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The remains of the Second Temple in Jerusalem

Persia and the Jews: The remains of the Second Temple in Jerusalem

The Persians let the Jews go home

In 536 BC, Cyrus the Great, the king of the Persians, conquered the Babylonian Empire. Cyrus may have believed that religious freedom was important to keeping his empire together. And he wanted each area (satrapy) of his empire to rule itself. So he let the Jews go home from Babylon (BA-bi-lon). That ended the Babylonian Captivity. Of course the Jews were very happy.

What’s the Babylonian Captivity?
Who were the Persians?
History of the Jews
All our West Asia articles

Many Jews stayed in Babylon

Not all the Jews chose to leave Babylon. By this time a lot of the Babylonian Jews had been born in Babylon. People had businesses and houses and their kids were in school, so many of them decided to stay. Many of them continued to be Jewish, though. For hundreds of years there was a big Jewish community in Babylon.

Nehemiah gets mad

But other Jews, including Nehemiah (neh-huh-MY-uh), did choose to go back to Israel. When Nehemiah and his followers got back to Israel, they were upset at what they found there. Many Jews who were still living in Israel were not following the Law strictly. Even worse, many of these Jews had married Canaanites or Ammonites or Arabians!

The Ten Commandments
Who were the Canaanites?
Early Arabia

The Babylonian Jews were afraid God would be angry with them. So they worked hard to force all these other Jews to obey the Law better, And they rebuilt their Temple in Jerusalem (the Second Temple).

Jonah being swallowed by the whale, from a Coptic tapestry in Egypt, about 4-500 AD

Jonah being swallowed by the whale, from a Coptic tapestry in Egypt, about 4-500 AD

Esther and the Persian king

This was the time of the Bible story of Esther (ESS-ter). According to the Bible story, Esther was a Jewish woman from Babylon who married a Persian king. She was able to save the other Babylonian Jews from being killed by Haman (HEY-man), the king’s advisor. This is the basis of the Jewish holiday called Purim (POOH-rim).

The story of Esther
What is Purim?

Jonah and the whale

The Persian Empire’s also the setting for the story of Jonah. According to the Bible, God told Jonah to go and preach about Judaism in the Persian city of Nineveh. But Jonah didn’t want to go there. Instead he got on a ship going from Joppa (in Israel) to Tarshish. After God got mad at him, Jonah did go preach in Nineveh (near Babylon). Jonah’s story shows that Jews travelled all around West Asia at this time.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about Persia and the Jews? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by doing: put on a Purim play about Esther and Haman

Daniel in the lion’s den

Alexander and the Maccabees
First Jewish Revolt

Bibliography and further reading about the Jews under Persian rule:

Alexander and the Maccabees
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