|Israel and Judah in Exile prior to the common era.|
|This is an academic look at the empires who were the major powers while Israel and then Judah were in exile. Therefore it focuses more on kings than on prophets.
In 1200 BC the Sea Peoples swept through the Near East, looking for land to settle. The Sea Peoples included various groups, one of whom was the Philistines. They destroyed a number of important states including Mycenae and the Hittite Empire, disrupted and undermined the power of others including Assyria, Babylon and Egypt. Egypt was never the same again. Thus the Assyrian and Babylonian empires during the exile are sometimes called the neo-Assyrian Empire and the neo-Babylonian Empire.
Prior to the exile, the northern kingdom of Israel was wealthier and more important than Judah. The capital of Israel was at Samaria where there was a temple to Yahweh. Judah was smaller and less fertile. The capital at Jerusalem was the religious centre for both kingdoms. The worship of Baal and Asherah were practised in both states.
From 740 BC the Assyrian Empire went on military campaigns in the west and a number of city states fell to them. The king of Israel tried to prevent the Assyrians taking his kingdom. In 725 the city of Samaria was under siege, in 722 it fell to Sargon II. Over 27,000 people have been said to have been deported. They were resettled in Assyria, taught Assyrian law and to revere the Assyrian king and the empire?s gods. Israel became the Assyrian province of Samarina. The city of Samaria was rebuilt and repopulated with other conquered people. They were required to worship the major god of the land and so Yahweh did not disappear; his worship became mixed with that of other gods. Israelites became the term to describe all who worshipped Yahweh. Judah was temporarily safe. This allowed the king, Hezekiah to overhaul the administration and prepare Jerusalem for a future siege. The Assyrian king again moved west and Jerusalem survived the siege. Hezekiah was the only king in the region undefeated.
In 612 the Babylonians in alliance with the people of Elam conquered Assyria and took the Assyrian capital, Nineveh. Nebachudrezzar (Nebuchadnezzar is what he is sometimes called in the Bible) came to the throne in 605BC. 608- 605 Babylon and Egypt were at war, with Egypt supporting Judah. In 601 the king failed to take Egypt after landing in the delta while the Nile was flooded.
In 598 Jerusalem was put under siege by Nebachudrezzar. It fell the following year but wasn't destroyed. 8,000 to 10,000 people were deported including the king, the royal family, the harem, the senior officials, the aristocracy and the skilled workers. The temple and palace were emptied of their treasures and a puppet king was placed on the throne. In 588 Jerusalem was again under siege by the Babylonians. It held for 18 months but when the siege ended in 586 the residents were on the brink of starvation. The king, Zedekiah was forced to watch the killing of his sons before he was blinded and imprisoned in Babylon. Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, the walls were broken, the palace and temple burnt. The land was then devastated, there were mass killings and the survivors were taken to Babylon. Some however escaped and fled to Egypt including the prophet Jeremiah.
The temple had been the focus of the worship of Yahweh but the priests wished worship to continue. So while in Babylon they wrote down their oral tradition as the first six or seven books of the Bible. The priests edited it and embellished it as they felt necessary. The earliest known fragment of the Bible is Numbers 6:24-26.
In 539 BC the Persian king Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon. By then the people of Samarina had a new temple at Gerezim. Cyrus allowed the people of Judah to return home, with Nehemiah, cup-bearer to Cyrus, who was to govern the area. Judah became a more or less autonomous theocracy ruled by a high priest and a governor usually a Jew who was appointed by the Persians. Nehemiah started a series of religious and political reforms. From then the people of Judah became monotheistic with a strict code of ethics, dietary laws, there would not be intermarriage, and sons would be circumcised. He expelled foreigners, conducted purges and disliked the people of Samarina. He was replaced by Ezra, who continued his reforms but focussed on religious ones. Priesthood became hereditary and had to trace their ancestry back to Zadok the priest of King David.
There were now two forms of worship, that which took place in the temple and the reading of the Torah which was aimed at the common people. It is only after the return from Babylon that the religion can be called Judaism and the people Jews.
In 330 Alexander the Great conquered Persia and the main language in the region became Greek, therefore Judah became Judea, and Samarina became Samaria.