About Gedaliah ben Ahikam Governer of Judah
Was the son of Ahikam (who saved the life of the prophet Jeremiah) and the grandson of Shaphan (who is mentioned in relation to the discovery of the scroll of Teaching that scholars identify as the core of the book of Deuteronomy). He was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon as governor of Yehud province, which was formed after the defeat of the Kingdom of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem, in a part of the territory that previously formed the kingdom. He was supported by a Chaldean guard stationed at Mizpah. On hearing of the appointment, the Jews that had taken refuge in surrounding countries returned to Judah.
The Murder of Gedaliah: An Anatomy of Self Destruction
(Jeremiah, Chapters 40-43) - by Prof. Uriel Simon, Department of Talmud - Bar-Ilan University Source
The three central figures in this sad story of self-destruction were: #1 the killer, Ishmael ben Netaniah, #2 his victim, Gedaliah ben Achikam and #3 his successor, Yochanan ben Kereach.
Four days of fasting and mourning were decreed by the exiles to Babylon in order to retain the destruction of the First Temple in our collective memory. (Zechariah 7:3; 8:19) Three of them commemorate the tragedies brought upon us by the Babylonians -- the onset of the siege, the breach of the wall and the burning of the Temple. The fourth, the Fast of Gedaliah recalls the two-fold calamity which we brought upon ourselves: the loss of the last remnant of Jewish autonomy in Judea and the self-imposed exile to Egypt. Those were the political results. From the religious point of view, expressed verbally by the prophet of destruction Jeremiah, the first three are punishment by G-d for the sins of Judea while the fourth is an entirely new set of sins into which the punishment is built from the start.
In the meeting at the city of Ramah between the Babylonian commander Nebuzadran and the prophet Jeremiah, who was set free from among the bound and chained captives being led out to Babylon, the destroyer of the Temple and of Jerusalem speaks in the conceptual terms of the prophet: "Because you have sinned against the Lord and did not listen to His voice, that is why this has happened to you"(40:3)! Indirectly it is implied that he is the executor of the word of G-d to his prophet, and that he must repay Jeremiah for his prophecies which have been realized.
He presents Jeremiah with four options, which are in fact, really three: "To come with him to Babylon and there receive preferential status from the government", to go as a private citizen to any destination he chooses (in the Land of Israel or outside), or to join Gedaliah Ben Ahikam who was chosen by the King of Babylon as Regent over the Remnant of Judea and "to dwell" with him in Mitzpah, (which archaeological findings indicate was not destroyed), "among the people".
The starving Jeremiah received an allowance and a meal from his captor and left him without any word of reply (apparently wishing to escape the bear hug of the conqueror and oppressor of his people who was being kind to him personally) and went to join Gedaliah in Mitzpah. When corruption had become rampant in Jerusalem, the prophet expressed the desire to break off from his people ("Oh, that I were in the wilderness in a lodging for travelers that I might leave my people and go forth from them, for they are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men!" [9:1]), but during the siege he refrained from deserting his people though he advised others to do so (37:14; 38:2). Now, with the fall of the city and destruction of the land, he casts his lot with that of the Remnant and joins Gedaliah in the work of reconstruction: "and he dwelled with him among the people who remained in the land" (40:6).
There is an obvious affinity between the option chosen by the prophet and the reconstruction plans of Gedaliah, as he presented them to the seven "captains of the troops in the open country (outside Jerusalem) and their men" (40:7). He swore to them that they had no reason to fear serving the Chaldeans (Babylonians) even though they had fought against them previously, and encouraged them to "dwell in the land" like Jeremiah, rather than to seek personal resolutions to their troubles abroad. He promised to defend their rights before the occupation power and encouraged them to insure their economic well-being by gathering the crops left behind by the exiles and occupying deserted homes and lands ("and dwell in the cities you have taken" [40:10]).
Their reaction is not given. Instead we are told of the initial success of the reconstruction plan of Gedaliah: "All the Judeans returned from all the places to which they were driven (among others -- from Moab, Ammon and Edom which were not conquered by the Babylonians) and they came to the Land of Judea, to Gedaliah at Mitzpah, and gathered an abundance of wine and summer fruits" (40:12).
