Who Was Gedaliah?

Why we fast on the anniversary of his death.

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The Assassination

Gedeliah's power, however, did not last long. At the instigation of the king of neighboring Ammon, a group led by Ishmael son of Nethaniah assassinated Gedaliah and went on to murder a group that had come to mourn Gedaliah. Then they gathered the rest of the people who remained in Mitzpah, including members of the royal family, and fled toward Ammon. A group of Gedaliah loyalists, however, intercepted Ishmael and rescued the prisoners.

Out of fear for a Babylonian reprisal, the loyalists subsequently headed for Egypt. Jeremiah, who had often prophesied against going to Egypt, was reluctantly dragged along. Thus, the occupation of the land that began with an exodus from Egypt ended with a self-imposed exile to Egypt.

It is worth taking a moment to examine the reasons for Gedaliah's assassination. Since the coup was instigated by the king of Ammon (in modern-day Jordan), it is worth noting that there are hints of Ammon's resistance to the Babylonians elsewhere in the biblical text (Jeremiah 27:1-11; Ezekiel 21:23-34). Moreover, Ishmael was himself a member of the royal family, and being a member of the Davidic line, he may have felt a rightful claim to the leadership of what remained of Judah. Thus, the assassination of Gedaliah may have been the result of an effort to renew the anti-Babylonian effort and restore the throne of Judah to the Davidic family.

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Daniel Kirsch received his doctoral degree in Near Eastern Studies with an emphasis in Hebrew Bible from Johns Hopkins University.