The Edict of Cyrus (539–530 B.C.)
During his reign of ten years Cyrus established a reputation as the great liberator. He permitted all peoples who had been deported to Mesopotamia by the Assyrians and Babylonians to return to their native lands. The Jews benefited from this policy. The edict allowing them to return to Judea is contained in Scripture in two versions, the official Aramaic form (Ezra 6:3–5) and the popularized Hebrew version (Ezra 1:2–4).
Under the leadership of Zerubbabel (Sheshbazzar) a group of some fifty thousand Jews returned to the Promised Land in 538 or 537 B.C.. Many chose to remain in Babylon because during the exile there they had become prosperous merchants. Only the most spiritually committed desired to return to the ruins of Palestine to rebuild their nation and their temple.
The first order of business upon their return was the rebuilding of the altar on the site of the ruined temple in Jerusalem. To these devout Jews worship was central. As soon as they had settled in their homes, the foundations of the temple were prepared. Materials were gathered for the immediate reconstruction of the house of the Lord. At that point, however, difficulties set in. Opposition arose from the peoples of the land. The builders became discouraged. The temple work ceased. Not one stone was set on that foundation for over fifteen years.