‘Diaspora’ means ‘scattering’. It is a term for those members of a people who for various reasons live outside the people’s homeland. It is especially applied to those of the Jewish people who live outside the land of Israel.

The beginnings of the Israelite and Jewish diaspora are referred to in the Bible: the inhabitants of Israel who were deported by the Assyrians in 732 BCE (2 Kgs 15:29) and 722 BCE (2 Kgs 17:6), the Judaeans who were deported by the Babylonians in 597 BCE (2 Kgs 24:14-16; Jer 24:1), 587/6 BCE (2 Kgs 25:11-12; Jer 39:9), and 582/1 BCE (Jer 52:30), and those who fled to Egypt at the same period (2 Kgs 25:26; Jer 43:4-7).

Others may well have left of their own accord both during the later monarchy and during the Babylonian occupation (587-39 BCE) or later, to seek their fortunes abroad. The earliest signs of the diaspora are found in clay tablets from Babylonia in the Persian period (5th and 4th centuries BCE) noting the presence of Jewish employees of a commercial house, and in papyrus fragments from Elephantine, in the Nile opposite Aswan, dating from the end of the 5th century, which show that a garrison of Jewish mercenaries was stationed there under the Persians.

The Jewish diaspora became of great importance and probably exceeded in numbers those who had remained in the land or returned to it. The diaspora in Babylonia was responsible for some of the important works of rabbinic Judaism in the 5th century CE and later, and that in Egypt, especially in Alexandria, created the Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of the scriptures.