Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC.
Jerusalem was destroyed under an officer of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan. According to the Lachish Letters ((clay tablets with writing in ink, discoverd in 1935), all of Judah was devastated.
Like the Assyrians, the Babylonians took the influential people of conquered nations as prisoners (‘the exile’). With the leaders, scholars, and promising youth in captivity the conquered nation was less likely to rebel later on.
Judah became a province of Babylon. There was no longer a king, but a governor appointed by Nebuchadnezzar. The first governor was Gedaliah.
With Jerusalem destroyed, Gedaliah established a new capital at Mizpah.
The people governed by Gedaliah were called “the poorest people of the land” and were left to cultivate the soil.
Upon the assassination of Gedaliah the people feared reprisal by Babylon. Jeremiah instructed the people to remain in the land and not to fear, for the Babylonians would not retaliate. The people refused to accept his word and made plans to go to Egypt. The number of Judeans who made the trip to Egypt was relatively large (Jer. 43:5-6). Jeremiah went to Egypt as well.
The migrants came to Tahpanhes (identified as Tell Defenneh), in the eastern Delta of Egypt. Tell Defenneh is located 27 miles south southwest of Port Said. Another area of Jewish occupation outside Judah was located on the island of Elephantine in the Nile River of Egypt.
These Jews also had a temple to Yahweh. The worship of Yahweh was not pure (they were polytheists), for the names of at least three other deities, who were worshiped by some of the residents, have been found.
Daniel, along with others of his age, were taken to Babylon in 605 BC.
He was elevated to the important position of chief of the “wise men,” upon whom the king depended for counsel. Daniel apparently retained this position for a long time, because years later Nebuchadnezzar referred to him as “chief of the magicians” (Dan. 4:9). At the time of the Persian conquest of Babylon he was still retained by the new regime in a position of high responsibility…
The Hebrew captives enjoyed freedom of movement in the land of Babylon. The captives were also employed. Nebuchadnezzar had taken craftsmen and artisans, particularly in the captivity of 597 B.C. (2 Kings 24:14-16).
Persia’s rise to power under Cyrus the Great (559-530), was climaxed by the conquest of Babylonia.
In 539 BC Cyrus marched on Babylon Defeat came easy… The Persian monarch treated Babylon with consideration. The city was not looted, nor were the religious or civil institutions changed. The result was that a transfer of allegiance to him was brought about with a minimum of disturbance.
The Cyrus Cylinder mentions how Cyrus conquered Babylon, returned exiles to their former lands, returned the articles of worship to the sacred cities, and commanded that the temples where they worshiped be rebuilt.
Cyrus ruled as king for nine years following his Babylonian victory. Finally, in 530 BC, while leading his army into the far north, he was fatally wounded. Cyrus was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II.
After Cambyses’s sudden death Darius I (522 – 486), one of Cambyses’s officers, assumed command of the army and marched home to put down the insurrection and seize the throne. There was some rebellion in the empire, but within two years, he had the empire back under control. Darius also gave permission to renew the rebuilding of the Hebrew Temple (Ezra 6:1-12).
The first return to Judah for the exiled Judeans (Jews) came shortly after the Persian conquest of Babylon, 538 BC (Ezra 1:1), led by Sheshbazzar.
The second came 80 years later, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I, 458 BC (Ezra 7:7), led by Ezra. And the third came 13 years after the second, in the 20th year of Artaxerxes I, 444 BC (Neh. 2:1), led by Nehemiah.
A prime order of business on arriving in the homeland was the rebuilding of the temple. They first erected the altar and reinstated the prescribed sacrifices.
In Judaism, the ‘qorban’ is any of a variety of sacrificial offerings described and commanded in the Torah.
The most common usages are animal sacrifice (zevah זֶבַח), zevah shelamim (the peace offering) and olah (the “holocaust)”.
A qorban was an animal sacrifice, such as a bull, sheep, goat, deer or a dove that underwent shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter). Sacrifices could also consist grain, meal, wine, or incense.
The Hebrew Bible says that Yahweh commanded the Israelites to offer offerings and sacrifices on various altars.
The second return was led by Ezra (Ezra 7:6, 10). From Ezra’s confession of the people’s sin in intermarriage with surrounding pagans (Ezra 9:1-15), we know of interaction with neighboring peoples, which seemed to accompany intermarriage.
Ezra received notable privileges from the Persian monarch in connection with his return. These privileges included authority to take as many of his countrymen with him as desired…
Ezra’s interest and assigned task was not to build the country materially, as it had been with the first return and would be again with the third, but to build the people socially and spiritually.
Ezra assembled those who wished to return at the river Ahava. The size of the group is indicated by the number of men, approximately 1500.
Upon arrival Ezra began to address the issue of intermarriage of a number of Jews with surrounding peoples.
Judah became in practice a theocracy, ruled by a line of hereditary High Priests.
The third return, that of Nehemiah, came in the 20th year of Artaxerxes I, 444 BC (Neh. 1:1). Nehemiah’s purpose lay in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. The work of rebuilding was completed in only 52 days.
Yehud Medinata – Aramaic for “the province of Judah”
Yehud (Judah) was an autonomous province of the Persian Achaemenid Empire.
Yehud was considerably smaller than the old kingdom of Judah, stretching from around Bethel in the north to about Hebron in the south (although Hebron itself was unpopulated throughout the Persian period), and from the Jordan River and Dead Sea in the east to, but not including, the shephelah (the slopes between the Judean highlands and the coastal plains in the west).
After the destruction of Jerusalem the centre of gravity shifted northward to Benjamin; this region, once a part of the kingdom of Israel, was far more densely populated than Judah itself, and now held both the administrative capital, Mizpah, and the major religious centre of Bethel.
Mizpah continued as the provincial capital for over a century.
The position of Jerusalem before the administration moved back from Mizpah is not clear, but from 445 BCE onwards it was once more the main city of Yehud.
Nevertheless, Persian-era Jerusalem was tiny: about 1500 inhabitants, even as low as 500 according to some estimates. It was the only true urban site in Yehud, the bulk of the province’s population living in small unwalled villages.
This picture did not much change throughout the entire Persian period, the entire population of the province remaining around 30,000.
There is no sign in the archaeological record of massive inwards migration from Babylon.