A remnant of God's people returns from exile captivity
Also see Jews | Israel the nation, divided kingdom, country | Israel the man

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Ezra 2


ISRAEL [Easton Bible Dictionary]

Part of Kingdom of Israel

Extent of the kingdom.

In the time of Solomon the area of Palestine, excluding the Phoenician territories on the shore of the Mediterranean, did not much exceed 13,000 square miles. The kingdom of Israel comprehended about 9,375 square miles. Shechem was the first capital of this kingdom (1 Kings 12:25), afterwards Tirza (14:17). Samaria was subsequently chosen as the capital (16:24), and continued to be so till the destruction of the kingdom by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:5). During the siege of Samaria (which lasted for three years) by the Assyrians, Shalmaneser died and was succeeded by Sargon, who himself thus records the capture of that city: "Samaria I looked at, I captured; 27,280 men who dwelt in it I carried away" (2 Kings 17:6) into Assyria. Thus after a duration of two hundred and fifty-three years the kingdom of the ten tribes came to an end. They were scattered throughout the East. (See CAPTIVITY .)

"Judah held its ground against Assyria for yet one hundred and twenty-three years, and became the rallying-point of the dispersed of every tribe, and eventually gave its name to the whole race. Those of the people who in the last struggle escaped into the territories of Judah or other neighbouring countries naturally looked to Judah as the head and home of their race. And when Judah itself was carried off to Babylon, many of the exiled Israelites joined them from Assyria, and swelled that immense population which made Babylonia a second Palestine."

After the deportation of the ten tribes, the deserted land was colonized by various eastern tribes, whom the king of Assyria sent thither (Ezra 4:2,10; 2Kings 17:24-29). (See KINGS.)

Part of Israel

After the Exile the name Israel was assumed as designating the entire nation.

ISRAEL [Smith Bible Dictionary]

After Babylonian captivity, #4

ISRAEL, Return of [ISBE] - part of Israel, History of, 3

VI. Time of the Babylonian Exile.

1. Influence of the Exile:

The inhabitants of Judah, who had been deported by Nebuchadnezzar at different times, were settled by him in Babylonia, e.g. at the river Chebar (Ezekiel 1:1), near the city of Nippur. From Hilprecht's excavations of this city, it has been learned that this river, or branch of the Euphrates Influence river, is to be found at this place, and of the [sic] is not to be confounded with the river Chaboras. In the same way, the many contract-tablets with Jewish names which have been found at Nippur, show that a large Jewish colony lived at that place.

Of the fate of these banished Jews for a period of 50 years, we hear almost nothing. But it is possible to learn what their condition was in exile from the Book of Ezekiel and the 2nd part of Isaiah. Land was assigned to them here, and they were permitted to build houses for themselves (Jeremiah 29:5 ff), and could travel around this district without restraint. They were not prisoners in the narrow sense of the word. They soon, through diligence and skill in trade, attained to considerable wealth, so that most of them, after the lapse of half a century, were perfectly satisfied and felt no desire to return home.

For the spiritual development of the people the exile proved to be a period of great importance. In the first place, they were separated from their native soil, and in this way from many temptations of heathenism and idolatry, and the like. The terrible judgment that had come over Jerusalem had proved that the prophets had been right, who had for a long time, but in vain, preached genuine repentance. This did not prove to be without fruit (of Zechariah 1:6). While living in the heathen land, they naturally became acquainted with heathendom in a more crass form. But even if many of the Jews were defiled by it, in general the relations of the Israelites toward the idol-worshipping Babylonians were antagonistic, and they became all the more zealous in the observance of those religious rites which could be practiced in a foreign land, such as rest on the Sabbath day, the use of meats, circumcision, and others.

But with marked zeal the people turned to the spiritual storehouse of their traditions, namely their sacred literature. They collected the laws, the history, the hymns, and treasured them. It was also a noteworthy progress that such prophets as Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Daniel received prophetic visions while on heathen soil. The people also learned that the heathen, in the midst of whom they lived, became receptive of the higher truths of Israel's religion. Especially does the 2nd part of Isaiah, chapters 40 through 66, show that they began to understand the missionary calling of Israel among the nations of the world.

2. Daniel:

The Book of Dan reports how a God-fearing and law-abiding Jew, through his prophecies, attained to prominent positions of influence at the courts of different rulers. From the Book of Ezekiel we learn that the prophets and the elders cared for the spiritual wants of the people, and that they held meetings, at which indeed it was not permitted to offer sacrifices, but at which the word of Yahweh was proclaimed. Here we find the beginnings of what afterward was the synagogue-system.

