03.02 First Temple Period And Exile (1040 – 515 B.C.)

03.02.10 Third Deportation; Solomon’s Temple and Jerusalem Destroyed

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03.02.10 587 B.C. Third Deportation; Solomon’s Temple and Jerusalem Destroyed

By this time, King Nebuchadnezzar was so disgusted with these Israelites that he sent his army to destroy the temple and city (2 Kg. 25).  Since the ancients believe that gods literally lived in temples, the Babylonians attempted to destroy the God of the Jews by burning Solomon’s temple. The remaining peasants were poverty stricken and had no leadership or wealth with which to rebuild their nation or begin an insurrection.[1]

This destruction brought a theological crisis and would become known as Tish B’av, the Day of Mourning.  Issues they contemplated were probably as follows:

  1. How could the Great God of the Jewish people permit His temple to be destroyed?
  1. Were the Babylonian gods more powerful than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
  1. Did He really care about His people?
  1. As they were marched off to Babylon, would they be inflicted with slavery as they were in Egypt?
  1. How could a good God permit such evil to fall upon good people?

Just when the Jews felt forgotten, lost, and abandoned, they heard the prophecies of Daniel and found hope.  He prophesied that after 70 years of captivity, they would be released, which is precisely what happened. Furthermore, his prophetic words (Dan. 2, 7) of future dominating powers were fulfilled and set the political and cultural setting of the first century Roman era in which Christ ministered.

[1]. Dan. 1:1-4; 2 Kg. 24:1-7; 2 Ch. 36:5-8; See also Lewis, Historical Backgrounds of Bible History. 28-30.

03.02.11 The Exilic Period

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03.02.11 587 – 516 B.C. The Exilic Period

The Exilic Period is the seventy year period of captivity when the majority of Jewish people lived in Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar treated them well. He did not break up families or force them into slavery. He settled them along the Chebar River where the soil was more fertile than back home. Consequently, their farming skills produced more food with less labor. When they were granted freedom, many chose to remain in Babylon because they had established businesses and become prosperous. Within twenty years, many became wealthy and held positions in government.[1]

Babylon was the greatest city in Asia, a cultural crossroad where men and merchandise from all known nations could be found. It was known for the famous “hanging gardens” and other wonders of the ancient world. The Babylonians developed systems of bookkeeping, commercial law, weights and measures which developed into the foundations of modern western civilization.

However, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were discouraged by the pagan religious practices of Babylon. The gods were worshipped with sexual orgies in temples, drinking festivals, and child sacrifice.  While some Jews were assimilated into the Babylonian culture, many others opposed the pagan religions.  Since they were given religious freedom, it is believed that the synagogue was developed in Babylon.  It was also at this time that a theology was established that stated that sins could be forgiven without temple sacrifices (since it had been destroyed).

Paganism forced the Jewish people to reflect upon their faith, and as they did, they developed a new perspective of God.[2] It was commonly believed that gods were territorial, meaning that each deity was the supreme god of a particular geographical location. If a man left his country to settle in another land, he also left his god and accepted the god of his new home in the same manner that he accepted the governmental authority of the new land. They soon realized that God was One who was with them no matter where they were. He controls the universe and is involved in the affairs of men.

[1]. Golub, In the Days. 5-7.


[2]. See also 02.03.11 “Religious Institutions.”


03.02.12 Century B.C. Religion of the Zoroaster

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03.02.12 6th Century B.C. Religion of the Zoroaster

During the reign of the Persian King Darius, there was a revival of the ancient Persian religions.  A young reformer by the name of Zoroaster claimed to have been taken up into the El-burz Mountains, where he spoke with God and was given laws by which to live. According to the Greek historian Lucius Mestrius Plutarch,[1]  Zoroaster returned to his people and taught that there was one good eternal God by the name Ormuzd/Oromazes and one evil god of darkness named Ahriman/Areimanius. Mithras was the mediator between the two divine powers.[2]  On the futuristic Day of Judgment, the followers of good and evil would be judged and separated forever.  Good people would be rewarded and evil ones punished.[3]  In essence, he imitated the actions of Moses.

