|History of Israel|
The Second Temple period in Jewish history lasted approximately 600 years (516 BCE - 70 CE), during which the Second Temple existed. It started with the return to Zion and the construction of the Second Temple, while it ended with the First Jewish–Roman War and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 CE.
In 587/6 BCE, the Kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The Judeans lost their independence and monarchy, and their holy city was destroyed. Part of the Judean population was exiled to Babylon; it was eventually allowed to return following a proclamation by the Persian king Cyrus the Great that was issued after the fall of Babylon to the Achaemenid Empire. Under Persian provincial governance (c. 539 – c. 332 BCE), the returned Jewish population in Judah was allowed to self-govern and rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem. In 332 BCE, Judea was conquered by Alexander the Great, and incorporated into the Ptolemaic Kingdom (c. 301-200 BCE) and the Seleucid Empire (c. 200–167 BCE).
The Maccabean revolt against Seleucid rule led to the establishment of an independent Hasmonean Kingdom (140–37 BCE), which later expanded over much of modern Israel and parts of Jordan and Lebanon. In 63 BCE, the kingdom was conquered by the Roman Republic, and in 37 BCE, the Romans appointed Herod the Great as king of a vassal Judea. In 6 BCE, it was fully incorporated into the Roman Empire as the province of Judaea. Growing dissatisfaction with Roman rule eventually led to the First Jewish-Roman War (66-73 CE), which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, bringing an end to the Second Temple period.
As Second Temple Judaism developed, multiple religious currents emerged and extensive cultural, religious, and political developments occurred. The development of the Hebrew Bible canon, the synagogue and Jewish eschatology can be traced back to the Second Temple period. According to Jewish tradition, the prophecy ceased during the early Second Temple period; this left the Jews without their version of divine guidance at a time when they felt most in need of support and direction. Under Hellenistic rule, the growing influence of Hellenism in Judaism became a source of dissent for Jews who clung to their monotheistic faith; this was a major catalyst for the Maccabean revolt. A number of messianic ideas developed during the later Second Temple period. From c. 170 BCE to 30 CE, five successive generations of zugot ("pairs of") leaders headed the Jews' spiritual affairs. It was during this period that the sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and early Christianity were formed.
The destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 CE is considered one of the most cataclysmic events in Jewish history. The loss of mother-city and temple necessitated a reshaping of Jewish culture to ensure its survival. Judaism's Temple-based sects, including the priesthood and the Sadducees, diminished in importance. Rabbinic Judaism developed out of the Pharisaic movement, and eventually became the mainstream form of Judaism. During the same period, Christianity gradually separated from Judaism, becoming predominantly a Gentile religion. A few decades after the First Jewish-Roman War, the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE) erupted; it further dwindled the Jewish population in Judea and enhanced the role of Jewish diaspora, relocating the Jewish demographic center to Galilee and Babylon, with smaller communities across the Mediterranean.
In 538 BCE, Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid Empire conquered Babylon and took over its empire. Yehud remained a province of the Achaemenid empire until 332 BCE. According to the Bible, Cyrus issued a proclamation granting subjugated nations their freedom. Jewish exiles in Babylon, including 50,000 Judeans, led by Zerubabel returned to Judah to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. The Second Temple was subsequently built in Jerusalem, and is said to have completed c. 515 BCE.
The Persians may have experimented initially with ruling Judah as a Davidic client-kingdom under descendants of Jehoiachin, but by the mid–5th century BCE Judah had become in practice a theocracy, ruled by hereditary High Priests and a Persian-appointed governor, frequently Jewish, charged with keeping order and seeing that tribute was paid.
A second group of 5,000, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, returned to Judah in 456 BCE. The first was empowered by the Persian king to enforce the Torah, the second had the status of governor and a royal mission to restore the walls of the city. The Bible mentions tension between the returnees and those who had remained in Judah, the former rebuffing the attempt of the "peoples of the land" to participate in the rebuilding of the Temple; this attitude was based partly on the exclusivism which the exiles had developed while in Babylon and, probably, partly on disputes over property. The careers of Ezra and Nehemiah in the 5th century BCE were thus a kind of religious colonisation in reverse, an attempt by one of the many Jewish factions in Babylon to create a self-segregated, ritually pure society inspired by the prophesies of Ezekiel and his followers.
The Persian era, and especially the period between 538 and 400 BCE, laid the foundations for the unified Judaic religion and the beginning of a scriptural canon. The final Torah is widely seen as a product of the Persian period (probably 450–350 BCE). This consensus echoes a traditional Jewish view which gives Ezra a pivotal role in its promulgation. It has been suggested that Darius' reform of the empire's administrative structures, which included the collection, codification, and administration of local law codes, was the driving force behind the Jewish Torah's redaction.
