Babylonian Captivity, in Jewish history, the period of exile in Babylonia after Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C. According to tradition, the exile lasted 70 years. It ended the national life of the kingdom of Judah and marked the beginning of the scattering (Diaspora) of the Jewish people.

In Palestine the Jews had been mainly a farming people, but in Babylonia many had to turn to commerce. The captivity had a profound influence on the religion. Previously Judaism had centered around the Temple. In Babylonia under the leadership of the prophet Ezekiel, the exiles found new ways of worship. Judaism developed the conception of a personal relationship of each person with God.

The Neo-Babylonian Empire replaced Assyria as the dominant power in the Middle East at the end of the seventh century B.C. The Babylonians, under Nebuchadnezzar II, conquered Judah in 597 and placed Zedekiah on the throne. When Zedekiah, despite his oath of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar, allied Judah with Egypt, the Babylonians attacked, capturing Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The Babylonians leveled the city and carried away most of the inhabitants of Judah.

In Babylonia the exiles had considerable freedom, and many of them prospered. The Persians conquered the Babylonians in 539 B.C., and Cyrus the Great of Persia offered to let the Jews return home. Those who did so went back in small groups, beginning in 538 B.C., and it was not until almost 20 years later that they turned to rebuilding the Temple. The project was finally begun at the urging of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Its completion, about 516 B.C., was considered to mark the end of the captivity, fulfilling the prophecy in Jeremiah 25:11 of 70 years of exile.