This Day in Jewish History The Sun Sets on the Babylonian Exile

Cyrus the Great, whose empire was the largest the world had ever known, declared the exiled Jews could return to Jerusalem to begin construction on the Second Temple.

David Green
David B. Green
David Green
David B. Green

On October 29 in 539 B.C.E., Cyrus the Great entered the city of Babylon, an act of conquest that was key in marking the birth of his Achaemenid Empire. For the Jews, the rise of Cyrus marked the end of the Babylonian Exile, which had begun with Nebuchadnezzar II’s taking of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple, in 597-586 (the latter year marking the end of the Judean Kingdom). Nebuchadnezzar made Judea a province of his Babylonian Empire and sent the leading citizens of the conquered city into exile in his capital.

Many of the secrets of Cyrus's reign are spelled out on the so-called Cyrus cylinder, an ancient clay cylinder discovered in Mesopotamia and containing a written declaration in the monarch's name.

After taking Babylon, Cyrus proclaimed himself "king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four corners of the world." In fact, the empire assembled by Cyrus was the largest the world had ever known, spanning from Asia Minor in the west to the western reaches of India, taking in all of the modern Middle East and much of Central Asia.

Though he did not specifically call for the end of the exile of the Hebrews, Cyrus did declare that they could return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple, and also allowed for those who stayed behind to provide material support to the returnees. According to the Bible, this was in 538, and resulted in 42,360 exiles heading back to Judea, led by Zerubbabel.

Work began on reconstruction of the Temple, at the site of the ruins of the First Temple, soon after the exiles’ return. It was later delayed due to disputes with those who had remained behind. Construction resumed in 521 B.C.E., during the reign of Darius, third king of the Achaemenid Empire, and the Second Temple was dedicated in 516.

Many of the secrets of Cyrus's reign are spelled out on the so-called Cyrus cylinder, an ancient clay cylinder discovered in Mesopotamia and containing a written declaration in Cyrus's name.Credit: Wikicommons

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