King of Judah; son and successor of Jehoiakim (II Kings xxiv. 6); reigned a little over three months. He was scarcely on the throne when Jerusalem was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Unable to resist, he soon surrendered with the queen-mother Nehushta, the servants, captains, and officers. With these he was sent captive to Babylon. The treasures of the palace and the sacred vessels of the Temple were also carried away. For thirty-six years Jehoiachin remained in prison at Babylon, his throne having been given by Nebuchadnezzar to Mattaniah (son of Josiah), whose name was changed to "Zedekiah" (ib. xxiv. 11-17; II Chron. xxxvi. 9-10; Jer. xxxvii. 1). When Nebuchadnezzar died, his son Evil-merodach released Jehoiachin and gave him an honorable seat at his own table (II Kings xxv. 27-30; Jer. lii. 31-34).
Jehoiachin was made king in place of his father by Nebuchadnezzar; but the latter had hardly returned to Babylon when some one said to him, "A dog brings forth no good progeny," whereupon he recognized that it was poor policy to have Jehoiachin for king (Lev. R. xix. 6; Seder 'Olam R. xxv.). In Daphne, near Antiochia, Nebuchadnezzar received the Great Sanhedrin, to whom he announced that he would not destroy the Temple if the king were delivered up to him. When the king heard this resolution of Nebuchadnezzar he went upon the roof of the Temple, and, turning to heaven, held up the Temple keys, saying: "As you no longer consider us worthy to be your ministers, take the keys that you have entrusted to us until now." Then a miracle happened; for a fiery hand appeared and took the keys, or, as others say, the keys remained suspended in the air where the king had thrown them (Lev. R. l.c.; Yer. Sheḳ. vi. 50a; other versions of the legend of the keys are given in Ta'an. 29a; Pesiḳ. R. 26 [ed. Friedmann, p. 131a], and Syriac Apoc. Baruch, x. 18). The king as well as all the scholars and nobles of Judah were then carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar (Seder 'Olam R. l.c.; compare Ratner's remark ad loc.). According to Josephus, Jehoiachin gave up the city and his relatives to Nebuchadnezzar, who took an oath that neither they nor the city should be harmed. But the Babylonian king broke his word; for scarcely a year had elapsed when he led the king and many others into captivity.
Jehoiachin's sad experiences changed his nature entirely, and as he repented of the sins which he had committed as king he was pardoned by God, who revoked the decree to the effect that none of his descendants should ever become king (Jer. xxii. 30; Pesiḳ., ed. Buber, xxv. 163a, b); he even became the ancestor of the Messiah (Tan., Toledot, 20 [ed. Buber, i. 140]). It was especially his firmness in fulfilling the Law that restored him to God's favor. He was kept by Nebuchadnezzar in solitary confinement, and as he was therefore separated from his wife, the Sanhedrin, which had been expelled with him to Babylon, feared that at the death of this queen the house of David would become extinct.
They managed to gain the favor of Queen Semiramis, who induced Nebuchadnezzar to ameliorate the lot of the captive king by permitting his wife to share his prison. As he then manifested great self-control and obedience to the Law, God forgave him his sins (Lev. R. xix., end). Jehoiachin lived to see the death of his conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar, which brought him liberty; for within two days of his father's death Evil-merodach opened the prison in which Jehoiachin had languished for so many years.
Jehoiachin's life is the best illustration of the maxim, "During prosperity a man must never forget the possibility of misfortune; and in adversity must not despair of prosperity's return" (Seder 'Olam R. xxv.). On the advice of Jehoiachin, Nebuchadnezzar's son cut his father's body into 300 pieces, which he gave to 300 vultures, so that he could be sure that Nebuchadnezzar would never return to worry him ("Chronicles of Jerahmeel," lxvi. 6). Evil-merodach treated Jehoiachin as a king, clothed him in purple and ermine, and for his sake liberated all the Jews that had been imprisoned by Nebuchadnezzar (Targ. Sheni, near the beginning). It was Jehoiachin, also, who erected the magnificent mausoleum on the grave of the prophet Ezekiel (Benjamin of Tudela, "Itinerary," ed. Asher, i. 66). In the Second Temple there was a gate called "Jeconiah's Gate," because, according to tradition, Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) left the Temple through that gate when he went into exile (Mid. ii. 6).