Ormuzd was to be worshiped in the presence of fire because he was the light of the universe.  The evil one was so greatly despised that his name was written backwards and upside down.  The doctrines of Zoroaster were recorded in several sacred books of the Persians, including the Zend-Avesta.[4] Darius, the grandson of Cyrus II, eventually became a follower of the religion, which increased its popularity.  Today it is most prominent in Bombay, India, where it is known as Parsees.

The displacement of the Jews gives prominence to an overwhelming possibility that the establishment of Zoroastrianism was due to the strong influences from dispersed Jews.  While scholars will debate a number of points of the two religions, others are clearly related.  For example, in Zoroastrian theology Angra Mainyu/Ahriman is an evil spirit that is hostile, brings death into the world (Yasna 30.4), and has evil spirits under his control (30.6).  This is clearly a reflection of Satan in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The god of truth and righteousness is Ahura Mazda (30.8) who has a helper by the name of Druj.  Together they fight against Angra Mainyu Ahriman.  According to this doctrine, there will be an end of time when evil spirits will be delivered into the hands of Ahura Mazda[5] for a final destruction.[6] Other doctrines are the unity of God, the doctrine of an evil and good spirit, the doctrine of resurrection for the just and judgment for the wicked, the concept of the end of the earth, and the use of fire or light as in the Shekinah, the emblem of deity.[7] However, it should be noted that while there are similarities, the unity of Judaism was in direct opposition to the dualism of the Persian system.[8] Those who argue that the Jews borrowed from the Persians forget that Judaism was well established and flourishing for more than a millennium before the rise of the Zoroaster.

The Persian Empire became extremely prosperous during Jewish captivity. With its massive wealth and luxury there was also a decline of moral virtues and corruption of the legal system. The Persians, who at one time were known for their purity and simplicity of manners, had become as morally depraved as any pagan culture in the ancient Near East. Later, magi from the king would travel west to Jerusalem looking for the One who was born to be the king of the Jews.  They too were looking for a messiah who would restore their land.  Some scholars believe that the magi, or wise men, may have been influenced by the newly created religion and by their Jewish neighbors.

03.02.12 (2)


[1]. Plutarch a/k/a Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, (A.D. 45-120) was a Greek historian, essayist and biographer who is known for two books, Parallel Lives which included the Life of Alexander, and Moralia. His few surviving works appear to have been written in Koine Greek, the common Greek language of the first century. See Warmington, ed. Plutarch’s Lives: Demosthenes and Cicero, Alexander and Caesar, Vol 7.


[2]. Plutarch, Concerning Isis and Osiris. 46.


[3]. Finegan, Myth and Mystery. 69-71; Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:137-38.


[4]. Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:137-38


[5]. See Yasna 30.8 and Yasht 19.95-96 which are the holy books of Zoroasterism.


[6]. Finegan, Myth and Mystery. 115-17; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:137-38.


[7]. Blaikie, A Manuel of Bible History. 363-66.

[8]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:139.


03.02.13 Edomite Invasions into Jerusalem

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03.02.13 580s and 570s B.C. Edomite Invasions into Jerusalem

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, those who remained in the Holy City and surrounding villages were poor, defenseless, and had lost hope of ever regaining their God and nation. They did not have access to the words of restoration given by the prophets, so they were greatly discouraged. Many intermarried with the Edomites and Moabites. They also became the victims of Edomite invasions. The smoke from the burning temple had hardly cleared when the Edomites took advantage of the Babylonian destruction.  They not only raided and stole what few possessions the poor Jews had left, but they also moved into southern Judah below the city of Hebron.  It was because of these murderous invasions that the prophet Obadiah had given his prophetic warning of destruction to his distant cousins.[1]  In the course of time, their name was changed to “Idumeans.” They were hated by the first century Jews as much as the Samaritans for several reasons.

  1. The Jews hated the Idumeans because for centuries the Idumeans had plundered their farms and raped their women.
  1. The Jews had no great love for Herod the Great who was an Idumean, one of their hated distant cousins. To add insult to injury, Herod was given the Roman title of “King of the Jews,” even though he was obviously not in the promised lineage to be called a “son of David.”

