Judah, Yehud, and Judea
Return and Rebuilding
In 538 BCE, after Cyrus had issued decrees permitting them to do so, the exiles began to return to Judah and to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1: 1–4; 6: 3–5 ). Early leaders of groups of returnees were Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1: 8 ) and Zerubbabel (Ezra 2: 2 ), both probably members of the house of David. There may have been an early start on the work of restoring the Temple, but work did not begin in earnest until 520, encouraged by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. It was rededicated in 515 (Ezra 6: 15–18 ). Jerusalem itself seems to have remained in a state of disrepair, and it was not until 445 that Nehemiah was given permission to return to supervise the rebuilding of the city walls (Neh. 1–2 ). He is recorded as having gathered a workforce from Jerusalem and nearby towns, including Jericho, Tekoa, Gibeon, Mizpah, Zanoah, Beth‐haccherem, Beth‐zur, and Keilah (Neh. 3 ). His efforts met with opposition from Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, Tobiah, an Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab (Neh. 2: 19; see also Neh. 4: 7 ). Tobiah may have been governor of Ammon, ruling over central Transjordan. His family home was at modern ‘Araq el‐Emir, where two inscriptions in Aramaic letters reading ‘Tobiah’ have been found carved into the façades of halls cut into the cliffs. Geshem may be mentioned on an inscription found at Dedan in Arabia, and his son Qainu is referred to as king of Kedar on a silver bowl inscription found at Succoth in Egypt. Geshem apparently ruled with Persian backing over a sizeable territory which included the Land of Goshen, Sinai, the southern part of what had been Judah, Edom and north Arabia. Among Nehemiah's reforms were the prohibition of intermarriage with the women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab, and the requirement that children should speak ‘the language of Judah’ (Neh. 13: 23–27 ). It was during the Persian period that Aramaic, the official language of the Persian Empire, and its script gradually replaced Hebrew and its ‘palaeo‐Hebrew’ (or Phoenician) script. Parts of the Books of Ezra and Daniel (and a single verse in Jeremiah) are in Aramaic. The restored Judah was known as Yehud. It was a subprovince of the satrapy of Abar Nahara.
Nehemiah 11: 25–36 purports to provide details of towns and their surrounding villages or countryside outside Jerusalem which were settled by Jews. People of Judah were living in Dibon, Jekabzeel, Kiriath‐arba, Jeshua, Moladah, Beth‐pelet, Hazar‐shual, Beer‐sheba, Ziklag, Meconah, En‐rimmon, Zorah, Jarmuth, Zanoah, Adullam, Lachish, and Azekah; people from Benjamin lived in Geba, Michmash, Hazor, Ramah, Gittaim, Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat, Lod, and Ono. Whatever the origins of such lists, they reflect a concern by the biblical writers to give geographical information as to where Jews were living. In Ezra 2: 2–70 and Nehemiah 7: 6–73 there are parallel lists of returning exiles. Again their origins are obscure, but it is possible that they reflect a census of the Jewish community carried out some time after the restoration. The lists include people from Gibeon, Bethlehem, Netophah, Anathoth, Beth‐azmaveth (Azmaveth), Kiriath‐ jearim, Chephirah, Beeroth, Ramah, Geba, Michmash, Bethel, Ai, Nebo, Harim, Jericho, Lod, Hadid, and Ono.
The relationship between the careers of Ezra and Nehemiah is problematic. The biblical writers seem to suggest that Ezra arrived first in 458, followed by Nehemiah in 445/444, and that for a period they were active at the same time. But there are problems with such an understanding, and a possible solution is that Ezra arrived in 398 and needed to repeat or reinforce some of Nehemiah's earlier reforms.
In the latter part of the period of Persian domination, it is possible that Judah was granted a fair amount of local autonomy. This is suggested by the discovery in Palestine of coins bearing the name ‘Yehud’ (Judah), dating from the late 5th and early 4th centuries. The same inscription is found on official seals stamped on jar‐handles.