Zealots, Essenes, Pharisees and Sadduccees

Second Temple Period

According to the Jewish history, the Second Temple period started in 530 BCE and ended in 70 CE and this is the period during which the Second Temple existed in Jerusalem. The sects of Judaism that include Zealots, Essenes, Pharisees and Sadduccees also formed during this time period. With the end of the First Roman-Jewish War, this period also came to an end along with the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem by the Romans.

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As for the Second Temple, it is considered to be a significant Jewish Holy Temple that was constructed on the Temple Mount in the city of Jerusalem and was constructed during the Second Temple period between the aforementioned years. After the destruction of the First Temple in the year 586 BCE, the Second Temple replaced it during the time in which the Jewish nation was in exile in Babylon. It is believed in the Jewish eschatology that a future Third Temple will replace the Second Temple[footnoteRef:2]. [2: Tammy, Hellemism during the Intertestamental Period, 2013]

A theological crisis was also faced by the Jewish nation that involved the power, nature and goodness of God. They also had to face racial, cultural and ceremonial threats as they were forced to become a part of other people and religious groups. Moreover, during this time, the Jews were also deprived of any recognized prophets and therefore there was no one who could give them divine guidance especially at the time when they needed it the most[footnoteRef:3]. The second crisis that the Jewish nation was troubled with was the increasing influence of Hellenism in their religion, which resulted in the Maccabean Revolt in the year 167 BCE. The Roman occupation of Judaism, which started Pompey after he sacked the city of Jerusalem in the year 63 BCE, was the third crisis for the Jewish nation. The appointment of Herod, by the Roman Senate, as the King of Jews was also a part of this crisis. Israel, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority were included in the Kingdom of Herod. [3: Sameulson, Revelation and the God of Israel, 2002]

Planning and Construction of the Second Temple

It is important to note here that the construction of the Second Temple reached its final stages under the supervision and guidance of the last three prophets of Judaism that included Malachi, Zechariah and Haggai with the financing and approval of the Persian. About five decades after the destruction of the First Temple, the destroyers of the temple (the Babylonians) were taken over the rising Persian Empire. Cyrus, also known as Alexander the Great, gave the approval to the Jews for rebuilding the Temple[footnoteRef:4]. However, the construction of the Temple came to temporary halt after the Samaritans interfered in the matter. In the year 353 BCE, just seventy years after the First Temple was destroyed, the Jews started the construction of the Temple. First the Jews started the construction independently but King Darius approved their effort soon after some time. The construction of the Second Temple was completed in the year 349 BCE. The community in Judea became secure and vibrant once they came under the supervision of Nehemiah and Ezra. [4: Butler, Alexander the Great and the Hellinstic Era, 2007]

Seven years after allowing the Jewish nation to return to their homeland and reconstruct the Temple, Alexander the Great died and was his son Cambyses took over the throne. At the time of his death, an imposter known as “false Smerdis” took over the throne for about seven to eight months after which Darius I of Persia was declared the King in the year 522 BCE. As stated earlier, the work of reconstruction of the temple was resumed in the second year of this reign and was taken to the point of completion under the supervision and leadership of the prophets Zechariah and Haggai. At this point, the Temple was ready for dedication in the year 516 BCE, which was 21 years after the Jews returned to their homeland. The construction of the Second Temple was completed in the month of Adar during the sixth year of the rule of King Darius, while all the people were busy rejoicing. The celebrations of Jews at this point were significant because the Jews were not considered to be independent people, but people who were being ruled by foreign power. A prediction has been included in the Book of Haggai that the Second Temple will prove to be greater and more powerful that the First Temple.

The Second Temple period lasted for about 420 years and came to an end with the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in the year 70 CE. For most of this time period, Judea was being ruled by the foreign powers. First the Persians ruled the Jews and then after some expeditions that were under taken by Alexander the Great, Judea came under the domination of Greeks. The With the Hasmonean revolt that took place in 140 BCE, there was a period of Jewish monarchy. However, the Hasmoneans could remain in power for long.

