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Manual for Faculty
Unit 2: The Power of the Word
(Sixth Century B.C.E. to Second Century C.E.)
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Program Overview

The kingdom of Judah was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and many Israelites and their nobility were exiled to Babylonia. There they reestablished their lives and learned how to worship their God in a strange land. They were now called Jews, people who had come from the kingdom of Judah. The Babylonian Empire fell with the conquests of Cyrus who allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. Some took advantage of his offer, and after a number of difficult years, they were able to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

Like the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire was also defeated in war. This time the conqueror was Alexander the Great. His victory meant not only the supremacy of Hellenic power but also the spread of Hellenistic civilization throughout the empire. The Jews, as other peoples, learned from Hellenistic culture. But they disagreed among themselves about the desirable limits of Hellenistic influence on the Judaean population. A civil war erupted broadening into a revolt against the Jews' Hellenistic overlords. The victories, led by Judah the Maccabee, led to the purification of the Temple, an act which was commemorated by the holiday of Hanukkah.

The Maccabees founded the Hasmonean state, and the new Jewish state grew and became more powerful. With the rise of the Roman Empire, Judaea finally came under its control in 63 B.C. Within the Jewish religion a number of sects developed, each practicing according to its own beliefs.

Roman rule became harsher and the Jews were oppressed economically and politically. Men appeared and declared themselves the messiah -- the long-awaited redeemer of the Jewish people; these individuals claimed they would save the Jews from Roman domination. A great revolt erupted in 66 C.E. against Rome, but in four years Jerusalem was captured and the second Temple destroyed. Some Jews continued fighting, as did those at Masada, while others followed Yohanan ben Zakkai, leader of the Pharisee sect, who sought a policy of accommodation with Rome. He emphasized the continuation of the Jewish faith through the study of Jewish law and the practice of good deeds, and he believed that Judaism could survive without a temple. Still, Jews smarted from their loss and another rebellion, led by Simon Bar Kokhba in the next century, suffered devastating defeat in 135 C.E.

Learning Objectives
  • Understand the messages of the prophets of the Babylonian exile as an answer to the national despair.
  • Learn of the renewal of the Jewish community in Israel under the Persians.
  • Follow the fortunes of the Jews in their attempts at independence both under Greece and Rome.
  • Comprehend the decisive effect of Hellenistic civilization upon the Jews and Judaism.
  • Understand the complex reasons for the destruction of the "second Temple" under the Romans.
  • Appreciate the various sects that thrived in Palestine in the first century of the common era and understand their ideals.

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