TheSecond Temple Period
Table of Contents
The Second Temple Period 1
The Persian Period 3
The rise of the Persian 3
Return from exile 4
Eras between return from exile and the destruction of the Second Temple 6
Destruction of the Second Temple 8
Prelude to the destruction of the Second Temple 8
Siege of Jerusalem and the burning of the Second Temple 9
The Herodian period and the expectation of the messiah 10
TheSecond Temple PeriodIsraelis considered to be the chosen tribe of God and most of thetribulations that it undergoes are associated with God’s punishmentfor its sins. Prior to the era of the Second Temple, the Jews hadbeen captured by the Babylonians because they failed to heed to theinstructions issued through God’s prophets and turned their back onHim. 1The rise of the Persian Empire provided some relieve for the Jews andan opportunity for them to go back and rebuild their homeland thathad been destroyed by the Babylonians. The Second Temple era wasushered in by violent defeat of the Babylonians by Persians and itwas terminated through the violent defeat of the Persians by theRomans. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the Second TemplePeriod with a focus on the Persian Period, Israelites return fromcaptivity, and the destruction of the Second Temple. The series ofmilitant and violent events that led to the capture and freedom theJews created a notion among Israelites that the expected messiahwould assume the militant role and deliver the Jews through themilitary conquest.Background
TheSecond Temple period was characterized by internal politicalupheavals, where various Jewish groups struggled for supremacy. TheSecond Temple period began in 538 BCE and ended in 70 CE. 2It was referred to as the Second Temple period because it was duringthis period of about 600 years when the Second Temple existed. Thefour Jewish sects (Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, and Zealots) wereformed, and each of the sects had a different view of worship andgovernance. The Second Temple era is divided into a different period(such as the Persian Period, Hellenistic, and Hasmonean Kingdom)where
1.Purvis, D. and Meyers, M. Exileand return: From the Babylonian destruction to the reconstruction ofthe Jewish state.Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 2002, 3
eachof the periods was characterized by distinct social and politicalfeatures. The Judaism of the era of Second Temple was shaped by twodifferent crises. The first crisis was the destruction of the FirstTemple. This subjected the Jews to a period of theological crisiswhere most of them doubted the goodness, nature, and the power ofGod. 3The second crisis occurred during Hellenism, which ended up in theMaccabean Revolt in 167 BC. The period ended with the Romanoccupation of Jerusalem and the burning of the Second Temple.
Therise of the Persian Empire
Therise of the Persian Empire was a great relieve for the Jews becauseit gave them an opportunity to return from exile and reinstate theirstyle ways of worship. The Babylonian Empire experienced significantinternal dissension that weakened it towards the end of the 550s. Theweakening of the Babylon was to the advantage of different tribesthat had been oppressed for many years. Cyrus the Great was a Persianwho managed to unify and organize the warring tribes and wage waragainst Babylon. By 550, Cyrus had conquered the empire of theMedian. 4The Medes and the Persian united and formed a joint force to expandtheir territory to the west. The joint force managed to drive aroundthe northern edges of the kingdom of Babylon and shift the Minorareas to Persian. Afterwards, Cyrus campaigned to the south and theeast, which left Babylon surrounded.
Thefall of Babylon, which paved way for the rise of the Persian wascontributed by
3.Purvis, D. and Meyers, M. Exileand return: From the Babylonian destruction to the reconstruction ofthe Jewish state.Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 2002, 33.
4.Nikoei, A. “Political relationship between Iran and the Jewish”.Journalof American Society8 no. 8 (2012): 86-90.
severalfactors. First, the act of being surrounded by warring tribes leftBabylon helpless and losing in the battle was quite obvious.Secondly, Babylonians were disaffected by rules and policies made bythe leadership of Nabonidus, which left them without the will toengage in war. 5Third, some of the trusted generals (such as Gobryas) of Nabonidusstarted defecting and joining the Persians. This was a significantblow to the Babylonian Kingdom since losing the military capacitymeant that the kingdom could not withstand any attack from thewarring tribes neither could it contain internal aggressions. Theking’s attempt to motivate the Babylonians to fight by reinstatingthe Marduk’s worship was in vain, and instead people became moredemoralized and angry. Gobryas brought the control of the city ofBabylon under Cyrus in 539. 6This allowed the Persians under the kingship of Cyrus to take controlof the Babylonian Empire and later the entire Middle East.
