TheSecond Temple Period

Titleof course:



Introduction ii

The Three Predicaments ii

The Persian Rule iii

Hasmonen Dynasty v

Herodian Dynasty vi

Hellenistic influence on the Jewish Culture and the expectation of the Messiah vii


Thesecond temple period is a crucial era in the Jewish history. Itlasted between 530 BCE and 70 CE. The period experienced theinception of groups such as the Sadducees, Zealots, Pharisees, andEssenes. However, it came to an end after the destruction of theTemple during the Jewish-Roman war. In this period, the Jewish peoplewere led by five successive generations of Zugot leaders. Thegenerations included the Persians, Greeks, Hasmonean dynasty, and theRomans. During this age, Second Temple Judaism was molded by threemain predicaments. This paper will illustrate how the differentcrises molded or rather shaped the Second Temple Judaism period.Additionally, the events that transpired influenced the Jews inseveral ways leading up to and during the time of Christ. This paperwill also focus on the Hellenistic influence on the Christianculture. In this article, I will discuss the history of the SecondTemple period in detail. It includes the Persian rule, Herodian andHasmonean dynasties. Additionally, the Greek culture had asignificant influence on early Christians. This paper will,therefore, outline how the Hellenistic rule influenced the Jews andearly Christians.

TheThree Predicaments

Thefirst case that shaped Second Temple Judaism was the demolition ofthe Kingdom of Judah in 587/6 BCE. The people lost their holy city aswell as their First Temple. What followed was an exodus to bondage inBabylon. As slaves, they were depleted of their religious rights andforced to worship other gods. Apart from the divine challenges, theyencountered racial and cultural discriminations. The lack of renownedprophets was also detrimental to their spiritual life.

Theother predicament that molded the Second Temple Judaism wasinstigated by Hellenism. The Hellenistic era influenced the Jewishculture in great magnitudes. It was at this juncture that the JewishBible was translated into Greek.

TheRoman occupation in the area was another crisis that shaped SecondTemple Judaism. The Herodian Kingdom is a popular era that impactedsignificantly on Judeans.

Inthis paper, I will discuss the history of the Second Temple period indetail. The period was characterized by different rules chief amongthem being the Hellenistic dynasty. Others included the Persian rule,Herodian and Hasmonean dynasties. This paper will seek to explore thedifferent rules and their impacts on Judeans.

ThePersian Rule

ThePersian dynasty is typified by the reign of King Cyrus II, also knownas Cyrus the Great. Jews will relate with King Cyrus since hedelivered them from bondage. After capturing Babylon, King Cyruslater embarked on freeing the Jews to return to their homeland. Evenwithin his territory, Cyrus the Great implemented an autonomouspolicy that allowed conquered regions to be independent. The Jewsbenefited from this system and were allowed to conduct theirreligious practices. The King was only interested on the taxes.

Zerubbabel,a descendant of King David, was given the mantle to lead the firstcrop of Jews made up of around 50,000 people towards their homeland.Less than a century later, Ezra followed up with the second group.Though they were left to move to their homes, the Jews were stillunder the Persian rule. Inside the boundaries of the Persian Realm,Judah was a state whose headship was assigned to the council ofelders and high priest in Jerusalem.

Ingeneral, the onset of the Second Temple Period was marked by fourevents i.e.

  • The return of the Jews from exile

  • The building of the Second Temple

  • The strengthening of the walls of Jerusalem

  • The formation of the Great Assembly as the ultimate judicial and religious body of the Jewish people.