In a second meeting between Gedaliah and "all the captains of the troops" except for Ishmael ben Netaniah, Gedaliah learns from them that the missing captain intends to murder him: "Do you know that Baalis, king of Ammon, sent Ishmael ben Netaniah to kill you?" (40:14). But Gedaliah "believed them not", though there was reason to believe that commonality of interest existed between the king of Ammon, who had participated in the rebellion against Babylonia (27:3) and with whom King Zedekiah had apparently hoped to find refuge in his flight to Jericho (39:4-5), and Ishmael ben Netaniah who was of "royal seed" (41:1) and could object to the position of power bestowed upon one who was not of the Davidic Line and criticize the co-operation with the Babylonians. (Gedaliah was of a family of long-standing loyalty to the worship of the G-d of Israel and supporting Jeremiah: His grandfather, Shafan, had been the scribe of King Josiah [Second Kings 22:3], his father Ahikam, was sent by Josiah to the prophetess Hulda [Second Kings 22:12] and had saved the life of Jeremiah [Jeremiah 26:24]).
The second intelligence warning came under cover: one of the most important warrior chieftains, Yochanan ben Kereach requested permission from Gedaliah to quietly assassinate Ishmael in order to avert a serious national disaster: "Why should he kill you and then all the Jews who gathered around you will be scattered and the remnant of Judea will perish?" (40:15). Gedaliah ignored the issue of the justification of committing murder to prevent murder and chose to deny very strongly the verity of the information and the reliability of the informant: "Do not do this thing, for you speak falsely of Ishmael"(40:16). The reader, who does not yet know what is about to happen, asks himself: are the two warnings some part of a conspiracy? Is it reasonable to assume that Yochanan, motivated by jealousy among the officers, would falsely accuse Ishmael? Could the complacency of Gedaliah result from his deep conviction in the correctness of his policies and from his simple belief that it would be inconceivable that a Judean army officer would even consider murdering him and thus mortally wound the attempts at rehabilitation of the "Remnant of Judea"?
Gedaliah disdained even passive security measures, inviting Ishmael and ten of his soldiers to share a meal with him. There, during the meal, the guests rose up against their host and murdered him, declaring their motive as political: "And they killed him because the King of Babylon had put him in charge of the land" (41:2). Ishmael, not content with killing the Jewish leader who had proposed collaboration with the Babylonians, also put to death all those who were in his immediate entourage -- "all the Judeans who were with him" as well as the Chaldean soldiers "who were stationed there" (41:3).
One iniquity brings on another: the assassinations soon led to slaughter. To prevent the news of the murder from becoming known outside Mitzpah, Ishmael massacred the participants in a caravan of eighty men from Schechem, Shiloh and Samaria who were traveling as penitents "their beards shaven, their clothing torn and having cut themselves" (41:5) to the Temple Mount to offer sacrifices and express their deep anguish over the destruction of the Temple (which took place only two months earlier). In order to convince them to enter the city Ishmael went out to them and by cynical manipulation of the power of attraction of the fraternity of mourners he went to them "weeping as he walked" (41:6) inviting them to be the guests of Gedaliah. Perhaps, their acceptance proved to him that they agreed to the polices of Gedaliah. In any case, as soon as they entered the city Ishmael and his men killed seventy of them and with contempt and disrespect threw their bodies into a huge cistern which, three hundred years earlier, had been a part of the northern fortification of the Kingdom of Judea.
This horrible disregard of the value human life is indicated not only by the act of mass murder but also by Ishmael sparing the lives of the remaining ten pilgrims who bought their lives with high priced bribery: "Do not kill us for we have stores hidden in the fields -- wheat, barley, oil and honey. So he stopped and did not kill them along with their fellows" (41:8).
Now, all that Ishmael ben Netaniah was left to do was "to go over to the Ammonites"(thus confirming after the fact the information about the Ammonite conspiracy related in the first warning to Gedaliah), taking with him by force all the survivors of Mitzpah: "and Ishmael carried off all the remnant of the people" (41:10).
