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5000 Years in 5 Minutes, Part 2: The Second Temple Period

The Second Temple Period

city of david night show

A nighttime presentation at the City of David presenting the Jewish return from Babylonian Exile

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“.

Western Wall Hannukah

An Ultra Orthodox boy standing in front of a Hannukiah at the Plaza of the Western Wall

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.

Ancient Jewish Bronze Coin

Ancient Jewish Bronze coin minted by one of the Hasmonean Kings (Alexander Janneus) in the 1st Century BCE

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”.

caesarea theatre

Caesarea’s ancient Theatre built by King Herod

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 (!).

Southern Wall Archaeological Park

Remarkable Remains of Herod’s Temple Mount in Jerusalem visible at the Southern Wall Archaeological Park

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”.

via dolorosa stations of cross

Christian Pilgrims walking along the “Via Dolorosa“, the traditional path from the site of the trial of Jesus to the site of his Crucifixion – the “Golgotha“.

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.

Private tour to Yodfat

Display of Roman shields at the battle site of Yodfat

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 Yodefat and Gamla.

burnt house jerusalem

Audio Visual Show at the “Burnt House“, a 2000 years old dwelling in Jerusalem destroyed and burnt by the Romans

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!)

Flag at Masada

Flag of the modern State of Israel at Masada

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.


Trivia Question: How accurate is the description of Josephus on the conquest and the Jewish group suicide at Masada?

Answer: On one hand ample of evidence of the Rebels have been discovered, and yet some finds (and lack of finds) raises questions on what really happened on Masada. To find out all the details I recommend hiring a tour to the site.. 🙂

On to the Roman and Byzantine Periods