Robin Derricourt
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Scribes, priests and exiles under foreign rule
The emergence of monotheistic Judaism
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Between the late 6th century and 4th century bce the religious practices and beliefs of Judaism developed under a group of religious leaders based in the former capital of Judah, Jerusalem, now within the small marginal province of Yehud in the Persian Empire. They transformed what had become at times the exclusive worship of Yahweh in the region into monotheism, which recognised Yahweh as the sole existing creator god. They assembled the canon of the Jewish religion, the Tanakh or Old Testament, with new books alongside edited versions of earlier texts and oral literatures. The new religious leadership focussed on the area of Judah and the Temple they built in Jerusalem, applying the name of the former northern kingdom, Israel, to the larger Yahwist community. As background they emphasised their families’ exile when the Neo-Babylonian rulers had followed their conquests of Judah in 597 and 586 bce with the removal to Babylonia of groups of the political, religious, mercantile and craft elites. The exile provided the context for a theological move to a strict monotheism. The conquerors had left behind the larger part of the Judaean community, and the archaeology of Judah indicates much cultural continuity but with the dramatic reduction of Jerusalem’s position as a major urban centre. In 539 Persian ruler Cyrus the Great conquered Babylonian territory and allowed his new subjects to return to their own gods and cults. Some of the Judaean community took the opportunity to move back, and over time they were joined by additional returnees.

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