Yochanan ben Kareach and the other captains were not in Mitzpah during the two days of massacre. When "all the evil that Ishmael ... had done" (41:11) became known to them, they regrouped their forces and pursued Ishmael and his captives. The latter, upon seeing their rescuers approaching, went gladly over to their side while Ishmael "escaped with eight men from Yochanan and went to the Ammonites" (41:15). The emphasis on the ridiculous smallness of this militant band (which presumably had incurred two losses) seems to be an indication that a very few determined men, devoid of all restraints, can inflict an enormous, grave historic damage. Yochanan ben Kareach did not return to Mitzpah, fearing that a Babylonian reprisal force would not distinguish between friend and foe and punish him for the sins of Ishmael. This is, in fact, the way of all conquering, imperialist armies which instill terror in the local population through collective punishment, tending to see the assassination of their appointed official as an excuse for the cancellation of the few rights granted previously to the conquered. Just as Yochanan feared reprisal from the Babylonians for the death of Gedaliah, so he could expect reward from the Egyptians for the blow dealt by Ishmael to their Babylonian enemy. He therefore turned, with his entire camp -- soldiers and civilians alike -- to go down into Egypt.
Only at this point are we made aware that the prophet Jeremiah was also in the camp of Yochanan, (but we are not told whether he was among those taken captive in Mitzpah, or whether he had been outside the city and joined the warrior chieftains following the murder). In contrast to Gedaliah, who did not consult Jeremiah concerning the intentions of Ishmael, Yochanan and his fellow commanders now turned to Jeremiah, requesting that he pray on their behalf and ask of G-d a clear instruction concerning where to go and what to do. One gets the impression that the destruction and murder had a deep influence upon them since this was the first time that the men of Judea acknowledged the presence of a prophet among them, who could serve as their messenger to G-d. Jeremiah agreed to pray for them in their hour of distress and also to pass on to them the Divine answer, hiding nothing. They, on their part, swore to obey the word of G-d whether or not it would be acceptable to them, "that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our G-d" (42:6).
Ten days Jeremiah waited until the word of G-d came to him, proof positive that he did not answer them on the basis of his own opinion alone. His words indicated that God demanded of them to continue the policies of Jeremiah and Gedaliah. This can be deduced from the emphasized use of the verb to dwell: "if you continue to dwell (Hebrew verb root used twice for emphasis!) in this land I will build you and not destroy I will plant you and not uproot; for I regret the evil I have done to you" (42:10). G-d informed them that the time of retribution was over and a period of Divine Grace was at hand. Clearly referring to the terms of the prophetic dedication of Jeremiah, He told them that from this time forth He would cease "to uproot and pull down, to overthrow and destroy", and would begin "to build and to plant" (1:10). Gedaliah had told these military officers "Do not be afraid to serve the Chaldeans" (40:9) and G-d now broadens the scope of this encouragement to include the expected reprisal by the Chaldeans after the murder: "Do not fear the King of Babylonia...for I am with you to save you and I will dispose him to be merciful to you; he shall show you mercy and return you to your own land" (42:11-12).
These last words echo those of Gedaliah "And dwell in the cities you have captured."(40:10), as does the Divine warning "if you turn your faces to come to Egypt and you come to live there..." (42:15) echo the first option rejected by Jeremiah (when it was offered by Nebuzadran): "if it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come" (40:4). They are forbidden to escape to Egypt because, with the end of the era of punishment, voluntary exile is sinful, and if rebellion and disobedience continue, so will punishment continue: "As My anger and wrath poured down upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so will My wrath pour down upon you if you go to Egypt..."(42:18).
