Judaism chapter VIII : Captivity, study, hope.

Chapter Eight.

The animal world has its life cycles where big predators consume smaller animals and sit on top...until a bigger predator comes along. Kingdoms are similar. Babylon ruled the people of the (former) Kingdom of Judah for about 50 years until Persia came along.

The Persians were pretty cool cats under kindly and very smart King Cyrus, relatively speaking, because they were kind (relatively) to the Jews and let them return home and rebuild their Temple.

A brief etymology of the word “Jew”

Thank you, Persians.

They called the people of Judah Jehudis, which is where we get “Jews” from.

And the religion of Jews came to be known as Judaism.

When someone is nice to you, it makes you more inclined to listen and pay attention to what’s important to them. Because the Persians were nice to the Israelites, the Israelites learned some things from them. Yes, there’s a lesson to be learned there about the Golden Rule. *Spoiler alert: the G.R. from the New Testament, which is not canonical literature or history for the Jewish religion.

The Persians were Zoroastrians. This is a story of the Jewish people, not a story of the followers of the prophet Zoroaster, so we will spend little time learning of them, except for a few concepts that gave the Israelites pause to ponder.

The Jews, post-Babylon and Persia, continued to refine their core beliefs that the Creator was:

  • Everywhere
    A single God responsible for creating light and darkness
    The only God
    The God of the universe who had chosen them as His people

Zoroastrians believed that the world was ruled by two forces: Good and Evil. Jews absorbed some of their ideas, particularly two:

  • Belief in a life after death and the concepts of heaven and hell

  • Coming of the Messiah

The second is especially important to understanding what has motivated and kept hope alive throughout the Jewish peoples’ struggles.

From the time the Jewish Kingdom collapsed, the Jewish people hoped for a hero to restore the Hebrew Kingdom to its glory days under David and Solomon.

Under the Persians, the Jews began to think of a hero - a messiah - who would rescue not just themselves, but redeem the world from evil. They started to shift from thinking of a Messiah as a nationalist hero who would restore the Jewish Kingdom to thinking of a King David-descendant Messiah who would do two things:

  • Return the Jews to the Promised Land

  • Bring happiness and peace to the world

To recap, King Cyrus has let the Jews return to and rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Under their quasi-friendly captivity, they have absorbed some of the Persian Zoroastrianism ideas about cosmic conflict, life after death, and the global nature of a messiah who will bring peace to the world and a homeland for themselves again.

Around this time, a scribe named Ezra begins collecting the many Jewish stories and laws into books. These collected books came to be known as The Book. You may also have heard it referred to as The Bible. These early collections became sacred scriptures to the Jewish people. Throughout history, there have been many Jewish prophets who stood up to remind and warn people to follow God’s laws. Many of those teachings to follow good and fight evil were also gathered together and became part of the sacred scriptures.

So they’re happy-ish again. If you don’t like happy endings, then good news, you’re in luck. There’s bad news coming up.

Remember the whole life cycle food chain thing? Well, the Persians couldn’t stay on top of the world forever. Their power began to wane and a young fellow by the name of Alexander the Great came along and toppled them. And then Macedonia/Greece was toppled by Rome. And the kindly-ish days of King Cyrus and Persia were no more.

Recap I.

  • Israelites leave Egypt for the Promised Land

  • 600-700 years later : Israel is destroyed and disappears. Judah is destroyed by Babylon and people taken into captivity.

  • 50 years later : Persians take over Babylon. And therefore the Israelites.

  • Alexander the Great and the Macedonians/Greeks conquer Persia. And therefore the Israelites.

  • 100-200ish B.C. Rome conquers the Greeks. And therefore the Israelites. 1.5 million - million - are killed on their own soil. Jerusalem’s walls are torn down and the Temple is destroyed for a second time.

  • 26 A.D. Romans establish direct rule over Jews.

  • 70 A.D. Last days in their own land

  • The worse things - and they got bad - the more hope they had that a hero would come soon and save them from suffering.

Remember:

Babylon, Persia, Zoroastrianism, King Cyrus, Alexander the Great, Messiah, Ezra, prophets


FOOTNOTE:

This is an introduction to a ten-unit survey of Judaism - its history, peoples, beliefs and impact on the world today.

Education for most ages and for all curious people.
Written by Joseph Ivan Long with curiosity, humbleness, and a big grin.