After the exile in Babylon some of the Jews (and from that time onwards it is right to call them Jews) returned to the land of Israel. Nehemia takes up the story.
Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one unit of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. (Nehemiah 11:1)
The rest of the Israelites, with the priests and Levites, were in all the towns of Judah, each on his ancestral property. […] As for the villages with their fields, some of the people lived […] in En-Rimmon, in Zorah […] and their villages. […] So they were living all the way from Beersheba to the Valley of Hinnom. (Nehemiah 11:20,29,30)
The resettlement was part of the policy of the Persian empire after it defeated the Babylonians. Little wonder that the Persian emperor Cyrus was considered a Savior by the Jews, a man through whome the LORD worked out his purposes.
This is what the LORD says to his annointed,
to Cyrus whose right hand I take hold of
to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor,
to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut.
“For the sake of Jacob my servant,
of Israel my chosen,
I summon you by name
and bestow on you a title of honor,
though you do not acknowledge me.”
Evidence of renewed settlement was uncovered on Tell Halif, especially a Persian administrative centre. But what we found in the last few years were mainly figurine parts. It seems they were part of some religious activity on the hill of En-Rimmon. Similar figures were found throughout the western Persian empire. After all their experiences, why were the Jews now turning to these religious images? What meaning did they hold for them?
They did have figurines before, of course, but here on Tell Halif never before in those numbers. One aspect that is noticeable about the figurines portraying naked bodies: their proportions are fairly natural and the breasts and sexual organs are not emphasized as much as they were in earlier times.