In stark contrast to their previous commitment to obey the word of G-d, the two most important of the commanders -- Azariah and Yochanan -- "and all the arrogant men" (43:2) refused to keep their promise. They claimed that Jeremiah had presented his own political views (formed under the influence of Baruch ben Neriah) as the word of G-d, and that if they were to listen to him some of them would be executed by the Babylonians and the others would exiled to Babylon: "You speak falsehood! The Lord our G-d did not send you...rather Baruch ben Neriah is inciting you against us to deliver us into the hands of the Chaldeans to be killed or exiled to Babylon"(43:2-3). This grave accusation echoes that of Gedaliah to Yochanan: "You speak falsely of Ishmael!"(40:16). Gedaliah, out of an inflated sense of security, refused to believe the warning of Yochanan (which proved true several days later) and Yochanan and his companions, out of fear and poor judgment, did not believe the word of G-d as related to them by Jeremiah (which proved true several years later with the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar).
Lack of caution on the part of Gedaliah made his murder possible along with the murders of many others with him. Lack of faith on the part of Yochanan and his companions led to voluntary exile and the wrath of G-d. Though they had seen the prophecies of destruction of Jeremiah proven true, the Remnant of Judea could not accept his present prophecies as the true word of G-d. Their inability to draw proper conclusions from the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple brought a further destruction upon them.
The three central figures in this sad story of self-destruction were: the killer, Ishmael ben Netaniah, his victim, Gedaliah ben Achikam and his successor, Yochanan ben Kereach.
The killer was motivated by a combination of disgraceful opportunism and a zealous loyalty to a specific political doctrine which may have had some legitimacy before the destruction but was totally unrealistic afterwards. His short term way of thinking made it impossible for him to consider either the immediate results of his actions (the reprisal by the military chieftains) or to predict the long-term damage (cessation of the reconstruction process and the return to the Land, the loss of the remainder of Jewish autonomy under Babylonian rule and the increased flow of the remaining Jewish population into exile). The complete lack of moral restraints prevented him from understanding that political assassination, which dramatically shatters the taboo of the sanctity of human life, would result in a terrifying chain reaction of bloodshed.
The victim was warned in advance concerning his murder and the destruction of his efforts in national reconstruction but his moral-political naivety caused his downfall and the murders of those who had chosen to cast their lot with his leadership. Our Sages, displaying extreme moral sensitivity, attach to Gedaliah the blame for the disastrous results of his failure: "Since he should have paid attention to the advice of Yochanan ben Kereach and did not do so, Scripture sees him as havkilled them (the seventy men who were thrown into the cistern)" (Bavli, Niddah, 61a). From here Rava derives the maxim: "Though one must not accept slander -- one must be cautious because of it".
The successor, onto whose shoulders fell the responsibility for the fate of the remnant of the people after the murder of Gedaliah and the rescue of the captives, panicked as a result of the act of terror committed by his rival. He knew enough to ask the word of G-d from Jeremiah but lacked the courage to follow it. His cowardice, lack of judgment and paucity of faith made him an accomplice to self-destruction since he compounded it by voluntary exile.
In our two thousand years of exile we became "merciful sons of merciful fathers", unable to commit murder. With our return to our own land we once again possess the means and our souls have the ability to spill blood. The Fast of Gedaliah is meant to give us the opportunity to stand face to face with the horrors of our past so that we may muster the strength to prevent their repetition in the present.
I. “Babylonian Exile” is the term used to describe a period in the history of Judah, in which much of the upper class was deported to Babylon in the years 598–587 bce, where they remained until after 539 bce. The period is named after the Neo-Babylonian empire. The notion of a Babylonian captivity is outdated and implies an overly negative view of the events. The Neo-Babylonian Empire which dominated the ancient Near East (ANE) from 605 to 539 bce represents the historical background. The Babylonians adopted the Assyrian strategy of punishing rebellious vassals or provinces by forcing parts of the conquered peoples into exile.
