Yehud (Babylonian province)
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Yehud had been a province of the Neo-Babylonian Empire since the suppression of the Judean rebellion in 585/6 BCE. It first existed as a Jewish administrative division of the Neo-Babylonian Empire under Gedaliah, though it quickly became depopulated after his murder and another unsuccessful revolt around 581/2 BCE. The province was absorbed into the Achaemenid Empire with the collapse of the Chaldean Dynasty in 539 BCE.
In the late 7th century BCE Judah became a vassal-kingdom of the Neo-Babylonian Empire; however, there were rival factions at the court in Jerusalem, some supporting loyalty to Babylon, others urging rebellion. In the early years of the 6th century, despite the strong remonstrances of the prophet Jeremiah and others, king Zedekiah revolted against Nebuchadrezzar and entered into an alliance with pharaoh Hophra of Egypt. The revolt failed, and in 597 BCE many Judahites, including the prophet Ezekiel, were exiled to Babylon. A few years later Judah revolted yet again. In 589 Nebuchadnezzar again besieged Jerusalem, and many Jews fled to Moab, Ammon, Edom and other countries to seek refuge. The city fell after an eighteen month siege and Nebuchadnezzar again pillaged and destroyed Jerusalem and burned the Temple. Thus, by 586 BCE much of Judah was devastated, the royal family, the priesthood, and the scribes - the country's elite - were in exile in Babylon, and the former kingdom suffered a steep decline of both economy and population.
Babylonian era (587-539 BCE ) 
The former kingdom of Judah then became a Babylonian province, with Gedaliah, a native Judahite but not of the royal Davidic dynasty, as governor (or possibly ruling as a puppet king). According to Miller and Hayes, the province included the towns of Bethel in the north, Mizpah, Jericho in the east, Jerusalem, Beth-Zur in the west and En-Gedi in the south. The administrative centre of the province was Mizpah, and not Jerusalem. On hearing of the appointment, the Jews that had taken refuge in surrounding countries returned to Judah.
However, Gedaliah was assassinated by a member of the former royal house, and the Babylonian garrison killed, triggering a mass movement of refugees to Egypt. In Egypt, the refugees settled in Migdol, Tahpanhes, Noph, and Pathros, and Jeremiah went with them as moral guardian.
Although the dates are not clear from the Bible, this probably happened about 582/1 BCE, some four to five years and three months after the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple in 586 BCE.
Transfer to Persian rule 
Demographics of Yehud 
The numbers deported to Babylon or who made their way to Egypt, and the remnant that remained in Yehud province and in surrounding countries, is subject to academic debate. The Book of Jeremiah reports that a total of 4,600 were exiled to Babylon. To these numbers must be added those deported by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BCE following the first siege to Jerusalem, when he deported the king of Judah, Jeconiah, and his court and other prominent citizens and craftsmen, along with a sizable portion of the Jewish population of Judah, numbering about 10,000. The Book of Kings also suggests that it was eight thousand. Israel Finkelstein, a prominent archaeologist, suggests that the 4,600 represented the heads of households and 8,000 was the total, whilst 10,000 is a rounding upwards of the second number. Jeremiah also hints that an equivalent number may have fled to Egypt. Given these figures, Finkelstein suggests that 3/4 of the population of Judah had remained.
- Lester L. Grabbe, A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period - Vol 1: A History of the Persian Province of Judah (2004)] ISBN 0-567-08998-3, p.28.
- James Maxwell Miller and John Haralson Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (1986) ISBN 0-664-21262-X, p.xxi, 425.
- 2 Kings 25:22-24, Jeremiah 40:6-8
- Jeremiah 40:11-12
- 2 Kings 25:26, Jeremiah 43:5-7
- Jeremiah 44:1