Following the siege of 597 BC, the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as tributary king of Judah, at the age of 21. However, Zedekiah revolted against Babylon, and entered into an alliance with Pharaoh Hophra, the king of Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar responded by invading Judah and began a siege of Jerusalem in December 589 BC. During this siege, the duration of which was either 18 or 30 months, "every worst woe befell the city, which drank the cup of God's fury to the dregs". In 586 BC, after completion of the eleventh year of Zedekiah's reign, Nebuchadnezzar broke through Jerusalem's walls, conquering the city. Zedekiah and his followers attempted to escape but were captured on the plains of Jericho and taken to Riblah. There, after seeing his sons killed, Zedekiah was blinded, bound, and taken captive to Babylon, where he remained a prisoner until his death.
After the fall of Jerusalem, the Babylonian general, Nebuzaraddan, was sent to complete its destruction. Jerusalem was plundered, and Solomon's Temple was destroyed. Most of the elite were taken into captivity in Babylon. The city was razed to the ground. Only a few people were permitted to remain to tend to the land.
The Jew Gedaliah was made governor of the remnant of Judah, the Yehud Province, with a Chaldean guard stationed at Mizpah. The Bible reports that, on hearing this news, Jews who had fled to Moab, Ammon, Edom, and in other countries returned to Judah. Gedaliah was assassinated by Ishmael son of Nethaniah two months later, and the population that had remained and those who had returned then fled to Egypt for safety. In Egypt, they settled in Migdol (it is uncertain where the Bible is referring to here, probably somewhere in the Nile Delta), Tahpanhes, Memphis (called Noph), and Pathros (the vicinity of Thebes).
There has been some debate as to when the second siege of Jerusalem took place. There is no dispute that Jerusalem fell the second time in the summer month of Tammuz (Jeremiah 52:6), but William F. Albright dates the end of Zedekiah's reign and the fall of Jerusalem to 587 BC, but Edwin R. Thiele offers 586 BC.
Thiele's reckoning is based on the presentation of Zedekiah's reign on an accession basis, which he asserts was occasionally used for the kings of Judah. In that case, the year that Zedekiah came to the throne would be his zeroth year; his first full year would be 597/596 BC, and his eleventh year, the year that Jerusalem fell, would be 587/586 BC. Since Judah's regnal years were counted from Tishri in autumn, that would place the end of his reign and the capture of Jerusalem in the summer of 586 BC.
The Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle (BM 21946), published in 1956, indicates that Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem the first time putting an end to the reign of Jehoaichin, on 2 Adar (16 March) 597 BC, in Nebuchadnezzar's seventh year. Jeremiah 52:28–29 gives the relative periods for the end of the two sieges as Nebuchadnezzar's seventh and eighteenth years, respectively. (The same periods are elsewhere described at 2 Kings 24:12 and 2 Kings 25:8 as Nebuchadnezzar's eighth and nineteenth years, including his accession year.) Identification of Nebuchadnezzar's eighteenth year for the end of the siege places the event in the summer of 587 BC.
A timeline for the final siege of Jerusalem is shown in the table below. Dates are taken from Andrew E. Steinmann's From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology.
|2 Kgs 25:1; Ezek 24:1–2||10 Tebeth =
27 Jan 589 BC
|Beginning of final siege.|
|Jer 34: 8–10||1 Tishri =
29 Sep 588
|Release of Hebrew slaves at beginning of a Sabbatical year.|
|Jer 34:11–22; 37:5–16||Between Tishri 588 &
Nisan 587 = Oct 588 to Apr 587
|Babylonians temporarily lift siege due to approach of Egyptian army. Slaves taken back. Jeremiah arrested as he attempts to go to Anathoth.|
|Jer 34:22; Ezek 30:20–21||7 Nisan =
29 Apr 587
|Egyptians defeated. Siege resumes.|
|2 Kgs 25:2–4; Jer 39:2, 52:7;
Ezek 33:21, 40:1
|9 Tammuz =
29 Jul 587
|Wall breached. Zedekiah captured.|
|2 Kgs 25:8||7 Ab =
25 Aug 587
|Nebuzaradan arrives at Jerusalem (cf. Jonah 3:3) from Riblah in Hamath and begins consultation with commanders in the field regarding the pillaging of the city.|
|2 Kgs 25:9–19; 2 Chr 36:18–19;
|10 Ab =
28 Aug 587
|Nebuzaradan leads forces into Jerusalem (cf. Jonah 3:4) to pillage, destroy, and burn the city and its temple.|
The discrepancy between the length of the siege according to the regnal years of Zedekiah (years 9–11), on the one hand, and its length according to Jehoiachin's exile (years 9–12), on the other, can be cancelled out only by supposing the former to have been reckoned on a Tishri basis, and the latter on a Nisan basis. The difference of one year between the two is accounted for by the fact that the termination of the siege fell in the summer, between Nisan and Tishri, already in the 12th year according to the reckoning in Ezekiel, but still in Zedekiah's 11th year which was to end only in Tishri.