Ezra 1:1-4 The Babylonian Empire is conquered by Cyrus, King of Persia, in 539BC. He orders that groups of exiles within the Persian Empire should return home and worship their own gods (in order to pacify these gods and gain their approval for Cyrus’s empire).
The return of the exiles is a gradual process spanning the following century. The Jewish exiles from Judah (the ‘Golah’) return to Jerusalem in four groups spread over 92 years between 537BC and 445BC.
The Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem (Herwig Reidlinger)
The first exiles return with Sheshbazzar
Ezra 1:5-11 Sheshbazzar is made Governor of Judah by King Cyrus in 537BC (see Ezra 5:14). He is given the treasures taken from the Temple in Jerusalem and returns to Judah with the first group of exiles. Work begins on re-building the Temple in 536BC, and the Temple treasures, which had been taken to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar, are returned to Jerusalem.
Zerubbabel and Joshua accompany a second group of exiles returning to Jerusalem
Ezra 2:1-70 King Cyrus dies in 530BC and is succeeded by his son Cambyses. He gives permission for Zerubbabel (the grandson of King Jehoiachin) and Yeshua (Joshua), a Jewish priest, to lead a second group home in 525BC.
Ezra 3:1-6 Joshua rebuilds the altar of the Temple and celebrates the Feast of Tabernacles.
Ezra 3:7-13 Cedars of Lebanon are brought by sea from Tyre and Sidon to the port of Joppa (modern-day Jaffa) to line the walls of the Temple.
An alleyway in Old Joppa (Jaffa)
Ezra 4:1-5 During the eight-year reign of Cambyses (530-522BC), the enemies of Judah (neighbouring peoples such as the Samaritans) threaten to overthrow Jerusalem and the inhabitants are afraid to carry on re-building the Temple. Work stops until 520BC - the second year of the reign of Darius I (522-486BC) (see Ezra 4:24).
Ezra 4:6 While discussing opposition to the re-building, the writer adds that, later, during the reign of Xerxes I (486 – 465BC), the enemies of Judah again persuade the king that Jerusalem may rebel against him if the city is rebuilt. The re-building of the city walls comes to a halt during the reign of Xerxes I and the neighbouring tribes make raids on the city.
The story of Esther, the Queen of Xerxes I of Persia, occurs during this time of anti-Jewish hostility, between 483 and 473BC (see later in this section).
Ezra 4:7-24 During the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424BC), there is further opposition to the re-building of Jerusalem.