03.04.04 Summary of Developments of Persian Domination that Shaped Jewish Life in the First Century

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 18, 2016  -  Comments Off on 03.04.04 Summary of Developments of Persian Domination that Shaped Jewish Life in the First Century

03.04.04 334 B.C. Summary of Developments of Persian Domination that Shaped Jewish Life in the First Century.

In comparison to the days of Moses and Joshua, the culture of the Jewish people was slowly changing.  While their basic faith and religious observances did not change, how they practiced their faith did. Furthermore, the Jewish people were not a homogenous group; Jewish people in various areas had somewhat different practices and methodologies. For example, Jews in India and Ethiopia did not have some of the Old Testament books, as these were written after they left the Promised Land and, consequently, some communities were unaware of their existence.  In review, there were a number of significant developments in the early days of Persian rule.

  1. The temple reconstruction and dedication.
  1. The Aramaic language became the language of the Jews as well as the international language of commerce. By the first century A.D., it was commonly used in ordinary public discourse in Judah although Hebrew was spoken in the synagogue. However, while Jews in Alexandria, Egypt and other foreign cities accepted the Greek language, their brothers in Judaea[1] (Galilee, Perea, and Judea)[2] did not.
  1. Most Jews chose not to return to Judaea, but stayed in Babylon and maintained a very strict religious system. According to Josephus, those who remained behind in the original return of 537 B.C. and the second return in 459-458 B.C. were among the wealthiest and most influential leaders and merchants.[3] The Jewish population evidently exploded as in one uprising alone he reported 50,000 dead.[4] The population throughout the Roman Empire could very well have grown to more than a million.[5] As the population grew and people slowly took on distinctions of the culture in which they lived, ancient tribal distinctions became lost. Jews remained in Babylon and Mesopotamia from the days of the captivity until the rise of the new state of Israel some twenty-five centuries later. The final exodus of remaining Jews to the revived state of Israel did not take place until “Operation Ezra and Nehemiah” between the years 1946 and 1952.
  1. It must be noted that of the thousands of captives taken to Babylon, a vast majority eventually decided to remain in that land when they had the opportunity to return. They prospered and enjoyed the Persian government where they could exercise their own faith. And it is because they were so far removed from their Promised Land, that they took their religion very seriously and were more faithful to the Torah than were their counterparts in Jerusalem.  That is a major reason why today scholars universally agree that the Babylonian Talmud is universally considered to be a better authority than the Jerusalem Talmud.
  1. A number of Jewish families decided to leave Judaea/Israel during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century B.C. Modern students study the adventures and teachings of the Apostle Paul as he traveled on his missionary journeys, but they never question how those foreign Jewish people got to those European places. Many settled there during the Inter-Testamental Period.
  1. Finally, a body of seventy judges and one president, known as the “Sanhedrin,” came into full power as the supreme high court and governmental-religious authority in the land of Judah.[6] It grew out of the union of non-priestly heads of families, representatives of the “secular nobility” with the priestly aristocracy. Therefore, “elders,” who were the heads of wealthy families, were not especially religiously motivated, but were an influential group representing their own interests at the time of Jesus.[7]

The cultural and religious way of life known as “Judaism” dates from this post-exilic era. It was the beginning of Judah as a temple-state that was ruled by a council of governors who were political puppets of the Persian monarch. However, by the first century, it was the high priest Caiaphas, manipulated by the Romans who controlled the Sanhedrin.

[1]. There has often been name confusion between the southern region known as Judah and the name of the entirety – Judaea. The name “Judaea” is often used interchangeably with “Israel,” although that term seems to have been used less often in the first century.


[2]. Some ancient writers use the term “Judea” in the broadest sense. Examples are found in Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 5.15.70; Strabo, Geographia, 16.4.21; and Dio Sassius, Roman History 37.15.2. In the days of Jesus, Perea was often referred to as the “region of Judea across the Jordan.”


[3]. Josephus, Antiquities 11.5.2; 15.2.2; 18.9.1ff.

[4]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.9.9.

[5]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 6.

[6]. Thompson, “Sanhedrin.” 3:1390.


[7]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 223.


Comments are closed.

  • Chapters