On his arrival in Jerusalem, Ezra found that the community was completely demoralised and that intermarriage with the non Jewish population had reached alarming proportions. He called a meeting of representatives of the entire population and it was resolved to have such marriages dissolved. The Samaritans and other nationalities were deeply insulted by this measure and Ezra decided to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in order to thwart any attack. This act was in excess of his authority; his enemies reported it to the Persian court and Ezra was ordered to desist. Nehemiah, a Jew in very high standing in the court, managed to have the order rescinded and himself appointed governor of Judea. He arrived in Jerusalem in 445 BCE and in his enthusiasm completed the fortifications of the city within 52 days. There remained nothing for Nehemiah's enemies to do but to appear downcast and acknowledge that the project had been the will of God and therefore succeeded. Thus Nehemiah's building activity was brought to a conclusion. Guards were appointed for the city and Nehemiah's brother, Hananiah, was put in charge of the citadel. Later on a ceremony was held to dedicate the rebuilt walls.
Ezra and Nehemiah joined forces and on New Year's Day, 445 BCE, Ezra read the Torah at a convocation of the entire population. Some three weeks later a fast day was proclaimed and the Jews solemnly undertook to live in absolute accordance with the Torah. A few years later Nehemiah was recalled to the court and in his absence the opposition once again became active. On his return to Jerusalem he instituted various religious measures, as a result of which the schism between the Jewish community and the Samaritans became final.
Besides the Jews in Babylon who did not elect to return to Jerusalem, there were other large Jewish communities in the Middle East. In Elephantine, an island in the Nile Delta, the Jews had built a temple in the service of God. This temple, towards which the Jerusalem community displayed an ambivalent attitude, was destroyed by antagonistic Egyptian priests in 411 BCE. About that time, too, the Persian Jewish community was threatened by a decree of extermination and was saved only by the efforts of influential court Jews. The Feast of Purim and the preceding fast of Esther were instituted to commemorate that event and to this day are celebrated annually, by the public reading of the Scroll of Esther and various family and synagogue festivities.
In Judea the community continued as a theocracy - a state ruled by God's law. The monarchy was not to be restored until some 300 years later. For the remaining 100 years of Persian rule there is hardly any record at all.
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