With most of the people gone, the land returned to wild semi-arid desert. Weeds and thistles grew everywhere, terraced hills were destroyed by winter rains, and wandering Bedouins enjoyed the deserted countryside. Neighboring powers soon dominated the former Jewish communities and the local Jewish residents became assimilated into the pagan cultures of the Moabites and Edomites.

[1]. Not only did Obadiah predict God’s judgment upon the Isumeans but he also said (verse 20) that at a time in the future, Spanish speaking Jews (known as Sephardi Jews) would return and live in the Negev Desert. The history of these Jewish people began with King Nebuchadnezzar, and there has been a slow but steady return of Sephardi Jews to the Negev Desert since the early 1990s.


03.02.14 Babylon Falls to the Persians (Persian Empire 539-331 B.C.)

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03.02.14 539/538 B.C. Babylon Falls to the Persians (Persian Empire 539-331 B.C.)

The Persian King Cyrus II (reigned 550-530)[1] united the Persians and Medes to defeat the Babylonians in 539. His processional march on a horse into Babylon was typical for a victorious monarch, and as such, has a striking similarity to the triumphal entry of Jesus at the beginning of His Passion Week.  As Cyrus entered the city, the people spread branches on the road before him to announce their loyalty to him.  This momentous event was recorded on several clay tablets, which were eventually discovered by archaeologists.  One of those tablets reads as follows,

In the month of Arahshamnu, the third day, Cyrus entered Babylon, green twigs were spread before him (and) the state of Peace (sulmu) was imposed upon the city. Cyrus sent greetings to all Babylon.

King Cyrus II Tablet[2]


The rise of Cyrus to power was the fulfillment of a prophecy spoken by Daniel (Dan. 6:28).  Cyrus decreed that all people who were captured by the Babylonians were to be given freedom and told to live in peace (mentioned four times).  He was God’s instrument in the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy.  However, only a few thousand Jews chose to return to their Promised Land (Ezra 6:3-5) and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (2 Ch. 36:22-23; Ezra 1.1-4; 6:3-5).   It was this temple that some five centuries later would be enlarged, beautified, and would become known as “Herod’s Temple” in the days of Jesus.  As to the decree of Cyrus, it stated:

I returned to the sacred cities, on the other side of the Tigris [River], the sanctuaries which have been in ruins for a long time [and re-established], the images which (used) to live therein, and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I [also] gathered all their [former] inhabitants and returned [them] to their habitations [homelands].

King Cyrus II Decree[3]


Some scholars believe that Cyrus was a follower of the Zoroaster, the new Persian religion with some Jewish influences.  He spoke respectfully of the Jews and their God, because in the course of time, Jews had risen to governmental positions.  This was revealed by the discovery of clay tablets in the royal library that have inscribed Hebrew names.

03.02.14.A. THE CYRUS CYLINDER (538 B.C.)

03.02.14.A. THE CYRUS CYLINDER (538 B.C.).  King Cyrus II, a/k/a Cyrus the Great, decreed on this clay cylinder that all captured people were to be released.  Known as the Cyrus Cylinder, upon this is recorded the decree giving freedom to the Jewish peoples (as well as others) as prophesied by the prophets. Photograph courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.


03.02.14.B. THE TOMB OF CYRUS THE GREAT.  The prophet Isaiah wrote his book around 700 B.C. and prophesied that one day a king named Cyrus would deliver the Jews from exile (Isa. 44:28; 45:1). A century and a half later this prophecy and others were fulfilled. Given the legacy of accurate prophecies, the Jewish people of the first century observed Jesus carefully in light of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies. Photo by Wikipedia Commons.

