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The Second Temple was an important Jewish Holy Temple (Hebrew: בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי: Bet HaMikdash HaSheni; Arabic: بيت القدس: Beit al-Quds) which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, between 516 BCE and 70 CE. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jews of the Kingdom of Judah went to exile, known as Babylonian Captivity. Jewish eschatology includes a belief that the Second Temple will in turn be replaced by a future Third Temple.
The accession of Cyrus the Great of Persia in 538 BCE made the re-establishment of the city of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple possible. According to the Bible, when the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem following a decree from Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:1-4, 2 Chron 36:22-23), construction started at the original site of Solomon's Temple, which had remained a devastated heap during the approximately 70 years of captivity (Dan. 9:1-2). After a relatively brief halt due to opposition from peoples who had filled the vacuum during the Jewish captivity (Ezra 4), work resumed c. 521 BCE under the Persian King Darius the Great (Ezra 5) and was completed during the sixth year of his reign (c. 516 BCE), with the temple dedication taking place the following year.
Flavius Josephus records that Herod the Great completely rebuilt the Temple in 20-18 BCE, even going so far as to replace the foundation stones and to smooth off the surface of the Temple Mount. This Temple became known as Herod's Temple.
The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE under Titus, decisively ending the Great Jewish Revolt that had begun four years earlier. The lower levels of the Western Wall form part of the few surviving remains of Herod's complex.
Traditional rabbinic sources state that the Second Temple stood for 420 years and based on the 2nd-century work Seder Olam Rabbah, placed construction in 350 BCE (3408 AM), 166 years later than secular estimates, and destruction in 70 CE (3829 AM).
Based on the biblical account, after the return from Babylonian captivity, arrangements were immediately made to reorganize the desolated Yehud Province after the demise of the Kingdom of Judah seventy years earlier. The body of pilgrims, forming a band of 42,360, having completed the long and dreary journey of some four months, from the banks of the Euphrates to Jerusalem, were animated in all their proceedings by a strong religious impulse, and therefore one of their first concerns was to restore their ancient house of worship by rebuilding their destroyed Temple and reinstituting the sacrificial rituals known as the korbanot.
On the invitation of Zerubbabel, the governor, who showed them a remarkable example of liberality by contributing personally 1,000 golden darics, besides other gifts, the people poured their gifts into the sacred treasury with great enthusiasm. First they erected and dedicated the altar of God on the exact spot where it had formerly stood, and they then cleared away the charred heaps of debris which occupied the site of the old temple; and in the second month of the second year (535 BCE), amid great public excitement and rejoicing, the foundations of the Second Temple were laid. A wide interest was felt in this great movement, although it was regarded with mixed feelings by the spectators.
The Samaritans made proposals for co-operation in the work. Zerubbabel and the elders, however, declined all such cooperation, feeling that the Jews must build the Temple without help. Immediately evil reports were spread regarding the Jews. According to Ezra 4:5, the Samaritans sought to "frustrate their purpose" and sent messengers to Ecbatana and Susa, with the result that the work was suspended.
Seven years later, Cyrus the Great, who allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple, died, and was succeeded by his son Cambyses. On his death, the "false Smerdis," an imposter, occupied the throne for some seven or eight months, and then Darius I of Persia became king (522 BCE). In the second year of this monarch the work of rebuilding the temple was resumed and carried forward to its completion, under the stimulus of the earnest counsels and admonitions of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. It was ready for consecration in the spring of 516 BCE, more than twenty years after the return from captivity. The Temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius, amid great rejoicings on the part of all the people although it was evident that the Jews were no longer an independent people, but were subject to a foreign power. The Book of Haggai includes a prediction that the glory of the second temple would be greater than that of the first.
The Second Temple also included many of the original vessels of gold that had been taken by the Babylonians but restored by Cyrus the Great. According to the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 22b), however, the Temple lacked the Shekinah, the dwelling or settling divine presence of God, and the Ruach HaKodesh, the Spirit of Holiness, present in the first.
Following the conquest of Judea by Alexander the Great, it became part of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt until 200 BCE, when King Antiochus III the Great of Syria defeated King Ptolemy V Epiphanes of Egypt at the Battle of Panion. Judea became at that moment part of the Seleucid empire of Syria. When the Second Temple in Jerusalem was looted and its religious services stopped, Judaism was effectively outlawed. In 167 BCE, Antiochus IV Epiphanes ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. He also banned circumcision and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the Temple.
