After the destruction of the first Temple in 422 BCE (some say 586 BCE) the Jewish people were exiled to Babylonia. Never before, had a people been driven from their homeland yet observed their customs for more than a few years. It would only be a matter of time until they assimilated and ceased being a distinct nation of their own. But G-d had different plans!
Fifty years later the mighty Persian Empire conquered Babylonia and its territory, becoming the new rulers of Israel. Miraculously, during this time the Jewish people had remained a distinct nation who had preserved their religion. Their yearning to return one day to their homeland had never ceased.
The new Persian King Cyrus issued a proclamation that the Jewish people had permission to return to Israel. He even gave them the right to rebuild their Temple.
Under Ezra and Nehemiah, 50,000 Jews returned to Israel with some moving to Hebron (Nehemiah 11:25). In their 50-year absence the Edomites had moved into the Hebron region, settling in the once Jewish land. Now the two peoples, who had waged war on and off for centuries, had to live side by side together
The Persian empire was eventually conquered by the Greeks. As time passed, they began to oppress the Jewish inhabitants, including passing capital laws which restricted Jewish religious practices. In 167 BCE a small group of Torah observant rebels (known as the Maccabees) revolted. They eventually overthrew the Greeks and re-established an independent Jewish State. Judah the Maccabee overtook Hebron, and his successors made it into a Jewish city. Several generations later (circa 125 BCE) the Maccabees forcibly converted the Idumeans to Judaism (although forced conversions are not valid in Judaism, by this time the Maccabean rulers were no longer fully Torah observant).
One of those Idumeans who became “Jewish” was Antipater, the father of the infamous King Herod.
In 63 BCE, the Romans took over Israel. Antipater assisted the Romans with the conquest and as a reward for his help, they appointed his son Herod when he became of age, to be the puppet King of Israel (although Herod ruled the land, he did so only because the Romans let him. Ultimately the Romans had the final say in all decisions).
Herod built a massive structure over the cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives were buried. This structure still stands at its original heights in pristine shape (for more on the Cave of the Patriarchs, Click here).
In Herod’s time, Hebron’s Jewish population was largely religious.
Also, Jews from all over the world continued to come and pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs, the second holiest site in Judaism after the Temple in Jerusalem.
As time progressed, the Roman rulers of the land began to oppress its Jewish population. By 66 CE Roman rule had become so unbearable, that the entire country revolted and expelled the Roman army from its borders. The Romans began sending legion after legion into Israel in order to re-conquer it. By 73 BCE though they had suffered heavy losses, the Romans had entirely put down the rebellion and destroyed the Holy Temple. Jerusalem was turned into inhabitable rubble.
The Roman Emperor Titus thought that the Jewish people would not be able to sustain their religion without their precious Temple. This was because anytime the Romans had conquered lands, they first destroyed their local religious places of worship. Subsequently, its inhabitants would take on the Roman religion because the Roman “gods” had “beaten” their “gods”. Without a Temple, the Romans reasoned, the Jews would become Roman and cease being a distinct people. But once again, G-d had different plans.
To be continued (for part 4, click here)
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(All images used are either free usage or properly licensed by the author)