Lecture 10 – (8.1) Persian Jerusalem

Today we discussed “Persian Jerusalem” (539-333 BCE), the first couple hundred years of the so-called “2nd Temple” Period (539-70 BCE). It was during this period that the “2nd” Temple was supposedly rebuilt (515 BCE). We covered the return of the concept of a “mobile God” (as we saw with the Ark of the Covenant) as expressed by Prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1), King Cyrus and his Edict of Return (539 BCE), varying changes in the Jewish faith thought to have been influenced by Zoroastrian religious traditions, the concept of restoring the “Holy lines” and the Temple during the First Return (late 6th C. BCE), various lines of evidence supporting the thought of a “rebuilding of the temple”, as well as the conditions in Jerusalem at the time that may have made this process difficult. This truly was a whirlwind tour of the Persian Period – the fastest almost 200 years ever.

A first important note before delving into the interesting pieces of this lecture is that there are no non-biblical texts dealing directly with Jerusalem during this period. All of the evidence we get is from biblical literature (Chronicles, Minor Prophets [Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi], Ezra [written in Aramaic (like book of Daniel too); 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26), Nehemiah, and “Second” Isaiah [Ch. 40-66; “2nd” Isaiah as a school of thought, more than one writer]) and assorted archaeological Excavations. The most interesting insight gained from where evidence comes from for this period is the fact that Jews came back from exile speaking Aramaic, as evidenced by many of these chapters in the bible originally being in Aramaic. It became the dominant spoken language for Jews coming back to Judah.

Next we broke into the Prophet Ezekiel’s apocalyptic “Merkevah” vision of a reemergence of God as a mobile entity. Ezekiel has a vision of a “mobile God”, much like the vision we saw with the Ark of the Covenant in pre-exilic eras. In Ezekiel’s story of  a return to Jerusalem with a vision for a utopian Jerusalem with a Temple and a messiah, it becomes clear that Ezekiel has predicted a Jewish return to Jerusalem. His vision is one that depicts God as having returned to Jerusalem and that he is mobile again, this time on wheels (“pimped”). We saw the idea of a mobile entity (the Ark) dissapear once a “permanent temple” became a reality. However, it reappears here after exile, seeming to symbolize a reemerged need to have God be placed in Jerusalem. Dr. Cargill used this moment to build up the idea that some people believe in the necessity for a permanent temple/place of God, while others have in a way “adapted to the exile mentality”, in that they are okay with God as “removed” – a God who operates through angels/at a cosmic distance. He also took a moment to mention that he believes the Ark disappeared from the temple (and was thus not accounted for in the “Temple Lists”) due to either Hezekiah’s or Josiah’s reforms.

Next we attempted to reconcile this mention from Ezekiah of a “messiah” with archeological evidence of what prominent figure may have deserved such a title during this period. Here we examine the Cyrus Cylinder (539 BCE), a clay cuneiform cylinder that announced “a general return to the homelands” for the Jewish people [Edict of Return (539 BCE)] . It depicts the Jewish people returning from exile in Babylon to “liberate” their homeland. This “liberating” attitude is the same one used by Americans in invading modern day Iraq, claiming that we are freeing the land of bad influence and restoring its purity under democracy. Whether “liberation” is actually what is happening in Iraq and what happened when the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem is up for the reader to decide. The archeological evidence (Cyrus Cylinder) and biblical literature (2 Chron 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:1-3) both depict it as a liberating event. This building up of the image of Cyrus, the Persian king who opposed and conquered the Babylonian empire, lead him to be viewed by Judean Exiles as the great deliverer. We see this in the bible in passages such as Isa. 44:24,28 and Isa. 45:1,5. Here Cyrus is referred to as “my sheperd” or the “anointed one”. Not only is he considered an influencial figure that was felt by many to be the deliverer, but his actions were deemed actions supported by God. God was working through Cyrus to save His people (“Except for me there is no god. I equp you, though you do not know me” (45:1,5)). Cyrus is a messiah to the Judean exiles. He is viewed by the Jewish people as carrying out God commands (and we see on the Cyrus Cylinder that their was belief that Babylonians own God [Marduk] ordered it). This argument brought strength to the idea that the Biblical author must rationalize history, even if it involved depicting a foreign king as God’s chosen deliverer. This is a rationalization of the promise in samuel 7, and even though it is not someone of the Davidic line coming back to help, it’s something to work with, which they did.