ThePersian rule was based on concepts of acceptance and tolerance of thediverse beliefs and cultures among people who lived in the region.The Babylonians, who were tired of ineffective policies of theNabonidus and internal conflicts, welcomed the Persian leader, whichwas perceived to be the liberator. Persian leaders (including Cyrus)reciprocated to the expectations and hopes that people had on them bytreating them generously. 7In addition, the Cyrus’ decision to restore and participate inMarduk’s worship was an attempt to address the issues thatgenerated internal conflicts during the leadership of Nabonidus.Apart from
5.Bratcher, D. OldTestament history: The Persian period and return from exile.Charlotte, NC: CRI, 2014, 1.
7.Nikoei, A. “Political relationship between Iran and the Jewish”.Journalof American Society8 no. 8 (2012): 86-90.
reinstatingreligious practices that had been banned by the Babylonian leaders,Cyrus forbade the troops from persecuting the residents. This allowedthe nation to stay for long without large-scale wars, which spared itfrom ravages of fights.
Followingthe policy of religious tolerance and the freedom of the people,Cyrus gave an edict that permitted the Israelites to go back to theirhomeland in 538. 8This marked the end of exile and the freedom of the Jews. However,the return from exile was reserved for those who wanted to go back,while those who wanted to remain in Babylon were allowed to do so.Apart from allowing the Israelites to return to Jerusalem, Cyrusordered the return of the vessels stolen from the Temple of Jerusalemand its rebuilding. 9Israelites who decided to return to Palestine were led byShechbazzar, who was the Prince of Judah. Shechbazzar was givenpartial authority over the land and was mandated to lay thefoundation for rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem, but Zerubbabelis credited by many historians for rebuilding of the temple.
Thereare no records of the massive return from exile, even after the 538edict issued by Cyrus. This phenomenon was contributed by threefactors. First, some Israelites had already established homes inBabylon, which reduced their tendency to exit a peaceful land whereoppression was no longer fashionable. 10Secondly, Israel, and Jerusalem in particular had been destroyed andmost of the Israelites knew that going back meant that they had to
8.Bratcher, D. OldTestament history: The Persian period and return from exile.Charlotte, NC: CRI, 2014.
9.Steinmann, E. “A chronological note: The return of the exiles underSheshbazzar and Zerubbabel”. Journalof the Evangelical Theological Society51 no. 3 (2008): 513-522.
8.Bratcher, D. OldTestament history: The Persian period and return from exile.Charlotte, NC: CRI, 2014.
rebuild.A large number of Israelites chose to remain in Babylon instead ofengaging in the work of rebuilding Jerusalem. Third, most Israelitesfeared facing economic and political hardships in the land that hadalready been claimed by other tries soon after they were takencaptives. Going back meant that the Israelites had to drive out thePalestine, which would not be easy for them.
Rebuildingof the Second Temple took a long time because the returneesconcentrated more on how to survive the economic and politicalhardships. However, the process was enhanced in 520 when prophetsZechariah and Haggai gave hope to the people. 11The project of reconstructing the temple was back on track leading tothe completion and dedication of the temple in 515. 12Although the Second Temple could not meet the splendor of the firsttemple that had been constructed by King Solomon, it brought back thecenter of religion back to life. The promise of the reinstatement ofthe Davidic kingdom is one of the promises that the two prophets gaveto the Israelites in order to encourage them to rebuild the temple.However, the emerging kingdom remained stagnant for the next 75 yearsfollowing the limited support it got since the Persians, thoughgenerous, could not stand the establishment of a rival kingdom.
Erasbetween return from exile and the destruction of the Second Temple
Althoughthe Israelites had regained their land, it was evident that they wereunder the foreign power that subjected them to significant cultural,political, economic, and religious
11.Steinmann, E. “A chronological note: The return of the exiles underSheshbazzar and Zerubbabel”. Journalof the Evangelical Theological Society51 no. 3 (2008): 513-522.
influences.Alexander the Great overcame the Persians in 332 BC, but his demiseresulted in the division of the Alexander’s empire among thegenerals. 13This culminated in the formation of the Seleucid Kingdom. Judaism wasgreatly impacted by Hellenistic philosophy that was developed in thethird century before Christ. The influence of Hellenistic philosophyresulted in the symbiosis of Hellenistic and the Jewish thoughts.
