One of the most historically relevant terms concerning the dispersion of a group worldwide is the word diaspora. It’s been used to describe Jewish communities from Europe to Africa to the Americas. Even though it’s still relevant in the world today, it’s the result of an event that happened thousands of years ago at the height of the Roman Empire.
Especially over the past century, understanding the diaspora has been critical to understanding what the Jewish population has been. This has created a lot of conflict in the modern countries of Israel and Palestine. Because of that, knowing about the dispersion of the Jews worldwide has become critical to understanding a lot of current events and circumstances.
Here is what diaspora means, its etymology, and why it’s essential to understand in the world today!
What Does Diaspora Mean?
The most common definition of the word diaspora (di-as-PO-ra) in the dictionary is the dispersion or scattering of Jewish people beyond their cultural homeland, Israel. This is one of the most famous examples of a nation being expelled from their land.
The Jewish diaspora happened a few times, primarily in the early 500s BCE and the second century CE. While migration is still fairly common, a diaspora usually happens forcibly and not by choice.
While the Jewish diaspora is likely the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when the word is used, it also describes the dispersion of other groups. This forcible group migration has happened in Southeast Asia, North America, Africa, India, China, and Mexico.
What Is the Etymology of the Word Diaspora?
The word diaspora has fascinating origins. Its roots are found in two Greek words that formed a single compound word. The word dia, meaning “across,” and speirein, which means “scatter,” came together to form the term diaspeirein, which means “disperse.”
The first place that this term was seen is in the earliest written books of the Bible, known as the Septuagint. In Deuteronomy 28:25, the actual usage of that phrase is found. It describes how the body of Jewish people worldwide will be dispersed across “all kingdoms of the Earth,” which is precisely what happened thousands of years later.
What Is the History Behind the Diaspora?
The history of the diaspora is complex. After gaining freedom from enslavement in Egypt, the Jewish people traveled to modern Israel and made it their homeland. They created a prosperous kingdom that became a significant power in the ancient world.
As time went on, the nation split into two different countries — the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. Following that, the Babylonians came to both domains, taking large numbers of Jewish people back to their homeland as enslaved people. This Babylonian captivity affected many people living in that area and resulted in the essential end of the kingdom of Israel.
Hundreds of years later, the Roman Empire took control of the city of Jerusalem, and by extension, the remaining kingdom of Judah. Following the cultural and religious persecution, much of the Jewish population revolted against their Roman rulers. However, this rebellion failed and resulted in the mass emigration of the Jewish people away from their homeland. They ended up worldwide, and many of these people’s families remain in the places that their ancestors fled to this very day.
How Is the Diaspora Relevant Today?
Around the 19th century, many people advocated for the Jewish people group to have access to their homeland. Following World War II in the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of Jewish people flocked back to their ancestral land from all kinds of places like New York, Los Angeles, London, Canada, Africa, and Asia. These people who used to be refugees believed that they had been restored to their original homeland.
This has created conflict, however. Jerusalem especially is a place with tons of religious and cultural significance to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. That, compounded with the fact that the site was already inhabited as the country of Palestine, has created lots of ethical and humanitarian debates.
These conflicts are still raging on to this day, with many people on either side of this ethical debate. However, the nation of Israel is still seen as a country, with all kinds of conflict and peace processes going on in the former diaspora community and their new neighbors. No matter what side you fall on, knowing the history of the diaspora makes it much easier to understand why the conflict is happening and gives you good context on both sides of the conflict.
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