King Jehoiachin: An Archaeological Biography

Some of the Hebrew kings, such as King Uzziah (54 years) had very long reigns; others, such as the subject of our next bioarchaeography, ruled for a very short time.

King Jehoiachin became king of Judah upon his father’s death, but only reigned for three months. 

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father had done. (2 Kings 24:8-9)

He is referred to by three different names in Scripture: Jeconiah (meaning, “Yahweh will be steadfast” – 1 Chron. 3:16), Jehoiachin (meaning “Yahweh will uphold” – 2 Kings 24:8), and Coniah (“Yahweh has upheld him” – Jer. 37:1).1  It is not known why he had different names, although kings in the ancient world sometimes had multiple names: either a given name and a throne name (ie. Mattaniah was given the throne name Zedekiah) or a longer form and a shortened (ie. Jeconiah shortened to Coniah).

There are only four known images of King Nebuchadnezzar; this stele contains the best-preserved likeness. It is sometimes mistakenly called the Tower of Babel Stele. Howeever, it bears an image of the great Babylonian ziggurat, called the Etemenanki, not the biblical Tower of Babel. It is held in the Schøyen Collection, and is officially labeled MS 2063. Photo credit: JoeRussel / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Jehoiachin came to the throne in the midst of a period of turmoil, with the Babylonian army of King Nebuchadnezzar besieging the city.  Scripture records that Jehoiachin’s father, Jehoiakim had rebelled against Babylon: 

During Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. But then he changed his mind and rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. (2Kings 24:1)

At the tender age of 18, Jehoiachin faced the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar for the rebellion his father had begun.  Rather than fight a losing battle, he decided to give himself up to the king of Babylon. 

Scripture records: “And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon…The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign and carried off all the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house…And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.” (2 Kings 24:10-17)

Jehoiachin Taken Captive

Interestingly, we have a Babylonian account of siege of Jerusalem and Jehoiachin’s capture, recording precisely the same details as recorded in Scritpure. 

The Babylonian Chronicle 5, also known as the Jerusalem Chronicle, records the events from ca. 605-595 BC, early in Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Photo Credit: The British Museum / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The Babylonian Chronicles are a series of clay tablets that record the history of the kings of Babylon, from Nabopolassar (ca. 625 BC) through to Cyrus (ca. 539 BC).  They are believed to have been discovered in the ruins of Babylon by Hormuzd Rassam in the 19th century and brought back to London.2  They weren’t translated until decades later, when the first tablet (BM 92502) was published in 1887 by Theophilus G. Pinches, an Assyriologist at the British Museum.3  The Babylonian Chronicle 5 (BM 21946), sometimes dubbed, “The Jerusalem Chronicle,” was translated by Donald Wiseman in 1956, and covers the period from 605 – 595 BC.  It is famous for the fact that it records the siege of Jerusalem:

“In the seventh year, the month of Kislîmu, the king of Akkad [Nebuchadnezzar] mustered his troops, marched to Hatti-land and besieged the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Addaru [February/March 597] he seized the city and captured the king. [Jehoiachin].  He appointed there a king of his own choice, [Mattaniah/Zedekiah”] and received its heavy tribute and sent to Babylon.”4

While he is not named explicitly, Jehoiachin is clearly referred to, as well as his successor, Zedekiah, and the fact that Nebuchadnezzar to a heavy tribute from Jerusalem (specified in the biblical text as the treasures of the Temple and the King’s Palace).

Jehoiachin in Captivity

According to 2 Kings 24, Jehoiachin was taken as a prisoner to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar.  Being a king, he may have been placed under house arrest or in a special prison for royal prisoners, rather than being kept in a common prison.  Eventually, when Nebuchadnezzar died and his son Evil-Merodach (Awil-Marduk in Babylonian) became king, Jehoiachin was released from prison.  The biblical record reads:

And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, as long as he lived.  (2 Kings 25:27-30)

The Jehoiachin Ration Tablet contains a record of the oil ration for King Jehoiachin and his sons while they were prisoners in Babylon. Photo Credit: Ferrell Jenkins – https://ferrelljenkins.blog/2012/02/08/evil-merodach-562-560-graciously-freed-jehoiachin/

Archaeological evidence has come to light which affirms that Jehoiachin was indeed a prisoner in Babylonia.  Between 1899 and 1917, Robert Koldewey oversaw the excavations at the ancient city of Babylon. In an underground room near the Ishtar Gate, he discovered a large cache of cuneiform tablets which documented the rations for prisoners and skilled laborers of Babylon.The tablets date from the 10th-35th year of King Nebuchadnezzar and they list the names, professions and nationalities of the prisoners who were receiving rations, including Judahites, as well as those from Tyre, Byblos, Egypt, Lydia and Greece.6

Several of the tablets mentioned “Iaukin,” the “king of Iakadu,” identified as Jehoiachin, king of Judah, and list the rations given to the royal family:

  • One fragmented tablet reads, “…to Jehoiachin, king…” 
  • Another has been reconstructed to read, “10 sila of oil to…Jehoiachin, king of Judah…2 ½ sila of oil to the five sons of the king of Judah.” 
  • Yet another reads, “10 sila to Jehoiachin…2 ½ sila for the five sons of the king of Judah.”7
A seal that may have belonged to Jehoiachin’s son, Pedaiah (1 Chron. 3:17-18). It reads, “Belonging to Pedayahu [Pedaiah], the king’s son.” Photo: Chris McKinny/BiblePlaces.com

The “Jehoiachin Ration Tablets,” as they have come to be known, are important for several reasons.  First, they establish that Jehoiachin was actually in captivity in Babylon, and that he was still recognized as the king of Judah.8  Moreover, he received more rations than others who are named in the tablets, implying that he was given special honor.  Since these tablets come from earlier in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, it means he was being treated favorably even before Evil-Merodach released him from prison.   Finally, the tablets confirm that he had numerous sons. The Babylonian records state that he had five sons, while biblical text says he had seven sons (2 Chron. 3:17-18).  The difference may be explained by the fact that Jehoiachin only had five sons at the time the ration tablets were inscribed, and that he had two more later in life.

A Babylonian cuneiform tablet mentioning a village called Al-Yahudu (the Judean town). Photo: עמית אבידן / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Finally, the Talmud records that Jehoiachin eventually lived at Nehardea, not far from Sippar.  It is interesting to note that numerous cuneiform tablets are known that refer to a village called Al-Yahudu (“the Judaean town”) near Sippar, affirming that Jewish captives did live in that general area.9   

Summary

The archaeological evidence affirms the historical details surrounding the life of king Jehoiachin as recorded in the biblical text.  Moreover, the Babylonian inscriptions provide a glimpse into the life of the royal family while in exile in Babylon.  Eugene Merrill has analyzed the Babylonian sources and concludes: “The effect of all this has been mutually enlightening: The history of Judah/Judea/Yehud has been put on unassailable chronological grounds and the Chronicles in turn have taken on a new humanness and pathos through the color provided by the Old Testament.”10

Title Photo of Jehoiachin Ration Tablet: Ferrell Jenkins, https://ferrelljenkins.blog/2012/02/08/evil-merodach-562-560-graciously-freed-jehoiachin/

Endnotes

1 “Jehoiachin,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/jehoiachin.html (Accessed Nov. 9, 2020).

2 Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 208.

3 D.J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (626-556 B.C.) in the British Museum (London: The Trustees of the British Museum, 1956), 1.

4 “ABC 5 (Jerusalem Chronicle),” Livius.org. July 26, 2017. https://www.livius.org/sources/content/mesopotamian-chronicles-content/abc-5-jerusalem-chronicle/ (Accessed Nov. 9, 2020).

5 Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 217.

6 James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Easter Texts Relating to the Old Testament,  (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1969), 308.

7 Jona Lendering, “Jehoiachin in Babylonia.” Livius.org. https://www.livius.org/articles/person/jehoiachin-in-babylonia/ (Accessed Nov. 10, 2020).

8 Ferrell Jenkins, “Evil-merodach (562-560) graciously freed Jehoiachin.”
https://ferrelljenkins.blog/2012/02/08/evil-merodach-562-560-graciously-freed-jehoiachin/ (Accessed Nov. 11, 2020).

9 Jona Lendering, “Jehoiachin in Babylonia.” Livius.org. https://www.livius.org/articles/person/jehoiachin-in-babylonia/ (Accessed Nov. 10, 2020).

10 Eugene H Merrill, “The Old Testament and the Ancient Near East: Profits and Losses.” Associates for Biblical Research. https://biblearchaeology.org/research/topics/ancient-near-eastern-studies/2368-the-old-testament-and-the-ancient-near-east-profits-and-losses (Accessed Nov. 11, 2020).

2 comments

  1. Excellent article… thank you.!

    On Fri., Nov. 13, 2020, 7:23 a.m. Bible Archaeology Report, wrote:

    > Bryan Windle posted: ” Some of the Hebrew kings, such as King Uzziah (54 > years) had very long reigns; others, such as the subject of our next > bioarchaeography, ruled for a very short time. King Jehoiachin became king > of Judah upon his father’s death, but only reigned fo” >

  2. Excellent article! I appreciate your well researched archaeobiographies!

    Since this post relates to Assyriology, I hope you don’t mind me recommending a scholar for a potential future interview. There’s a rising scholar in Assyriology named George Heath-Whyte. He is currently finishing his Ph.D in Cambridge. He is a follower of Christ, and in turn, a biblical maximalist.

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