Thursday, October 15, 2009

M) The period of the Second Temple

How long did the Second Temple last? Counting from Cyrus' edict and the first return of the exiles from Babel under Sheshbazzar's lead in 535 B.C.E. till the destruction in 70 C.E. by Titus, we come to somewhat over 600 years. But there is the saying of a famous sage, Rav Yossi, that the Second Temple stood for 420 years.1

This discrepancy of 180 or so years led to all kind of disputes and attempts either to align the historic dates to this dictum, or to disqualify it as mere conjecture.

Deducting 420 years from 70 C.E. leads us to 350 B.C.E., that is, into the days of Artaxerxes III who reigned from 364 - 335 B.C.E. At that time, the Persian Empire showed already many signs of crumbling. He had to cope with widespread severe revolts, and he is known for crushing them with an iron fist, even with cruelty. The principle of the Achaemenians, to govern as "Friends of Man", had worn out. Probably he saw no other way to keep the collapsing Empire.

One of these revolts seems to be reflected in the apocryphal Book of Judith. Its central figure Holofernes may well be related to the Cappadocian/Greek general of that name who is mentioned by ancient historians in connection with King Artaxerxes' III campaign to subdue Egypt again, after she had broken away due to Persia's weakness. He regained Egypt in 350 B.C.E. It could well be that the forces of Holofernes, taking advantage of Artaxerxes' III military engagement in Egypt, joined a wide spread revolt against the Persian rule, and managed in its wake to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem2.

If so, Rav Yossi's saying mentioned above, would refer to the reconstruction of the Temple in 350, and would not take into account the several buildings and destructions and re-buildings which had occurred between Cyrus' edict and that final reconstruction. The Second Temple stood then, undestroyed, for 420 years3.

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