In the year 597 B.C., the Neo-Babylonian Armies of Nebuchadnezzar II overran Jerusalem and placed Palestine in the position of a Babylonian vassal and tributary.
The prophet Jeremiah presented cautious warnings about wrath to come if the Jews were to rise up in revolt. According to Helen Chapin Metz, “Jeremiah had stated that Israelites did not need a state to carry out the mission given to them by God. Ezekiel voiced a similar belief: what mattered was not states and empires, for they would perish through God’s power, but man.”
However, the Hebrews committed themselves to a national uprising in 589 B.C. in an attempt to preserve the sovereignty of the state of Judah. They were brutally suppressed by the Babylonian armies, who unleashed their vigor upon Jerusalem and sacked the temple, thus destroying the epicenter on the Hebrew culture, herding its people into Babylon to coerce them into performing tasks of menial servitude.
For fifty years, the Hebrews had but their sacred writings to rely upon prolonging their culture. The existence of these records had become ever more crucial as a result, and finishing touches were made during this time to the Torah.
Due to the absence of a Temple, the Jews initiated the practice of the Sabbath, a holy day during which they would gather in an indoor or outdoor location in order to read from the holy books and pray to their deity.
It was then that all sacrifice had been abolished from the Jewish religion and replaced rather by extensive “communication” with God through prayers and meditation. The Sabbath tradition later evolved into weekly congregations at a concrete place of worship, a synagogue, the Greek word denoting first the religious assembly itself but later the building in which the assembly was conducted.
In 539 B.C. Persian forces of Emperor Cyrus I (the Great) intimidated the Babylonians into surrendering their holdings to him, after which Cyrus emancipated the Hebrew slaves and granted them permission to traverse his realm as they wished, encouraging their return to Jerusalem.
Cyrus writes in the Kurash Prism, “I returned to these sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris the sanctuaries of which had been ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned them to their habitations.”
The Bible, in the Book of Ezra, also possesses words of praise for Cyrus. “In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth, the Lord, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him! Let everyone who has survived, in whatever place he may have dwelt, be assisted by the people of that place with silver, gold, and goods, together with free will offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.'”
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.