It was also thought that the Jewish faith changed drastically during the period due to Zoroastrian religious influences. Zoroastrians believe in six periods of creation, a first couple of Mashya (man) and Mashyana (woman) (Adam and Even parallel), commandment being given on a mountain (like Moses), etc. In other words, there are many parallels between the religions that make it clear these two religions were somewhat intertwined and might have influence each other. One of the most influential ideas thought to have altered the Judaic faith was the introduction of angels and an evil counterpart to God in Zoroastrianism, which seems to have carried over to Judaic thought and written down in its texts. Angels are important because they stress the simple idea of figures other than God coming down to impart his wishes, further suggesting his removal from earth and existence among the clouds/heavens. An evil counterpart (Satan/Devil) is also a vital new idea, as it stresses the idea of an opposing force being responsible for fate of the world. The introduction of such a figure seems almost a way to rationalize when things go wrong in the world, as some other force of nature other than God is working to fight for its own way. I found the introduction of such concepts into the Jewish faith to be fascinating and I think the way religions change over time (no matter the influence) is an interesting topic. For example, I wrote a paper for a previous class on how Buddhism and Christianity became universal religions (which essentially requires a “watering down” of the original, more rigorous practices of a smaller group), and I think its interesting how thoughts on a “divine presence” and what this means for human actions on earth change through time. Examining such changes I feel reveal some interesting psychological phenomena that might be interesting to trace through the historical context.

After Cyrus [who was said to have been commanded by either the Hebrew God (Bible) or the Babylonian God Marduk (Cyrus Cylinder)]  took down the Babylonian threat to Jerusalem, there was an era that became known as the First Return (late 6th C. BCE), in which there was talk of restoring the “Holy lines” and the Temple (hence “2nd temple period”). The Leading figures were Cyrus (already discussed), Cambyses II, Darius I “the Usurper”, Zechariah and Haffai (Prophets), Zerubbabel, and Joshua (the high priest). Joshua actually is the name of Jesus in hebrew!  This brings clarity to the point that after people of Jerusalem led back to “their city” from exile, the new high priest line becomes the strong point of authority. The establishment of the Temple (between 520-515 under Darius I) and the high priesthood (to become the “holy line”) where the center point of this period and shaped Jerusalem’s growth in the future. With Jerusalem under the control of the Persians at this point (a Persian Province), the establishment/maintenance of a “holy line” of priests that became the center point of Jerusalem’s authority was vital in maintaing both their heritage and the way Jerusalem grew in this period.

Then there was the temple. Many asked, after exile, whether a temple was really necessary. This becomes understandable when one realizes that during the long period of exile in which people were removed from the central monument of a faith, people either (1) lose faith, or (more commonly) (2) learn to adapt. We see the with the formation/following of new laws (Torah), food practices (Kosher), keeping timely occasions (holidays, sabbath, etc.). These were all ways to maintain faith and feel a connection with God without actually being in the sacred space, Jerusalem, at its most sacred monument, the Temple. The development of these adaptations allowed faith to exist beyond the temple walls and even outside Jerusalem, and marked an important shift in mindset that would allow religious ideals to spread more rapidly (decentralization of religion).

There were various lines of evidence supporting the thought of a “rebuilding of the temple”. Wee see it in Haggai 1 (“rebuild the House”), the relation between the timeliness of the building (and destruction) between the first and second temple (Ezra 3:8 v.s. 2 Chronicles 3:2) (Flashback to Solomon), references to “other temples” (Ezekiel’s utopian temple [40-48], Samaritan Temple, “Request to build a temple”, Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) “Temple by God’s hands”), and other various artifacts found in archaeological digs (coins, letters, DSS (Temple Scroll).

We also see how conditions in Jerusalem at the time that may have made this temple building process difficult. For one, (1) the city is small and depopulated (even long after first return, around 1,500 people (400 BCE) as compared to ~40,000 in 600BCEand 150 BCE), making a labor force to dedicate themselves to building the temple less possible. This is commended in Ezra 3, which states that the rebuilt temple “pales in comparison to the former glory”.  The workers and resources available during the first temple building were no longer there. (2) Heavy taxation by the Persian Empire also contributed to the poverty in Jerusalem, which like the small size contributed to a loss of proper resources for building and the labor force. (3) Conflicts. There was conflict with the “Samaritans” which began in this era of the “2nd temple”, as the Samaritan people already had their own temple at Mount Gerizim (didn’t want the competition; already had their temple established). This constant conflict made building the temple even harder, as now the few and very poor Jews actually in Jerusalem not only had the aforementioend problems to deal with, but also had to find a way to protect themselves. This problem is reflected upon in Nehemiah 4:16-23,  as people “labored on the work with one hand and with the other held  a weapon…each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.” It was made clear building this temple was not made easy by the environment of Jerusalem at the time. However, it was apparently still done, albeit less “fabulous” than the previosu one. Harod made adjustments later to build it up, as we will see. I think the most interesting part of all is how by the time Jerusalem was open after exile (thus allowing Jews to return), the mood of “decentralization” of religion may have already begun to kick in and forced people to ask themselves: “Is a temple even necessary?”. I think these ideas that decentralize religion are powerful psychological indicators of the mood shift of a people that occurs with displacement/exile from a land they once called home.


~ by Andru on February 12, 2011.

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