Theconstruction of the Second Temple was accomplished under the guidanceof the last three Jewish Prophets Malachi, Zechariah, and Haggai,with Persian support and financing. However, the construction processwas not as smooth as the Jews had anticipated. For instance, afterbeing denied the chance to help out in the construction of theTemple, the Samaritans frustrated the Jews, sending messages to Susaand Ecbatana resulting in the deferment of the development process.Things worsened after the demise of King Cyrus. In fact, the buildingprocess stagnated when Smerdis occupied the throne for around eightmonths. However, matters changed for the better in 522 BCE, whenDarius became King. During the first phase of his rule, Darius had todeal with revolts in his realm that involved a battle with Greece.TheJews started benefitting in Darius’s second year in power when heallowed the construction process to resume. Though it took them quitea while, the construction process ended in the spring of 516 BCE whenthe temple was ready for consecration. This was more than 20 yearssince the Jews returned from bondage. It was a moment that unifiedthe Jews who came together to offer thanksgiving and sacrifices. Aspredicted by Haggai, the glory of the second temple was bound to begreater that even the first. Although the Jews rejoiced, they werenot completely autonomous. They were still subject to foreign rule.In general, the Persian rule is associated with the return of theJews from bondage and the successful construction of the Temple.

Theperiod was marked by the rise of Alexander the Great, who defeatedthe Persians in 332 BCE. Hellenistic monarchies were formed all overnortheast Africa (Ptolemaic empire), Southwest Asia (Pergamon andSeleucid Empires), and South Asia (Indo-Greek Kingdom, Greco-BactrianKingdom). This led to the exchange of Greek cultures across themonarchs. The kingdoms were influenced by the indigenous cultures,embracing local practices where necessary.

TheHellenistic culture was core in the prosperity of various sects. Inthis era, Judaism was also impacted significantly by the Hellenisticphilosophy that was created from the third century BCE, particularlythe Jewish diaspora in Alexandria. This ultimately led to thecompilation of the Septuagint (a translation of the Hebrew Bible intoKoine Greek). Philo Judaeus was the key figure during this period. Hewas a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who tried to fuse the Jewish andGreek philosophies. He used allegories to harmonize the twophilosophies. In his assertions, literal interpretations of the Biblewould asphyxiate humanity’s perception of God. Two sects of Jewsemanated from the inception of Hellenistic cultures i.e. thereligious Jews and the Hellenized Jews. The Hellenized Jews adoptedsome cultures whereas the religious group stood by their cultures.


TheHasmonean dynasty ruled Judea between 140 BCE and 37 BCE. With therelationship between religious Jews and Hellenized Jewsdeteriorating, in fights within the group became common. It reached apoint where Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes had to enforcerulings that banned some Jewish religious practices. Subsequently,the orthodox Jews revolted under the kingship of the Hasmonean. Theinsurgency ultimately resulted in the realization of a sovereignJudean territory, under the Hasmonean Family. The reign was formedunder the headship of Simon Maccabaeus.As per historical findings, including the first volume of The JewishWar, Antiochus IV successfully invaded the Ptolemaic Egypt kingdombut faced interference from the Roman Republic. Antiochus thenfocused on the Seleucid satrapy of Coele Phoenicia and Syria. Hedismissed Jerusalem as well as its Temple, conquering the Samaritanand Jewish religious and cultural followers, and imposed Hellenisticbeliefs. The resultant rebellion by the Jews instigated a 25-yearperiod of Jewish freedom potentiated by the constant downfall of theSeleucid Kingdom under assaults from the rising supremacies ofthe Parthian dynasty and the Roman Republic.

TheDynasty ultimately crumbled due to the civic conflict between thesons of Salome Alexandra – Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II. Duringthis period, people approached the Roman administration to appealagainst governance by the king. Most of them wanted to be led bytheocratic clergies. Pompey then led a Roman intrusion in the civilwar in Judea. The demises of Caesar, Pompey (48 BCE), and theresultant Roman civil wars momentarily calmed Rome`s hold on Israel,allowing a short-lived Hasmonean renaissance under the ParthianEmpire. However, this was crushed by the emergence of Herod theGreat.


