The Time of The Second Temple (430
|Return from Exile
|The Babylonian empire fell to the armies of the
Medes and Persians in 538 BCE. The Persian ruler, Cyrus,
adopted a policy of allowing exiles from various nations to return
to their homeland. In 515 BCE, Cyrus issued an edict allowing the
Jews in Babylon to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their place of
a very small percentage of the Jews in exile actually returned to
Jerusalem at this time. They very quickly became discouraged at the
challenge of rebuilding not only the temple, but their lives in the
ruins of Judea. A
second, larger group led by priests and scribes returned around 430 BCE.
Among this group was Ezra the scribe.
He brought with him the Pentateuch – the Five Books
of Moses – probably in their present form.
This second group that returned from Exile succeed in establishing
some form of government for Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls of the
city. In addition, they constructed a rather unimpressive
temple. Nevertheless, the Second Temple would grow into an
impressive structure over the coming centuries.
The importance of the rebuilt Temple was
significant. Sacrifice and the priesthood were reinstated, and the
Temple became the focal point of Judaism. Tt
be emphasized, however, that the majority of Jews continued to
live outside of Judea. These were the Jews of the diaspora.
Thus, the importance of the synagogue, the rabbi, the dietary laws, the
Sabbath, etc. continued to be more important to most Jews than the
Temple and priesthood in Jerusalem.
|Hellenism and the Maccabean
political situation in Judea changed in 333 BCE when Alexander the
Great conquered the region. Greek or Hellenistic culture
influenced all of society, but especially the upper classes. During the
reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 BCE) an effort was made to
impose Hellenistic (Greek)
culture on Judea.
This included outlawing the Sabbath, the Torah, circumcision and other aspects
164 BCE Antiochus ordered that the
altar in the temple in Jerusalem be used to sacrifice pigs to the god
Zeus. Resentment boiled over into open rebellion, led by Judas
Maccabeus. The rebellion led to a measure of independence for Judea
under the successors of Judas
|During the time of Maccabean rule, three main religious
- The Sadducees: priestly, aristocratic, conservative,
politically powerful. The Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch as
scritpures, and they did not believe in angels or resurrection.
- The Pharisees: focused on applying law to every day life of
people. Pharisees accepted the prophetic books as scripture and believed in angels and the resurrection.
- The Essenes:
ascetic group practiced
communal living, obedience and study. They believe that the end of
time was at hand and that there was to be a culminating battle between
the sons of light and the sons of darkness. The Essene apparently
practiced ritual washings similar to baptism and encourage themselves
and other to prepare for the end of
the age. One group of Essenes that lived at Qumran was was responsible for
the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Rule (63 BCE)
|Led by Pompey, the Romans conquered Judea in
64 BCE. Their
oppressive rule and insensitivity to Judaism led to unrest and calls for rebellion. During this time,
two movements gained momentum:
- Messianism: expectation of a divine ruler who would
intervene, defeat the Romans and establish God's rule on earth.
- Zealots: anti-Roman militia based in Galilee.
Open rebellion broke out against the Romans in 66
CE. 70 CE, the
Romans finally brutally suppressed the rebellion and destroyed the
Temple in Jerusalem. By a remarkable coincidence the temple was
destroyed on the 9th of Ab - the same day that the first temple was
One group of rebels remained in the fortress of
Masada in the Judean wilderness until Roman legions finally conquered it
in 73 BCE. Inside the fortress, only a few survivors were found.
Most had chosen to commit suicide rather than surrender to the Romans.
In 132 CE, another rebellion broke out in response
to Roman plans to build a Temple to Jupiter on the site of Solomon's
Temple. As a result of this rebellion, most of the towns of
Judea were destroyed, and Sabbath observance, circumcision and reading
of the Torah were forbidden. Jews
were allowed to enter Jerusalem only once a year on the anniversary of
the destruction of the temple. On that day they could go to the
foundation wall of the Temple to pray and lament the loss of the Temple.
This wall became known as the Wailing Wall.