Exile to Babylon and Diaspora

The kingdom of Babylon conquered Judah in 587 BCE. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, and exported the elite members of its population to Babylon. This period is known as the Babylonian captivity. Despite the loss of the temple, Judaism did not die out as a religion. The temple cult and sacrifice were impossible. The Jews consolidated around their sacred writings, and the Torah took the place of the temple as a sacred center. Judaism became a book religion, with a "portable" sacred focus. During this time, they edited their sacred writings and histories, with the vision that the prophets were right: the misfortunes of the children of Israel were due to their disobedience to the covenant. This resulted in a fixed edition of the Torah. Study of the Torah became the focus of practice, with weekly meetings in public study houses. Emphasis was laid on the commands of the Torah that could be followed away from the temple, such as circumcision, Sabbath observance, purity laws, and dietary prescriptions.

Judah returned from exile in 539 BCE. Israel became a province of Persia under the priests. In 428 CE, Ezra brought the Torah from Babylon to Jerusalem, effectively marking the beginnings of modern Jewish religion. Ezra was a priest who reorganized the Israelite state politically, and organized the new religious system that included study of the Torah: he is known as the "Father of Judaism." Nehemiah, a court official in Persia, returned slightly later to rebuild the city walls and the temple in Jerusalem: this is the "Second Temple" in Jerusalem (the first temple was built by Solomon), so one speaks of "Second Temple Judaism."

The Diaspora (="dispersion"): Not everyone returned from Babylon. Much of the law, the Torah, could be practiced away from the temple, and Jews began to settle in cities around the Mediterranean Sea. Bablyon remained a center of Jewish culture up until the fall of the last shah of Iran in the 1970s. Many of the descendents of these Babylonian Jews presently live in a community centered around Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles. One of the Talmuds, a compendium of Jewish legal thought, was written in Babylon in the fifth century CE.

Conquest of Eastern Mediterranean by Alexander

Alexander was clearly one of the world's great military strategists; he never lost a battle. His campaigns were his attempt to have revenge on Persia for their invasions of Greece in 490 and 480 BCE. By 333, Alexander had won back the Greek coast of western Asia Minor from Persia, as well as Tyre and Egypt. He went East as far as Khyber Pass (into Pakistan).

Upon his untimely death in 323, at the age of 33, his various generals fought each other until in 306-5. The winners split Alexander's territory into three empires, which lasted until the Roman conquest:
Ptolemy I: Egypt
Antigonos I: Greece and Macedonia
Seleucus I: Asia Minor

The Jews Before Rome

Between 332-167 BCE, after the conquest of Alexander, Israel was ruled first by Egypt and then by Asia Minor. In 167 BCE, Antiochus IV "Epiphanes" (means "a god manifest"), a Seleucid (Greek) king, responded to civil war in Jerusalem by attacking the city. He outlawed practice of Jewish religion on pain of death, killing those who circumcised their sons, followed the food laws of kashrut, and kept the Sabbath. He set up the "abomination of desolation" (as it is called in the prophecy of Daniel): a desecration of temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig to the Greek g-d Zeus.

The Revolt of the Maccabees

The attempts of Antiochus IV to outlaw the Jewish religion led to political action. From 167-142 BCE, the Maccabee family led a successful revolt against the Greeks based on guerilla warfare. The reconsecration of temple when it was retaken by Judah Maccabee after their victory is the basis of the Hannukah celebration in Judaism. After so long without priestly service, the oil was insufficient to last the eight days of the reconsecration: but miraculously it did, and the temple was restored to its purity.

In 142 CE, the Hasmoneans reestablished the Jewish rule of Palestine. This incidentally awakened some speculation about a "messiah" (anointed one) who would rule Israel as David had.

Jewish Sects

All Jewish sects arose during Hasmonean times and lasted into the Roman period:
1. Essenes: these were the descendants of Zadok, the priest during David's time, who were out of power during the Hasmonean and Roman period. They considered the temple impure, went into self-imposed exile in a monastic community at Qumran on the Jordan river, and expected an end-of-time battle in which they, as the sons of light, would be led by the high priest and the Teacher of Righteousness against the sons of darkness. Because this happened on the Jordan river, the imagery is of the reconquest of Canaan. They were ascetic, and a hierarchically organized community: the quintessential apocalyptic sect. They are known today for copying the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contain some of their own writings, but mostly are copies of works from the Hebrew Bible. The scrolls were discovered in the Judean desert near the Jordan in 1942.
2. Pharisees: this was a lay (non-priestly) reform movement. They were the keepers of the oral Torah, i.e., oral interpretations of the Torah, which they believed were given to Moses at Sinai, and which helped people keep the commandments with less possibility of infringement. They transferred many aspects of temple purity to the domestic sphere, and generally emphasized domestic ritual and synagogue services that could be done apart from the temple in Jerusalem. Their oral Torah, rabbinic traditions about how to interpret the commands of the Torah, became the Mishnah and Talmud of modern-day Judaism.
3. Sadducees: these were the priestly leaders in power during the Hasmonean dynasty, who also were on friendly terms with Rome when they took over. They were conservative in belief: the authority was the Torah only with no oral interpretation, and no prophets nor writings; and they did not believe in personal resurrection.