BIBLE AND SPADE - BY STEPHEN L CAIGER D B - first published at the University Press, Oxford 1936. This Edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Contents | Introduction | The Exile in Egypt | The Exile in Babylon | The Persian Period | The Colony at Elephantine

THE remaining period covered by the historians of the canonical Old Testament,
albeit with many wide gaps and puzzling ambiguities,
includes the Exile,
the Restoration,
and the post-Restoration revival up to the days (probably) of Artaxerxes II,
or roughly two hundred years (586-398 BC).
The whole of the period is obscure:
much of it is dark as night;
and unfortunately the Biblical narrative is illumined only to a very slight extent by the discoveries of archaeology.


After the fall of Jerusalem,
although most of the Jews were transported to Babylonia,
some of them (including Jeremiah) fled to Egypt and settled in Tahpanhes (Daphne) under the Pharaoh Hophra (Jer. 437),
afterwards dispersing to other Egyptian cities such as Migdol and Noph (Memphis).

Traces of Hebrew occupation in this era have been found at many places in Egypt,
in the shape of pottery, graves, brief Aramaic inscriptions, &c.
Petrie [F. Petrie, Palace of Apries (1909).]
excavating Hophra's palace at Memphis in 1908,
found some Jewish tradesmen's dockets in the moat;
and at Tahpanhes discovered the remains of the 'Pharaoh's House'
where Jeremiah was told to take great stones in thine hand,
and hide them in mortar in the brickwork
He could find, however, no signs of the actual stones.
Interesting here was the discovery of a stele representing a god of mingled Jewish and Egyptian attributes,
giving point to the Prophet's warning against heathen corruption.

Another curious relic found by Petrie was an Egyptian seal depicting a man emerging from the mouth of a huge fish,
his elbows resting on the shore.
The discoverer deduced that the story of Jonah, which has parallels in Greek art, was current also in Egypt.

The inscriptions show that Egypt was invaded by Nebuchadrezzar in 568 BC,
and reveal the curious fact that henceforward Old Cairo was known as 'Babylon' and its residents as 'Babylonians',
much to the confusion of historians and commentators - cf. She that is in Babylon (I Peter v.13).

Such were the beginnings of the Egyptian dispersion of the Jews,
which was to endure for so many centuries,
to become world-famous at the university of Alexandria,
and to produce some of the most remarkable of their literature.

This is not the place to discuss the vast subject of the influence of Egyptian literature on the Old Testament and Apocryphal writings of the Jews, which must be studied in the many specializing books on the subject.
There we shall find many affinities between Egyptian and Hebrew lyric poetry:
very striking is Weigall's juxtaposition of Akhnaton's Hymn to Aton with Psalm 104;
and similar parallels have been pointed out in the Hymns to Ra, the Pyramid Texts, the Hymn to Amon, &c.

The Egyptians possessed from the most ancient times a Wisdom Literature not unlike that of the Jews,
and many correspondences have been pointed out between the latter and such works
as The Instruction of Ptah Hotep,
The Admonitions of a Sage,
'Indeed,' observes Mace [A. B. Mace, Annals of Archaeology (1932), ix.]
'it is hard to escape from the conclusion that the Hebrews deliberately modelled their Wisdom Books on Egyptian patterns.'
The Book of Job in particular appears to be saturated with the atmosphere of Egypt.

The influence was not, however, all on one side.
Much of the later Wisdom Literature of Egypt evidently owed its inspiration to the Hebrew Bible.
Writing of the many curious parallels between the recently discovered Teaching of Amen-em-ope and the Biblical Book of Proverbs, Oesterley remarks that 'when it is a question of religion and ethics we contend that Amen-em-ope and probably other Egyptian thinkers of like exalted mentality were more likely to have been influenced by the Hebrew genius, than that Israelite religious leaders should have borrowed from Egypt'.
[W. O. E. Oesterley, The Wisdom of Egypt and the Old Testament (1927).]

Finally, we must not, of course, forget the tremendous impulse given by the Alexandrian Septuagint version of the Scriptures towards the wider study of the Old Testament.


