As I see it, the Jews have always attempted to live peacefully among other civilizations, probably because they've been dispersed so many times and forced to live outside of their homeland. I find it amazing that they have found a way to maintain their social, cultural and religious identity regardless of where they are on the planet. But you've brought up a good segue for me to continue on this topic since to really get a grip on the different religious parties in Palestine, one has to study what happened during the Babylonian captivity.
But first a disclaimer: There is so much information out there, the more I look the more confused I become as to how to keep it all focused in order to highlight the teachings and revelations in TUB, yet satisfy my own need to dig as deep as I can for my personal understanding. In all of this, remember that I am just an armchair historian and every time I pick up a new book or discover a new website, my views change in order to incorporate the additional knowledge. So, what I put down here is really just a journal of my personal discovery on the topic and not the least bit conclusive. If a real historian should want to comment or add to any of this, I would be delighted.
There are dozens of entries in TUB concerning the Babylonian captivity and I hope to incorporate most of them in this discussion. This period, which lasted less than a century, was a pivotal time for the Hebrew nation in every aspect, social, cultural, political and religious. This was the time of the great prophets and also when the seeds of the various religious parties were planted. We know that the scribes predated the Pharisees and Saducees, we also know that Ezra, in all likelihood, was the father of the Sanhedrin. So, where do we begin?
Well, since this is more or less a journal of my own study of this topic, I'll begin with some of the material that got me thinking about all of this. My initial interest was concerning the mood of the Jewish people who were forced into captivity. How devastating was that to their group psyche and how did they manage to hold onto their identity? What changes occurred in their thinking about God and their experience with religion? Although the facts of history are interesting, it is more fascinating to understand what these people were actually experiencing because when it comes down to it, religion is based on personal experience and then it becomes social, cultural, and often political. TUB tells us that this period of Jewish history was tremendous, the psychic damage so depressing that in retaliation to it they reacted with a self-defensive, self-righteous and egotistical defiance.
93.9.9 The national ego of the Jews was tremendously depressed by the Babylonian captivity. In their reaction against national inferiority they swung to the other extreme of national and racial egotism, in which they distorted and perverted their traditions with the view of exalting themselves above all races as the chosen people of God; and hence they carefully edited all their records for the purpose of raising Abraham and their other national leaders high up above all other persons, not excepting Melchizedek himself. The Hebrew scribes therefore destroyed every record of these momentous times which they could find, preserving only the narrative of the meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek after the battle of Siddim, which they deemed reflected great honor upon Abraham.
It seems that it is a very human response to equate minority with inferiority, but were the Jews really treated as inferiors by their captors? Historical evidence paints a different picture.
Historical annals demonstrate that Assyrian kings attempted to deal with unruly populations through massive deportations. When a rebellious city was defeated, its nobility, skilled workers and soldiers were resettled closer to the Assyrian heartland where they could be more easily controlled. The remaining population was less likely to have the military and economic means to revolt again. . . . Exiles were often treated with extreme cruelty. . . . Sometimes, however, captives fared well and were able to rise to positions of authority. Personal names in Assyrian inscriptions indicate that some Israelites did rise to leadership positions within the Assyrian administration. (3. pg. 1337)
We know that Daniel, Nehemiah, Esther and Ezra were some Israelites who did rise to leadership positions. In fact, when Ezra was asked to lead a company of Jews back to Palestine, he actually had difficulty rounding up enough people who wanted to go back, particularly the priestly Levites, which indicates that life was probably not very harsh for them. If that was true, what was it then that fostered such an enormous swing toward national pride? It was the imagined inferiority of their religion. Why did the Jews feel that because of their exile, their religion and their God was relegated to inferior status? The following quote is enlightening.