Following the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid empire, the Second Temple was rededicated and became the religious pillar of the Jewish Hasmonean kingdom, as well as culturally associated with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
Reconstruction of the temple under Herod began with a massive expansion of the Temple Mount. Religious worship and temple rituals continued during the construction process. Following the Great Revolt of the Province of Iudaea, the Temple was destroyed by Roman troops under Titus during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE (74 years after Herod died). The most complete ancient account of this event is The Jewish War by Flavius Josephus. Later Roman governors used the remains to build palaces and a Temple of Jupiter, and the Byzantines a Church. It was not until the Dome of the Rock was built between 687 and 691 that the last remnants of the Temple were taken down. In addition to the platform, some remnants of the Temple remain above ground, including a step leading to the Dome of the Rock that is actually the capstone of the pre-Herodian wall of the Temple Mount platform.
Herod's Temple was one of the larger construction projects of the 1st century BCE. Herod was interested in perpetuating his name for all eternity through building projects, and his construction program was extensive. He had magnificent palaces in Masada, Caesarea and Tiberias. Herod built temples for various pagan gods to serve the gentile populations, which were paid for by heavy taxes on the local Jewish population. But his masterpiece was the Temple of Jerusalem. The old temple built by Zerubbabel was replaced by a magnificent edifice. An agreement was made between Herod and the Jewish religious authorities: the sacrificial rituals, called offerings, were to be continued unabated for the entire time of construction, and the Temple itself would be constructed by the priests. Later the Exodus 30:13 sanctuary shekel was reinstituted to support the temple as the temple tax.
Mt. Moriah had a plateau at the northern end, and steeply declined on the southern slope. It was Herod's plan that the entire mountain be turned into a giant square platform. The Temple Mount was originally intended to be 1600 feet wide by 900 feet broad by 9 stories high, with walls up to 16 feet thick, but had never been finished. To complete it, a trench was dug around the mountain, and huge stone "bricks" were laid. Some of these weighed well over 100 tons, the largest measuring 44.6 feet by 11 feet by 16.5 feet and weighing approximately 567 to 628 tons, while most were in the range of 2.5 by 3.5 by 15 feet (approximately 28 tons). King Herod had architects from Greece, Rome and Egypt plan the construction. The blocks were presumably quarried by using pickaxes to create channels. Then they hammered in wooden beams and flushed them with water to force them out. Once they were removed, they were carved into precise squares and numbered at the quarry to show where they would be installed. The final carving would have been done by using harder stones to grind or chisel them to create precise joints. They would have been transported using oxen and specialized carts. Since the quarry was uphill from the temple they had gravity on their side but care needed to be taken to control the descent. Final installation would have been done using pulleys or cranes. Roman pulleys and cranes weren't strong enough to lift the blocks alone so they may have used multiple cranes and levers to position them. As the mountainside began to rise, the western side was carved away to a vertical wall and bricks were carved to create a virtual continuation of the brick face, which was continued for a while until the northern slope reached ground level. Part of the Antonian hill to the north of Moriah was annexed to the complex and the area between was filled up with landfill.
The project began with the building of giant underground vaults upon which the temple would be built so it could be larger than the small flat area on top of Mount Moriah. Ground level at the time was at least 20 ft. (6m) below the current level, as can be seen by walking the Western Wall tunnels. Legend has it that the construction of the entire complex lasted only three years, but other sources such as Josephus say that it took far longer, although the Temple itself may have taken that long. During a Passover visit by Jesus the Jews replied that it had been under construction for 46 years. It is possible that the complex was only a few years completed when the future Emperor Titus destroyed the Temple in 70 CE.
A Jew from distant parts of the Roman Empire would arrive by boat at the port of Jaffa (now part of Tel Aviv), where they would join a caravan for the three day trek to the Holy City and would then find lodgings in one of the many hotels or hostelries. Then they changed some of their money from the profane standard Greek and Roman currency for Jewish and Tyrian money, the latter two considered religious. The pilgrim would purchase a sacrificial animal, usually a pigeon or a lamb, in preparation for the following day's events.
The first thing a pilgrim would do would be to approach the public entrance on the south side of the Temple Mount complex. They would check their animal, then visit a mikveh, where they would ritually cleanse and purify themselves. The pilgrim would then retrieve their sacrificial animal, and head to the Huldah gates. After ascending a staircase three stories in height, and passing through the gate, the pilgrim would find themselves in the Court of the Gentiles.
