Now I want to move on a little bit more to
the historical background of some of the books that we’ll be looking at in today’s lecture
and then also the last couple of lectures. We left the Israelites in exile in Babylon.
And in 539 BCE the Babylonian Empire was itself defeated by the Persians under the leadership
of Cyrus–Cyrus of Persia. In 539 he manages to establish the largest empire that’s been
seen in the Ancient Near East to date. It stretches from Egypt all the way north up
to Asia Minor which is modern-day Turkey, and all the way over to Eastern Iran; a huge
empire. Unlike other ancient empires, the Persian Empire espoused a policy of cultural
and religious independence for its conquered subjects. The famous Cyrus Cylinder–this
is a nine inch long fired clay cylinder and it’s covered in cuneiform writing–it tells
of Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon. The conquest is described as being at the command of Babylon’s
god, Marduk, so obviously the Babylonians’ god Marduk wanted “our Cyrus of Persia” to
be able to come in and conquer this nation. It tells of his conquest and it tells of Cyrus’
policy of allowing captives to return to their homelands and to rebuild their temples and
worship their gods. This is consistent; this archaeological find is consistent with the
picture that’s presented in the Bible. According to the biblical text we’ll be discussing soon,
Cyrus in 538 gave the Judean exiles permission to return to Jerusalem and reconstruct their
temple. The exiles did return; many of the exiles returned. They returned to what was
now a Persian province: it’s the province of Yehud. Yehud is the name now of Judea and
Yehud is where we’re going to get the word Jew. Yehudi is the word Jew; one who belongs
to the province of Yehud. So many of the exiles returned to this now-Persian province Yehud,
and they exercised a fair degree of self determination. Now, periodization of Jewish history tends
to center on these events, so the period from 586 to 538 or so–that’s known as exilic period.
Most scholars maintain that the traditions of the priestly source, the traditions of
the Deuteronomistic source had pretty well reached their final form in those years. Obviously,
older traditions go into the composition of those corpora, but they reach their final
form for the most part in that period. So the post-exilic period following is also known
as the Persian period, at first, but of course the Persians won’t rule for long. Alexander’s
going to come marching through the Ancient Near East, so after the Persians we’ll have
the Hellenistic Period. But the period after the exile is referred to as the Persian period,
the period of the Restoration, [or] the post-exilic period. It’s also called the Second Temple
Period because by about 520 they will have reconstructed the temple; so it’s not inaccurate
really to refer to this time as the Second Temple Period. The second temple will stand
until 70, the year 70 of the Common Era. So the period, of course, before the exile we
think of as the First Temple Period (the temple is destroyed in 586), so the first temple
period or pre-exilic period.