Later the Babylonian state was destroyed by the Persians, who then allowed the Hebrew people to return to their own country, and undertook to pay the cost of rebuilding the Temple. They knew that they were about to wage war on the Egyptians and wanted their other frontiers to be occupied by grateful people. Moreover, the Persians were known to show respect for the religion of others and not to interfere with their domestic gods. The rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple was completed in 515 BCE. Persian sovereignty lasted about 200 years, until Alexander the Great took possession of the country. The Old Testament ends with an account of the restoration of theocracy under the protection of Persia. The Holy Bible does not mention Alexander the Great, but he is written of in the Book of the Maccabees. Alexander founded the city of Alexandria in northern Egypt and here granted recognition of equal rights for Jews who had fled there during the occupation of Babylon. Because the rulers who came later to this city did not change this, Alexandria became a leading centre of refuge for the Judean community and remained so for a long time. During the Hellenistic period, 4th to 2nd century BCE, the Jews also established centres in Syria and Asia Minor, (Anatolia).
After Alexander’s death, his empire broke up into smaller units founded by his generals, and Palestine remained within the State of Ptolemy, with Alexandria as its capital city. The Jewish community came and settled here, and adopted Greek as its language. The Holy Book was translated into Greek, Septuagint is the Greek version of the Old Testament and as now this language became more widespread, many more people were able to read it. Judah remained a dependent of the Ptolemy’s State for more than a century. Then the Seleucids, whose state was founded after Alexander’s death, captured Palestine. In 168 BCE Jerusalem and its Temple were plundered, and the Jewish practices of sacrifice, circumcision and observance of the Sabbath were made punishable by death. The Maccabean war broke out between the Seleucids and the Jews, and in 165 BCE after a series of battles, the Jews won their independence (Maccabees 164 BCE-63 CE). Legend has it that the lamp in the great Temple miraculously kept burning for eight days with only one day’s holy oil. This event is commemorated in the eight-day Jewish Festival of Chanukah, with the lighting of one candle on the first night, two on the second and so on until eight are lit on the eighth day.
In 63 CE, Palestine and Jerusalem were seized by the Romans and held until 135 CE when Palestine became a province of Rome. Fundamentalist Jewish warriors, known as Zealots, waged war to bring about the destruction of the idolatrous Roman regime, and establish a state based on the Jewish law of the Torah. According to some historians, on the day of the Passover when Christ was crucified, an uprising of Zealots in Jerusalem was crushed with much bloodshed. In 70 CE, after many uprisings, the army of Titus burnt and pillaged the city, the Temple and Herod’s Palace. According to the Law, sacrifices could be performed only in the Temple of Jerusalem, so when the Temple was no longer present, no sacrifices were performed, and thus it has remained until today. Now the Jews only pray, make their pilgrimages to the Mount of Zion and observe the practice of lamentation at the Wailing Wall, believed to be the single remaining wall of Solomon’s Temple. For a long time Rome was governed by ruthless emperors, and there was no further unrest among the Jews, but during the reign of the Emperor Trajan, while the Roman legions were at war with the Parthians, the Jews rebelled, and their rebellion was bloodily suppressed. The Emperor Hadrian proposed building a temple to Jupiter on the site of the Temple of Jerusalem, so the Jews again rebelled and in 135 were again suppressed. The temple to Jupiter was built on Mount Zion, Jewish entry into the city was forbidden, punishable by death, apart from one day in the year when they were permitted to visit the Wailing Wall. Otherwise the Emperor Hadrian banned all Jewish religious practices; circumcisions, observance of the Sabbath day, even the laws regarding their food, all were forbidden. Teaching the Torah and the spreading their religion were also prohibited. Later, Emperor Antonius Pius lifted some of these restrictions. Although the ban on spreading their religion remained in force, males of Jewish descent were allowed to be circumcised. Thus it was impossible for anyone not of Jewish parentage to join the Jewish community and the spread of their faith was blighted. Monotheism could no longer be promoted by the Jews and it was the advent of Christianity which was to globalise this concept.
Galilee and the city of Tiberias became the Jews’ focal point. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme religious Council of 72 members, which had once been established in Jerusalem, now moved here and founded synagogues and seminaries. Here the Jews formed a closed community, a Torah State with its own laws and law-courts dealing with religious matters. This lasted until the 5th century CE. Meanwhile, the Jewish community in Mesopotamia suffered less persecution, so its numbers were increased by Jews fleeing from Palestine. The leader of the Sanhedrin in Galilee, Judah ha-Nasi, (135-217CE), compiled a book called the Mishnah, which was a collection of all the edicts and oral teachings of his time, and averted the danger of these being lost. This book soon became the second in authority to the Jewish Bible, formed the basis of the Palestinian (250-400) and Babylonian (550) Talmuds, and was used as a text book in the seminaries. In these written commentaries and interpretations of the Jewish scriptures everything that the Children of Israel need to know can be found. The Babylonian Talmud, written in Aramaic, consists of twelve large volumes, and enjoys special authority. It determines the rules governing conduct in everyday life, such as the bans on food, rules of cleanliness, circumcision, and the Sabbath. The Palestinian Talmud is more traditional. The Talmud is not the Holy Bible of the Jews; this title is reserved for the Old Testament. It is rather the written interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, determining every detail in a code of Jewish civil and canon law.