Herodthe Great was the founder of this dynasty. He overpowered theHasmonean reign with support from the Roman administration. The reignlasted up to 4 BCE before it was subdivided between Herod’s sons asa Tetrarchy. Herod the Great masterminded most of the constructionsthat are currently attracting tourists. For instance, he built theTower of David and Western Wall. During his reign,Herod also expanded the Second Temple. Though he is accredited tomost of the developments, Herod had a mad side, killing most of hiswives and children. Even though the developmental projects creatednumerous job opportunities, the period was characterized by hightaxes. After his death, most of the projects were stopped, and peoplewere rendered jobless leading to the first Jewish-Roman War. Thedynasty was later incorporated into Rome. In 37 BCE Herod, HyrcanusII son-in-law was made King of Judea. This allowed virtuallylimitless sovereignty in the nation’s affairs the king was amongthe most influential rulers in the eastern sides of the RomanKingdom. Judea later came under direct control of the Romanadministration ten years after Herod’s death.

Violenceemanated from various Jewish sects who thought the Romans weresuppressing them. The violence escalated and in 70 CE Roman forcesunder the guidance of Titus emerged victorious, bringing Jerusalemdown. Masada, which was the last of the Jewish outpost, was defeatedin 73 CE. Total demolition of the Second Temple, as well asJerusalem, affected the entire Jewish group, and most of them weresold into slavery while others died in the war. A short period ofJewish independence occurred in 132 CE following an insurgency byShimon Bar Kochba. They managed to regain Judea and Jerusalem, butthe domineering Roman Empire soon took over. As per the Romanculture, Jerusalem was plowed up with a yoke of oxen three yearsafter being captured. Jerusalem and Judea were then renamed. Withouta unifying structure of the Temple or state, the Jewish communitythat survived slowly recovered and was continually reinforced byreturning exiles. Communal and institutional life was rehabilitated,rabbis replaced priests, and the synagogues became the primary focusfor the Jews. In general, the Second Temple Period ended with thecrumbling of Jerusalem including the Temple.

Hellenisticinfluence on the Jewish Culture and the expectation of the Messiah

Hellenismwas quite influential to the Jewish Culture. It describes the impactof Greek culture on the other non-Greek individuals. After the Jewshad returned from bondage, they strived to safeguard theirnational identity through faithful adherence to the law. However,this resulted in the rise of the hyper-conservative Pharisees whoadded unnecessary rules.

TheGreek culture’s influence continued beyond the 1st century B.C. TheSadducees who were the primary rivals to the Pharisees applauded theGreek impact. They comprised of influential Jewish aristocrats whowere wealthy and willingly worked together with the Gentile leaderswith the aim of maintaining peace. The Greek philosophy swayed allJewish people. The Jewish governance transformed from theGod-ordained priesthood to the Sadducee-influenced Sanhedrin. Thelaws typically reflected Grecian policies rather than those providedby Moses. The Jewish expectation of the Messiah was also affected.

Thefour main factions in Judaism i.e. Sadducees, Zealots, Pharisees, andEssenes, developed a deluge of perceptions about the Messiah. Somebelieved He would deliver them from the heavily guarded Roman rule,taking them back to their former authoritative power of all nations.Some factions even taught that the Messiah would be like anapocalyptic power of catastrophic magnitudes which would entirelyextinguish the realms directives to usher in a supreme utopiacontrolled directly by God. Other philosophies encompassed the notionthat the Messiah would come as a king, others priest, while somefused the ideas and taught there would be two of them though withdistinct characters to fit all categories. Evidently, various groupsgave diverse reactions to the query of messianic personality centeredon their worldly perceptions that had startling disparities despitethe fact that all of them shared a mutual starting point i.e. theHebrew Bible. A common problem during this Hellenistic periodinvolved interpretation. Though all groups shared a common source,they differed considerably in interpretation. This issue blocked ajoined Jewish description of the Messiah. The fluidity of theideologies entailed in the Bible confused majority of the Jews, andit was worsened by the dubious interpretations from the differentfactions.

Thesociopolitical circumstances contributed to the differing perceptionsof the Messiah. Following through the Jewish history, the story ofthe Messiah began during King David’s era. However, the division ofIsrael resulted in turbulent political situations that climaxed inthe apocalyptic Son of Man imagery. Though the interpretations inJudea comprehended the vitality of a Godly appointed king, it wasdifficult to understand with the subjection of pagan foreigners.These socio-political occurrences impacted immensely on how the Jewsperceived the Messiah.


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