TheHellenistic era was followed by the era of the Hasmonean, which wascharacterized by a decline in the strength of the relationshipbetween religious Jews and Hellenized Jews. Some of the Jewishtraditions and rites were banned which sparred revolts from theorthodox Jews. 14The revolts culminated in the formation of the Judean Kingdom thatlasted between 165 and 37 BC. However, the Kingdom was disintegratedby civil wars that occurred between the sons of Hyracanus II andAristobulus II. The intervention of the Romans in civil wars resultedin the change of throne until King Herod became the pro-Roman king.
Herodwas loyal to the Romans, which reduced the chances of war between theJudean Kingdom and the Romans. The peaceful coexistence created anenvironment for expansion and growth of the Judean Kingdom. Herod wasable to renovate the Temple, initiate construction projects, andextend the kingdom to Arabia. 15Herod the King died in 4
13.Steinmann, E. “A chronological note: The return of the exiles underSheshbazzar and Zerubbabel”. Journalof the Evangelical Theological Society51 no. 3 (2008): 513-522.
14.Leslie, R. Hadrian’ssecond Jewish revolt: Political or religious?Monmouth, OR: Western Oregon University, 2005, 3.
B.C.The Judean Kingdom was then divided into three parts, resulting in aTetrarch. A new Roman province known as the Roman Judea was formed in6 AD following unrest in the Kingdom. The Heredia Kingdom wasestablished until 44 AD. The province of Roman Judea, which wasestablished in 6 ce, expanded to Herodian and Hasmonean kingdomsbefore merging into the Syria Palestine in 135 ce.
Destructionof the Second TemplePreludeto the destruction of the Second Temple
TheSecond Temple stood for approximately 420 years before it wasdestroyed in 70 AD. The strength of the Israelites had reducedsignificantly since their exile into Babylon. The loss of lives andthe sufferings that the Jews underwent while in Babylon followed by aslow rate of restoration reduced their capacity to withstand seriousbattles. By the time of the messiah, Israel had enjoyed a modestplace amidst different tribes living in the Middle East, but it hadlost its army prowess that it had during the time of King David.Although Jerusalem held a respectable temple, the priesthood had beencorrupted. The number of godly priests who sacrificed for the trueGod had reduced significantly. Cult and demonic practices werecommonplace. The once unified tribe of Israel was now divided intosubgroups, including Hellenists, Sadducees, Herodians, Scribes, andEssenes. 16
Thelife and death as well as the resurrection of Jesus seemedinsignificant to the Romans and the majority of the Jews. Soon afterthe Jesus left the earth, Emperor Julius Caesar decided to desecratethe Second Temple by forcing the Jews to place his statute in it
16.Davies, D. and Finkelstein, L. TheCambridge history of Judaism.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, 213.
andworship it. 17Julius had succeeded in forcing the entire Roman Empire toacknowledge him as the Lord and conform to the Roman cult, and it wasthe turn of the Jews to conform. However, some Jews who still heldtheir conventional monotheism were willing to sacrifice all theycould to protect the temple from defilement. The Second Temple wasspared for a moment. However, the rebellious messiahs were brutallyrepressed.
Siegeof Jerusalem and the burning of the Second Temple
Althoughthe Jews had managed to repel the Romans in the past, their civil warweakened their leadership and denied them the time they needed totrain and prepare external aggressions. After realizing the weaknessof the Zealots, Titus conducted a secret attack and took thefortress. Before this successful attack, the Romans had made severalattacks that were not fruitful. Taking the fortress gave the Romans aperfect opportunity to access and attacks the Second Temple. 18The burning of the Second Temple was not part of the Roman’s goalduring the attack. The intention of Titus was to seize the temple,transform it, and dedicate it to the Roman Empire. The defensiveattacks made by the Zealots resulted in an accidental fire that wascaused by the Roman army on one of the walls of the Temple. The firebecame uncontrollable and consumed the entire temple, in addition tothe residential places near the temple. Some Zealots managed toescape through the underground tunnels while others went to the UpperCity. The entire city of Jerusalem was now under control of theRomans, who burned the residential buildings and continued pursuingthe Zealots who managed to escape.
17.Leslie, R. Hadrian’ssecond Jewish revolt: Political or religious?Monmouth, OR: Western Oregon University, 2005, 6.
