Despite their new-found emancipation at the hands of King Cyrus of Persia, numerous Jews resolved to remain in Babylon. However, a substantial portion took advantage of Cyrus’s decree and returned to their homeland to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem in 515 B.C. and continue expanding their theological writings.
However, Dr. Anthony Silvestri claims that the First Exile crippled Judah for the remainder of its existence. “After the captivity, Israel was merely an insignificant temple state within three successive huge empires.” The rulers during that time shifted toward the spiritual focus of the prophets rather than the material aspirations of the kings before them.
Nehemiah, his reign beginning in 445 B.C., according to Josephine Kamm, “wished to end the exploitation and oppression and deprivation of the poor by the rich” and instead to create a state where there would exist a universal justice permitting all classes to prosper without impinging upon each other’s prosperity. This is an interesting parallel to the modern Western ideal of Capitalism, which also holds as a desirable state one that permits uncontrolled affluence.
Following the rule of Nehemiah, however, a more radical ruler, Ezra, acquired authority. Ezra, as states Kamm, “was a priest in charge of religious life. He wished to end the lax approach toward religion.” Ezra, a fundamentalist of sorts, imposed restrictions designed to preserve the “purity” of the Jewish faith. He instituted dietary laws that prohibited the consumption of swine’s flesh. Ezra also conducted the separation of mixed families within the region, considering ethnic purity a necessity for God’s “Chosen People.”
This created immense opposition to Ezra’s governance by remaining Samaritans, who had over generations re-assimilated themselves into the religious traditions of the Judeans.
Kamm reveals that these displeased individuals devised a new conception that “God is not merely the God of the Hebrews but of all peoples.” They had in their frequent utility the myth of Ruth, a Moabite who had twice married Hebrews and became a direct predecessor of King David.
In remote regions of Canaan, mixed marriages continued to occur. However, the holy writings of the Jewish faith still contain a formal prohibition of interbreeding between Hebrews and those not of their nationality. If this has had any effects, the most conspicuous would be the relative safety of Judaism over the ages from becoming permeated by foreign practice, such as the half-worship of Ba’al and associated religious festivals, which numerous Samaritans had undertaken.
Arkenberg, J.S., ed. “Ancient History Sourcebook: Kurash (Cyrus) the Great: The Decree of Return for the Jews, 539 BCE.” Ezra. The Hebrew Bible. “Book of Ezra 1:1-8” Available: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/539cyrus1.html. February 6, 2002.
Arkenberg, J.S., ed. “Ancient History Sourcebook: Kurash (Cyrus) the Great: The Decree of Return for the Jews, 539 BCE.” The Great, Cyrus. The Kurash Prism. Available: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/539cyrus1.html. February 6, 2002.
CenturyOne. “THE GIFTS OF THE JEWS: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History Series Volume 2).” (A book review of Thomas Cahill’s work.) Available: http://www.centuryone.com/8249-3.html. February 6, 2002.
Helen Chapin Metz, ed. “EARLY ISRAEL.[Excerpted from Israel: A Country Study.Helen Chapin Metz, ed. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 1988].” Available: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/iltoc.html. February 6, 2002.
Kamm, Josephine. The Hebrew People: A History of the Jews. New York: McGraw-Hill: 1967.
Lipman, David E. “Gates to Jewish Heritage. Bar Kochba: The Bar Kochba Revolt.”Available: http://www.jewishgates.org/personalities/bar.stm. February 6, 2002.
Silvestri, Anthony. “Dr. Silvestri’s WWW Ancient World History Resource. III. The Hebrews.” Available: http://www.drhistory.org/main.html. January 27, 2001.
Speake, Graham, ed. The Cultural Atlas of the World: The Bible.Alexandria, Va., Stonehenge Press, 1992.
West, Jim. “Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs.” Available: http://www.theology.edu/marriage.htm. February 6, 2002.