3. Elephantine Papyri:

A remarkable picture of the Jewish diaspora in Upper Egypt is furnished by recently discovered papyri at Elephantine. From these it appears that in the 6th century BC, not only a large and flourishing Jewish colony was to be found at this place, but also that they had erected here a fine temple to Yahweh where they brought their sacrifices to which they had been accustomed at home. In an Aramaic letter, still preserved and dating from the year 411 BC, and which is addressed to the governor Bagohi, in Judea, these Jews complain that their temple in Yeb (Elephantine, near Syene) had been destroyed in the same year. It also states that this temple had been spared on one occasion by Cambyses, who was in Egypt from 525 to 521 BC. The answer of Bagohi also has been preserved, and he directs that the temple is to be built again and that meal offerings and incense are again to be introduced. Probably intentionally, mention in this letter is made only of the unbloody sacrifices, while in the first letter burnt sacrifices also are named. The sacrifices of animals by the Jews would probably have aroused too much the anger of the devotees of the divine ram, which was worshipped at Syene. Up to the present time we knew only of the much later temple of the high priest Onias IV at Leontopolis (160 BC). Compare Josephus, Ant,XII , iii, 1-3;BJ ,VII , x, 2, 3.

VII. Return from the Exile and the Restoration.

1. Career of Cyrus:

In the meanwhile there was a new re-adjustment of political supremacy among the world-powers. The Persian king, Koresh (Cyrus), first made himself free from the supremacy of Media which, after the capture of the city Ecbatana, became a part of his own kingdom (549 BC). At that time Nabonidus was the king in Babylon (555-538 BC), who was not displeased at the collapse of the kingdom of the Medes, but soon learned that the new ruler turned out to be a greater danger to himself, as Cyrus subjugated, one after the other, the smaller kingdoms in the north. But Nabonidus was too unwarlike to meet Cyrus. He confined himself to sending his son with an army to the northern boundaries of his kingdom. On the other hand, the king of the Lydians, Croesus, who was related by marriage to King Astyages, who had been subdued by Cyrus, began a war with Cyrus, after he had formed an alliance with Egypt and Sparta. In the year 546 BC, he crossed the river Halys. Cyrus approached from the Tigris, and in doing so already entered Babylonian territory, conquered Croesus, took his capital city Sardis, and put an end to the kingdom of Lydia. The pious Israelites in captivity, under the tutelage of Deutero-Isaiah, watched these events with the greatest of interest. For the prophet taught them from the beginning to see in this king "the deliverer," who was the instrument of Yahweh for the return of the Israelites out of captivity, and of whom the prophets had predicted. And this expectation was fulfilled with remarkable rapidity. The victorious and aggressive king of Persia could now no longer be permanently checked, even by the Babylonians. It was in vain that King Nabonidus had caused the images of the gods from many of his cities to be taken to Babylon, in order to make the capital city invincible. This city opened its doors to the Persian commander Ugbaru (Gobryas) in 538 BC, and a few months later Cyrus himself entered the city. This king, however, was mild and conciliatory in his treatment of the people and the city. He did not destroy the city, but commanded only that a portion of the walls should be razed. However, the city gradually, in the course of time, became ruins.

Cyrus also won the good will and favor of the subjugated nations by respecting their religions. He returned to their shrines the idols of Nabonidus, that had been taken away. But he was particularly considerate of the Jews, who doubtless had complained to him of their fate and had made known to him their prophecies regarding him as the coming deliverer.

2. First Return under Zerubbable:

In the very first year of his reign over Babylon he issued an edict (2 Chronicles 36:22 f; Ezra 1:1 ff) that permitted the Jews to return home, with the command that they should again erect their temple. For this purpose he directed that the temple-vessels, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken away with him, should be returned to them, and commanded that those Israelites who voluntarily remained in Babylon should contribute money for the restoration of the temple. At the head of those to be returned stood Sheshbazzar, who is probably identical with Zerubbabel, although this is denied by some scholars; and also the high priest, Joshua, a grandson of the high priest, Seraiah, who had been put to death by Nebuchadnezzar. They were accompanied by only a small part of those in exile, that is by 42,360 men and women and children, male and female servants, especially from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, but of the last-mentioned tribes more priests than other Levites. After several months they safely arrived in Palestine, probably 537 BC. Some of them settled down in Jerusalem, and others in surrounding cities and villages. They erected the altar for burnt sacrifices, so that they were again able in the 7th month to sacrifice on it.

