Mysteries of the Kingdom

            in awe of scripture, viewing it through the lens of the kingship of Jesus

The First Spreading of Jewish People Across the World

    To the Northeast of Israel, the ancient nation of Assyria stretched in an arc from Damascus toward the mountains of modern Turkey, then along the Tigris river of modern Iraq, and Southeast toward Babylon. In 722 BC, Assyria conquered Israel, taking most of them as captives. The Israelis who went as captives into Assyria lost their national and religious identity. Those who stayed and intermarried  with Assyrians maintained an interest in the Israeli covenant with God. They were named "Samaritans."

    After conquering Israel, Assyria soon ruled Babylon all the way to the Red Sea. The Babylonians rose up with allies in the Median Empire to the North and East to defeat Assyria. The Babylonians then went further West to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, conquering the nation of Judah in 582 BC. Despite being taken as captives to Babylon, the Jews managed to protect their religious and national identity as foreigners in their new home. Jewish culture actually thrived in the Babylonian region for another 2,500 years until World War II in the 20th century.

    Just as prophesied in Daniel and Isaiah, a new ruler rose up from the "Persis" region along the northeast coast of the Red Sea. Cyrus the Great led the Persians in 550 BC to overcome the Median Empire, then Babylon and beyond. King Cyrus of Persis established the first of three great Persian Empires which ruled most of the region with little interruption for over a thousand years. He also gave the Jews permission to return to their land, but only a few of them accepted the offer. Most of the Babylonian Jews remained in that region, establishing such a strong Jewish community that centuries later it would become the primary seat of Jewish culture and learning.

    To the Northwest of Israel, city-states were more common than empires where the mountains and waters created isolation for warring cities situated in modern Greece. While these cities operated independently, they shared culturally and created colonies along the coasts of modern Turkey, the Black Sea, and modern Italy. As Cyrus spread his Persian empire, he conquered many colonies of the Greek city states in modern Turkey. Eventually, Persian agression greatly unified the Greek city states. Despite much infighting, Greek cities began banding together in warfare until Alexander the Great from Macedonia finally led their conquest of Persia approximately two hundred years after Cyrus in 330 BC. Alexander founded several cities in his name, the most famous of which was the Egyptian city of Alexandria.

    During Alexander's conquest of Persia, the Jews then inhabiting Jerusalem refused to assist Alexander, an act which should have ensured their destruction. God told the Jewish high priest in a dream to open the city gates and walk out to meet Alexander's army in peace. As Alexander approached, he recognized the high priest from the dream in which God had first sent him to war against Persia many years before. Rather than battling the Jews, Alexander saluted the priest and sacrificed to God in their rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.

    Just a few years later when Alexander suddenly died, Greece had no successor prepared to rule the lands he conquered. As various parties struggled for power, a Macedonian general of Alexander's army named Ptolemy entered Jerusalem peacefully on a Sabbath day in 320 BC, taking many Jews as captives back to the new city of Alexandria and offering full citizenship privileges to any Jews who would go there voluntarily. With Egypt as his solidified base, Ptolemy declared himself king and pharaoh in 305 BC, establishing an Egyptian dynasty which would last nearly 300 years. When Ptolemy aided the defense of the island of Rhodes, the Rhodians gave him the Greek mythological title of Soter, meaning "Savior." After Ptolemy, Soter became a frequent title of kings in the Greek world for many centuries, including Soter Iesous Christos: "Savior Jesus Christ" or "Savior Jesus Anointed." Cyrus of Persia and Ptolemy of Egypt thus established strong communities of Judaism from Africa to modern Iran which thrived long into the Christian era.

    While their stories will not be told here, large Jewish communities also sprang up long before the birth of Jesus in Rome and Libya in the West, down to Ethiopia and India to the South, and Northeast into Scythia (modern Russia). The largest communities of Jews at birth of our Lord were still found in Egypt (one million according to Philo), in the reestablished land of Israel, and in the Babylonian region of the Persian Empire. Ptolemy's son, Ptolemy II, freed all of his father's Jewish captives and paid handsomely for an authoritative Greek translation of the holy Hebrew scriptures by 72 Jewish rabbis. We call that translation the Greek Septuagint, a document which had profound impact on the ensuing 2,000 years of Christian faith.

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"The First Spreading of Jewish People Across the World" by Matthew Bryan was first published at June 3rd, 2015. All rights are reserved.