Herod the Great

In the year 36 BCE, Herod who was an Idumean came in power as the ruler of Judea. He was known as Herod the Great, and it was known that he suffered from paranoia and dominated Judea with ruthless cruelty. It has been known that he killed 46 leaders who were the members of Sanhedrin and then went on to murder the rest of the members of the Hasmonean family that included his wife and children.

Herod the Great was a man of ambitions and he dominated with great zeal and expanded his reign. Some of his projects that significantly mentioned in the history include the construction of the fortress in Massada, the building of the port city that is known as Caesaria and the construction of the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. However, needless to say, his most ambitious construction project was the reconstruction and expansion of the Temple[footnoteRef:5]. He took over this project by 19 BCE. [5: The End of Days, 2002]

The consequences of the aforementioned project were spectacular. The Temple of Herod was made up of white marble that was covered with plates of gold. Josephus has stated that it was a reflection of a blaze of fire that was so fierce that the people who made an attempt to look at it had to turn their heads since they felt like they were staring at the sun. To the people who watched it from a distance, the Temple gave an impression of a mountain that had been covered with snow. Sages have also been reported as saying that the person, who had not witnessed the Temple of Herod, missed out on a very beautiful building.

During the reign of Herod, the region was mostly peaceful and there was significant economic prosperity as well as a boom in building and construction. The King also made sure that he has good ties with the rulers of the neighboring regions. This is one of the main reasons why he enjoyed a favorable relationship with King of Rome. Herod was quite generous towards him and therefore he was able to enjoy a great deal of freedom of action to control the city and the state from all sides, without troubling Rome.

According to history, Herod was the ruler of Jerusalem for 33 years. His domination began in the year 37 BCE and ended 4 BCE. During his reign, he constantly remained loyal to the patron of Rome and always lived up to the commitments that he made with the Jewish people. On the other hand, the Jews had a great deal of hatred for Herod and they used to refer to him as “Edomite slave.” He was given this title because of his foreign origin and because he carried subservience with the Roman patron. During the early period of his rule, Herod wanted to acquire legitimacy for his domination. Therefore, he decided to marry Mariamme who was a Hasmonean princess. She was also the sister of Aristobulus III. Soon after their marriage, the princess started to disobey Herod and therefore she was executed by him. Herod’s next attempt to acquire legitimacy was through the high-scale renovation of the Temple.

It is important to note here that during the domination of Herod, Jerusalem again became a Hellenistic city and included the entire essential elements and establishments of a Polis. During his rule, Herod also ordered the construction of a huge theatre in which he used to hold wrestling tournaments in the respect of the Emperor. Apart from this, there were also performances in which the men used to fight with wild animals. Herod also facilitated the movement of gentile to Jerusalem. As Herod was an ambitious builder, he was in love with the Hellenistic architecture and decorations that demonstrated the pagan gods. The currency that was used during his domain also had a pagan motif.

The economic situation of the Jewish pilgrims was always very crucial. They used to come to Jerusalem from all parts of the empire along with the latest innovations and news. Moreover, these pilgrims also sought wholesale as well as retail trade opportunities in the Holy city. Through this kind of trade, the pilgrims tried to provide a living for themselves. As stated earlier, Jerusalem was a successful city under the domination of Herod. The city was aboded by the priestly class that was affluent with luxury and wealth. This situation of the city has been testified by the archaeological remains that include Mikvaot. The aforementioned are ritual baths and have been found in the privacy of the homes of the priests. Apart from this, rare glassware in mines has also been found in the Quarter of Herod, which is currently a Jewish Quarter. Because of the free trade that was allowed in the region, even the lower classes started to become quite prosperous. The masses were able to enjoy the benefits that resulted from the continuous exchange of currency and trade in the region. Since there was increased Jewish hostility towards Herod and economic welfare in the region, an internal war started between Sadducees and Pharisees.

There is no doubt in the fact that the Jewish Jerusalem despised the King Herod. The main reason for this hatred was that he hired informants and spies and other officials. However, there were some boundaries that Herod did not cross. He did not cross the Temple Mount and he did not order the placement of any foreign idols in the Temple. Apart from this, he also did not perform any pagan sacrifice in Jerusalem. Herod considered Jerusalem as his showcase and therefore he gave invitations to the significant personalities of Rome so that they could also view the splendor of the city.

