Bible Dictionary

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Captivities of the Israelites

(1) Of Israel: In 740 B.C. Tiglath-pileser carried away the trans-Jordanic tribes and the inhabitants of Galilee (2 Kgs. 15:29; 1 Chr. 5:26) to Assyria; in 721 B.C. Sargon Ⅱ carried into captivity the rest of Israel (2 Kgs. 17:3), placing them at Halah, Habor, etc. (2 Kgs. 17:6). The cities of Samaria were then peopled with colonists from Babylon, Cuthah, etc. (2 Kgs. 17:24). The later history of the captive Israelites cannot be followed with certainty; some were merged in the gentile population, some returned to their homeland under the decree of Cyrus, and others remained in Babylon and helped to form the dispersion. They have come to be known as the lost tribes.

(2) Of Judah: In 701 B.C. Sennacherib carried into Assyria 200,150 captives from Jewish cities (2 Kgs. 18:13); in 597 B.C. and again in 586 B.C. there were large deportations under Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kgs. 24:14; 25:11; 2 Chr. 36:6–10; Jer. 52). A considerable number of Jews were left behind in Judea (Jer. 40–43). Those in captivity were assured by the teaching of Ezekiel that the glory of the temple would again be restored. The captivity was brought to a close by the decree of Cyrus in 536 B.C. (Ezra 1:2), who permitted all worshippers of Jehovah to return and build the temple in Jerusalem. Only part of the people availed themselves of this permission; the rest remained behind and formed the dispersion.

The period of the captivity had a lasting effect upon the Jewish people. It put a stop to the old sin of idolatry; it was a time of great spiritual revival (Ezek. 36:24–28), a number of the Psalms being written during this period; and it led to a deepening reverence for the law of Moses, especially that part of it dealing with ritual observance.