The Bible in the British Museum
This tablet is one of four known as “Jehoiachin’s Ration Tablets.” They not only confirm aspects of the Biblical record, they clarify some interpretive questions which might be more difficult without their evidence — including some details of the genealogies of Christ, a topic on which I’ve been writing.
This artefact is in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin, but I include it in my British Museum series because (like others in the series) it is an archaeological find relevant to Scripture. But please don’t look for it when you visit London!
The picture is kindly provided by Ferrell Jenkins. (His article on this discovery includes a link to his list of Bible-related items in the Pergamum Museum). If you like my British Museum series, you’ll enjoy his entire blog. The Center for Online Judaic Studies also has an article on this tablet.
“Yaukin King of Yakuda”
II Kings 25:27-30
27 And it came to pass in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, that Evilmerodach king of Babylon in the year that he began to reign did lift up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah out of prison;
28 And he spake kindly to him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon;
29 And changed his prison garments: and he did eat bread continually before him all the days of his life.
30 And his allowance was a continual allowance given him of the king, a daily rate for every day, all the days of his life.
These are the final verses of II Kings (Jeremiah closes with almost identical wording).
A collection of three hundred tablets, found in the early twentieth century in Babylon, record provisions given to various workmen and captives, including kings. Four of them list supplies for “Yaukin king of Yakuda” — Jehoiachin king of Judah. The only one of the four with a date is from Nebuchadnezzar’s 13th year — five years after the Bible says Jehoiachin became a prisoner.
This confirms several Biblical details. These tablets give evidence that:
- Jehoiachin became a prisoner in the time frame when the Bible says he did.
- He was not a slave-labourer, but a royal prisoner, just as the Bible says.
- He was one of multiple royal captives from various lands (see verse 28 above).
- He received special treatment — he was given more supplies than others mentioned in the tablets. This is obviously a precursor to the honour described in the Biblical text.
We don’t know why Jehoiachin received special treatment. Perhaps it was due to Daniel’s influence (see the first several chapters of Daniel). Perhaps the Babylonians honoured him because he wisely led the people in obeying God’s command as proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah:
And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.
“Five Sons of the King of Yakudu”
The tablets also mention provisions given for “five sons of the king of Yakudu” (Judah).
I Chronicles 3:17-18
17 And the sons of Jeconiah; Assir, Salathiel his son,
18 Malchiram also, and Pedaiah, and Shenazar, Jecamiah, Hoshama, and Nedabiah.
Jehoiachin is also known as Jeconiah, so we are dealing with the same person here.
Jeconiah’s Firstborn — Assir or Salathiel?
The Hebrew in these verses is difficult. Some think “Assir” is not a name, because it means “the captive” or “the prisoner.” Thus, they think it should be translated, “And the sons of Jeconiah the captive: Salathiel his son, Malchiram also….” C.F. Keil (in the famous Keil & Delitzsch commentary) gave strong reasons for rejecting that argument, and I’ll stick with our translation.
Several Jewish rabbinic sources said Jeconiah named his first son “Assir” (“prisoner”) because he was in captivity when the son was born. That makes sense to me. So while some scholars (and most modern translations) say Salathiel was the first son of Jeconiah, my best understanding is that Assir was the first son, and Salathiel was Assir’s son.
Malchiram — Son or Grandson of Jeconiah?
That brings us to another question. Is “Malchiram also” in verse 18 saying Malchiram is also a son of Jeconiah, or also a son of Assir? (Most modern translations remove the question by assuming Assir is not a person, but the Hebrew of verse 17 doesn’t fit their translation that well, either.)
The verses might make us think Malchiram and his brothers were brothers of Salathiel and grandsons of Jeconiah — but the other view could fit, and the Babylonian tablet may tell us they were brothers of Assir and sons of Jeconiah. Of course, in both the Biblical text and the Babylonian tablet, “sons” could refer to both sons and grandsons. (Or the Babylonian tablet could be mistaken and they were nephews or distant relatives.)
Did Jeconiah have five (or more) sons of his own while living in captivity? That is the most likely interpretation of the Babylonian tablet. Does Chronicles name those five sons (plus two more which were perhaps born later), or does it name only Assir, and then name Assir’s sons and Jeconiah’s grandsons? We don’t know. The texts are 2600 years old. They accomplished their purposes without filling us in on all those details.
Why It Matters
If the Babylonian text can be trusted, then while he was still alive, Jehoiachin/Jeconiah had at least five “sons” — sons or grandsons. He had multiple living male descendants during his lifetime, adults (provisioned directly by the Babylonian authorities).
If so, the Biblical record in I Chronicles 3 listing his descendants (sons or grandsons) means just what it says. Jehoiachin had sons. He did not die childless, and his first son (Assir or Salathiel) was not born of a Levirate marriage as some have speculated (see the discussion on Levirate marriage in my post on Zerubbabel and the Genealogies of Christ).
Can the Babylonian text be trusted, or did Jeconiah die childless? I’ll address that question further in a later post. It isn’t merely an obscure question — it matters to our understanding of the genealogies of Christ because of a passage in Jeremiah sometimes called “Jeconiah’s Curse” which I’ll discuss in a later post.
Next on the genealogies: Jeconiah’s Age and the Genealogies of Christ
The Genealogies of Christ — Summary with links to other articles
Summary post for the British Museum series, with links to other articles on Bible-related artefacts: The Bible in the British Museum