Very scant is the light which archaeology throws upon the Babylonian Exile.
There is no trace, for instance, of the name Daniel
or yet of Belteshazzar in any of the extant contract-tablets,
nor do the inscriptions (although almost entirely of an ecclesiastical nature) mention the Golden Image which Nebuchadrezzar the King set up.
Even the Plain of Dura cannot be identified.

That the victims' consignment to the Burning Fiery Furnace and the Lion's Den were at any rate in keeping with the times, is shown by two inscriptions of Ashurbanipal:

  1. Saulmagina my rebellious brother,
    who made war with me,
    they threw into a burning fiery furnace,
    and destroyed his life.
  2. The rest of the people who had rebelled
    they threw alive among bulls and lions,
    as Sennacherib my grandfather used to do.
    Lo, again following his footsteps,
    those men I threw into the midst of them.

[H. F. Talbot, P.B.S.A. ii. 361 (literal translation).]

The portion of Daniel which receives the best general illustration is Nebuchadrezzar's proud boast of the splendour of his capital -

Is not this great Babylon, which I have built?

The inscriptions show that the city did indeed owe most of its immortal reputation for magnificence to this monarch, from its noble Ishtar Gate and Festival Street to that Seventh Wonder of the World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon made by Nebuchadrezzar for his Median bride.
[See W.O.P. 605, 645.]

Archaeology has, however, explained Daniel's hitherto mysterious reference to one Belshazzar as the last king of Babylon at the time of its fall (Dn.v.30).
Actually, the last king was Nabonidus (555-538 BC)
[Nabonidus - Nabu-na-id; Belshazzar - Bel-shar-uzur; Cyrus - Kurash.],
as the Greek historians had said:
but it now appears that Nabonidus had a favourite son named Belshazzar
to whom he entrusted the regency of Babylon,
and who had thus become its de facto ruler at the time of Cyrus' invasion.
The author of Daniel, therefore, who never mentions Nabonidus at all, is to this extent vindicated. 

In this connexion the two following inscriptions may be quoted:

I. From the temple of the Moon at Ur: a psalm.

c. 550 BC
As for me,
Nabonidus, king of Babylon,
From sin against thy divinity save me,
And grant me a long life.
And as for Belshazzar my eldest son,
The offspring of my heart ...
Let not sin possess him,
And satisfy him with the fullness of life.

II. From the Babylonian Chronicle:

c. 549 BC
In the seventh year
king Nabonidus was in the city of Tema.

[his newly built summer residence in Syria]
The king's Son, (Belshazzar) the great men,
and his troops were in the land of Akkad.
The king himself did not come to Babylon. 

The defeat of Babylon and even the identity of her conqueror had long been foreseen by the Prophets of the Exile (Is.xlv.1, &c.)
The successors of the great Nebuchadrezzar were men of straw,
and already the star of Cyrus king of Anshan was rising.
At length, after defeating his suzerain Ishtumegu (Astyages) king of Media and Croesus king of Lydia,
Cyrus chased Nabonidus out of Tema and in 538 BC took Babylon itself.

Sit in the dust,
O virgin daughter of Babylon,
Sit on the ground without a throne,
O daughter of the Chaldeans ...
for thou shalt be no more called The lady of kingdoms

(Is.xlvii.1, 5),

cried the Exiles as they saw their oppressor laid low. 

Of this world-shaking catastrophe we are fortunate in possessing,
almost as it were on its last surviving page,
the contemporary record of the Babylonian Chronicle:

538 BC:
In the month Tammuz,
Cyrus made battle at Opis on the Tigris among the soldiers of Akkad.
The people of Akkad raised a revolt:
people were killed:
Sippar was taken on the 14th day without fighting.
Nabonidus fled.
On the 16th day Gobryas
(Ugbaru), governor of Gutium
and the soldiers of Cyrus entered Babylon without fighting.
After Nabonidus they pursued.
He was captured in Babylon.
At the end of the month the forces of Gutium surrounded the gates of the Temple of Bel.
A religious Festival ... was not being made.
On the third day Cyrus descended to Babylon.
They filled the roads before him.
Peace was established in the city.
Cyrus promised peace to Babylon and all its inhabitants.
Gobryas appointed governors in Babylonia, and ...
the gods of the land of Akkad, whom Nabonidus had sent down to Babylon,
returned to their places.
On the eleventh day Gobryas went up by night against
and the son of the king
[Belshazzar?] died. ...
There was weeping in Akkad, all the people bowed down their heads.
On the fourth day Cambyses son of Cyrus went to the Temple of Nebo. ...