Yehud's population significantly decreased during the Persian era; it is likely that it never exceeded 30,000. This represents a 70% decrease when compared to the late First Temple period. Jerusalem's area was also smaller compared with the late First Temple period, and its inhabited areas—the City of David and the Temple Mount—had a population of around 1500. Together with the surrounding farms and unwalled settled areas, Jerusalem's population was around 3000 people. The rest of the population lived in small, unwalled towns and villages. The Israel of the Persian period consisted of descendants of the inhabitants of the former Kingdom of Judah, returnees from the Babylonian exile community, Mesopotamians who had joined them or had been exiled themselves to Samaria at a far earlier period, Samaritans, and others.
In 332 BCE the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great. After his death in 322 BCE, his generals divided the empire and Judea became a frontier region between the Seleucid Empire and Ptolemaic Egypt. Under the Hellenistic kingdoms, Judea was ruled by the hereditary office of the High Priest of Israel as a Hellenistic vassal.
Between 301 and 219 BC the Ptolemies ruled Judea in relative peace. Jews often found themselves working in the Ptolemaic administration and army, which led to the rise of a Hellenized Jewish elite class (e.g. the Tobiads). This period also saw the rise of a Hellenistic Judaism, which first developed in the Jewish diaspora of Alexandria and Antioch, and then spread to Judea. The major literary product of this cultural syncretism is the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible from Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic to Koiné Greek. The reason for the production of this translation seems to be that many of the Alexandrian Jews had lost the ability to speak Hebrew and Aramaic.
At the turn of the 2nd-century BCE, a successful military campaign in Coele-Syria led by the Seleucid Antiochus III finally brought the region into the Seleucid empire, with Jerusalem falling under his control in 198 BC. The Seleucids, like the Ptolemies before them, held a suzerainty over Judea: they respected Jewish culture and protected Jewish institutions.
This policy was drastically reversed by Antiochus IV, possibly due to a dispute over leadership of the Temple in Jerusalem and the office of High Priest or a revolt whose nature was lost to time. Antiochus IV issued decrees forbidding many traditional Jewish practices and began a campaign of persecution against devout Jews. This atriggered a revolt against his rule, the Maccabean Revolt. These decrees were a departure from typical Seleucid practice, which did not attempt to suppress local religions in their empire. Scholars of Second Temple Judaism sometimes refer to Antiochus' reign as the 'Antiochene crises' for the Jews, and as a period of civil war between Hellenized and orthodox forms of Judaism.
According to 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, and Josephus, the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus IV (r. 175–164) moved to assert strict control over the Seleucid satrapy of Coele Syria and Phoenicia after his successful invasion of Ptolemaic Egypt (170 to 168 BCE) was turned back by the intervention of the Roman Republic. He sacked Jerusalem and the Temple, suppressing Jewish and Samaritan religious and cultural observances, and imposed Hellenistic practices (c. 168-167 BCE).
Antiochus' actions enraged the elites but also the rural population, who had remained mostly untouched by Hellenism. In 167 BCE, Mattathias, a Hasmonean-lineage Jewish priest, killed a Jew in his hometown Modi'in who stepped forward to offer sacrifice to the Greek gods; he then killed a Seleucid official who ordered the sacrifice. According to 1 Maccabees, he declared, "Let everyone who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!", and fled with his sons and followers to the wilderness of Judea. These events signaled the start of the Maccabean Revolt.
When Mattathias died, his son Judas Maccabeus took over as leader of the revolt. He used guerrilla tactics to defeat several small Seleucid armies while Antiochus IV was fighting a war in the east. The conflict was heavily religiously charged because, in order to distinguish themselves from their Jewish opponents, the Maccabees presented themselves as radical Jews and carried out large-scale forced circumcisions. Judas eventually succeeded in capturing Jerusalem and purifying the allegedly desecrated temple. This event is commemorated by the Jewish festival of Hannukkah.
The Maccabean cause was aided further in 164 BCE when Antiochus IV died and his generals fought over guardianship of his young son Antiochus V; this turmoil ended when Antiochus IV's nephew, Demetrios I, returned from exile in Rome, deposed Antiochus V, and ascended to the Seleucid throne. Demetrios continued the war against the Maccabees and backed their Jewish opponents. Around this time Judas was able to make a treaty with the Romans. Around 161 BCE, a Roman–Jewish Treaty was signed. In 160 BCE, the Seleucid general Bacchides defeated the Maccabees at the Battle of Elasa in 160 BCE; Judas' death during the battle dealt a blow to the rebels.