Finally, about this time there were four decrees, one of which is connected to Daniel’s prophecy of seventy-sevens (of weeks). These decrees and the related timeline have been the subject of many debates.[4]  Evangelical scholars agree it was partially fulfilled at the time whem Jesus rode into Jerusalem, with the remaining portion to be fulfilled at a future time.  Daniel received a prophetic revelation of seventy “sevens” (Dan. 9:24-27) in the “first year of Darius” (Dan. 9:1) when the Persians made him king over the Babylonians in 539 B.C.[5] The four decrees concerning the Jews and their holy city of Jerusalem are as follows:

  1. According to 2 Chronicles 36:22, the decree by King Cyrus II, a/k/a Cyrus the Great, was issued in his first year. That was his regnal year which commenced in April of 538 B.C. (Ezra 1:1-4).
  1. The second decree was issued by Darius in 519 B.C. (Ezra 6:7-12)
  1. Two other decrees were issued by King Artaxerxes in 458 (Ezra 7:11-26) and 445/444 B.C. (Nehemiah 2:1-8).[6] And it is here where the debates begin among scholars. Some scholars believe that the most important decree was not issued in 444 B.C. but on March 14, 445 B.C.[7] Another scholar believes the pivotal date in Daniel is 536 B.C. which was the end of 70 years of captivity of Daniel 9:24 and the beginning of the 69 weeks of Daniel 9:25-26.[8] Most scholars begin their timeline with the March 14, 445 B.C. decree. But when the calculations are complete, using the 360 day/year Jewish calendar, the day that the sixty-two weeks of years ends in A.D. 32.[9]

[1]. The Persian kings Cyrus II (grandson of Cyrus I), Darius I (a/k/a Darius the Great), Artaxerxes I and Darius II are among fifty biblical names whose existence has been verified by archaeological studies in a published article by Lawrence Mykytiuk titled, “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible.” Biblical Archaeology Review. March/April, 2014 (40:2), pages 42-50, 68.  This archaeological evidence confirms the historical accuracy of the biblical timeline.  For further study, see the website for Associates for Biblical Research, as well as Grisanti, “Recent Archaeological Discoveries that Lend Credence to the Historicity of the Scriptures.” 475-98.


[2]. Prichard, The Ancient Near East. 1:204.

[3]. Prichard, The Ancient Near East. 1:208; See also Mould, Essentials of Bible History. 349-51.

[4]. Daniel 9:24-27 is the only Old Testament passage which refers to the Messiah as “Messiah.” Elsewhere He is called “Shiloh” (Gen. 49:10), the “Root of Jesse” (Isa. 11:10), the “Righteous Branch” (Jer. 23:5), the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), etc. But the name by which He is known best, “Messiah,” appears in only in the Daniel 9 passage.


[5]. See also Appendix 15.


[6].  Lurie, David H. “A New Interpretation of Daniel’s “Sevens” and the Chronology of the Seventy “Sevens.” Journal of the Evangelical Threological Society. 55:3 (Sept, 1990) 303-10.

[7]. McClain, Daniel’s Prophecy of the 70 Weeks. 25. The calculation usiing that date would bring the fulfillment of the prophecy to April 6, 32 A.D., which was not a year when the 14th day of Nisan fell on a Friday.


[8]. McFall, Leslie. “Do the Sixty-nine Weeks of Daniel Date the Messianic Mission of Nehemiah or Jesus?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52:4 (Dec. 2009) 673-718.

[9]. For an exhaustive study to support this conclusion, see Gleason Archer’s study in “Daniel” in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 111-21.


03.02.15 Summary of Significant Developments of Assyrian and Babylonian Captivities

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03.02.15 723 – 539 BC: Summary of Significant Developments of Assyrian and Babylonian Captivities

As previously stated, there were several significant developments that pertained to the identity of the first century Jewish people. Knowing these developments and the political and social pressures that created them, aids the modern student to understand the cultural environment in which Jesus ministered. Many more developments would arise during the Inter-Testamental Period. However, at this time in history the focus is on the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities and influences.

