General remarks on early post-exilic period
Most important dates
Persian Empire
Map Index
Political History
Achaemenid History
Religion & Culture
Images from Ancient Persia
The Book of Ezra (from the Greek Septuagint)
The Book of Nehemiah (from the Greek Septuagint)
Coins (from: Handbook of Biblical Numismatics)
Center of the Persian Satrapy of Yehud (539-323)

Main Jerusalem Timeline > Zion > Center of Persian Yehud

The early postexilic period is ushered in by the decree of return, issued by king Cyrus of Persia (539 BCE).

The ensuing period of reconstruction is one of the most consequential ones in Jewish literary and religious culture, but we know relatively little about the political circumstances of the time. The late biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah preserved some of the events of the time, but it is not entirely clear from these works whether, for example, the royal cup-bearer Nehemiah and Ezra "the scribe" were contemporaries or active at different times. Quite possibly this confusion is deliberate, since at later times one could no longer imagine that the promulgation of the Book of the Law of Moses, which is credited to Ezra should have been preceded by the mundane rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, credited to Nehemiah.

The stability of Persian rule affords the returnees from Babylon (the golah) a long period of religious, social, economic, and cultural consolidation that lays the foundation for Jerusalem's ability to function also under more volatile circumstances brought about by Alexander's conquest of the Persian Empire in the late 4th century BCE. Persian cultural influence here and elsewhere was to persist until long after the demise of the Achaemenid rulers, as evidenced, for example, in the continued use of the imperial Aramaic language in literature and epigraphy.

(The medieval picture, from an illuminated manuscript, depicts a scene from the Book of Nehemiah, where Nehemiah receives permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.)