After Judas died, his brother Jonathan Apphus took over as the leader of the revolt. He benefited from another internal Seleucid struggle between King Demetrius I Soter and an usurper, Alexander Balas. Both turned to Jonathan, attempting to win him over with concessions, and Alexander Balas even elevated him to the position of high priest. Alexander Balas was eventually able to assert himself, but he was quickly defeated by Demetrios' son Demetrios II. The battle for the throne was now between him and the general Diodotos Tryphon, which strengthened Jonathan's position even more. This did not change when Tryphon was able to capture and murder Jonathan in Acre through treachery.
In 142 BCE, Simon Thassi, the last of Mattathias' sons, took over as rebellion leader and high priest. He was eventually successful in destroying the Acra, a fortified complex in Jerusalem that was the last symbol of Seleucid rule in Judea.
After Simon was assassinated and replaced by his son John Hyrcanus I (r. 134–104 BCE), Antiochus VII led a large army into Judea, forcing Hyrcanus to surrender as a vassal ruler in Jerusalem after a two-year siege. However, following Antiochus' death in the Seleucid-Parthian Wars in 129 BCE, the Seleucids were soon too weak to pursue an active policy outside of Syria; Hyrcanus was relieved of his burden, created the Hasmonean kingdom of Judea, minted coins for the first time, and expanded the kingdom's borders, doubling its size.
Around 110 BCE, Hyrcanus launched an invasion of Transjordan. His army laid siege to the city of Medeba and took it after a six-month siege. After this victory, he turned north and invaded Samaria, which had long separated Judea from Jewish settlements in Galilee. Shechem was reduced to a village and the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim was destroyed. Archaeological evidence places these events between 111 and 110 BCE. Hyrcanus also launched a military campaign in Idumea, capturing Marisa and Adora. The Idumeans were forced to convert to Judaism, by threat of exile or death, depending on the source.
Following the death of Hyrcanus, his son Aristobulus I (r. 104–103 BCE) assumed the title of king for the first time and combined it with the office of high priest. People were now more open to Hellenistic influences that had been demonized as un-Jewish during the war; the Hasmonean kingship bore clear Hellenistic monarchy traits, but combined these with theocratic elements. He also captured and annexed the region of Iturea in modern-day Lebanon.
Alexander Jannaeus (r. 103–76 BCE) waged a series of expansionist wars, primarily against the Hellenistic cities surrounding Judea. Unlike his predecessors, who were focused on the concentration of the Jewish population in one country, his military efforts were motivated by a desire to control key economic points such as ports and trade routes. On the same time, he carried on his predecessors' conversion policy, and destroyed Pella because its inhabitants refused to convert. During his reign, the Hasmonean kingdom expanded to its greatest extent. His dual role as king and high priest, his inclination towards the Sadducees, the high cost of the wars in both money and lives threatened the governmental balance and sparked opposition to his rule, resulting in the Judean Civil War, which Jannaeus brutally suppressed.
Jannaeus' widow, Salome Alexandra (r. 76–67 BCE), ascended to power following her husband's death. Under her rule, the priesthood was separated from the other powers of government for the first time since the rise of the Hasmoneans. Salome appointed her son, Hyrcanus II, as high priest and his brother, Aristobulus II, as army commander, and pursued a moderate, mostly defensive policy that included the formation of a large and deterring army. Her nine-year reign is described as one of peace and economic prosperity, during which the country recovered from wars. The queen clearly supported the Pharisees, even allowing them to persecute and punish the Sadducees. Her rule had a distinct Hellenistic flavor, as there was no tradition of female rule in Judea.
Hasmonean kings attempted to revive the Judah described in the Bible: a Jewish monarchy ruled from Jerusalem and including all territories once ruled by David and Solomon. In order to carry out this project, the Hasmoneans forcibly converted neighbor nations to Judaism. Some scholars argue that the Hasmonean dynasty institutionalized the final Jewish biblical canon.
After Salome Alexander died in 67 BCE, Hyrcanus II, her older son, was entitled to assume the throne and was already acting as high priest. However, Aristobulus II, her younger son, was more energetic and determined to become king. Aristobulus gathered an army to attack Jerusalem, forcing Hyrcanus to abdicate the crown. The abdication was formally carried out in the temple, and Aristobulus' son, Alexander, married Hyrcanus' daughter, Alexandra. However, Antipater, an Edomite noble who served as Hyrcanus' advisor, convinced him that giving up the throne was a mistake that needed to be undone. Along with Aretas III, king of the Nabateans, these two formed an alliance and together they attacked and besieged Jerusalem.