(Pinches, op. cit. p.415.) 

In the entry for the 'eleventh day' it is possible we may see a confirmation of the Biblical statement,

in that night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain (Dn.v.30).

The Jews naturally hailed the fall of Babylon as presaging the long-awaited restoration to their homeland.
Yet the interlude had been anything but wasted,
for it is not too much to say that we owe our Old Testament in its present form largely to those fruitful years.

The influence of Babylonian culture, in fact, upon the Jewish writers of the Exile can probably not be exaggerated.
But again we must refer the reader to works dealing specially with that large subject.
[e.g. S. Langdon, Babylonian Wisdom (1923). Also G. A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible, c. xxi (U.S.A. 1916).]

As from Egyptian, so from Babylonian literature there are many parallels with the Wisdom Books,
such as:

In the time of anger,
thou shalt not speak swiftly:
If thou speakest quickly,
thou shalt repent afterwards.
The fear of the lord begets favour.

Most notable, perhaps, of all is the celebrated Babylonian or rather Sumerian Poem of the Righteous Sufferer,
[The poem originally emanated from the temple school of Nippur in the Isin period (Langdon).]

the hero of which, Tabi-utul-Enlil, has often been called the 'Babylonian Job'.
The gist of the poem is that Tabi-utul-Enlil, a righteous and prosperous Babylonian, suddenly fell from his high estate, was reviled by his former friends, and sank into deep dejection.
He questions the justice of God, who seems to have abandoned him in spite of all his good works and pious observances:

Who understands the will of the gods in heaven?
The counsel of God, full of knowledge, - who understands it?
He who was alive yesterday evening, is dead to-day,
Quickly is he cast into gloom, suddenly is he cast down.
My eyes look, but see not:
My ears are open, but they hear not.
The house has become my prison.
God came not to my aid, he took not my hand.
Before my death, lamentation for me was finished.
All my friends said, How is he disgraced.

But in the end the gods relent.
He sees a vision in which an angel announces that the 'woe is overcome',
and all the devils which were trying him are banished away.


No actual 'Decree of the Medes and Persians'
ordering the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem (Ezra i.1)
has yet been found;
but that such clemency was the general policy of Cyrus
is shown by the following extract from the celebrated
Cylinder of Cyrus

found by Hormuzd Rassam in Babylon:  

536 BC:
... Cyrus had mercy on all the lands:
all of them found and looked upon him.
Marduk sought also a just king,
whose hand he might hold,
Cyrus king of Anshan:
he called his title and proclaimed his name to all the kingdoms.
The land of Qutu, all the troops of Manda,
Marduk placed under his feet:
he caused his hand to capture the people of the dark head (i.e. Asiatics):
in righteousness and justice he cared for them.

the great lord and protector of his people,
looked with joy upon his fortunate work and his just heart.
He commanded that he should go to Babylon . . .
like a friend and a companion he walked by his side. ...
Without fighting and battle he caused him to enter Babylon. ...
He delivered Nabonidus, who did not fear god, into Cyrus' hand.
All the people ... bowed down beneath him and kissed his feet:
they rejoiced for his sovereignty, their countenances were bright.
Marduk, who gives life to the dead,
spared all on every side from destruction and misery.
Well did they do homage to Cyrus,
and hold in honour his name.

king of the host,
the great king,
the powerful king, ...
king of the four quarters of the globe,
son of Cambyses the great king,
king of Anshan,
grandson of Cyrus the great king,
king of Anshan ...
the all-enduring royal seed whose reign Bel and Nebo love:
for the contenting of their heart they desired his rule.

