Temple to Temple

The Buildup to the Siege of Jerusalem (Part 9)
Date Uploaded: 
Wednesday 2nd December 2015

Pharaoh-Necho’s son, Psammetichus, took over the Egyptian throne from his father.He was energetic and eager to push back against the Babylonian conquest. The buffer zone of the Palestinian coastal plain and Jerusalem become the contested battle ground between the Egyptian and Babylonian forces. The two armies sat poised at opposite ends of present day Israel, the Egyptians on the doorstep of Gaza and the Babylonians entrenched in the military stronghold in Rivla (Antuchia). This is understood to correspond to contemporary Umm Qais, on the modern day border between Jordan, Syria and Israel.

The aristocracy in Judea, the true power behind the throne, advocated a brake with the Babylonians and a siding with the Egyptians. The Babylonian forces represented exile and uprooting. Thus far it was not the practice of the Egyptians to exile an indigenous population out of the conquered land. Hoping that they would be able to remain in Jerusalem and retain a modicum of power, the aristocracy urged King Tzidkiyahu to either send troops down to assist the Egyptian war effort, or a delegation to be part of a mid-east war alliance against the Babylonians.

Either approach would mean Jerusalem acting as the Egyptian stronghold in the mountains, to maintain control of the ever important coastal plain and the route that passed through Israel connecting Asia to Africa.

Nebuchadnezzar heard of this final betrayal by the Judeans. The Midrash presents a theoretical conversation that might have taken place at this junction between Nebuchadnezzar and Tzidkiyahu, had they met at this time. Nebuchadnezzar told Tzidkiyahu, “Had your people stayed true to G-d and betrayed me, I would not fight you because you would have the strength of G-d behind you and you would win in the end. Had you conversely been true to me and betrayed your G-d I would have no reason to fight you. But seeing as you have betrayed your G-d, you are defenceless. You have also betrayed me, so you are culpable. I will therefore destroy you”.

We read in Seder Olam Rabba (a second century work) that in the eighth year of Tzidkiyahu’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar came to besiege Jerusalem. Psammetichus left Egypt to defend Jerusalem. He got as far as Gaza, then for reasons unknown turned around. The Jerusalemites therefore stood defenceless against the forces of Nebuchadnezzar, and the three year siege of Jerusalem commenced.