During the same period, Roman general Pompey was in the midst of a campaign in the Eastern Mediterranean. After defeating Mithridates VI of Pontus, Pompey conquered the Seleucid Kingdom, which became a Roman province called Syria. The warrying brothers, who saw a mighty army camped near them, appealed to Pompey to decide between them. Three delegations then appeared before Pompey: one sent by Aristobulus, one sent by Hyrcanus, and another from "the people" who demanded to abolish the Hasmonean dynasty, which had transformed the rule of the priests into the rule of kings. Pompey heard the delegations but refrained from deciding. Eventually, in 63 BCE, Pompey invaded Judea, conquered Jerusalem, desecrated the Holy of Holies, imprisoned Aristobulus, and declared Hyrcanus an "ethnarch", a title inferior to the title "king". Judea then became a vassal kingdom of the Roman Republic.
After Pompey's conquest of Judea in 63 BCE, Hyrcanus II assumed the role of ethnarch; however, his advisor Antipater was ruler in practice and managed the kingdom's affairs. Some cities which were conquered by the Hasmoneans were removed from Judaean rule, including Azotus, Jaffa and Samaria, as well as Scythopolis and several cities in Transjordan, which formed the semi-autonomous Decapolis.
Hyrcanus II's rule was unstable. Alexander II, Aristobulus II's son, raised a large army and seized Jerusalem, forcing Hyrcanus to leave the city. The Roman general Aulus Gabinius invaded Judea in retaliation, sent Hyrcanus back to Jerusalem, and reinstated him as high priest. When Caesar's civil war broke out, Julius Caesar attempted to install Aristobulus on the throne; however, Aristobulus was poisoned, and his son Alexander, who was preparing to support him, was beheaded at Antioch at the command of Pompey. Antipater and his sons Phasael and Herod gained status and power at the expense of the Hasmonean dynasty's waning power.
When the Parthians invaded the area in 40 BCE, they installed Antigonus II Mattathias, Aristobulus II's youngest son, as king. Phasael committed suicide, and Hyrcanus II was taken as a prisoner to Babylon after having his ear severed in order to prevent him from ever acting as high priest again. Herod, who fled the Parthians, found his way to Mark Antony, who then controlled the eastern part of the Roman Republic. In agreement with his co-ruler Augustus, who controlled the western part, the two decided to appoint Herod as king of Judaea, and sent him with an army to seize the throne. In 37 BCE, Jerusalem was taken after a siege, and Antigonus was captured and executed.
In 37-36 BCE, Herod the Great was appointed king of the Jews by the Roman Senate. The kingdom of Judea during his period is also referred to as the Herodian kingdom. As a close and loyal ally to the Romans, Herod extended his rule as far as Arabia and the Hauran. Herod undertook many colossal building projects, including fully rebuilding the Second Temple and expanding the Temple Mount, and founding Caesarea Maritima as a major port city. Herod also constructed the enclosure around the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the fortress at Masada, and Herodium. The Herodian kingdom under Herod experienced a period of growth and expansion.
After Herod's death in 4 BCE, the kingdom was partitioned to several parts to each of his three sons (initially four parts), forming the Tetrarchy. The central part of the Tetrarchy was given to Herod Archelaus, including Judea proper, Idumea and Samaria. Herod's death in 4 BCE caused the release of built up frustrations of the people who were suppressed by his brutality. Many people were impoverished because of Herod's high taxes and spending. When he died, his building projects that once allowed for job opportunities were stopped, and many people lost their jobs. This built up frustrations that ultimately contributed to the causes of the First Jewish–Roman War.
In 6 CE, the country fell into unrest, and the Herodian ruler of Judea was deposed in favor of forming the new Iudaea Province under direct Roman rule. The Roman province of Judaea extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms. It was created in 6 CE with the Census of Quirinius and merged into Syria Palaestina after 135 CE.
Herod II ruled Ituraea and Trachonitis until his death in 34 CE when he was succeeded as tetrarch by Herod Agrippa I, who had previously been ruler of Chalcis. Agrippa surrendered Chalcis to his brother Herod and ruled in Philip's stead. On the death of Herod Antipas in 39 CE Herod Agrippa became ruler of Galilee also, and in 41 CE, as a mark of favour by the Emperor Claudius, succeeded the Roman prefect Marullus as ruler of Judea.
The era from roughly 4 BCE to 33 CE is also notable as being the time period when Jesus of Nazareth lived, primarily in Galilee, under the reign of Herod Antipas. It is therefore considered in specifically Jewish history as being when Christianity arose as a messianic sect from within Second Temple Judaism.
In 66 CE, the Jews of Judea rose in revolt against Rome, sparking the First Jewish–Roman War (66-73 CE), also known as the Great Jewish Revolt. Flavius Josephus, a contemporary Jewish historian who fought as the commander of Jewish forces in Galilee but later defected to the Roman side, chronicled the events of the war in his book The Jewish War.
