THE SECOND TEMPLE PERIOD
Starting in the 6th century BCE
When the Jews returned to Judea from Babylonia at the end of the 6th century BCE, they could once again practice their religious traditions. But they could not escape the great political events and cultural influences that engulfed the entire eastern Mediterranean region in the centuries to follow.
The empire of the Babylonians was replaced by that of the Persians at the end of the 6th century BCE. Two centuries later, in 330 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the Persians and a long period of Greek influence settled upon the region. In the first century BCE, Roman Legions marched through the lands of the Jews.
Soon after the return of the Jews from exile, a Second Temple was built on the very site of Solomon's First Temple. Jerusalem reclaimed its central place in Jewish religious life. Yet the last two centuries BCE and the first century CE were times of upheaval and intrigue, marked by invasions and revolts, as well as periods of independence.
During this political and military tumult, competing views emerged about how best to worship and live according to Jewish Law. Three groups or sects are known to us from those times.
In response to these tensions, a group of religious dissidents, thought by many to be Essenes, left Jerusalem in the second century BCE and founded a community known as Qumran some twenty-five kilometres away, near the Dead Sea.
It was in caves near Qumran that the Dead Sea scrolls were found between 1947 and 1956. These invaluable documents represent one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of our time.