Babylonian captivity, in the history of Israel, the period from the fall of Jerusalem (586 b.c.) to the reconstruction in Palestine of a new Jewish state (after 538 b.c.). After the capture of the city by the Babylonians some thousands, probably selected for their prosperity and importance, were deported to Mesopotamia. The number of those who remained is disputed by scholars. Such deportations were commonplace in Assyrian and Babylonian policy. The exiles maintained close links with their kinsmen at home, as is clear from Ezekiel, the prophet of the early years of the Exile. In 538 b.c., Cyrus the Great, the new master of the empire, initiated a new attitude toward the nations and decreed the restoration of worship at Jerusalem. The century following this decree was critical in the history of the Jews, for it is the time of their reintegration into a national and religious unit. For parts of the period, Ezra and Nehemiah are the best sources. The prophesied 70 years of captivity were fulfilled when the new Temple was completed in 516 b.c. For the papal captivity at Avignon, which is also called the Babylonian Captivity, see papacy.
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