(1) Building the temple.

The cornerstone of the temple was also solemnly laid at that time in the 2nd year of the Return (Ezra 3:8 ff).

(2) Haggai and Zechariah.

But the erection of the temple must have been interrupted in a short time, since it was not until the 2nd year of Darius (520 BC), at the urgent appeal of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, that the work of building was energetically prosecuted. For this reason many scholars deny this cornerstone-laying in the year 536 BC. However, it still remains thinkable that several attempts were made at this work, since the young colony had many difficulties to contend with. Then, too, the memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, which have been worked over by the author of Chronicles, report the history of these times only in parts. The historical value of these literary sources has been confirmed by those Aramaic papyri found in Upper Egypt.

3. Ezra and Nehemiah:

In the year 516 BC, after 4 years of building, the temple was completed and dedicated. After this we have no information for a period of 58 years. Then we learn that Ezra, the scribe, in the 7th year of Artaxerxes I (458 BC), came with a new caravan of about 1,500 men with women and children from Babylon to the Holy Land. He had secured from the king the command to establish again in the land of the Jews the law, in which he was a prominent expert, and he tried to do this by earnest admonitions and instructive discourses addressed to the people. The acme of the activity of Ezra was the meeting of the people described in Nehemiah 8 through Nehemiah 10 on the Feast of the Tabernacles, on which occasion the entire nation solemnly came under obligation to observe the law. According to the present position of these chapters this act took place in 444 BC; but it is probable that it happened before the arrival of Nehemiah, whose name would accordingly have to be eliminated in 8:9. This pericope would then belong to the memoirs of Ezra and not to those of Nehemiah. After some years there came to help Ezra in his work, Nehemiah, a pious Jew, who was a cupbearer to the king, and at his own request was granted leave of absence in order to help the city of Jerusalem, which he had heard was in dire straits. Its walls were in ruins, as the neighboring nations had been able to hinder their rebuilding, and even those walls of the city that had been hastily restored, had again been pulled down. Nehemiah came in the year 445-444 BC from Shushan to Jerusalem and at once went energetically to work at rebuilding the walls. Notwithstanding all oppositions and intrigues of malicious neighbors, the work was successfully brought to a close.

The hostile agitations, in so far as they were not caused by widespread envy and hatred of the Jews among the neighboring peoples, had a religious ground. Those who returned, as the people of Yahweh, held themselves aloof from the peoples living round about them, especially from the mixed peoples of Samaria. Samaria was the breeding-place for this hostility against Jerusalem. The governor at that place, Sanballat, was the head of this hostile league. The Jews had declined to permit the Samaritans to cooperate in the erection of the temple and would have no religious communion with them. The Samaritans had taken serious offense at this, and they accordingly did all they could to prevent the building of the walls in Jerusalem, which would be a hindrance to their having access to the temple. But Nehemiah's trust in God and his energy overcame this obstacle. The policy of exclusiveness, which Ezra and Nehemiah on this occasion and at other times followed out, evinces a more narrow mind than the preexilic prophets had shown. In the refusal of intermarriage with the people living around them they went beyond the Mosaic law, for they even demanded that those marriages, which the Israelites had already contracted with foreign women, should be dissolved. But this exclusiveness was the outcome of legal conscientiousness, and at this period it was probably necessary for the selfpreservation of the people of Yahweh.


From the prophecies of Malachi, who was almost a contemporary of the two mentioned, it can be seen that the marriages with the foreign women had also brought with them a loosening of even the most sacred family ties (Malachi 2:14 f). After an absence of 12 years, Nehemiah again returned to Shushan to the court; and when he later returned to Jerusalem he was compelled once more to inaugurate a stringent policy against the lawlessness which was violating the sanctity of the temple and of the Sabbath commandment. He also expelled a certain Manasseh, a grandson of the high priest, who had married a daughter of Sanballat. This Manasseh, according to Josephus (Ant., XI, viii, 2), erected the sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim, and established the priesthood at that place. This is no doubt correct. These accounts of Josephus are often combined without cause with the times of Alexander the Great, although they transpired about 110 years earlier.

