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Friday, February 13, 2015

The Babylonian Exile Documented

"The exhibition shares the unique artifacts that illustrate the devastation and resilience of the exiled Judeans as they built their lives in Babylonia."
"Until now we had been unable to tell the complete story of the Babylon Exile and to understand what actually happened to all the Jewish refugees once they were forced out of Judah."
Dr. Filip Vukosavovic, exhibition curator, By the Rivers of Babylon, Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem

As the ancient countries of the Middle East dissolve in a fury of sectarian Islamist violence, antiquities thieves, knowing the value to the international community of unearthing never-before-seen objects of the far distant past, have been busy.

As conflict destroys present-day communities, sending millions of people fleeing -- the carnage resulting from Sunni Islamists assaulting Shi'ite Islamists, and each themselves turning their fury on the minorities living on the edge of tolerance now finding themselves hunted into extinction -- see profiteers unearthing and making a killing on antiquities verifying very similar occasions of pillage and slaughter described in ancient texts.

Islamist terrorists occupy themselves spreading fear and loathing by those whom they hunt and oppress in their zeal to transform the Middle East from its current state of constant sectarian unease and melding of East and West, into a facsimile of its crucible state when this Bedouin religion relying on the two monotheistic religions that pre-dated it for its major precepts overlaid with contempt for what it claims were their experimental stages before being perfected by Islam, also engage in destruction of the vestiges of the fabled past in their devotion to a single divine figure.

Even while destroying the heritage symbols of Judaism and Christianity, cupidity also leads them to place objects of archaeological value into the black market of illegal trade to further finance their jihadist fantasies of conquest.

Ancient Babylonian-era tablets are being seen now for the first time by the public at a museum in Jerusalem. They are thought by many in the world of archaeological antiquities to represent stolen artifacts. Unearthed in Iraq in the very places where ancient towns and villages are being ransacked and their populations flee in panic from the marauding hordes, logic would have it they belong to the country where they are found.

Yet they speak of the history of ancient Judea, of an earlier, far earlier and brutal onslaught that made refugee migrants of the Judaic population sending them into exile in Babylonia. Since they relate directly to the flight of Biblical-era Jews from conflict brought to them by powerfully militant Assyrians overtaken by Babylonians, then the time spent in Babylonia until their return to Israel to rebuild the destroyed Temple of Solomon, would it not make sense for these clay cuneiform tablets citing Jewish history to fall into the hands of Israel's museums?

Antiquities experts in cuneiform writing (recognized as representing one of the world's earliest script forms), speak of the collection of 110 clay tablets as the earliest written evidence of the exile of Judeans from the land of Judah, to what is now southern Iraq. They are held to have come into the possession of illegal traders as a result of the pilfering of the region's rich heritage of archaeological treasures. The owners of the tablets are firm that they were legally purchased.

Cuneiform tablets documenting daily life of Judean exiles in Babylon on display in Jerusalem's Bible Lands Museum. (Photo: Reemon Silverman/ Tazpit News Agency)
Cuneiform tablets documenting daily life of Judean exiles in Babylon on display in Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum. (Photo: Reemon Silverman/ Tazpit News Agency)

"We are not interested in anything that is illegally acquired or sneaked out. But it is the role of a museum to protect these pieces", explained Amanda Weiss, director of the bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. "It's what we are here for."

Yet the war-torn Middle East with its treasury of archaeological artefacts of incalculable value to historians and the world of archeology, is being looted of the treasures that speak to the region's fabulous history. And here's the conundrum and the irony; that the governments of those very same countries, before the onset of the current sectarian conflicts, did little themselves to discover, unearth, catalogue and preserve those artefacts. It has taken war and unscrupulous raiders to uncover the treasures and release them to the international market.

Granted, part of the value of any such ancient treasures is a careful cataloguing of where they were found and all circumstances surrounding their discovery. Yet even as they are being unceremoniously released from the desert soil into which they sank throughout the succeeding millennia, their value in describing their provenance by themselves place them beyond mere quibbling, as validations of Biblical accounts. Satellite images of sites in Iraq and Syria look like looted moonscapes, describing the work of zealously digging robbers.
Archaeologists estimate that there have been hundreds of thousands of these small clay tablets with their cuneiform inscriptions making their way into the hands of unscrupulous dealers aware that they are ill-gotten antiquities, but knowing that there are collectors who will pay whatever the prevailing price is, to obtain them. The currently-displayed clay tablets are felt to have been bought on the London antiquities market when cuneiform artifacts were numerous and readily available.
The tablets in question address a 130-year period in the history of the people of Judah, one of the tribes of Israel who were exiled to Babylon after the destruction of Jerusalem in the 6th Century B.C. Dates inscribed on the earliest of the tablets are from 15 years following the destruction of the First Jewish Temple [Temple of Solomon: Bais HaMikdash]. 
A model of the Second Temple adjacent to the Shrine of the Book exhibit at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion

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