Jews Return from Exile

After many Judeans (now called Jews) had been living in exile in Babylonia for several decades, the Persian king Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in 539 B.C., and a year later he decreed that all exiled Jews in his kingdom could return to their homeland (Ezra 1:1-4; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23). A short time after this a group of about 50,000 Jews returned to Judea, which was now a very minor province within the vast Persian Empire (Ezra 1-2). This first group of returnees was led by the newly appointed governor Zerubbabel (who was perhaps also called Sheshbazzar). This first group of Jews immediately restored the altar of the Temple (Ezra 3-4), and then by 516 B.C. they finished rebuilding the Temple of the Lord (Ezra 6; Haggai 1). Several decades after this in 458 B.C., King Artaxerxes I appointed the Jewish scribe Ezra to lead another group of about 5000 Jews to Judea to restore proper Temple worship (Ezra 7-8; Nehemiah 7). None of these Jews under Ezra’s leadership would have been among those originally exiled from Judea, since Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians over 120 years earlier (2 Kings 24-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 39; 52). Then around 445 B.C., Nehemiah, a Jewish official in the Persian royal court, obtained permission from Artaxerxes I to travel to Judea to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Soon after Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem he organized those living in Jerusalem and the nearby towns into work teams and completed the walls in 52 days (Nehemiah 2:1-10; also see Nehemiah’s Jerusalem here).

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