II. During the 7th century bce, Judah was a vassal state of the Neo-Assyrian kingdom over a long stretch of time. The collapse of the Assyrian empire led to a power vacuum in the ANE, though the Judean king Josiah (638–609 bce) was unable to use this to his advantage. Judah became an Egyptian vassal state until 605, when the Egyptian pharaoh Necho was defeated by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in the battle of Carchemish, thus placing Judah under the Babylonian sphere of influence. Jehoiachin of Judah (609–598 bce) remained a loyal vassal for three years, but then revolted against Nebuchadnezzar II (cf. 2 Kgs 24:1, probably 601 bce). It took a few years before Nebuchadnezzar II could march against Judah. The Babylonian chronicle 5 Rev. 11–13 gives the following account: “Year 7 (= 598 bce): in (the month of) Kislev the king of Babylon summoned his army, and marched to Hattu (= Syria/Palestine). He set up camp opposite the city of Judah and on the second of (the month of) Adar he captured the city and took the king prisoner. He appointed a king of his choice, took heavy tribute, and returned to Babylon.” The king sent into exile was Jehoiachin, who had only been on the throne for a few months. According to 2 Kgs 24:14, not only the king but “all of Jerusalem” went into exile. This is probably an exaggeration. One of the exiles was the prophet Ezekiel. After a few years, the recently appointed puppet king Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon. This rebellion was put down more severely. In 587, Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem, destroyed the city and the Temple, killed the rebellious king, and deported the city's elite to Babylon. Textbooks assign various dates to the fall of Jerusalem: 587, 587/586, or 586 bce. This discrepancy is due to the uncertain chronology of the kings of Judah. As yet, no Babylonian document on the event that is described in detail in 2 Kgs 25 has been discovered. After the capture of Jerusalem the Babylonians appointed Gedaliah as governor of the remaining Judeans, with residence in Mizpah. He had only held this position for a short time, when he was murdered by Ishmael, a member of the royal family (2 Kgs 25:22–26, Jer 40:7–41:15). Stamp seals from this period carry the names Gedaliah and Ishmael, though a positive identification has yet to be made. During this incident a group of Judeans, among them the prophet Jeremiah, fled to Egypt. 2 Kgs 25:27–30 records that Jehoiachin was released from imprisonment in the 37th year of the Exile. This possibly occurred in the context of an amnesty granted by the new Babylonian king Evil-Merodach on his first New Year's festival. From the mid 6th century bce, the power gradually shifted to the Persian kingdom. When the Persian king Cyrus plundered Babylon in 539, the Babylonian kingdom came to an end. The event formally marks the end of the Babylonian Exile, but does not mean the end of the presence of a Judean community in Mesopotamia. The “Edict of Cyrus” (Ezra 1:1–3a; cf. 2 Chr 36:22–23), which allowed the Judeans to return to their previous homeland, is probably a literary invention. It might, however, reflect the Persian policy towards the exiled minorities. Cuneiform texts show that Judeans, who partly held high social positions, remained in Mesopotamia. The “return from the Exile” is a historical enigma and is insufficiently documented. The 19th-century conception that Judah was empty and uninhabited during the Babylonian Exile is still widely accepted (Ezra/Books of Ezra). Archaeology has proved, however, that there was a continuity of settlement in many places.
III. After the Babylonian period the territory of Judah became the Persian province Yehud. It was in this period that Judaism developed. During and after Babylonian times, the religious traditions of Ancient Israel were collected and reworked. This literary activity led to the composition of the Pentateuch and of the Deuteronomic History. The fundamental changes on the political and social levels, the experience of the fall of the capital city, and the destruction of the Temple led to a profound reflection on Israel as a religious entity.
