The historical significance in the rebuilding of the Second Temple is that this period went through a number of events both in political and religious spheres that largely defined the way of life during the time of Jesus. The Second Temple period, which lasted between 516 BCE and 70 CE, witnessed a number of political and religious transformations in the Jewish history with the spreading of Christianity among the Jewish people. Moreover, the end of the Second Temple period was as drastic as its beginning with the rise of Jewish-Roman war and the subsequent destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. As a result of these events, groups and individuals, who lived during that period, encountered new religious and cultural practices which were so uncommon to Judeans. A number of events could be deduced from this period because it is an influential period in the study of the religious and political history of the Jewish and their neighbors. This paper discusses a brief history of the Second Temple period, highlighting the events and individuals who influenced the Jews and the land of Israel.
The Zerubbabel Entry
The Second Temple Period is crucial in the history of the Jewish people not so for the duration of the period, around 600 hundred years to be precise, but because of the numerous prominent dynasties and rulers that were in reign during this period. Because of the multiplicity and frequent change of leaders, various political and religious ideologies were born during this period. This period was characterized by the repatriation of the Jewish people, led by Zerubbabel who descended from the House of David. A hundred years later, Ezra the Scribe also led the return of the second group of Jews to Israel, establishing a different self-rule under the Persians from 538 to 333 BCE and Ptolemaic and Seleucid — collectively known as a Hellenistic regime – from 332 to 142 BCE. It was the return of the second group of Jews under Ezra that inspired the uprising of different leadership regimes in the land of Israel. This also encouraged the construction of the Second Temple even though this period is believed to begin 200 years before the actual construction began.
The Great Assembly
Similarly, the second group also inspired the refortification of the walls surrounding Jerusalem and establishment of the Great Assembly in Israel which was known as AnsheiKnesset HaGedolah. The assembly was charged with the responsibility to act as overseer in religious and judicial matters concerning the Jewish people, which signified the official beginning of the Second Temple period. Judah thus came about as a trustworthy state in the large Persian Empire which could be trusted with matters of priesthood and formation of the council of elders in the entire Jerusalem. This period had a number of dynasties such as the Hasmonean dynasty which ruled for 80 years between 142-63 BCE. The dynasty was led by several leaders starting with Mattathias who was a direct descendant of the Hasmonean family and succeeded by his son Judah Maccabee. Their rein saw the entry of the Jews in Jerusalem and purification of the Temple and establishment of the annual festival Hannuka.
The Hasmonean Dynasty
Around this time, the Seleucids regained their autonomy from Judea following a series of victories over Hasmoneans. The Hasmonean family was friendly to the Seleucids allowing them to regain autonomy it has lost before. This was a political transformation that was happening in the land of Israel around this period. The autonomous Kingdom of Seleucids lasted only for eighteen years from 147 BCE to 129 BCE when the independence of the Jewish people was achieved. During the period of Hasmonean dynasty, a lot of political consolidations were happening. The kingdom even regained several miles in boundaries akin to the Solomon’s realm, allowing the Jewish nation to flourish and expand its influence in the political and religious spheras in Judea.
The complexion of the building works on the Second Temple byZerubbabel, Sheshbazzar's nephew, who followed him as governor from 522 BCE, was a significant to the history of the Jews people in Israel. A number of factors contributed to the growing need of construction of the Second Temple. The First Temple was returned to the Jews as facilitation and encouragement to rebuild it. As noted by Anderson, the original structure of the Second Temple, before Hasmoneans refurbished it, was done by Herod at the decree of King of Persia called Cyrus II the Great. Even with the decree of the King of Persia that the Second Temple should be constructed in the land of Jews, there was an opposition from aggressors who had subjugated Judea after their exile. These people had a direct connection with the aristocracy of Samaria. However, others, like Haggai and Zechariah, encouraged the complexion of the Second Temple. The rebuilding works continued in the second year of reign of Darius, around 521 BCE. There was a lot of resistance to the rebuilding of the Second Temple from the neighbors of Judea. Nevertheless, the Judeans carried on with the rebuilding the temple.
The Herodian Dynasty and the Struggle between Sons of Herod
One of defining dynasties during the Second Temple period was the Herod, which numerous successes in growth and expansion characterized their reign. The most essential factor in the rapid success of Herod, the king over Judea, was his close association with Roman Empire, which helped him to conquer regions as a far as Arabia and set up great and ambitious projects such as the construction and renovation of the fallen Temple. Of course, the Second Temple had been started by Zerubbabel, but construction was stalled because of prevailing political and religious transformations in the land of Israel. This is because the political and religious situation required that following kings focused on conquering more kingdoms and spreading their religious and political ideologies. In the process, the construction of the Second Temple had stalled, but the Judean Kingdom under the leadership of Herod was able to accomplish the renovation of the temple while, at the same time, focusing on the expansion of the bordering territories.