The history of the Jews in the last decades of the Persian rule is little known. Under Artaxerxes III (Ochus), they were compelled to suffer much, when they took part in a rebellion of the Phoenicians and Cyprians. Many Jews were at that time banished to Hyrcania on the southern coast of the Caspian Sea. The Persian general, Bagoses, came to Jerusalem and forced his way even into the temple (Josephus, Ant, XI, vii, 1). He undertook to install as high priest, in the place of John (Jochanan), his brother Joshua (Jesus). The latter, however, was slain by the former in the temple. For the first time the office of the high priest appears as more of a political position, something that it never was in the preexilic times, and according to the law was not to be.

VIII. The Jews under Alexander and His Successors.

1. Spread of Hellenism:

As the Jews were then tired of the rule of the priests, they were not dissatisfied with the victorious career of Alexander the Great. He appears to have assumed a friendly attitude toward them, even if the story reported by Josephus (Ant., XI, viii, 4) is scarcely historical. The successors of Alexander were also, as a rule, tolerant in religious matters. But for political and geographical reasons, Palestine suffered severely in these times, as it lay between Syria and Egypt, and was an object of attack on the part of both the leading ruling families in this period, the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids in Syria. At the same time Hellenism, which had been so powerfully advanced by Alexander as a factor of civilization and culture, penetrated the land of Israel also. Greek culture and language spread soon in Palestine and in many places was supreme. The more strict adherents of Judaism recognized in this a danger to the Mosaic order of life and religion, and all the more zealously they now adhered to the traditional ordinances. These were called the chacidhim, or the Pious (Hasidaioi, 1 Macc 2:42; 7:13; 2 Macc 14:6). The world-transforming Hellenistic type of thought spread especially among the aristocrats and the politically prominent, and even found adherents among the priests, while the chacidhim belonged to the less conspicuous ranks of the people.

2. The Hasmoneans:

A struggle for life and death was caused between these two tendencies by the Syrian king, Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), into whose hands the sovereignty of Palestine had fallen. He undertook nothing less than to root out the hated Jewish religion. In the year 168 BC he commanded that the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem should be dedicated to the Olympian Jupiter and forbade most stringently the observance of the Sabbath and circumcision. A large portion of the people did not resist his oppression, but adapted themselves to this tyrannical heathendom. Others suffered and died as martyrs. Finally in the year 167 BC a priest, Mattathias, gave the signal for a determined resistance, at the head of which stood his brave sons, the Hasmoneans, or Maccabees. First his son Judas undertook the leadership of the faithful. He succeeded in freeing Jerusalem from the Syriansú He restored the temple on Mt. Zion. The temple was dedicated anew and was given over to the old cult. After a number of victorious campaigns, Judas Maccabeus died the death of a hero in 161 BC. His brother, Jonathan, who took his place at the head of the movement, tried to secure the independence of the land rather through deliberate planning than through military power. He assumed, in addition to his secular power, also the high-priestly dignity. After his death by violence in 143 BC, he was succeeded by his brother Simon as the bearer of this double honor. The Hasmoneans, however, rapidly became worldly minded and lost the sympathies of the chasidhim. The son of Simon, John Hyrcanus (135-106 BC), broke entirely with the Pious, and his family, after his death, came to an end in disgraceful struggles for power. The rule of the land fell into the hands of Herod, a tyrant of Idumean origin, who was supported by the Romans. From 37 BC he was the recognized king of Judah.


IX. The Romans.

1. Division of Territory:

After the death of Herod (4 BC), the kingdom, according to his last will, was to be divided among his three sons. Archelaus received Judea; Antipas, Galilee and Peraea; Philip, the border lands in the north. However, Archelaus was soon deposed by the Romans (6 AD), and Judea was made a part of the province of Syria, but was put under a special Roman procurator, who resided in Caesarea. These procurators (of whom the best known was Pontius Pilate, 26-36 AD), had no other object than to plunder the land and the people.

2. Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans:

