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Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid Empire became king in 559 BCE. And he gave permission to the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. When the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem after the decree of the king (Ezra 1:1–4, 2 Chronicles 36:22–23), the rebuilding started. However, this was following a short break due to the opposition of Israel’s enemies who lived there during the Jewish captivity (Ezra 4).
The rebuilding of the second temple of Jerusalem started in c. 521 BCE under Darius I (Ezra 5) and was completed in Adar 3 the – 6th regnal year of Darius I. According to our time, this would have been about March 12, 515 B.C., six weeks before the Passover. The temple was finished and also probably dedicated the same day (Ezra 6: 16–18).
The rebuilding of the Temple from the day the Jews laid its foundation stone for the second time (Kislev 24, 2d year of Darius) to its finish, had therefore taken about 4 years and 3 months. This period was about 2 years and 3 months less than it had taken King Solomon to build the first temple.
The short span for rebuilding
It took King Solomon more time to build his temple than the second temple because he had to first set a flat platform to erect the temple and its different departments. This was not an easy task.
Some of the reasons that might have contributed to the relatively brief period for the rebuilding of the second Temple were that when the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity, they might have found that big parts of the old infrastructure were still in a fairly good condition. They did not need to use costly laborious repair work on their part. Additionally, the new buildings were less lavish and fewer in number than those in Solomon’s period. It was likely much less ornamented (Ezra 3:12). Moreover, a certain amount of construction had been done since the time that the first decree by Cyrus was given.
The first temple of Solomon took more time to rebuild because it was much greater and more magnificent. We read in Ezra 3:12, that after the second temple was finished that “many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes.” They wept because the second temple plans were not as great as the first temple of Solomon.
The second temple was only 50 years since the Temple of Solomon had been destroyed (586 B.C.) and 70 since the first captivity, and there were “many” older men who had seen it when they were younger, and clearly remembered its beauty and glory. They could not help crying when they saw the humble plans for rebuilding the Temple. It was a “day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10), and the new house, in comparison with the old one, seemed like “nothing” (Haggai 2:3).
Concerning the size of the new Temple, the number of secondary structures, their layout, and outer design, we are without data. The Temple of Solomon, or perhaps the ideal temple of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 40–42), may have been a model for some of its sections.
The Bible tells us that this Temple, like Solomon’s, had secondary buildings from the following passages Ezra 8:29; Nehemiah 12:44; 13:4, 5. In some of these auxiliary rooms, the priests and temple staff kept the Temple treasures, utensils and other valuables. Also, these rooms provided offices for the temple staff for meetings and organization. Lastly, 1 Maccabees 4:38 mentions that the Temple was surrounded by several courts.
Solomon had been able to hire the best laborers from his own nation, which reached from the border of Egypt to the Euphrates, and he also employed the skill of the neighboring nations, like that of the Tyrians. But in the second temple, Zerubbabel had to rely on his own people, the few citizens of the small province of Judea.
Josephus the Jewish historian states that the Second Temple was only half as high as Solomon’s Temple, and in many ways inferior to it (Antiquities viii. 3. 2; xv. 11. 1). However, the main difference was not in size but in splendor of appearance and rich adornments of gold and precious stones.
In His service,
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