Vespasian, an experienced Roman general, was sent by emperor Nero to crush the rebellion. He arrived at Ptolemais along with legions X Fretensis and V Macedonica. There he was joined by his son Titus, who arrived from Alexandria at the head of Legio XV Apollinaris, as well as by the armies of various local allies including that of king Agrippa II. During the Galilee campaign, many towns surrendered without a fight, and others were taken by force. Yodfat, a fortified town in the Lower Galilee, was besieged for 47 days before it fell to treachery; the city was razed, many people were killed, and the rest were enslaved. Gamla, the major Jewish stronghold in the Golan Heights, fell after a one month siege. Following a lull in military operations caused by civil war and political turmoil in Rome, Vespasian was summoned to Rome and appointed Emperor.
In early 70 CE, Titus moved to besiege Jerusalem, the center of rebel resistance in Judaea. The city had been taken over by several rebel factions following a period of massive unrest and the collapse of a short-lived provisional government. The first two walls of Jerusalem were breached in three weeks, but the Roman Army was unable to breach the third and thickest wall due to a stubborn rebel standoff. According to Josephus, a contemporary historian and the main source for the war, the city was ravaged by murder, famine and cannibalism. On Tisha B'Av, 70 CE (August 30), Roman forces finally overwhelmed the defenders and set fire to the Temple. Resistance continued for another month, but eventually the upper and lower parts of the city were taken as well, and the city was burned to the ground. Titus spared only the three towers of the Herodian citadel as a testimony to the city's former might. Josephus wrote that over a million people perished in the siege and the subsequent fighting. While contemporary studies dispute this figure, all agree that the siege had a major toll on human life, with many people being killed and enslaved, and large parts of the city destroyed.
After the fall of Jerusalem, Titus returned to Rome, leaving the remaining Jewish strongholds, including Herodium and Machaerus, to the Roman Legions. The war ended in 73-74 CE with the siege of Masada. According to Josephus, the siege resulted in the mass suicide of the Sicarii rebels and resident Jewish families, though the historicity of the mass suicide is debated.
Two generations after the First Jewish-Roman War, the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-136 CE) erupted. It resulted in the extensive depopulation of Judean communities, more so than during the First Jewish–Roman War of 70 CE. Some scholars have described these events as genocide. According to Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews perished in the war and many more died of hunger and disease, 50 fortresses and 985 villages were destroyed. In addition, many Judean war captives were sold into slavery. Some modern historians assert that Dio's numbers were somewhat exaggerated, but other researchers support Dio's claim of massive depopulation. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a Roman colony under the name of Aelia Capitolina, and the province of Judea was renamed Syria Palaestina.
Jewish presence in the region significantly dwindled after the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt.Nevertheless, there was a continuous small Jewish presence and Galilee became its religious center. Jewish communities also continued to reside in the southern Hebron Hills and on the coastal plain. The Mishnah and part of the Talmud, central Jewish texts, were composed during the 2nd to 4th centuries CE in Tiberias and Jerusalem.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, Judaism separated into a linguistically Greek and a Hebrew / Aramaic sphere.: 8–11 The theology and religious texts of each community were distinctively different.: 11–13 Hellenized Judaism never developed yeshivas to study the Oral Law. Rabbinic Judaism (centered in the Land of Israel and Babylon) almost entirely ignores the Hellenized Diaspora in its writings.: 13–14 Hellenized Judaism eventually disappeared as its practitioners assimilated into Greco-Roman culture, leaving a strong Rabbinic eastern Diaspora with large centers of learning in Babylon.: 14–16
By the first century, the Jewish community in Babylonia, to which Jews were exiled after the Babylonian conquest as well as after the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE, already held a speedily growing population of an estimated one million Jews, which increased to an estimated two million between the years 200 CE and 500 CE, both by natural growth and by immigration of more Jews from the Land of Israel, making up about one-sixth of the world Jewish population at that era.
Over the next centuries, more Jews emigrated to flourishing communities in the Diaspora. Others remained in the Land of Israel, and some converted to Christianity. In the following millennia, Jewish diaspora communities coalesced into three major ethnic subdivisions according to where their ancestors settled: the Ashkenazim (Central and Eastern Europe), the Sephardim (initially in the Iberian Peninsula), and the Mizrahim (Middle East and North Africa).
During the 600 years of the Second Temple period, multiple religious currents emerged and extensive religious developments occurred. The development of the Hebrew Bible canon, the synagogue, Jewish eschatology can all be traced back to the Second Temple period.
According to Jewish tradition, prophecy ceased during the early Second Temple period; this left the Jews without their version of divine guidance at a time when they felt most in need of support and direction.