When I entered in peace into Babylon,
I founded in the king's palace a seat of dominion with pleasure and joy. ...
My vast army marched in the streets of Babylon peacefully. ...
I had care for the inhabitants of Babylon.
I comforted their sighing,
I did away with their distress. ...
By command of Marduk
every king from every region from the upper sea to the lower sea
as well as the Bedouin tent-dwellers brought their costly gifts and kissed my feet. ...
The gods dwelling within them I returned to their homes,
and caused eternal shrines to be built.
All their people I collected and restored to their homes.
And the gods of Sumer and Akkad,
which Nabonidus, to the anger of Marduk, had brought to Babylon,
I restored in peace to their shrines?
shrines of joy of heart.
May all the gods whom I restored
pray daily before Bel and Nebo
for the lengthening of my days,
and for my happiness,
and may they say to Marduk,
'Cyrus thy worshipper ...
has founded an abode of peace.
(Pinches, op. cit., pp.420 ff.)

It is clear from this delightful inscription that Cyrus was sympathetic to the religious feelings of his subjects,
and merciful to those vanquished by his arms.
How welcome is the change of tone
from the self-laudatory, ruthless, and bloodthirsty records of his Assyrian and Babylonian predecessors.
No wonder the Exiles wrote of him with lyrical enthusiasm
as the 'Shepherd', the 'Servant of God', the 'Anointed of the Lord'.

Unfortunately this is the last cuneiform inscription that has any bearing upon Biblical history.
It is, of course, possible that others may be discovered.
The decrees of the Persian kings
mentioned with such particularity in Ezra, Nehemiah, and other Books
have the appearance of being based upon genuine documents,
and there is no reason why some future Layard should not discover
perhaps at Shushan (Susa), or at Ach-metha (Ecbatana),
a royal library like that of Ashurbanipal.

Up to the present, however, the whole of the Persian period,
obscure though the Biblical record leaves it,
receives very little additional illumination either from archaeology or from any other source,
and this in spite of the fact that we now approach the era of the great Greek historians such as Herodotus.
The Hebrews, in fact, seem still to be resting on the 'blind spot' in their contemporaries' eyes.

Extensive excavations in Persia have failed to elicit any information about the Jews.
At Susa, Cyrus' fortifications have been excavated,
and the remains of Xerxes' 'Shushan the Palace', where Esther (if Ahasuerus was really Xerxes
[Some recent scholars hold that Ahasuerus was Artaxerxes II (404-358 BC),
and that Esther flourished about 390. (See Olmstead, op. cit.)]
may have feasted Haman under the shadow of his gallows.
At Persepolis recent excavation has laid bare the Palace of Darius and that wonder of its age,
the Hall of a Hundred Columns or Apadana of Xerxes.
The inscription of Darius carved in three languages
high up on the towering Rock of Behistun
has been interpreted -
the first of all cuneiform inscriptions, in fact, to yield its secret, and so provide a clue to the rest.
[It was Rawlinson's decipherment of the Persian (Zend) inscription on this monument in 1837 which led to the decipherment of the Susian and Babylonian inscriptions, the script in each case being cuneiform.]
And the tombs of Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes, and Darius II have been explored,
cut out of the living rock at Nakshi Rustan.
Marvellously vital and beautiful are the artistic treasures which have been brought to light,
[For good description and photographs see W.O.P. 51, 253, 516, 705, 761.]
but so far the main discovery bearing upon Biblical history has been the famous Code of Hammurabi described above,
[See pp.87 ff.]
which, though belonging to Babylon, had been hauled up to Susa, and there was found.

The existence of a Jewish colony clinging to Babylonia a century after the Restoration has also been revealed through the recovery of the ledgers of the Jewish firm of Murashu and Sons, who flourished at Nippur during the reign of Artaxerxes I and Darius II, and who may thus have done business with Nehemiah and Ezra.