In this way a conflict was gradually generated between the people and their oppressors, which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. As early as 40 AD this rupture almost took place, when the Syrian legate Petronius, at the command of Caligula, undertook to place a statue of the emperor in the temple of Jerusalem. On this occasion King Agrippa I, who was again ruling the whole territory of Herod, succeeded in adjusting the conflict. His son Agrippa II was given a much smaller kingdom (40-100 AD). He, too, sought to prevent the people from undertaking a struggle with the Romans, but in vain. By his unscrupulous treatment of the people, the procurator Gessius Florus drove the Jews into an insurrection. The party of the Zealots gained the upper hand. Florus was compelled to leave Jerusalem (66 AD). Even the good-sized army which Cestius Gallus commanded could not get control of the city, but was completely overpowered by the Jews on its retreat at Bethhoron. Now the entire country rose in rebellion. The Romans, under the leadership of Vespasian, advanced with considerable power and first conquered Galilee, then under Josephus (67 AD). In Jerusalem, in the meanwhile, different parties of the Jews were still fighting each other. Titus, the son of Vespasian, took the chief command after Vespasian had already conquered the East Jordan country and the western coast, but had hastened to Rome in order to become emperor. Titus completely surrounded the city a few days before the Passover festival in the year 70. On the northern side the Romans first broke through the first and newest city wall, and after that the second. The third offered a longer resistance, and at the same time famine wrought havoc in Jerusalem. At last the battle raged about the temple, during which this structure went up in flames. According to the full description by Josephus (BJ, VI, iv, 3 ff), Titus tried to prevent the destruction of the temple; according to Sulpicius Severus (Chron. II, 20), however, this destruction was just what he wanted. A few fortified places yet maintained themselves after the fall of Jerusalem, e.g. Macherus in the East Jordan country, but they could not hold out very long.

Later Insurrection of Bar-Cochba.

Once again the natural ambition for independence burst out in the insurrection of Bar-Cochba (132-35 AD). Pious teachers of the law, especially Rabbi Akiba, had enkindled this fire, in order to rid the country of the rule of the Gentiles. However, notwithstanding some temporary successes, this insurrection was hopeless. Both the city and the country were desolated by the enraged Romans still more fearfully, and were depopulated still more than in 70. From that time Jerusalem was lost to the Jews. They lived on without a country of their own, without any political organization, without a sanctuary, in the Diaspora among the nations.

3. Spiritual Life of the Period:

The spiritual and religious life of the Jews during the period preceding the dissolution of the state was determined particularly by the legalistic character of their ideals and their opposition to Hellenism. Their religion had become formalistic to a great extent since their return from the exile. The greatest emphasis was laid on obedience to the traditional ordinances, and these latter were chiefly expositions of ceremonial usurpers.

Appearance of Jesus Christ.

The crown of the history of Israel-Judah was the appearance of Jesus Christ. Looked at superficially, it may indeed appear as though His person and His life had but little affected the development of the national history of Israel. However, more closely viewed, we shall see that this entire history has its goal in Him and finds its realization in Him. After full fruit had developed out of this stock, the latter withered and died. He was to be the bearer of salvation for all mankind.

C. von Orelli

ISRAEL [Thompson Chain Reference]
# Captivity of

    * Foretold
          o Deuteronomy 28:36
          o 1 Kings 14:15
          o Isaiah 39:7
          o Jeremiah 13:19
          o Amos 7:11
          o Luke 21:24
    * Fulfilment of Prophecies Concerning
          o 2 Kings 15:29
          o 2 Kings 17:6
          o 2 Kings 18:11
          o 2 Kings 24:14
          o 2 Kings 25:11
          o 2 Chronicles 28:5
# Dispersion of

    * Leviticus 26:33
    * Nehemiah 1:8
    * Esther 3:8
    * Psalms 44:11
    * Ezekiel 6:8
    * Ezekiel 36:19
    * John 7:35
    * James 1:1
# Remnant of

    * Isaiah 1:9
    * Isaiah 4:3
    * Isaiah 11:16
    * Isaiah 37:4
    * Jeremiah 6:9
    * Jeremiah 23:3
    * Jeremiah 31:7
    * Ezekiel 14:22
    * Micah 2:12
    * Zephaniah 2:9
    * Romans 9:27
    * Romans 11:5

# Reprobation of

    * Leviticus 26:17
    * Deuteronomy 28:15
    * Deuteronomy 31:17
    * 1 Kings 14:16
    * Jeremiah 7:15
    * Jeremiah 15:1
    * Hosea 9:17
    * 2 Thessalonians 2:12
#  Restoration of

    * Isaiah 1:26
    * Isaiah 11:12
    * Isaiah 27:13
    * Isaiah 33:20
    * Isaiah 40:2
    * Isaiah 49:22
    * Isaiah 60:10
    * Ezekiel 20:40
    * Ezekiel 36:8
    * Zechariah 1:17
    * Zechariah 10:6
    * Zechariah 14:11
    * Malachi 3:4
# Return of

    * Deuteronomy 30:3
    * Isaiah 11:11
    * Jeremiah 16:15
    * Jeremiah 23:3
    * Zephaniah 3:20
    * Zechariah 10:10

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