The era of the Second Temple in Jewish history, from the return from the Babylonian captivity in 538 bce to the Roman sacking of Jerusalem in 70 ce, has aptly been described as the period of'formative Judaism'. Many of the features and institutions of Judaism as we understand it took shape during this period. Among these developments, there can be no disputing the overwhelming historical importance of the diaspora, or dispersion - in other words, the adjustment to a division of the people between the homeland and communities elsewhere. After the disaster of 70, and even more after the Jewish exclusion from Jerusalem following the defeat of Bar Kochba's rebellion of 135 ce, the diaspora grew in significance. None the less, the rabbinic movement had its first major flowering in Judaea and the Galilee; thus the split existence continued.
The history of the diaspora is usually taken to begin in 587/6 bce, when Nebuchadnezzar took the inhabitants of Jerusalem into captivity. When permitted to return by Cyrus the Persian king, many remained voluntarily in Babylonia. There, communities existed for centuries, saw periods of flowering, and produced, in late antiquity, the Babylonian Talmud, rabbinic learning's most important monument. That vast compendium is the repository also of much tradition from the land ofIsrael, but it was the product ofdiaspora-based academies. The spread of Jews in significant numbers around the Mediterranean, on the other hand, had followed Alexander the Great's conquest of the east, and was consolidated under Greek and then Roman sovereignty (see Map 3). The major literary products of Hellenistic Judaism -the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (the 'Septuagint' (lxx)) and the works of Philo and Josephus - have been largely embedded, until the modern period, in Christian culture, and they have survived through Christian transmission. Archaeology has yielded a sufficient number of tangible remains from this Mediterranean Jewish diaspora after the literary record comes to an end.
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