Babylonian and Persian Periods
This formative period saw the emergence of the Israelites. Beginning with the decline of the great powers of the Ancient Near East around 1200 BCE, it lasted over six hundred years, until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Bible records many of the important events of these times.
The Israelites began as a loosely organized, rural society. Over time, they succeeded in establishing a kingdom. The heart of the kingdom was its capital, Jerusalem; the heart of Jerusalem was the Temple.Not long after the kingdom formed, however, struggles for succession divided it into two: the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south.
The Assyrians destroyed the Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE. About 130 years later, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia, sent his army to Judah to subdue a rebellious Jerusalem. The city was destroyed, and the Temple was put to the torch. The Babylonians sent a significant part of the population into exile.
Babylonia fell to Cyrus, King of Persia, in 539 BCE. Shortly thereafter, the new ruler allowed the exiles to return to the Land and rebuild their Temple. Judah, now called Yehud, became a Persian province, until it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE.