Return to the Promised Land

After about fifty years of exile in Babylon, the Israelites were allowed to return to their own country.

Many of them made the journey back to their own land, and to their capital city of Jerusalem.

The Journey

In the spring of 537 B.C.E., after long preparations, the Israelites set out on the journey back to their homeland.

The journey between Babylon and Jerusalem covered almost 800 miles (1300 kms). The Israelites headed north to the old and now ruined city of Mari and on to Haran where Abraham had moved with his family.

They traveled via Damascus to the Sea of Galilee (following a similar route to Abraham's when he moved to Canaan), then through the mountains to the city of Jerusalem. The city would have been largely in ruins, and a sad sight for the returning people.

Follow the route using the maps on these sites. Was there a shorter route between Babylon and Jerusalem? If so why did the people not take it?

Although the homeland of the Israelites was still within the Persian Empire, the Persian King, Cyrus encouraged local religions. He even decreed that the Temple in Jerusalem be rebuilt.

Ezra, Priest and Scribe
A priest, by the name of Ezra, returned from exile in Babylonia sometime during the 400s B.C.E.

He returned with the support of the Persian king to govern his people.

He brought the holy writings of many of the scribes in Babylon back to the homeland. These writings now became the law by which the people lived.

Ezra also helped to establish a new order among the people. The rule by kings was over, and priests took over the leadership of the people.

The laws by which the priests governed were the Holy Scriptures, namely the Torah. From this time onwards the Jewish faith, based on Holy Scriptures, can be called Judaism, and the Israelites called Jews.

End of Persian Rule

In the reign of the Persian King Darius III (336-330 B.C.E.), Alexander the Great of Macedonia was creating his own empire.

He defeated the Persians. In this way the Jews came to be ruled by the Greeks. Israel and Judah, from that time onwards, were known jointly as Judea.

The Greeks allowed a high priest and a Jewish Council of Elders to govern Judea as before.

Greek Empire Divided

When Alexander the Great died his huge empire was divided into three, each ruled separately. As time went on, Greek influence grew stronger.

The Jews felt that the Greek influence threatened their faith. This fear was realized when Antiochus IV (ahn TEE uh kuhs) became ruler.

Religious Persecution
The rule of Antiochus IV marked another turning point in the history of the Jewish nation. This ruler forced the Jews to accept Greek customs and Greek religious practices.

He forbade the Jews to follow their religion and imposed the death sentence on those who practiced the laws of their faith.

He rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem to the Greek god Zeus and destroyed Jewish Holy Scriptures.

It was a thorough and organized persecution of the Jewish people and their religion.
Antiochus horrified the Jewish community when he rededicated the Temple to the Greek god Zeus.

Some of the Jewish people chose to obey the laws of the new rulers. These were mainly the wealthy people who could see advantages in supporting the Greek way of life.

This group also included some of the wealthy priest class. These supporters of a Greek way of life were known as "Hellenists."

Others, however, preferred to die rather than break the religious laws.

This group was mostly made up of the common people and they were known as "Hasidim."

A revolt broke out led by a Jewish priest, Mattathias, and his five sons.

On the death of Mattathias, his son, Judah Maccabee, took over the leadership of the Jews.

When Judah Maccabee reclaimed the Temple, the Jewish people's first act was to re-light the lamps of the menorah (meh NOH rah).

It is recorded that they only had enough oil to burn for one day. They prayed that the flames would not go out. They believed their prayers were answered when the flames burned steadily for eight days.
In the year 164 B.C.E., shortly after the death of Antiochus Epiphanes, Judah Maccabee and his army gained control of Jerusalem.

He restored Jewish law and reclaimed the Temple.

For a short period, Judea became an independent nation, free of foreign control.

Freedom for Judea
The Maccabean family, known as the Hasmonaeans, now ruled the country. They became the high priests and the governors of Judea.

Under their rule Judea grew more powerful, and expanded its territory.

At one stage they had conquered so much of the surrounding land that the size of the territory resembled that of the kingdom Solomon inherited from his father David.

Opposing Groups
Within the country, however, there was much discontent.

It was during this period that groups of Jews began to emerge with differing opinions about the Torah.

There were many religious movements, but three appeared more powerful than the rest.

Two of these groups directly opposed each other.

On the one hand, there were the Pharisees (FAH rih sees), supported by the scribes; on the other, there were the Sadducees (SADJ uh sees).

There was also a third group who kept themselves separate from the rest. These were the Essenes.

During this time both Pharisees and Sadducees led revolts against the rulers. Unrest was widespread within the country.

However, there was a far greater threat at hand.

News arrived in Jerusalem that the Roman army had entered Syria. This event was to change the course of history for Judea.

The Arrival of the Romans
In 63 B.C.E., Pompey, the greatest Roman general of his day, seized Jerusalem, slaughtered many of the people, and took control of Judea.

The Jews once more had lost their liberty and Judea came under the rule of Rome.

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