After the death of Herod in the year 4 BCE, the kingdom was divided in several fractions to his three sons. Initially there were four parts of the kingdom and hence the term Tetrarchy was used to describe it. The central part of the kingdom belonged to Herod Archealaus. This part included Samaria, Idumea and Judea proper. In the year 6 CE, the country had to face some crisis and there was unrest in the region. During these circumstances, the Herodian emperor was placed in the favor of making a new Roman province that was called the Roman Judea. Until his death in the year 34 CE, Philip was the ruler of Trachonitis and Ituraea, when he became the successor of the tetrarchy by Herod Agrippa I. Agrippa I was previously the ruler of Chalcis. Chalcis was surrendered to Agrippa’s brother Herod. When Herod Antipas died in the year 39 CE, Herod Agrippa also took the power over Galilee. In the year 41 CE, Agrippa took the place of the Roman prefect, Marullus, as the emperor of Iudaea. Soon after this acquisition, the Jewish Heroian Kingdom was technically re-instated until the year 44 CE.

After the death of Herod the Great, the downfall of the country begin. It became a common practice for the Roman governors to oppress the Jews and they also did not make sure that there was lawfulness in the region. The corrupt Roman officers started to kill and plunder along with the Arab gangs.

The Former High Priests, who worked really hard to make themselves a part of the office, were also replaced. After being replaced, they hired their own soldiers to take care of the Temple. In the year 28 CE, there was chaos and violence in the region and the Sanhedrin vacated their post that was formerly there in the Temple.

The Events that Shaped the World of the New Testament

It should be noted here that there is not just a single event that can be considered to be responsible for the advent of the New Testament. In fact, there is a chain of events that took place before the New Testament. All of these events have been talked about in the previous part of the paper, however, now we shall briefly summarize these events with respect to the New Testament.

So basically, there are seven main events that led to the New Testament. Four of these events took place before the Christ; meanwhile the remaining three took place after the Christ[footnoteRef:6]. The first event that is significant with respect to the New Testament is the death of Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great, also known as Cyrus died in the year 323 BC. During his rule in Jerusalem, he allowed the Jewish nation to return to their homeland and it was during his rule that the construction of the Second Temple was started. The second important event was the process of translation of Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. This process started in the year 250 BC. During this time period, Jerusalem was under the power of Greek rulers that started with the advent of Alexander the Great. Now, we shall talk about the event that can be considered to be one of the most important and crucial ones among the seven events that led to the New Testament. This event was the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple that took place in the year 164 BC. The First Temple was considered to be an extremely Holy place for the Jews. After it was destroyed and the Jews were being ruled by foreign emperors, the construction of the Second Temple was an important event. The next even in the chain of events that led to the New Testament was the occupation of Judea by the Roman rulers. After the death of Herod the Great, a civil war broke out in the region and the Romans took over Jerusalem. This took place in 63 BC. [6: Kennedy, Seven Events that Shaped the New Testament World, 2013]

The aforementioned were events that took place before the advent of the Christ. Now we shall talk about the events that took place after Christ. Needless to say, the single most important event that led to the New Testament was the crucifixion of Jesus. This was the most significant religious event that took place during that era. Jesus was crucified in the year 30 AD. After this event, the writing of the texts of the New Testament started. This event took the most time since the people who were responsible for writing the texts had to collect manuscripts from various places. The writing started in the year 50 AD and ended in around 130 AD. The last event that shaped the world for the New Testament was the process of “closing” the Canon of the New Testament. This process was final event and too place in the year 397 AD[footnoteRef:7]. [7: Jonge, The New Testament Canon, 2003]


Butler, Chris. Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic era (336 BCE-31 BCE).The Flow of History, 2007.

Jonge, H. “The New Testament Canon,” in The Biblical Canons. eds. de Jonge & J.M. Auwers (Leuven University Press, 2003).

Kennedy, Lindsay. Seven Events that Shaped the New Testament World.My Digital Seminary, 2013.

Samuelson, Norbert Max. Revelation and the God of Israel.Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Tammy, Trembley. “Hellenism During the Intertestamental Period.” Religion Topics, 2013.

The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount.GershomGorenberg, Oxford University Press U.S., 2002.

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