The desecration or destruction of temples in the ancient Near East represented grave national and religious calamities. Temples were considered the abodes of deities who served as guardians of lands, peoples and nations, and elaborate temple liturgies were aimed at securing the presence of the deity. Conquering armies plundered temples as a demonstrable sign that the gods of the victors had triumphed over those of the vanquished. . . . From the perspective of the vanquished, it appeared that the temple had been abandoned by the deity. This gave rise to a genre of ritual laments for temples and cities that had been destroyed. . . The prophets used similar language to explain the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Biblical laments assert that the Lord had abandoned his sanctuary because Israel had first abandoned her God. (3. pg. 1323)
The reason for heightened religiosity then falls into place, both from a individual human perspective and a national or racial perspective. It stands to reason that a new idea had to surface in order to comprehend what had happened to them. They surmised that God may have abandoned the temple, but he had not abandoned the Jewish people; instead, he followed them into captivity, just as he had during the Egyptian exile, and he would lead them out again with a new Moses. The process of collectively redefining God and his covenant with the Israelites had begun, and they started with rewriting the history of the Hebrew people in order to reestablish the covenant and its laws.
7.7.1 The destruction of the Hebrew nation and their captivity in Mesopotamia would have proved of great benefit to their expanding theology had it not been for the determined action of their priesthood. Their nation had fallen before the armies of Babylon, and their nationalistic Yahweh had suffered from the international preachments of the spiritual leaders. It was resentment of the loss of their national god that led the Jewish priests to go to such lengths in the invention of fables and the multiplication of miraculous appearing events in Hebrew history in an effort to restore the Jews as the chosen people of even the new and expanded idea of an internationalized God of all nations.
97.8.1 After the priests of the Babylonian exile had prepared their new record of God’s supposedly miraculous dealings with the Hebrews, the sacred history of Israel as portrayed in the Old Testament, they carefully and completely destroyed the existing records of Hebrew affairs — such books as “The Doings of the Kings of Israel” and “The Doings of the Kings of Judah,” together with several other more or less accurate records of Hebrew history.
During this process of the remaking of the Hebrews as the chosen people, one new idea did surface, and that is the idea that the Hebrew god Yahweh was actually the God of all people. From a human perspective, this idea served to put the Hebrew god above the Babylonian god and thus maintain their racial ego, but it surreptitiously transformed a racial god into a true monotheistic God of all people. The unfortunate part was that because Yahweh began as the Hebrew god, the Hebrews concluded that they were therefore a superior race.
To really understand how this thinking evolved, it's important to understand the ancient and primitive religious mind which believed that gods were intimately involved in the human drama and that men could become gods simply by cavorting with them. The gods were more human-like therefore it was easier for men to become more god-like. The membrane between gods and men was much thinner than we currently experience. And much of this, I believe, is merely a remnant of the days of Adam and Eve when men and gods did cavort together. In fact, the Babylonian god, Marduk, whom the Hebrew god had to supplant, was actually a perpetuation of the Adam myth. The Hebrew people had to become the true sons of God in order to dethrone Marduk and replace him with Yahweh. Incidentally however, we know from TUB that the Hebrews, at the time of Jesus, did contain one of the largest hereditary endowments from Adam and Eve.
92.5.3In Babylon the god Marduk was a perpetuation of the Adam legend, the son-of-God idea, the connecting link between man and God. Following the appearance of Adam on earth, so-called sons of God were common among the world races.
21.4.3 In the final bestowal a Creator Son appears as a member of one of the higher mortal races on some inhabited world, usually as a member of that racial group which contains the largest hereditary legacy of the Adamic stock which has previously been imported to upstep the physical status of the animal-origin peoples.
And because of this thin membrane, the higher notion of a monotheistic God of all people made it all the more difficult to maintain its thinness. It was becoming more and more difficult to rise to the level of godlikeness in the face of such a majestic God. Racial guilt of not living up to the chosen people image resulted in the necessity for harsher and stricter adherence to the laws of God in order to penetrate a much less porous membrane of righteousness. Hence, the scribes, who were not only the prophets and writers of religious history but the teachers of the law, the lawyers and judges, became an essential ingredient in the conversion of the collective psyche of the Jewish people. It was for this reason that Ezra was sent to Jerusalem. From the Persian perspective it was to control the populace, but from the Jewish perspective, it was to bring Yahweh back to the newly constructed temple. Ezra was the new Moses who was inspired to renew the covenant between Yahweh and his chosen people such that it would never happen again.
Next, more on how all of this was accomplished.