The following is an excerpt from Engaging the Christian Scriptures, by Andrew Arterbury, W. H. Bellinger Jr., and Derek Dodson.
The move to monarchy resulted in a profound adjustment for ancient Israel, but the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian armies and the ensuing exile brought major trauma for this community. Life as this community had known it was at an end. Israel had no means of justice (the king) and no means of atonement (the temple). Babylon now controlled the future for this people.
In the course of time, the Persians succeeded the Babylonian Empire in controlling Mesopotamia, and the Persians then took center stage. The Assyrians’ policy of dealing with conquered peoples had been particularly harsh; it blunted the people’s opposition to their overlords by moving and mixing the people. Babylon exiled conquered peoples. The Persians took the view that conquered peoples would be more cooperative in their homelands as part of the broader empire. In 538 BCE the Persian ruler Cyrus issued an edict that allowed the return of Israel to their land.
With that move, we come to the beginnings of Judaism, the remnants of Judah. Some of the people returned to the land. Ezra and Nehemiah came to positions of leadership in the restored community. Although it is difficult to reconstruct the history here, between 450 and 400 BCE, Ezra, a priest and scribe, led the people in religious reform centered on renewal of the covenant and obedience to Torah. Nehemiah, who was governor for two terms, led in rebuilding Jerusalem and the province.
Some people never left the land and were suspicious of the returnees, as were others in the surrounding area. Still, the community worked to rebuild its life. Eventually the Greeks conquered the whole region, which became part of the Roman Empire by way of a rather complicated history. Central to that era is the Maccabean Revolt in 168 BCE against the local ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes. For a brief period the Jewish community enjoyed independence, but it was short-lived.
©2014 by Andrew E. Arterbury, W. H. Bellinger Jr., Derek S. Dodson. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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