I’m curious about “diaspora Jews.” Besides the Elephantine group, were other Jewish communities more aware of Jewish practices, especially closer to the Promised Land?

The evidence from the text itself, which describes conflicts between the Judahite groups and another group (perhaps Samaritans) to the north, suggests that the Jerusalem group didn’t necessarily see other Torah-following groups as part of the same nation. We see this group offer to help rebuild the temple, but they are rejected. In Jesus’s time, the Samaritans were considered separate, and the two groups mutually despised each other Jesus’s efforts to reach out to this group were not accepted. The Samaritans still exist today. They accept the Torah but no other biblical texts.

Besides the letters from the Elephantine community, I’m not aware of outside evidence from other groups, so I’m not about the answer to your community. I do know that in Paul’s time, Jewish synagogues existed all over the Roman empire. The first-century historian Josephus mentions important Jewish communities in Syria, Egypt, and Babylon, but I don’t know how old they were. Below are some quotes from Wikipedia, which is a good starting place (No, you shouldn’t cite Wikipedia in your research papers). 

From Wikipedia: 

The entry on Diaspora Judaism is really helpful, especially the part on early diaspora Judaism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_diaspora#Early_diaspora_populations (Links to an external site.) 

On the Samaritans (from the Wikipedia entry on Second Temple Judaism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Temple_Judaism#The_diaspora (Links to an external site.) )

“For most of the Second Temple period Samaria was larger, richer, and more populous than Judea—down to about 164 BCE there were probably more Samaritans (Links to an external site.) than Judeans living in Palestine.[19] (Links to an external site.) They had their own temple on Mount Gerizim (Links to an external site.) near Shechem (Links to an external site.) and regarded themselves as the only true Israel, the remnant left behind when Israel was deceived by the wicked priest Eli to leave Gerizim and worship at Jerusalem.[20] (Links to an external site.) Second Temple Judeans regarded them as foreign converts and the offspring of mixed marriages, and therefore of impure blood.[21] (Links to an external site.) Relations between the two communities were often strained, but the definitive break dates from the destruction of the Gerizim temple and of Shechem by a Hasmonean king in the late 2nd century BCE; before that the Samaritans seem to have regarded themselves as part of the wider Jewish community, but afterwards they denounced the Jerusalem temple as completely unacceptable to God.[22] 

For more on this, see these resources:

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