The Persian Empire

In 539 B.C. Cyrus the Great of Persia overthrew the Babylonians, and a year later he decreed that the Judeans who had been sent into exile were allowed to return home and rebuild the temple. A small contingent of Judeans made the long journey and reestablished Judea as a very small district (shown in red) in the much larger Persian province called Beyond the River, which included most of the land along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The Persian Empire (shown in green) continued to grow until it ruled virtually the entire Near East–a domain about 8 times the size of Texas. This vast empire was the world of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Queen Esther.

Jerusalem during the Old Testament

The city of Jerusalem underwent many changes throughout Bible times. When King David captured the city from the Jebusites, it was a relatively small fortress positioned next to the Gihon Spring–a dependable source of water that later enabled the city to withstand various sieges. King Solomon built the temple on a threshing floor north of the city, and the city continued to grow. King Hezekiah eventually expanded the walls to encompass a much larger area and replaced the old Jebusite tunnel with another tunnel (probably called Shiloah) to channel water more securely from the Gihon Spring to the Lower Pool (later called the Pool of Siloam/Shiloah) and the king’s garden. This new tunnel is probably what Isaiah 8:5-8 refers to when it rebukes the people of Judah for rejecting the gently flowing waters of Shiloah to support the Arameans.

Roads of the Central Hill Country

Most people don’t realize that roads were as important in Bible times as they are today. Many of the events of the Bible took place in towns that lay along main roads (see below). King Solomon also became very wealthy partially because he controlled the very important trade routes that passed through Israel, which connected several other major nations (Egypt, Assyria, the Hittites, etc.).