THE REBUILDING OF THE TEMPLE
THE occupation of Babylon by Cyrus came late in the year 539 B.C.1 It would be reasonable to expect a clear account of the history of the Jews from this time on, for we should suppose the literary tendency powerful enough to put on record what actually occurred. But the expectation is grievously disappointed. No period of the people's history is more obscure than that which comes between the advent of Cyrus in Babylon and the mission of Nehemiah to Jerusalem, unless it be the period which immediately follows the work of Nehemiah.
According to the account given in the Biblical book of Ezra, and until recently commonly accepted, Cyrus had no sooner established himself in Babylon than he issued a distinct decree that the Jews in Babylonia should be permitted to return to their own city. The decree gives the rebuilding of the Temple as the special purpose of the return; and the king has no hesitation in avowing his motive, namely, that Yahweh, God of Israel, has given to him all the kingdoms of the earth and has commanded him to build Him a house in Jerusalem. The decree is dated by the Biblical author in the first year of Cyrus, by which he means the first full year of the possession of Babylon, in our calendar 538 B.C.
The difficulties in accepting this account as it stands, are of the most serious character. The proclamation which Cyrus is said to have issued declares that Yahweh2 has given into the king's hands all the kingdoms of the earth. We have already seen that Cyrus claims Merodach, Bel, and Nebo as his patrons, and the incon-____________________