Throughout the history of the Jewish people, as recorded in the Old Testament, the leaders and prophets warned the people that God's judgement would fall upon them if they refused to listen to God and keep his laws. Moses warned the Israelites that if they compromised the way they lived, by mixing the way God had told them he wanted them to live with the lifestyles and religions of other peoples, they would lose God's blessing and favour. This warning was repeated time and again over the next 1000 years. Eventually, in what was seen as a judgement from God, as a consequence of attacks from their enemies over a period of nearly 100 years, the Israelites were captured and carried off into exile in Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:15-20). See Big ideas: Ten Commandments; Judgement.

The subsequent grief of the exiles is poignantly portrayed in Psalms 137:1-6,

‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows ... For they that carried us away captive, required of us a song … How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning … if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.' (AV)

Zion, or Jerusalem, the city established by their forefather King David, was by that time the focus of Jewish religious and political allegiance. This was where their temple was located, and to be so far from this focus of their worship made the Jews feel very cut-off from God. See Big ideas: Temple, tabernacle.

King Cyrus of Persia eventually enabled the exiles to return to their land (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). However, the Jews continued to be threatened by foreign powers and to be dispersed among other nations.


The ‘diaspora' is the name given to the dispersion of the Jewish people, beginning with the exile in Babylon, later in the Roman Empire. In the course of time, Jews spread throughout the world, either by migration (both forced and voluntary) or through people of other religions adopting the Jewish faith.

Related topics

Big ideas: Judgement; Temple, tabernacle; Ten Commandments

Other cultural references

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