Israel Short History, Part 2: The Second Temple Period
Despite the trauma and exile to Babylon the Jewish people kept their identity and culture, and 70 years later, when the opportunity was given to return to the Land of Zion, they came back. This movement, called “return to Zion” is recorded in the last books of the Bible (Ezra and Nehemiah), and in modern times the Jewish movement for returning to Zion will take same name – “Zionism“.
The Jews rebuilt Jerusalem and its temple, and over the next centuries they will thrive. In the second century BCE they successfully rebelled against the Seleucid Greeks and formed an independent Jewish kingdom for about a century. The event of re-gaining control of over the Temple and purifying it is commemorated to this day by a holiday called Hannukah.
But in 63 BCE the Roman general Pompeius conquers Jerusalem, killing 12,000 Jews, and entering the temple, even the Holy of Holies. He declares the Jewish kingdom is now vassal to the Roman Empire, and is named PROVINCIA IVDAEA. The Romans allow the Jews to continue their odd cult (worshipping only one God, that has no physical image??.. how bizzar….) and resting every seventh day (=Shabbath), BUT – a new tax is introduced.. The Royal Jewish Hasmonean family continues to rule for about 20 years, but in 40 BCE the Romans appoint a new governor to the province – Herod “the Great”.
Herod is of Edomite origin. His grandparents were converted by force to Judaism, but he was not considered a “real Jew” by the Jews, nor did he consider himself as one. He was Roman more then anything else. At the age of 25 he is governor of the Galillee, and at 33 (40 BCE) he is appointed “tetrarch” of PROVINCIA IVDAEA. He proves to be a tough ruler over his subjects, brutally suppressing any Jewish opposition. On the other hand Herod initiated many extravagant building projects, and in he is considered the biggest builder ever in the Holy land. In Caesarea he takes a nearly sand dune in turns it to one of the biggest man made port in his time (!).
In Jerusalem Herod builds himself a large palace, a fortress, he adds markets, and above all – he rebuilds the Jewish temple in an unprecedented scale. He flattens the mountain by massive retaining walls, forming a plaza equal in size to 26 football fields (!). The temple itself is replaced with a complete new one. This amazing edifice draws Jewish pilgrims and visitors. Contemporary Roman historians stated that Jerusalem is “by far, the most beautiful of the cities in the East”.
The tragedy is that this marvellous city will be completely destroyed, again, this time by the Romans. Following the death of King Herod, The Romans eventually appointed Roman governors (“procurators”) to rule the province. Most famous of the was Pontius Pilatus, who sentanced to death a Jew from the Galilee (Jesus from Nazareth) who claimed Kingdom of Heaven is soon to come.
By 66 CE the Jews were fed up with Roman control and declared a rebellion against them, hoping to achieve indepandacne, as they have achieved previously against the Seleucid Greeks. Big mistake!!. in 65 CE the Romans had 27 legions (each bearing 5000 tough Italians!), plus many auxiliary forces. And they had no other frontiers at that time!. After arragnging four legions, Vespasian and his son Titus lead their forces and suppressed brutally the Jewish orebbelion. Famous battles in the north took place in Yodfat and Gamla.
Summer of year 70 CE Jerusalem itself is conquered, and on the ninth day of the month of Av the temple itself is destroyed. Again the Jews are banned form Jerusalem; again their temple is destroyed; again their city is demolished. This exile will last nearly 2000 years (but we are back!)
Following the destruction of Jerusalem the Romans have a whole legion stationed in the city to make sure the Jews will not make another attempt to rebel and conquer the city. They will also be the force that will conquer in 73/4 CE the last Jewish stronghold at Masada.
Read Our Take on the Rest of the History of the Holy Land –
- Israel Historical Introduction, Part 1: Canaanite and Israelite Periods
- Israel Historical Introduction, Part 2: The Second Temple Period
- Israel Historical Introduction, Part 3: Roman and Byzantine Periods
- Israel Historical Introduction, part 4: The Crusades and the Islamic Periods
- Israel Historical Introduction, part 5: Modern Times