18.Davies, D. and Finkelstein, L. TheCambridge history of Judaism.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, 42.
TheHerodian period and the expectation of the messiah
TheHerodian rule that took place between 37 BCE and 68 CE ischaracterized as a war rule period. Although Herod was a murderer, hemanaged to construct significant buildings, including the magnificentpalace and the Temple. In addition, Herod managed to establishpolitical stability in Palestine. During this rule, the Palestine hada significant implication in the comprehension of the eventsassociated with the ideas of the coming of the messiah. Herodsuppressed the Jewish rebels through tight controls, which created inthem a notion that the Messiah would assume a counter political roleand deliver them from the Herodic oppression. 19The Herodian rule created an opportunity for the Romans to takecontrol of Palestine. The populace in Palestine was overburdened thanin any other time in the history of Palestine. This resulted in theemergence of numerous messianic movements, which was the major factorthat triggered the messianic revolt and the crucifixion of Jesus. Theoppressed Jews expected a messiah (or a king) who would overthrow theRomans and reestablish the Davidic Kingdom through the militaryconquest. Other factors held constant, the Jews would expect themilitary-based oppression to be countered through the militaryinterventions.
Thehumble appearance of Jesus was a disappointment to the Jews, whichresulted in the desperation and resentment of the Jews. Thisresentment was demonstrated during the first decades of the firstcentury and reached the flash point in AD 66 when the revoltoccurred. 20The expectation of a violent messiah was motivated the manner inwhich Herodian rulers assumed power. Historians have identified thatthe Herod’s overthrow of the Hasmonean
19.Meissner, W. Thykingdom come: Psychoanalytic perspective on the Messiah and themillennium.Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995, 47.
Dynastywas followed by an increase in the use of scripture to predict thecoming of a violent messiah who would have sufficient militantcapacity to challenge the legitimacy of the kings of the time,Herodian kings. 21The Jews looked forwards for a great bloodshed coupled with massivedestruction of the Jew’s enemies. Christians of the first decadesof the first century tried to create the righteous Messiah who wasmodeled through the spiritual interpretation to be a counterpart tothe rulers of the time that is the Herodian Kings. This confirms thefact that there were some exegetical traditions pertaining to Davidicmessiah, even before the Herodian rule. These traditions wereavailable when Herod the Great assumed the leadership and they wereadapted to suit the new circumstances in the first century.
Theera of the Second Temple was ushered in through the military defeatof the Babylonians and ended through the military defeat of thePersians by the Romans. This resulted in the idea that the messiahthat the Jews expected would assume the military role and fight theRomans in order to deliver the Jews. The rise of the Persian Empireprovided the Jews with an opportunity to return from exile. However,the hardships that the Jews expected from their homeland and the factthey most of them had established homes in Babylon reduces thechances for a massive return from exile. Although the rise of thePersians gave the Jews some relief, they still remained under theforeign authority that could not allow them to establish anindependent kingdom. Consequently, the Jews placed their hope on theprophesied messiah who would help them conquer the foreignauthorities and
21.Evans, A. Theinterpretation of Scripture in early Judaism and Christianity:Studies in language and tradition.London: A & C Black, 2000, 121.
establishtheir kingdom. Therefore, the coming of a righteous and a humblemessiah was a disappointment to the majority of the Jews, while thedeath as well as the resurrection of Jesus had little or nosignificance among the non-Jew tribes.
Bratcher,D. Oldtestament history: The Persian period and return from exile.Charlotte, NC: CRI, 2014.
Davies,D. and Finkelstein, L. TheCambridge history of Judaism.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Evans,A. Theinterpretation of Scripture in early Judaism and Christianity:Studies in language and tradition.London: A & C Black, 2000.
Leslie,R. Hadrian’ssecond Jewish revolt: Political or religious?Monmouth, OR: Western Oregon University, 2005.
Meissner,W. Thykingdom come: Psychoanalytic perspective on the Messiah and themillennium.Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995.
Nikoei,A. “Political relationship between Iran and the Jewish”. Journalof American Society8 no. 8 (2012): 86-90.
Purvis,D. and Meyers, M. Exileand return: From the Babylonian destruction to the reconstruction ofthe Jewish state.Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 2002.
Steinmann,E. “A chronological note: The return of the exiles underSheshbazzar and Zerubbabel”. Journalof the Evangelical Theological Society51 no. 3 (2008): 513-522.