During the Hellenistic period, currents of Judaism were influenced by Hellenistic philosophy developed from the 3rd century BCE, notably the Jewish diaspora in Alexandria, culminating in the compilation of the Septuagint. An important advocate of the symbiosis of Jewish theology and Hellenistic thought is Philo. The growing influence of Hellenism in Judaism became a source of dissent for some Jews; this was a major catalyst for the Maccabean revolt.
From c. 170 BCE to 30 CE, five successive generations of zugot ("pairs of") leaders headed the Jews' spiritual affairs. It was during this period that the sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots were formed.
A number of messianic ideas developed during the later Second Temple period. Christianity first emerged as a Second Temple Judaic sect in the 1st century Hellenistic Judaism in Roman Judea. Jesus of Nazareth was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. After his death, his apostles and their followers spread around the Levant, Europe, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the South Caucasus, Egypt, and Ethiopia, despite initial persecution. It soon attracted gentile God-fearers, which led to a departure from Jewish customs, and, after the fall of Jerusalem which ended the Temple-based Judaism, Christianity slowly separated from Judaism.
Judea's linguistic situation during the Second Temple period is defined by the co-existence of two spoken languages: Aramaic and Hebrew. The meaning of the population's bilingualism is debated; opinions differ on whether speakers express themselves equally in Hebrew or Aramaic, or whether one language is preferred over the other depending on region. Aramaic became widely spoken in Samaria and Galilee, while Judea continued to use Hebrew. Although Aramaic had eventually surpassed Hebrew as the most widely spoken language in the region, many people learned Hebrew as a liturgical language.
During the two centuries of Persian rule (538–332 BCE), the administrative language was Imperial Aramaic. Beginning in 333 BCE, Koine Greek became the official language of administration and was used to spread Hellenistic culture. Even under Roman rule, the administrative language in the eastern provinces, including Judaea, remained Greek.
The square script (also known as Ktav Ashuri) had probably already started to replace the paleo-Hebrew script during the Persian period, though the transition was not complete until the Hellenistic period and traces of the previous script were still in use until the Bar-Kokhba revolt.
Latin, the language of the Roman army and higher levels of administration, had almost no impact on the linguistic landscape. It is less common in texts and archaeology. Only a few Latin papyri were discovered in the region; those discovered at Masada belonged to the Roman garrison.
During the Persian period, Aramaic was the civil administration language. The contract texts were written in Aramaic. The ketubah (marriage contract), get (divorce certificate), and other legal documents mentioned in the Talmud are written in Aramaic. The formulas for the Aramaic texts of the ketubot have been preserved since the Persian period, even though they were modified during the Hellenistic period. Elephantine's Jewish community has adopted Aramaic, and it was the main language used in the Elephantine papyri and ostraca. Jesus, a native of the Galilee, and his disciples spoke Aramaic.
Despite the fact that Aramaic has become the most widely spoken language, there are few Aramaic texts that provide information on the language spoken in the region during the Second Temple period. Three books of the Hebrew Bible contain passages in Aramaic: Ezra 4:8 to 6:18 and 7:12 to 26 and Daniel 2:4 to 7:28. The Megillat Ta'anit ("The Scroll of Fasting") was written in Aramaic around the first century CE. This is also true of the targumim, or Aramaic paraphrases of the Bible, but dating them is difficult.
Some of the later books of the Hebrew Bible, including Ezra and Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, Chronicles, and Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, are explicitly dated to the Second Temple period. The first and second verses of the book of Ezekiel were written during the Babylonian exile. There are varying opinions about when Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Jonah, some of the Psalms, and possibly the Book of Job were written. The majority of researchers, however, agree that they were composed during the Second Temple period. Most of these books were written in what linguistics call "Late Biblical Hebrew". This later form of Biblical Hebrew is particularly notables in the Book of Chronicles since it occasionally rewrites sections from Samuel and Kings and modifies parts to conform to post-exilic usage. However, not all of the Second Temple literature exhibits the language traits of late Biblical Hebrew to the same degree; some of it is written in a manner that is strikingly reminiscent of classical Biblical Hebrew.
Hebrew was still a spoken language during the Second Temple period at least in some areas of Judea. It continued to be used up until 200 CE, and possibly even after. It is thought that the Hebrew spoken during the Second Temple period evolved from Biblical Hebrew, possibly from a distinct dialect. This form of Hebrew is now known as Mishnaic Hebrew. The Hasideans, who are believed to be the precursors of both the Essenes and the Pharisees, used a combination of Biblical Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew as their literary language, with Mishnaic Hebrew dominating. The literature of the Tannaim and Amoraim of the Land of Israel and Babylonia is written in Mishnaic Hebrew, which is later found in the Mishnah. Among the earliest are the tractates of Tamid and Middot. It reflects a living Hebrew that is not just an artificial language reserved for Jewish scholars, despite the fact that this language has been fixed in rabbinic discussions. The Qumran group continued to use Late Biblical Hebrew, which was still a literary language, while fusing it with their own unique linguistic traits.
