Ancient Tablets Reveal Life of Jews in Nevuchadnetzar’s Bavel

YERUSHALAYIM   (Reuters/Hamodia) —
Cuneiform tablets are displayed during an exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum in Yerushalayim on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Cuneiform tablets are displayed during an exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum in Yerushalayim on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

A new exhibition of ancient clay tablets discovered in modern-day Iraq offer a glimpse into the daily life of Jews exiled to Bavel at the end of Bayis Rishon.

The exhibition is based on more than 100 cuneiform tablets, each no bigger than an adult’s palm, that detail transactions and contracts between Jews driven from Yerushalayim by King Nevuchadnetzar at the end of Bayis Rishon.

Archaeologists got their first chance to see the tablets — acquired by a wealthy London-based Israeli collector — barely two years ago. They were impressed.

“It was like hitting the jackpot,” said Filip Vukosavovic, an expert in ancient Babylonia, Sumeria and Assyria who curated the exhibition at Yerushalayim’s Bible Lands Museum.

“We started reading the tablets and within minutes we were absolutely stunned. It fills in a critical gap in understanding of what was going on in the life of Jews in Babylonia more than 2,500 years ago.”

The tablets, each inscribed in minute Akkadian script, detail trade in fruits and other commodities, taxes paid, debts owed and credits accumulated.

The exhibition details one Judean family over four generations, starting with the father, Samak-Yama, his son, grandson and his grandson’s five children, all with Biblical Hebrew names, many of them still in use today.

“We even know the details of the inheritance made to the five great-grandchildren,” said Vukosavovic. “On the one hand it’s boring details, but on the other you learn so much about who these exiled people were and how they lived.”

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