This area was primarily a bazaar, with vendors selling souvenirs, sacrificial animals, food, as well as currency changers, exchanging Roman for Tyrian money because the Jews were not allowed to coin their own money and they viewed Roman currency as an abomination to the Lord, as also mentioned in the New Testament account of Jesus and the Money Changers when Jerusalem was packed with Jews who had come for Passover, perhaps numbering 300,000 to 400,000 pilgrims. Guides that provided tours of the premises were also available. Jewish males had the unique opportunity to be shown inside the temple itself.
The priests, in their white linen robes and tubular hats, were everywhere, directing pilgrims and advising them on what kinds of sacrifices were to be performed.
Behind them as they entered the Court of the Gentiles from the south was the Royal Porch, which contained a marketplace, administrative quarters, and a synagogue. On the upper floors, the great Jewish sages held court, priests and Levites performed various chores, and from there, tourists were able to observe the events.
To the east of the court was Solomon's Porch, and to the north, the soreg, the "middle wall of separation", a stone wall separating the public area from the inner sanctuary where only Jews could enter, described as being 3 cubits high by Josephus (Wars 5.5.2 [3b] 6.2.4).
According to Josephus, there were ten entrances into the inner courts, four on the south, four on the north, one on the east and one leading east to west from the Court of Women to the court of the Israelites, named the Nicanor Gate. The gates were: On the south side (going from west to east) the Fuel Gate, the Firstling Gate, the Water Gate. On the north side, from west to east, are the Jeconiah Gate, the Offering Gate, the Women's Gate and the Song Gate. On the Eastern side, the Nicanor gate, which is where most Jewish visitors entered. A few pieces of the Soreg have survived to the present day.
Within this area was the Court of the Women, open to all Jews, male and female. Even a ritually unclean Cohen could enter to perform various housekeeping duties. There was also a place for lepers (considered ritually unclean), as well as a ritual barbershop for Nazirites. In this, the largest of the temple courts, one could see constant dancing, singing and music.
Only men were allowed to enter the Court of the Israelites, where they could observe sacrifices of the high priest in the Court of the Priests. The Court of the Priests was reserved for Levite priests.
In 66 CE the Jewish population rebelled against the Roman Empire. Four years later, in 70 CE, Roman legions under Titus retook and subsequently destroyed much of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. The Arch of Titus, located in Rome and built to commemorate Titus's victory in Judea, depicts a Roman victory procession with soldiers carrying spoils from the Temple, including the Menorah; which were used to fund the construction of the Colosseum. Although Jews continued to inhabit the destroyed city, Jerusalem was razed by the Emperor Hadrian at the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE when he established a new city called Aelia Capitolina.
In 1936 a fragment of a similar Temple warning inscription was found.
After 1967, archaeologists found that the wall extended all the way around the Temple Mount and is part of the city wall near the Lion's Gate. Thus, the Western Wall is not the only remaining part of the Temple Mount. Currently, Robinson's Arch (named after American Edward Robinson) remains as the beginning of an arch that spanned the gap between the top of the platform and the higher ground farther away. This had been used by the priests as an entrance. Commoners had entered through the still-extant, but now plugged, gates on the southern side which led through beautiful colonnades to the top of the platform. One of these colonnades is still extant and reachable through the Temple Mount. The Southern wall was designed as a grand entrance. Recent archeological digs have found thousands of mikvehs (ceremonial bathtubs) for the ritual purification of the worshipers, as well as a grand stairway leading to the now blocked entrance. Inside the walls, the platform was supported by a series of vaulted archways, now called Solomon's Stables, which still exist and whose current renovation by the Waqf is extremely controversial. The temple itself was constructed of imported white marble that gleamed in the daylight.
On September 25, 2007 Yuval Baruch, archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of a quarry compound which may have provided King Herod with the stones to build his Temple on the Temple Mount. Coins, pottery and an iron stake found proved the date of the quarrying to be about 19 BCE. Archaeologist Ehud Netzer confirmed that the large outlines of the stone cuts is evidence that it was a massive public project worked by hundreds of slaves.
The period between the construction of the Second Temple in 515 BCE and its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE witnessed major historical upheavals and significant religious changes that would affect most subsequent Western (or Abrahamic) religions. The origins of the authority of scripture, of the centrality of law and morality in religion, of the synagogue and of apocalyptic expectations for the future all developed in the Judaism of this period.
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