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After the Exile: God's People Return to Judea

Greek, Roman, and Persian philosophies and ideas influenced Jewish writings of the time. This influence is apparent in many of the books that are included in some editions of the Bible and known as “deuterocanonical” or “apocryphal.” (See the article called What Books Belong in the Bible?) Jewish writers also copied the style and form of a kind of popular Roman literature called “sibylline oracles,” which told of prophecies concerning Caesar and the Roman people. The Jewish Sibylline Oracles told about God's plan for the future of his people.

The religion of the Jewish people after the exile in Babylonia did not move toward one single pattern or style. People were practicing Judaism and living as Jews in a variety of ways. This was the situation when Jesus came to teach the people many new things about God and God's kingdom. For a description of this next phase in Jewish history, see the articles called People of the Law: The Religion of Israel and The World of Jesus: Peoples, Powers, and Politics. See also the mini-article called Synagogues.


The Jewish People Reclaim Their Land

The Jewish people revolted against Antiochus. The rebellion broke out suddenly. Soon the rebellion had a leader named Judas Maccabeus. (One of the possible meanings for his last name is “the hammer.”) Led by Judas Maccabeus, the small bands of Jewish fighters defeated the mighty army of Antiochus. This revolt is described in 1and 2 Maccabees in the Apocrypha. (See the article What Books Belong in the Bible?). Eventually the rebels purified the temple, an event still remembered by Jews today in the celebration of Hanukkah. 

Finally, the Maccabees set up their own government. Those Maccabean rulers who came after Judas called themselves by the title of king, even though they were not descendants of King David or from the tribe of Judah. This upset many Jews, who did not like the Maccabeans' cruel style of control and the agreements they made with Rome in order to remain in power. The rule of the Maccabees lasted until the Roman general Pompey invaded Jerusalem and brought all the land under direct Roman control in 63 b.c.

Because they were bitterly disappointed over the Maccabean style of political rule, some of the Jewish people turned to other kinds of religions or philosophies. For example, one group of Jews became very disappointed with the temple priests in Jerusalem who seemed to love the wealth and power connected with running the temple. This group withdrew from Jewish society and lived as a separate community in a barren area near the Dead Sea. They remained there, living in complete obedience to God's Law as they understood it. They believed that God would help them drive out the present priests and rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple. In the middle of the twentieth century, many books and writings of this group were discovered in a place called Qumran near the Dead Sea. These writings are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Included in these scrolls is the oldest surviving copy of isaiah, as well as the rule books for this community. For more about this, see the article called Archaeology and the Bible.