to the campaign of the Babylonians and subsequent destruction of Jerusalem. Destruction of residential houses by fire at Tell Shiloh have been dated to this time period (Schley 2009, 191). Extra evidence found at Lachish in some ostraca known as the “Lachish Letters” provide some context of as to the atmosphere of the city perhaps months or days before the destruction of the city. One letter in particular mentions that the soldier, writing on the sherds, describes the absence of the “signal fires from Azekah.” This might indicate that Azekah had already been conquered by the Babylonians. Jeremiah 34:7 shows that besides Jerusalem, Lachish and Azekah were the only strongholds still in Judean control (Becking, 2018, 511).
There is also this concept of the “empty land” perpetuated by 2 Chr 36:21 which gives a theological reason for there to be no inhabitants in Judah being that it was given rest “All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.” This concept has been challenged because there appears to have been continued occupation during the Babylonian period also known as the Late Iron Age IIC or beginnings of the Persian period in Judah such as with the sites of Bethel and Mitzpah (Barstad 2008, 90-134). The Bible also does not cling to this concept as it states in 2 Kings 24:14-15 that only the kings family and elites of the land were deported to Babylon and in 2 Kings 25. It implies that the non-elite peoples of the land were left behind.
In the Babylonian records, 200 cuneiform documents and assignment lists mention the name of Judahite names which suggest the Judeans were allowed to keep some of their identity within Babylonian captivity. One list in particular mentions “Yahu-kin, king of the land of Yaudu” who has been identified as Jehoiachin as he was given regular portions of food for him and his family (Winton 1958, 84). The consistency of names in Babylonian records as well as continued mention in Persian documents show the presence of displaces Jews in Mesopotamia. This period is the historical backdrop for the book of Daniel which describes a group of Judean elites as they navigate the difficulties of being exiles in a foreign land.
The Persian Period
In 539 BCE, Cyrus the Great moved upon the Babylonian empire and defeated them at the city of Opis. Instead of forcing a “Persianization” upon the religion and society of the remaining empire, instead Cyrus employed a more tolerant society (Isabel 2018, 529). The edict of Cyrus which is also mentioned in the biblical text ( 2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4; 6:2-5) allowed for displaced peoples to return home and rebuild their destroyed shrines and temples by the Babylonians. It is agreed by scholars that this was certainly not true altruism, but an attempt at establishing true loyalists within the empire. The Cyrus Cylinder allowed the Jews who wished to return, back to the Levant. There was clearly a remnant of those Jews whom did not return as this period is the background of the books of Esther, Nehemiah, and Ezra.
Barstad, H. M.
1996 The Myth of the Empty Land: A study in the History and Archaeology of Judah During the Exilic Period. Symbolae Osloenses Fasc. Suppl. XXVIII. Oslo: Scandinavian University Press.
2018 Destruction and Exile. The Old Testament in Archaeology and History. 505-527. Baker.
Isbell, C. D.
2018 Persia and Yehud. The Old Testament in Archaeology and History. 529-556. Baker.