Diaspora

‘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 Kings 15:29) and 722 BCE (2 Kings 17:6), the Judaeans who were deported by the Babylonians in 597 BCE (2 Kings 24:14-16; Jeremiah 24:1), 587/6 BCE (2 Kings 25:11-12; Jeremiah 39:9), and 582/1 BCE (Jeremiah 52:30), and those who fled to Egypt at the same period (2 Kings 25:26; Jeremiah 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.