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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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DISPERSION . The name (Gr. Diaspora ) given to the Jewish communities outside Palestine ( 2Ma 1:27 , John 7:35 , James 1:1 , 1 Peter 1:1 ). It is uncertain when the establishment of these non-Palestinian communities began. It appears from 1 Kings 20:34 that an Israelltish colony was established in Damascus in the reign of Ahab. Possibly the similar alliances of David and Solomon with Phœnicia had established similar colonies there. In the 8th cent. Tiglath-pileser III. carried many Israelites captive to Assyria ( 2 Kings 15:29 ), and Sargon transported from Samaria 27,290 Hebrews (cf. KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] ii. 55), and settled them in Mesopotamia and Media ( 2 Kings 17:6 ). As the Deuteronomic law had not at this date differentiated the religion of Israel sharply from other Semitic religions (cf. Israel), it is doubtful whether these communities maintained their identity. Probably they were absorbed and thus lost to Israel.

The real Dispersion began with the Babylonian Exile. Nebuchadnezzar transplanted to Babylonia the choicest of the Judæan population (2 Kings 24:12-16 ; 2 Kings 25:11 , Jeremiah 52:15 ). Probably 50,000 were transported, and Jewish communities were formed in Babylonia at many points, as at Tel-abib ( Ezekiel 3:15 ) and Casiphia ( Ezra 8:17 ). Here the Jewish religion was maintained; prophets like Ezekiel and priests like Ezra sprang up, the old laws were studied and worked over, the Pentateuch elaborated, and from this centre Jews radiated to many parts of the East ( Nehemiah 1:1 ff., Tob 1:9-22 , Isaiah 11:11 ). Thus the Jews reached Media, Persia, Cappadocia, Armenia, and the Black Sea. Only a few of these Babylonian Jews returned to Palestine. They maintained the Jewish communities in Babylonia till about a.d. 1000. Here, after the beginning of the Christian era, the Babylonian Talmud was compiled.

In b.c. 608, Necho took king Jehoahaz and probably others to Egypt. In this general period colonies of Jews were living at Memphis, Migdol, Tahpanhes, and Pathros in Egypt (Jeremiah 44:1 ). Papyri recently discovered prove the existence of a large Jewish colony and a Jewish temple at the First Cataract, in the 5th cent. b.c. Other Jews seem to have followed Alexander the Great to Egypt (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] BJ II. xviii. 8; c. Apion . ii. 4). Many others migrated to Egypt under the Ptolemys ( Ant . XII. 1. 1, ii. 1 ff.). Philo estimated the number of Jews in Egypt in the reign of Caligula (a.d. 38 41) at a million.

Josephus states that Seleucus I. (312 280) gave the Jews rights in all the cities founded by him in Syria and Asia ( Ant . XII. iii. 1). This has been doubted by some, who suppose that the spread of Jews over Syria occurred after the Maccabæan uprising (168 143). At all events by the 1st cent. b.c. Jews were in all this region, as well as in Greece and Rome, in the most important centres about the Mediterranean, and had also penetrated to Arabia ( Acts 2:11 ).

At Leontopolis in Egypt, Onias III., the legitimate Aaronic high priest, who had left Palestine because he hated Antiochus IV., founded, about b.c. 170, a temple which was for a century a mild rival of the Temple in Jerusalem. With few exceptions the Dispersion were loyal to the religion of the home land. Far removed from the Temple, they developed in the synagogue a spiritual religion without sacrifice, which, after the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70, kept Judaism alive. All Jews paid the annual half-shekel tax for the support of the Temple-worship, and at the great feasts made pilgrimages to Jerusalem from all parts of the world (Acts 2:10-11 ). They soon lost the use of Hebrew, and had the Greek translation the Septuagint made for their use. Contact with the world gave them a broader outlook and a wider thought than the Palestinian Jews, and they conceived the idea of converting the world to Judaism. For use in this propaganda the Sibylline Oracles and other forms of literature likely to interest Græco-Roman readers were produced.

George A. Barton.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Dispersion'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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