Assyrian Captivity:

  1. When the majority of the ten northern Israelite tribes were relocated by the Assyrians in 722/21 B.C., they seemed to have disappeared into the Assyrian culture after several generations. Hence, since their location became unknown, they are often referred to as the “ten lost tribes.” Note, however, that the disciple, James, did not consider them lost when he wrote his letter to them (cf. 1:1). Evidently, in the first century the Jews in Jerusalem knew where they were. These Israelites (later called Jews) did not make any significant impact upon Judaism in Israel, which was considerably different from the later deportation of the Israelites from Judea.[1] When the latter group was relocated to Babylon, their religious beliefs intensified. One of the many nations they escaped to was Egypt. While Egypt was a country of slavery in the sixteenth century B.C., since then at times it was a country of refuge for many, including the prophet Jeremiah. That is why a vibrant Jewish community was established there long before the destruction of the first temple in 537 B.C.[2]
  1. A new ethnic group known as the Samaritans emerged when the remaining northern Israelites intermarried with their new foreign neighbors who were brought in by the Assyrians. Their descendants became known as the “Samaritans.”[3] Centuries later, the first century Jews did not recognize the Samaritans as true brothers of the faith, but rather, they were considered to be “half-breeds” or of “mixed blood.”[4] Each group considered the other to have adopted certain pagan practices into their religious rituals, thus was defiled and impure.
  1. An important development is that both the Assyrians and Babylonians were exposed to Jewish thought, religion, and the hope of a coming messiah. The Babylonians were masters of divination, astrology, and other cultic rituals in an endless search for understanding truth and the mysterious knowledge of the gods. It was the ideal setting for the laws of God to spread, since they too recognized the literal fulfillment of the Hebrew prophecies. Some scholars today believe that the Persian government administrators, who also became interested in the messiah, knew the Hebrew predictions.  Since the Babylonians specialized in astrology, they were interested in the rising star mentioned in Numbers 24:17. It is understandable that by the first century all the peoples throughout the Ancient Middle East were waiting for the coming messiah.

Babylonian Captivity:

  1. As the Babylonians were coming to attack Jerusalem, a number of wealthy Jews left Jerusalem. They went to Egypt, Spain, and other countries that belted the Mediterranean Sea.[5] Among those who went to Egypt was the prophet Jeremiah. In Egypt, many traveled some 800 miles south along the Nile River and built a community on Elephantine Island along Egypt’s southern frontier. There they built a temple.[6] Legend says that the Ark of the Covenant was hidden in this temple when King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Jerusalem temple. Of course, the obvious question is that if the Ark was there, why wasn’t it returned during the Second Temple Period? The mystery remains veiled.
  1. It is believed that the synagogue as a local institution of worship and community center was established in Babylon.[7]
  1. During the Jewish exile the Aramaic language, a sister language to Hebrew, was accepted by the Jews as well as the Aramaic square script alphabet.[8] It was the official language of the Babylonian Empire.
  1. The Jews called upon God to bring them a messiah who would deliver them from bondage.
  1. When freedom was offered, not all Jews chose to return to their Promised Land. In fact, only a small contingent returned while some remained in Babylon and others migrated to India and China. Many who remained in Babylon maintained strict obedience to the Jewish faith as a means of survival in a pagan culture. Centuries later, their descendants produced the valuable and exhaustive commentary known as the Babylonian Talmud, which is considered by scholars to be more reliable than the Jerusalem Talmud, which was written in Tiberias.
  1. Under Ezra, a new class of religious leaders known as scribes was established in Jerusalem. These writers studied the Mosaic Law and became known in the first century more as lawyers than writers of contracts. The priests who had been the traditional interpreters of the Law now had that portion of their responsibility transferred to the scribes. By the time of Jesus, these scribes obtained a powerful aristocratic position in Judaism and frequently conflicted with Jesus on the interpretation of various religious issues.[9]
  1. The Oral Law, as it was known in the days of Jesus, was established by Ezra. However, some Jewish scholars claim it originated with Moses. The Jews believed that the destruction of their temple in 587 B.C. and subsequent deportation to Babylon was the direct result of their disobedience to both the Written Law (i.e. namely breaking Sabbath rules) as well as the Oral Law. Upon their return to Jerusalem, the Oral Law was expanded immensely to prevent any possibility of future deportation. However, those who moved to India, China, Egypt, Spain, and elsewhere did not develop the restrictive Oral laws. Therefore, they did not have the theological problems the religious leaders in Jerusalem had concerning Jesus as the Messiah.
  1. The Israelites, while living in Babylon and elsewhere, changed their understanding of God. They knew the answer to, “Who is God?” They realized He was national as well as personal. He was everywhere, and with them in exile. This may be the only reason why they survived culturally and religiously when other people groups in similar situations throughout history lost their identity.[10]
  1. The Jews in Babylon reflected upon the laws of cleanliness instituted by Moses; laws such as maintaining toilets outside the camp and not eating pork. Some scholars believe that they also observed the cleansing rituals of their pious pagan neighbors, and concluded that if pagans can maintain a high level of cleanliness, shouldn’t they do likewise? Examples of adopted rules of cleanliness are,
  1. Not to walk over a grave or one will become defiled.[11]
  1. One must become purified if anything unclean has been touched.
  1. One must become purified before entering a holy place such as the temple.
  1. In particular was the matter of washing hands before and/or after meals. This issue was often debated between the first century schools of Hillel and Shammai. A person also had to wash hands before entering a house if he or she was at a funeral.[12] It is believed that the immersion in the mikvah developed at this time as well. Archaeologists today are quick to identify the ancient ruins of a home or community as Jewish if they uncover a mikvah. Needless to say, some Pharisaic rules that Jesus confronted had nothing to do with the laws of Moses.
  1. Finally, the biblical faith in the one true God became known as “Judaism,” and the adherents of all twelve tribes who were known previously as “Israelites” were now called “Jews” (Esther 2:5).[13] The identification of the descendants of Abraham is referred to in this work as “Jews” throughout their entire history for purposes of clarification.  In a similar manner, the land in which they live is often referred to today as “Palestine” or “ancient Palestine” even though that name was unknown during the days of Jesus. When Hadrian destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 135, he renamed the land in honor of the ancient Israelite enemy – the Philistines.  Today, however, the name Palestine is often used for identification purposes when referring to various historical places and events, even those that occurred prior to 135 A.D.