The first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus asserts that he addressed the people of Jerusalem in Hebrew. But as usual, his testimony is ambiguous and at odds with the Aramaic transcriptions he uses to describe Jewish traditions. Spoken Hebrew saw a brief resurgence in interest during the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–135 CE). The Mishna, however, was written down circa 200 CE because it could no longer be memorized and could no longer be transmitted orally due to the lack of Hebrew speakers who could memorize it.
Archaeology provides evidence of the usage of Mishnaic Hebrew in the Second Temple period. It can be found in texts found in the Judaean Desert from the first and second centuries, including the Copper Scroll found in Qumran and the Bar Kokhba letters and other writings found in caves near Nahal Hever. These documents provide a glimpse of everyday Hebrew, without indicating which regions they pertain to. Judean Desert examples tend to indicate that it is a southern dialect.
Greek was the primary language of the Jews of Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, particularly those of Alexandria. Although the Jews of Egypt used Aramaic in the early Ptolemaic period, it was quickly abandoned in favor of Greek. It is only in the early Byzantine period that Egyptian Jewish communities communicated with one another in Hebrew, which again served as the official language.
The use of Greek was not limited to the Jewish Diaspora. From the third century BCE onward, almost all inscriptions in the Southern Levant were written in Greek, with the exception of tombs and ossuaries, as well as those in synagogues. Many ossuaries of the period bear inscriptions in Greek, either indicating the tombs of families descended from the Diaspora or assisting authorities in identifying the tombs. According to the Mishna, Greek was even present in the Temple of Jerusalem.
Greek was widely used in Judaea, at least in a certain social stratum. Greek was also used in legal documents such as the Babatha Archives and the Bar Kokhba letters. The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was not limited to Jews in the Diaspora - it was also used in Judea, as evidenced by the discovery of fragments at Qumran and Nahal Hever.
In contrast to earlier and later Jewish burial practices, the two acceptable types of burial during the late Second Temple period (1st-2nd centuries BCE and CE) were primary burial in coffins and secondary burial in ossuaries. For primary burial, coffins were placed in kokhim. After a while, bones were collected for secondary burial in kokhim and placed in ossuaries. Ossuaries, which were cut from local limestone, were either kept on the floor or on shelves in specially carved niches in the walls of the tomb. It was common for the ossuaries to be decorated with ornaments that included typical motifs of the period. In Jerusalem, for example, palm branches and flowers, especially the lily, were typical motives. Funerary inscriptions with names etched or inscribed in Hebrew or Greek ossuaries are commonly found on ossuaries and sometimes on tombs.
A number of especially lavish tombs were built around Jerusalem during the early Roman period. Examples are the so-called "Tombs of the Sanhedrin" and the monumental tombs of the Kidron Valley. As a common practice in the Greco-Roman world, these tombs were built along ancient roads that have since disappeared. Scholars believe these tombs were built by individuals seeking to elevate themselves and their families in the eyes of Jews in both the Land of Israel and the Diaspora by employing temple-like architectural designs.
According to Jewish Law (Mishnah, Bava Batra tractate), due to the sanctity of Jerusalem and the impurity of the dead, burial was only allowed beyond the city's walls and fifty cubits away. When the city expanded, the cemeteries were removed (except for the graves of the House of David and Huldah). It has been suggested that the Uzziah Tablet, which says "Hither were brought the bones of Uzziah, king of Judah. Not to be opened", might indicate that king Uzziah's tomb was relocated beyond the city's walls during this period. Jericho's cemetery was also located outside the town's limits.
The ensuing power struggle left Hyrcanus with a free hand in Judea, and he quickly reasserted Jewish sovereignty... Hyrcanus then engaged in a series of military campaigns aimed at territorial expansion. He first conquered areas in the Transjordan. He then turned his attention to Samaria, which had long separated Judea from the northern Jewish settlements in Lower Galilee. In the south, Adora and Marisa were conquered; (Aristobulus') primary accomplishment was annexing and Judaizing the region of Iturea, located between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains
The expansion of Hasmonean Judea took place gradually. Under Jonathan, Judea annexed southern Samaria and began to expand in the direction of the coast plain... The main ethnic changes were the work of John Hyrcanus... it was in his days and those of his son Aristobulus that the annexation of Idumea, Samaria and Galilee and the consolidation of Jewish settlement in Trans-Jordan was completed. Alexander Jannai, continuing the work of his predecessors, expanded Judean rule to the entire coastal plain, from the Carmel to the Egyptian border... and to additional areas in Trans-Jordan, including some of the Greek cities there.
