The Second Temple and Its Discontents

Completed in 515 BCE, the Second Temple in Jerusalem was the focal point of Judaism until its destruction nearly six centuries later. Lawrence Schiffman provides an introduction to the Temple’s history, its significance in Judaism and Christianity, and the conflicts surrounding it in the latter part of its existence:

The Second Temple and its rituals were a point of contention between various Jewish groups, with numerous [ancient] texts criticizing the Temple for violating the laws of the Torah. The Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ disagreement led to inconsistent control of Temple rituals. Sadducean views held sway until the Pharisaic approach came to dominate after the Maccabean revolt [in 160 BCE], but the Sadducees regained control later in the Hasmonean period. The Dead Sea sectarians [associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls], who believed Temple ritual was being conducted illegitimately, abstained completely. Josephus reports that the Essenes processed offerings in their own area of the Temple in order to fulfill their special ritual-purity requirements. The Temple Scroll from Qumran, like the end of the book of Ezekiel, looked forward to a vastly expanded Temple complex.

Josephus records numerous events around the Temple during pilgrimage festivals, often related to the deteriorating relationship between the Jews and their Roman rulers. Huge numbers of Jews from all over the world attended the pilgrimage festivals. According to [the Jewish-Roman historian] Josephus, 256,500 lambs were sacrificed to accommodate more than 2.7 million people at the Passover celebration of 66 CE. While this may be an exaggeration, Josephus also reports that during that Passover, right before the outbreak of the great revolt [that culminated in the Romans’ destruction of the Temple], a massive protest erupted against the actions of the Roman procurator Florus.

Read more at Bible Odyssey

More about: Ancient Israel, ancient Judaism, Dead Sea Scrolls, Ezekiel, History & Ideas, Josephus, Pharisees, Second Temple

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy