This is one of four clay tablets, all from the middle of the sixth century BCE and housed in the Vorderasiatische Museum, Berlin, which detail the rations given to 'Ya’u-kīnu, king of the land of Yāhudu,' his five sons, and other royal captives. Ya’u-kīnu is usually identified with Jehoiachin, the king of Judah taken into captivity in 597 BCE, when the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem the first time. Parts of Ezekiel and Jeremiah reflect an argument over whether this king-in-exile should still be considered the rightful king of Judah, or if his authority had been ceded to the Babylonian appointee, Zedekiah.2 Kings 25:27-30 (paralleled by Jeremiah 52:31-34) records Jehoiachin receiving relatively favourable rations from the Babylonian king, as well as the presence of other royal deportees in Babylon. This appears to be corroborated by the cuneiform rations tablets. Interestingly, these tablets use the title 'King' for Jehoiachin. We must exercise caution in using these tablets to understand daily life in the diaspora: conditions were different for people deported to different places in Babylonia—life in the city of Babylon would have been very different from life on a rural royal agricultural project—and royal captives were treated very differently from others in the diaspora communities. These tablets can help to round out our picture of diaspora life, but only one very small and early part of it. The Al Yahudu tablets from the Nippur region show a very different kind of diaspora life in southern Babylonia.
This clay tablet dates from 595 BCE and describes the presentation of a gift of gold from Nebuchadnezzar II’s chief eunuch, Nabû-šarussu-ūkin, to the temple of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon. Measuring just 5.4 cm by 3.5 cm, the tablet was discovered in Sippar, close to Baghdad, in the 1870s CE, but its full significance for study of the Bible was not realised until 2007. The Neo-Babylonian administrative document, currently located at the British Museum, contains eleven lines of cuneiform text. From the perspective of biblical studies, its most interesting feature is that it may refer to a Babylonian royal official who is also named in Jeremiah 39.* If both texts refer to the same man, the cuneiform text may lend historical credence to other details contained in Jeremiah 39 concerning the siege of Jerusalem, fleshing out the picture of life under Babylonian rule. The full translation of the tablet reads: “(Regarding) 1.5 minas (0.75 kg) of gold, the property of Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the chief eunuch, which he sent via Arad-Banitu the eunuch to [the temple] Esangila: Arad-Banitu has delivered [it] to Esangila. In the presence of Bel-usat, son of Alpaya, the royal bodyguard, [and of] Nadin, son of Marduk-zer-ibni. Month XI, day 18, year 10 [of] Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.” *The name should be Hebraized as Nebusarsekim, but some English translations, follow another manuscript traditions which divided up the list of Babylonian officials' names differently, putting the 'Nebu' part of the name with the previous one and resulting in officials called Nergal-sharezer, Samgar-nebo and Sarsechim, instead of Nergal-Sharezer of Samgar and Nebo-Sarsekim.