A place in the territory of Benjamin (Josh 18:26), located on the modern Tell en-Nasbeh. Mizpah is mentioned as the place where the tribes gathered, for example for the judgment against Benjamin (Tribes of Israel; Judg 20:1, 3; 21:1, 5, 8) – probably a late tradition reflecting rather the significance of Mizpah in post-exilic times. Older traditions that give Mizpah the status of a tribal center may perhaps be found in 1 Sam 7:5–12 (cf. 7:16; 10:17–27). Under Asa, Mizpah ¶ is supposed to have been built up as a frontier fortress (1 Kgs 15:22/2 Chr 16:6). After the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/586, Mizpah became the most important political center in the central mountainous area, with the seat of the governor Gedaliah (2 Kgs 25:23; Jer 40f.) and a community that supported the restoration of Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh 3:7, 15, 19). In Hellenistic times, Mizpah was still an important Jewish place in the Hasmonean revolt (1 Macc 3:46). In the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze I periods, there was a small village here that was repopulated only in the Iron Age I. In Iron Age II, the place was continuously settled. In the 9th century bce, perhaps under Asa, it was extended as a frontier fortress between Judah and Israel. In the 6th century bce, the town was completely rebuilt on a new ground plan. Parts of the fortifications were pulled down and new buildings erected. This rebuilding corresponds to the importance that Mizpah attained in the neo-Babylonian period as a regional capital under Gedaliah. From this period probably dates also the seal of Jaazaniah, who may be mentioned in 2 Kgs 25:23/Jer 40:8. Between the 5th and 2nd centuries bce, the town was abandoned, and was only repopulated in the Hellenistic-Roman period. A church and a cemetery from Byzantine times have been found here. In the Middle Ages, the site appears to have been again abandoned, and in Ottoman times it was only sparsely occupied.
P.M. Arnold, “Mizpah,” ABD III, 1992, 879–881
J. Zorn, “Naṣbeh, Tell en-,” NEAEHL III, 1993, 1098–1102
idem, “Tell en-Nasbeh,” diss., 1993 (Eng.).
L.L. Grabbe, Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian, 1992, 27–145
G.W. Ahlström, The History of Ancient Palestine from the Paleolithic Period to Alexander's Conquest, JSOT.S 146, 1993, 784–811
H.M. Barstad, The Myth of the Empty Land, 1996. Bob Becking
O. Lipschits, The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem: Judah under Babylonian Rule, 2005.
According to the Bible, after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Babylonians appointed Gedaliah as the new puppet ruler of Judah. He governed not from Jerusalem, however, but from Mizpah (2 Kings 25:22–25; Jeremiah 40–41).
Gedaliah lived there with all the trappings of a de facto king: eunuchs, royal princesses and a detachment of Babylonian soldiers as a bodyguard. Gedaliah was murdered, however, by a disaffected member of the Davidic royal line, who no doubt felt he should have held Gedaliah’s position.
When world hegemony passed from the Babylonians to the Persians in the sixth century B.C. and the exiles were permitted to return, Mizpah remained an important administrative center; several sections of Jerusalem’s wall were rebuilt by the men of Mizpah and their rulers (Nehemiah 3).
. . . Once Stratum 2 was dated with some confidence, I could place numerous unstratified artifacts into this stratum. A delicate onyx seal, found in a tomb that otherwise only contained Byzantine material, bears the inscription “(Belonging) to Ya’azaniah the servant of the king.” The seal may have belonged to an officer named Ya’azaniah who, according to 2 Kings 25:23 and Jeremiah 40:8, came to the Babylonian-appointed ruler Gedaliah at Mizpah after the fall of Jerusalem. At the bottom of the seal is one of the earliest known depictions of a rooster from ancient Israel.
A fairly uncommon stamp impression—found on jar handles and occasionally on the sides of vessels from the site—probably dates to the Babylonian phase of Stratum 2 as well.12 These impressions bear the Hebrew letters M(W)S|H (Motzeh) and most likely originated from estates surrounding the village of Mozah, southwest of Mizpah.
The Mozah estates may have produced the wine stored in these stamped jars for use in the courts at Mizpah. Of the 42 known M(W)S|H impressions, 30 come from Tell en-Nasbeh, which suggests that this site was a center for the governmental production and distribution of these jars and their contents. The limited distribution of the stamp impressions (about 18 miles east-west and 12 miles north-south) may mark the approximate limits of the area administered by the Babylonian governor Gedaliah.
Several somewhat surprising conclusions can be drawn from this study of Stratum 2. The first is the obvious prosperity of Mizpah throughout the Babylonian Exile and the following Persian period. Writing from the perspective of the exiles, the Biblical authors indicate that during the Babylonian period, everyone had been exiled except “the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and tillers of the soil” (2 Kings 25:12).