The most interesting discovery of all -
though, far from illuminating this Dark Age, it only makes the darkness more visible -
is undoubtedly that of the much-discussed Elephantine Papyri,
proving the existence during the Persian period of a very queer little Jewish colony at Elephantine, or Yeb, an island in the middle of the Nile near the present Assouan Dam.
Here at the beginning of the present century a number of Aramaic papyri were 'dug out of the mounds of the old city, from the heaps of decayed bricks which the natives carry away as manure for their fields' (Naville).

Their contents were so strange that at first they were hotly denounced as forgeries 'from a factory of spurious literature, apparently established early in the nineteenth century, which must be under the direction of some one with a certain amount of Semitic learning, but who has taken insufficient pains to free his products from flaws which betray their impure origin'. [L. Belleli, The Elephantine Papyri (1909), a book written specially to prove that the papyri were spurious.]
But their authenticity is now universally accepted.

Briefly the papyri are a collection of official, business, and domestic letters exchanged among the members (named Hosea, Azariah, Zephaniah, Jonathan, Nathan, Sec.), of a Jewish military settlement at Yeb.
There are also 'carbon copies', as it were, of dispatches sent from Yeb to Palestine.
The documents are self-dated as written between 494 and 400 BC,
but carry the history of the colony back to beyond 525 BC.

How far beyond, and how these Jews came to find themselves in Elephantine at all, is still a puzzle.
All we know is that when Cambyses invaded Egypt in 525 he found a Jewish temple to Jehovah already in existence on the island, dating back to 'the days of the kings of Egypt'.
The usual suggestion (following a hint in the late and fanciful Letter of Aristeas, c. 100 BC) is that these Jews were descendants of mercenaries imported from Judea by Psammetichus II just before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.
If so, they must have gone over in a body to the Persian conqueror, for the papyri exhibit them as a Persian garrison under Persian and Babylonian officers.

In passing, this Jewish garrison provides us with a remarkable instance of that 'blind eye' of which we have spoken.
By a curious coincidence,
it so happens that the great and observant Greek historian Herodotus
personally visited Elephantine at the very time the papyri were being written
(his Egyptian tour took place about 440 BC),
and has much to say about the island and its inhabitants:
he expressly notes that 'the military stations are regulated to this day by the Persians,
as they were under King Psammetichus:
for there are Persian garrisons now stationed at Elephantine and Daphne'.
Yet not once does he mention Jews.
[Herod, ii.29, 30, 175; iii.19.
He can even travel through Palestine without mentioning them.]

The Judean origin of the colony, however, is rendered doubtful by its consistent use of the Aramaic language, which at this time was confined to Syria and Mesopotamia.
Oesterley therefore, amongst others, suggests that they were originally Israelites deported to the Euphrates after the fall of Samaria, and thence, enlisting in the victorious armies of Assyria, arrived in Egypt.
In other words, at Elephantine we have actually found some of the 'Ten Lost Tribes'.

But stranger than the fact of their existence in Elephantine is the manner of it.
According to the generally accepted view,
the Deuteronomic reforms,
dating from Josiah (621 BC),
insisted that there should be only one Temple to Jehovah in all the world
[According to some recent scholars,
however, the Book of Deuteronomy (save in one interpolated passage, viz. .1-7)
nowhere forbids a multiplicity of altars.
See Welch, op. cit.].

It is therefore extraordinary indeed that the Temple at Elephantine should be found at this late date not only in full working order, with altar, sacrifices, and priesthood, but clearly so maintained without any consciousness of illegality.
Its votaries even write to the High Priest at Jerusalem asking for his support.
Perhaps they claimed as their sanction the ancient prophecy:

In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD
in the midst of the land of Egypt.


That their festivals included even the Passover
(celebrating, be it remembered, the deliverance from Egypt)
is proved by the touching little Ostrakon of Haggai,
where an absent parent makes provision for her little ones to keep the Feast;
and also by the somewhat mutilated Hananiah's Passover Letter,
where the garrison is given a military order to observe the Passover,
and Darius II himself reminds them of the correct Mosaic ceremonial (Cowley, p.21).
[Thus confirming Ezra's record of the interest taken in Jewish ritual by the Persian Kings (Ezra vii.11ff).]