Babylon and Persia
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3616 - 3894 AM [Chart]
608 - 330 BC [Chart]
2 Chronicles 36
This era sees the end of Judah as an independent nation. Prior to the Babylonian era, the dominant force in the surrounding region was the Assyrians. Their empire extended from the Persian gulf to the Mediterranean east coast, and totally surrounded the kingdom of Judah. During this period, Judah was a tributary to Assyria.
The Assyrian empire lost strength towards the end of the 7th century BC, and under the reign of Nabopolassar (Nebuchadnezzar's father) Babylon extended its power. During this time, Nebuchadnezzar served as a general in his father's army.
In 608 BC Josiah, king of Judah, fought in battle against Pharaoh Neco of Egypt, who was assisting the Assyrians. They met at Megiddo, and Josiah was killed. His body was brought back to Jerusalem and buried.
The people of Judah made Jehoahaz (Josiah's son) king of Judah. However, three months later Neco came and carried him off in chains. He then made Jehoiakim (also Josiah's son) king in his place, and imposed a heavy tax on Judah.
Three years later, in 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar (known to the Babylonians as Nebuchadrezzar II) invaded Judah. He took some captives from Jerusalem (including Daniel) and Jehoiakim changed his allegiance from Egypt to Babylon.
Jehoiakim paid his tribute for three years, but then he rebelled and stopped paying. Some 6 years later, in 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar came and laid siege to Jerusalem and conquered it. He again took captives with him back to Babylon - this was the second incident where captives were taken. Depending which narrative your read - Kings or Chronicles - Jehoiakim either died in Jerusalem or was taken to Babylon.
Jehoiakim's son, Jehoiachin, succeeded him as king, but he only lasted 3 months before Nebuchadnezzar had him brought to Babylon, along with some articles from the temple. Zedekiah (brother to Jehoiakim, and son of Josiah) was appointed king by Nebuchadnezzar.
According to the biblical narrative, Zedekiah also rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. As a result, Nebuchadnezzar came and laid siege to Jerusalem for three years. At the end of the three years, in 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, sacked it and razed it to the ground - including the temple. Most of the inhabitants were taken into captivity in Babylon - only the poorest remained.
Babylon was conquered by Cyrus the Great (Cyrus II) in 539 BC, after 70 years of Imperial rule. In 538 he issued a decree allowing all inhabitants of Judah in exile in Babylon to return to Judah. Some of the exiles returned at this time. Other exiles (or rather, their descendants) returned as a result of various decrees as recorded in the narratives of Ezra and Nehemiah. A number of these decrees were issued during the reign of Artaxerxes I, at which time Ezra and Nehemiah themselves returned to Judah.
The Persian Empire came to an end in 330 BC when Darius III was defeated by Alexander the Great (Alexander III).