for the Second Temple
Fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.
The Babylonian capture of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. was catastrophic. The city fell in July of that year; the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, was captured, blinded, and taken off in chains to Babylon. Then in August the local Babylonian military commander entered the city; burned the temple, the palace, and the larger residences; broke down the city walls; and began the deportation of leading citizens to Babylon. The chief priests and military officers were led off and executed (2 Kings 25:1-12, 18-21). The city could not be used for the capital of the newly constituted Babylonian province of Judea; the capital instead was set up at Mizpah, a military stronghold to the north of the city (Jer. 40:5-6). The Edomites, a perennial enemy of Judah from the southeast, took advantage of the prostration of the city both to jeer and to loot (Obad. 1, 11-14; Ps.l 37:7; Lam. 4:21-22). Within the city there was widespread starvation and even reports of cannibalism (Lam. 4:5, 9-10). It is worth noting, as we survey the events of those days, that the book of Lamentations offers five communal laments from the catastrophe of the fall of the city that continue that literary type in these specific circumstances.
The exiles, deported to Babylon five hundred miles to the east, had to endure not only the knowledge that their beloved city Jerusalem had been physically destroyed and its people scattered but, more particularly, that kingship in the line of David was at an end, at least temporarily, and above all that the temple in Zion, Yahweh’s throne, was destroyed. And their fellow exile Ezekiel, the prophet, shared with them his vision that even before the temple was physically destroyed, it had been forsaken by the glorious presence of Yahweh (Ezek. 10:1-22; 11:22-25).
Then, about 540 B.C.E., a prophet arose among the exiles (he is conventionally called “Second Isaiah,” his words being preserved in Isaiah 40–55); he proclaimed the good news that release was coming by the agency of King Cyrus of Persia (Isa. 44:28; 45:1). And, indeed, in 538 B.C.E. Cyrus did conquer Babylon, and he soon