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Temple Mount Part 3 - The Second Temple

Part 2 of my blog about Temple Mount ended with the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians in the year 586 BCE, along with the forced exile of the Jewish elite to Babylon. Soon after this event the Babylonian empire fell to the Persian Empire.

The Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great, had a policy of live and let live, allowing exiled peoples return to their native countries and letting them practice their religions as they saw fit. How liberal!

Somewhere around the year 538 BCE Zerubbabel, a descendent of the exiled Judean king, led over 42,000 Jews out of Babylon back to Judea and started construction of a new Temple. It took over 20 years to build and was dedicated in 516 BCE.

Zerubbabel rebuilding the Temple

However, not all went smoothly for the Jewish people, the province of Judea or the Temple. In 334 BCE Alexander the Great conquered Judea, incorporating it into his empire which stretched from Macedonia to India. Alexander died young and his generals divided up his empire often fighting among themselves. One Greek ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, outlawed Judaism, placed a statue of Zeus in the Temple and ordered the Jews to make sacrifices of pigs on the holy altar. To put it mildly, the Jews were not impressed.

Coin depicting Antiochus IV, Greek inscription reads ΘΕΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ΝΙΚΗΦΟΡΟΥ / ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ (King Antiochus, image of God, bearer of victory)

After Antiochus’s decrees, in 167 BCE the Jews revolted. Under the Maccabees they freed the country from Greek rule and rededicated the Temple. This is the source of the Jewish holiday of Hanukah. The Maccabees made some structural changes enlarging Temple Mount, but not to the size we see today. The Maccabees, also known as Hasmoneans, created a dynasty and became both High Priests in the Temple and Kings of Judea.

Rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees

As time went on, various Hasmoneans started fighting each other for the throne of Judea. To make a very long story short, Rome intervenes and, in the end, ousts the Hasmoneans and declares Herod as King in the year 36 BCE. Herod was a master builder and decided to totally renovate the Temple and Temple Mount in order find favor with his Jewish subjects.

Herod’s Temple was magnificent. He essentially flattened Mount Moriah and created the huge platform we see today. He brought in architects from Rome, Greece and Egypt to design the structure which included the Holy of Holies, various courts and a colonnade. It was Herod’s Temple which Jesus knew.

Herod's Temple

Eventually Herod dies, and Rome takes over direct rule of Judea. Again, the Jews revolt against their foreign masters. However, this time, unlike in the time of the Maccabees, they are crushed by Rome. General (later Emperor) Titus destroyed the Temple and looted its treasures in the year 70 CE. Jews were once again exiled from their land, being sold as slaves throughout the Roman empire. The Second Temple period has come to an end.

Relief on the Arch of Titus in Rome depicting the Temple treasures and Jewish slaves entering the city

What happened next? For that you’ll have to wait for Part 4!

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