The Tetrarchy Leadership
The death of Herod in 4 BCE saw the subdivision of his vast Kingdom amongst his four sons, forming what later became known as Tetrarchy, with Herod Archelaus getting the central tetrachy. This area included prominent and famous regions of Samaria, Judea, and Idumea which set Herod Archelaus to a greater level of influence than his brothers. Because of the continuing wrangles between the Herod brothers, the region became vulnerable to the enemies and was conquered by the Romans. This led to the subsequent formation of the Roman Judea. However, the other brothers were able to hold on their tetrarchs longer, retaining the power until their death. For instance, Philip, who died in 34 CE, passed the mantle to Herod Agrippa. A number of events were influencing and shaping the leadership roles in the Herod’s dynasty which was led by his sons after his death. The Agrippa’s leadership in Ituraea and Trachonitis started after his brother Herod was dethroned in Chalcis. The death of Herod Antipas in 39 CE allowed Ituraea and Trachonitis to become the rulers of Galilee. Subsequent conquers allowed the Herod Kingdom to expand and led to the suspension of the Roman influence in the region.
Major Events during the Second Temple Period
The religious and political environment in the Judea played a crucial role in shaping political, cultural, and religious practices at the end of the period in 70 CE. For instance, the Judea region was facing three major crises coupled with differing reactions from different factions within the Jews themselves. It was as though the people in each faction were extremely sensitive to a smaller matter which sometimes was insignificant to the religious and political development of the Judaism. However, three major events during this period changed entirely the life of Jews both politically and religious. First, the 587 and 586 BCE’s destruction of the Jewish Kingdom left the Jewish aloof and suspicious amongst rulers of different states in the land of Israel and the neighboring states. As such, this marked the sensitivity of the Judaism in the land of Israel even as different states came up claiming to represent the interests of the Jewish people. Moreover, the destruction of the Jewish Kingdom made the Judaism to rise as a movement with the aim of conquering every kingdom around it. This was seen as a protective measure that could help to eliminate the vulnerability of the almost scattered Judeans. The second event deals with incidences that happened during the Second Temple period and was characterized by the loss of independence of Judeans, collapse of the monarchy system, destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem, and the taking of Judeans into captivity in Babylon. This event led to the Judeans being threatened with the loss of their theological identity as the religious nature power, and their faith was put to a question by the subsequent kingdoms who ruled over them. Moreover, the Judeans faced challenges in terms of race, culture, and religion as other races in the land of Babylon influenced their traditions negatively. Moreover, the Judeans were lacking an important ingredient in their religious practices as they did not have a prophet to conduct their divine rites. In essence, they were in embarrassed as they continued to leave without a divine guidance.
The other event that had influenced the religious and political life in the Judea during the Second Temple period was the increasing influence of Hellenism that caused the rise of the Maccabean Revolution in the year 167 BCE. Similarly, the Judeans were disenchanted with the occupation of the region by Pompeii or Pompey, presently located in Italy, and the capture of the city of Jerusalem in the year 63 BCE. Furthermore, around 63 BCE, the Roman senate appointed Herod the Great as the King of the Jews without their consent, making the disillusionment to escalate. King Herod was given an expansive region, including the modern day Israel and Palestine, with the Jews at a time when they were looking for the divine leadership and had been left without a prophet for a long period of time. To this end, various religious and political groups had arisen amongst the Jews, even each group sought to find the right direction both in religious and political identity. It was a period when anything could be taken as truth and could attract many people across the land of Judea. These religious and political groups were appearing around until the ministry of Jesus.
The other dynasty which ruled during the Second Temple period was the Maccabean dynasty. The dynasty reign lasted from 167 BCE to 135 BCE. It was characterized by the struggle between Mattathias and his five sons with the intent of liberation of Judea from the autonomous Seleucid dominion, which had been vested with power by the Hasmonean family. In essence, the Seleucid kingdoms were threatening to assimilate the Jews in terms of cultural, political and religious practices. The Maccabean dynasty was automatically involved in undoing or reversing the situation that the Hasmonean dynasty had caused by giving autonomy to the Seleucid kingdom.
The fall of the Zadokite Priesthood
The circumstances leading to the rise of the Maccabean dynasty were not salacious in sense that it was preceded by the murder of Onias III, the then High Priest in Jerusalem, by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. It, thus, went against the long held tradition of Zadokite priesthood in Judea. More drastic was the selling of the office of the High Priest of Jerusalem to the highest bidder, which meant that anyone could become a leader and a high priest in the Jewish land. Different groups placed their bids leading a bloody power struggle amongst the Jewish themselves, especially among the Hellenizers and traditionalists. In this struggle, the Maccabeans were representing the traditionalists who wanted to maintain the status quo for the office of the High Priest. During the whole period, the office of the High Priest never went back to the traditional legitimate line of hereditaty of Zadokite priesthood. In the end, the position of priesthood was heavily politicized until the end of the Second Temple period.