Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon:
Nebuchadnezzar might be the best thing that ever happened to Jewish culture - and thus to much of our thinking today. He was in that sense "an agent of the Lord sent to punish Judah for its wickedness," as Jeremiah had prophesized. Gently creating the world's first brain drain - leaving the useless poor at home and without the colonizing cruelty of the Assyrians which previously had "Samaritanized" Israel - he laid the foundation to Judaism. In the periods of self-government and prosperity - such as under Solomon, under the Hasmoneans and under Herod the Great - the Jews always seemed drawn to neighboring religions, whether Canaanite, Philistine-Phoenician or Greek. Jeremiah was the first to perceive that powerlessness and goodness was somehow linked and alien rule and diaspora preferable to self-rule. The Babylonian captivity was short, but its creative force overwhelming and lasting. Thus our 83rd great-grandfather literally took captive much of our thinking today.
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