The Babylonian influence

The numerous national groups exiled to Babylon appear to have coexisted peacefully and even to have had culturally enriching interchanges. Prof. Israel Eph'al of the Hebrew University notes that Ezekiel's prophecies on Tyre demonstrated a familiarity with Phoenician poetry which probably derived from contact with a community of exiles from Tyre. Egyptian deportees offered a particularly interesting collection of professions, as shown in Assyrian inscriptions, including dream interpreters and snake charmers. It was the rich culture of Babylon itself, however, that most influenced the deportees from Judah. During their stay on the Euphrates, the Jews adopted Babylonian names for the months, replacing the previous system of naming them by number as with the days of the week. Many pagan personal names were adopted by Jews, including Mordechai, derived from Marduk, the principal god of Babylon. The name Esther, says Eph'al, stemmed from the pagan goddess Ishtar. Aramaic script began to be preferred over Hebrew script during the exile. However, despite these influences, Jewish national identity was not compromised and many exiles who were given pagan names by their parents gave their own children traditional Hebrew names. "The extent of success in this struggle," says Eph'al, "is indicated by the fact that no mythological or pagan beliefs were adopted by the Jews in this period." Jewish national identity would remain powerful, both among those who returned to Zion and those who remained by the waters of Babylon.