Jeremiah chapter 39 paints the gruesome fall of Jerusalem to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586BC/587BC.
King Zedekiah had previously been installed by the Babylonians as Judah’s puppet king after Babylon defeated Jerusalem in 597 BC. Jerusalem remained largely intact, and Judah was forced to pay an annual tribute to Babylon.
However, Zedekiah, who was 21 years only when he was set up as a vassal king, eventually tired of the arrangement and rebelled against Babylon by forming an alliance with Egypt.
The prophet Jeremiah who initially served as one of Zedekiah’s counselors warned against the move, but Zedekiah was by this stage doing evil in the sight of the Lord (Jeremiah 52:1-3) setting the stage for God’s devastating judgement.
When King Nebuchadnezzar returned a second time to bring Jerusalem back into submission, he was in a foul mood. The battle predictably turned against Judah and with Jerusalem on the brink of falling, King Zedekiah, along with his family and personal guards, fled with the Babylonian army in pursuit.
After the invaders caught up with Zedekiah’s entourage on the plains of Jericho, they dragged the Jewish King before King Nebuchadnezzar who forced Zedekiah to watch the slaughter of his sons. It would be the last thing he saw as Zedekiah’s eyes were then gouged out and he was marched off into captivity along with the citizens of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 39:1-8).
Nebuchadnezzar ordered the city and its temple plundered and destroyed. They hauled off the temple’s furniture (but not the Ark of the Covenant) back to Babylon. The people were also taken into captivity.
This whole process required bureaucrats and administrators to make sure it happened properly.
As Jerusalem was in its death throes, an interesting verse appears:
3 Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came in and sat down at the Middle Gate: Nergal-sar-ezer, Samgar-nebu, Sar-sekim the Rab-saris, Nergal-sar-ezer the Rab-mag, and all the rest of the officials of the king of Babylon. (Jeremiah 39:3 NASV)
The Bible actually provides the names of four of the key Babylonian bureaucrats handling this operation — including a man called ‘Sar-sekim the Rab-saris.’
They set themselves up at one of the gates of Jerusalem as this would allow them to keep track of the booty the soldiers were hauling out of the city. I suspect they didn’t trust their soldiers.
The Hebrew term ‘Rab-saris’ is often translated chief official, but a second rendering also means Chief of the Eunuchs. This would make him the senior administrator of the Babylonian palace. The person called ‘Nergal-sar-ezer the Rab-mag’, was probably Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual advisor as it literally means the chief astrologist.
In 2007, Dr. Michael Jursa, a professor at the University of Vienna, was translating Babylonian cuneiform tablets at London’s British Museum when incredibly he found a reference to ‘Sar-sekim, the chief Eunuch’ confirming the senior bureaucrat’s existence in the Babylonian Empire.
On the cuneiform, the man’s name was pronounced ‘Nabu-sharrussu-ukin,’ which the Bible text using Hebrew pronunciation rendered ‘Sar-sekim.’
Describing the discovery, Jursa said:
“But finding something like this tablet, where we see a person mentioned in the Bible making an everyday payment to the temple in Babylon and quoting the exact date is extraordinary.”
The tablet dated the transaction to 595 BC, two years after the first defeat of Jerusalem and eight years before its final destruction, when the book of Jeremiah mentions ‘Sar-sekim the Rab-saris.’
What makes this confirmation unique is that it was not discovered in Israel, but about a thousand kilometers away at the site of ancient city of Babylon in modern Iraq.