After the First Temple

Jewish history was permanently altered by the destruction of the First Temple, and the exile that came afterwards.

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Notably, Jerusalem is not on the list of restored cities and temples. The book of Ezra, however, does preserve an edict purporting to be from Cyrus authorized the rebuilding of Temple and the restoration of the temple vessels. An embellished form of the edict is found in the first chapter of Ezra in which Cyrus sounds like Second Isaiah, attributing his rise to the Lord God of heaven, using the particular name of the God of Israel. Later, during the reign of Darius, a copy of Cyrus' edict was found (Ezra 6:3-5); this version is somewhat more reasonable, including dimensions for the temple which was to be rebuilt and none of the language that describes Cyrus as an adherent of the God of Israel.

Although the Second Temple was not built for many decades, some of the exiled Jews did return from Babylon. Upon their return, conflicts developed between the community of the returnees and that of those who were left in Judah. The exilic experience had apparently been a fertile one for religious developments, and the two communities had diverged in ways that would have a formative impact on the shape of all later Judaism.

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Jeffrey Spitzer is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy, The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., and a member of the Institute's Tichon Fellows Program.