From the beginning of the Second Temple period until the Muslim conquest—the land was part of imperial space. This was true from the early Persian period, as well as the time of Ptolemy and the Seleucids. The only exception was the Hasmonean Kingdom, with its sovereign Jewish rule—first over Judah and later, in Alexander Jannaeus's prime, extending to the coast, the north, and the eastern banks of the Jordan.
Until the modern period, the destruction of the Temple was the most cataclysmic moment in the history of the Jewish people. Without the Temple, the Sadducees no longer had any claim to authority, and they faded away. The sage Yochanan ben Zakkai, with permission from Rome, set up the outpost of Yavneh to continue develop of Pharisaic, or rabbinic, Judaism.
In the second century BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in G‑d. Against all odds, a small band of faithful but poorly armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G‑d. ... To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah.
The destruction of the Samaritan temple, Josephus argues, had taken place at the beginning of the reign of John Hyrcanus (135-104 BCE), rather than at the end of his reign. From the coinage, a dating later than 111 BCE is the more probable.
John Hyrcanus I, who embarked upon further territorial conquests, forcing the non-Jewish populations of the conquered regions to adopt the Jewish way of life and destroying the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim..
The capitulation of the rest of Jerusalem was rapid. Those parts of the lower city already under Roman control were deliberately set on fire. The erection of new towers to break down the walls of the upper city was completed on 7 Elul (in mid-August), and the troops forced their way in. By 8 Elul the whole city was in Roman hands – and in ruins. In recompense for the ferocious fighting they had been required to endure, the soldiers were given free rein to loot and kill, until eventually Titus ordered that the city be razed to the ground, “leaving only the loftiest of the towers, Phasael, Hippicus and Mariamme, and the portion of the wall enclosing the city on the west: the latter as an encampment for the garrison that was to remain, and the towers to indicate to posterity the nature of the city and of the strong defences which had yet yielded to Roman prowess. All the rest of the wall encompassing the city was so completely levelled to the ground as to leave future visitors to the spot no ground for believing that it had ever been inhabited.”
Land confiscation in Judaea was part of the suppression of the revolt policy of the Romans and punishment for the rebels. But the very claim that the sikarikon laws were annulled for settlement purposes seems to indicate that Jews continued to reside in Judaea even after the Second Revolt. There is no doubt that this area suffered the severest damage from the suppression of the revolt. Settlements in Judaea, such as Herodion and Bethar, had already been destroyed during the course of the revolt, and Jews were expelled from the districts of Gophna, Herodion, and Aqraba. However, it should not be claimed that the region of Judaea was completely destroyed. Jews continued to live in areas such as Lod (Lydda), south of the Hebron Mountain, and the coastal regions. In other areas of the Land of Israel that did not have any direct connection with the Second Revolt, no settlement changes can be identified as resulting from it.
These texts, combined with the relics of those who hid in caves along the western side of the Dead Sea, tells us a great deal. What is clear from the evidence of both skeletal remains and artefacts is that the Roman assault on the Jewish population of the Dead Sea was so severe and comprehensive that no one came to retrieve precious legal documents, or bury the dead. Up until this date the Bar Kokhba documents indicate that towns, villages and ports where Jews lived were busy with industry and activity. Afterwards there is an eerie silence, and the archaeological record testifies to little Jewish presence until the Byzantine era, in En Gedi. This picture coheres with what we have already determined in Part I of this study, that the crucial date for what can only be described as genocide, and the devastation of Jews and Judaism within central Judea, was 135 CE and not, as usually assumed, 70 CE, despite the siege of Jerusalem and the Temple's destruction
Scholars have long doubted the historical accuracy of Cassius Dio's account of the consequences of the Bar Kokhba War (Roman History 69.14). According to this text, considered the most reliable literary source for the Second Jewish Revolt, the war encompassed all of Judea: the Romans destroyed 985 villages and 50 fortresses, and killed 580,000 rebels. This article reassesses Cassius Dio's figures by drawing on new evidence from excavations and surveys in Judea, Transjordan, and the Galilee. Three research methods are combined: an ethno-archaeological comparison with the settlement picture in the Ottoman Period, comparison with similar settlement studies in the Galilee, and an evaluation of settled sites from the Middle Roman Period (70–136CE). The study demonstrates the potential contribution of the archaeological record to this issue and supports the view of Cassius Dio's demographic data as a reliable account, which he based on contemporaneous documentation.
The Jewish community strove to recover from the catastrophic results of the Bar Kokhva revolt (132–135 CE). Although some of these attempts were relatively successful, the Jews never fully recovered. During the Late Roman and Byzantine periods, many Jews emigrated to thriving centres in the diaspora, especially Iraq, whereas some converted to Christianity and others continued to live in the Holy Land, especially in Galilee and the coastal plain.