03.02.15.A. A TABLET FROM BABYLON READS “IF I FORGET THEE, O JERUSALEM.”  A cuneiform tablet dating to 498 B.C., found in Babylon contains a reference (in the third line after the blank line in photo and drawing above), to “al Yahudu” the town of Judah, meaning Jerusalem. Photograph and drawing courtesy of Andre Lemaire.

[1]. There has often been name confusion between the southern region known as Judah or Judea, and the name of the entire country – Judaea. The name “Judaea” is often used interchangeably with “Israel,” although the latter term seems to have been used less often in the first century. Furthermore, the name “Judah” is generally that of a person, but the descendants of Judah are also known as “the people of Judah” or “the people of Judea.”


[2]. Golub, In the Days. 229.


[3]. See “Samaritans” 02.01.17.


[4]. People of “mixed blood” or “half-breeds” are persons of various tribal or ethnic backgrounds. Both terms are offensive.


[5]. Golub, In the Days. 228-30.  Modern Bible students who examine the travels of the Apostle Paul sometimes question why the Jewish people were in the various countries where Paul preached. The answer is, that often either persecution or economic opportunities drove them there.


[6]. See 03.04.18.


[7]. Mould, Essentials of Bible History. 359-61, 379, 396.


[8]. See “Language” 02.03.28.


[9]. Idelsohn, Jewish Liturgy and Its Development. 16-17. This book is an excellent study on worship during the second temple period. (New York: Dover, 1995. Orginally published by Henry Holt and Co. 1932). While Idelsohn (1882-1932) covers the entire history of Jewish worship, chapter 1 is specifically dedicated to the second temple period.


[10]. Lemaire, “The Universal God: How the God of Israel Became a God for All.” 58.


[11]. See “Defile” in Appendix 26.


[12]. Golub, In the Days. 53-55.


[13]. Blizzard, “Judaism – Part 1” Yavo Digest 1:5, 3.

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