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INTRODUCTION. When Cyrus, king of the Medo-Persian Empire, conquered Babylon in 539 B. C., he issued a decree allowing the deported peoples throughout his empire to return to their homelands. The first group of Jews to return to Pales- tine was led by Zerubbabel, a descendant of David. The main purpose of this return, besides resettling the land, was to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Cyrus gave to these returning exiles 5400 vessels of gold and silver that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple and put in the house of his gods in Babylon. The new (second) temple was completed and dedicated to God in 515 B. C. (Ezra 1; 6:15).
A second group of Jews returned to Palestine in 458 B. C. The leader of this second return was Ezra, a scribe and descendant of Aaron. Ezra had set his heart to seek the Lord, and his mission was to teach the laws and statutes to the Jews who had returned to Palestine (Ezra 7:1-10).
In 445 B. C., in the twentieth year of the reign of the Persian king Artaxerxes, Nehemiah, a Jew and high official in the king's court, learned that conditions back in Jerusalem were deplorable–the people were in great affliction and the walls of the city broken down. The king appointed Nehemiah as governor of Judah and gave him permission to lead a third group of Jews back to Jerusalem with the authority to re- build the walls of the city (Neh. 1-2:8; 5:14).