The Jewish dispersion (diaspora) was another factor that had an impact on the Jewish idea of family and household. The diaspora began in 722 B.C.E. when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom. Many Israelites were taken to other parts of the Assyrian Empire and other Assyrians were resettled in their place. The newcomers brought their religions with them and their religions became intermingled with Judaism, resulting in syncretistic practices.
The southern Kingdom of Judea fell to the Babylonians more than a century later and most of the inhabitants were taken in exile in 586 B.C.E. Many returned to Judea decades later after the Persians had supplanted the Babylonians. The temple was rebuilt by 516 B.C.E. and the region experienced relative peace for nearly two more centuries.
Then, in 331 B.C.E., Alexander the Great led the Greeks in conquest of the Persians. Upon his death, the region was thrown into turmoil as the Seleucid (Babylon and Syria) and the Ptolemy (Egypt) factions battled each other. Ptolemy I, who reigned 322-283, carried off some Jews to Alexandria. Alexandria would become a large Jewish center.
The Jews in Judea experienced a time of relative peace under the Ptolemic Empire of the third century B.C.E. Ptolemy II had the Hebrew Bible translated into Greek (The Septuagint). The number of Jews becoming Hellenized was substantial. It was also during this century that various sects like the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes began to emerge in response to foreign influences.
The Seleucid Empire conquered Judea in 198 B.C.E and shortly thereafter began an aggressive campaign of forced Hellenization. That led to the Maccabee Rebellion and the founding of the independent Hasmonean Kingdom, which prevailed from about 164-63 B.C.E. In 63 B.C.E., Roman forces led by Pompey reduced the Kingdom to a client state of Rome and some Jews were brought to Rome as slaves.
There were other forced relocations of Jews. Antiochus of Syria relocated some Jews from Babylon to Phrygia and Lydia in Asia Minor in the third century. But there was also a policy among Greek rulers of giving incentives for colonization. Many Jews appear to have responded to these incentives. The net result was that by New Testament times, there were about 2.5 million Jews living in Palestine and 4 to 6 million Jews living outside Palestine in nearly every major city in the Roman Empire.
By Jesus’ time, the “House of Israel” was far from where it started. Instead of a federation of households, clans, and tribes, living in stewardship of land entrusted to them by God, they were now scattered across the known world. Many Jews outside Judea no longer spoke or read Hebrew and they had become heavily influenced by Greek culture. They had also become overwhelmingly urban. The political leadership within Judea had also become acculturated to Greek living. Because of the lack of surviving evidence, it is difficult to know what level of influence Greek culture had on common Jews living in Palestine. It is worth noting that common folks tended to be supportive of the populist Pharisees who resisted Greek culture and sought to revive ancient Jewish culture.
What is remarkable is that through the oppression of Israelite monarchies and through the diaspora, the idea of the “Household of Israel” and being “Sons of Abraham” persisted down to Jesus day. For many the relationship was one of fictive family without knowing formal lineage. The image of family had become intertwined with monarchy and nationalism but nevertheless the image of a family birthed by God through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve tribes never lost it is hold.
When Jesus entered the world, he was born amidst two competing “households.” One was the “Household of Israel,” longing to be free from oppression and wanting to return to an era where God’s chosen people would rule as in the glory days of King David. The other household was the “Household of Caesar,” imposed upon the world by Augustus Caesar, the “son of god” who brought the good news of peace to the world, having vanquished all opposition.