From 597–538 BC, Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar defeated the southern kingdom of Judah and carried Judah’s most prominent citizens, priests, professionals, craftsmen, and the wealthy, into exile in several phases 2 Kings 24:10–25:21. The diaspora began. The humble people of the land were allowed to remain in Judah. But, on Nebuchadnezzar’s orders, Solomon’s Temple was burned to the ground 2 Kings 25:9.
In this way God punished the multitude of Judah’s transgressions Lam 1:5 including, its oppression of the poor Jer 5:28–29 and worship of Baal Jer 32:35, while allowing the poor to remain in the promised land Gen 12:7.
God across the centuries had protected the Hebrew people, and then he allowed the Temple to be destroyed on the Ninth of Av and the people taken from their land. Hebrew literature, particularly Lamentations and Job, took on a despairing quality. Job’s central subject was suffering. Some began to wonder whether God had abandoned his people Israel.
But, after some time for reflection, the Jews began to realize that they had sinned against God. The Jewish Virtual Library tells us, “During this period, Jewish leaders no longer spoke about a theology of judgment, but a theology of salvation. In texts such as Ezekiel and Isaiah, there is talk that the Israelites would be gathered together once more, their society and religion purified, and the unified Davidic kingdom be re-established.”
The Jewish Virtual Library adds, “So this period is marked by a resurgence in Jewish tradition, as the exiles looked back to their Mosaic origins in an effort to revive their original religion. It is most likely that the Torah took its final shape during this period or shortly afterward, and that it became the central text of the Jewish faith at this time as well. This fervent revival of religious tradition was aided by another accident in history: when Cyrus the Persian conquered Mesopotamia, he allowed the Jews to return home. This was no ordinary event, though. Cyrus sent them home specifically to worship Yahweh—what was once only a kingdom would become a nation of Yahweh.”
The Babylonian Exile was also a pre-figure of the Crucible of the Holocaust, when Elie Wiesel declared, “For the very first time in our history, this very covenant was broken. That is why the Holocaust has terrifying theological implications.” Yet St. Edith Stein, the saint with no grave, the Jewish woman who became a Carmelite 13:25 nun and perished in the Holocaust, peacefully told the Nazis who came for her, “I joyfully accept in advance the death God has appointed for me, in perfect submission to his most holy will. May the Lord accept my life and death for the honor and glory of his name, for the needs of his holy Church … for the Jewish people, that the Lord may be received by his own and his Kingdom come in glory.”