Cyrus king of Persia conquered Babylonia in 539 BCE. In order to have an ally positioned between Persia and Egypt, Cyrus directed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple, which he helped fund. Opposition to the rebuilding of the Temple from people who had filled the vacuum during the Jewish captivity (Ezra 4), halted work on the Temple until 521 BCE when the Persian King Darius (Ezra 5) ordered work to continue. The Temples was completed in 517 BCE and dedicated the following year.

Alexander the Great was just 20 years old when he succeeded his assasinated father to become king of Macedonia. He immediately began to implement his goal of world conquest. In just four years Alexander conquered all the Greek states, all of Egypt, and the entire Persian Empire, including Syria and Palestine in 332 BCE. The Egyptians were thrilled to end Persian domination and dedicated a temple and the city of Alexandria, in Alexander's honor.

Alexander died in 323 BCE at 33 leaving no heirs. An intense struggle ensued between his four generals over who would control the vast empire. General Ptolemy Lagi gained control over Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, and Peterea. Under Ptolemy's rule the Jews in both Egypt and Palestine enjoyed a lengthy period of quiet and some degree of prosperity. In Egypt the Jews were allowed to build synagogues to worship and study in. Alexandria became an influential Jewish center. Under the rule of Ptolemy II, the Jewish scriptures were translated into Greek and became the most popular version of the Scriptures among the Jews in the diaspora. Five generations of Ptolemys ruled over Palestine until 198 BCE when the Seleucids gained control.

Hellinistic rule under the Seleucids became successively more restrictive and oppressive until the Jews, led by the Maccabeans revolted from 166 to 160 BCE. Their victory is celebrated by the festival of Chanukah. The kingdom of Judah maintained its independence and was ruled by the Hasmoneans. 

Under the Hasmonean dynasty, which lasted about 80 years, the kingdom regained boundaries not far short of Solomon's realm, political consolidation under Jewish rule was attained and Jewish life flourished.

Despite priestly rule, Jewish society became Hellenized except in its generally staunch adherence to monotheism. Although rural life was relatively unchanged, cities such as Jerusalem adopted the Greek language, sponsored games and sports, and in more subtle ways adopted and absorbed the culture of the Hellenes. Even the high priests bore such names as Jason and Menelaus. Biblical scholars have identified extensive Greek influence in the drafting of commentaries and interpolations of ancient texts during and after the Greek period.
During this period internal political and religious discord ran high, especially between the Pharisees, who interpreted the written law by adding a wealth of oral law, and the Sadducees, an aristocratic priestly class who called for strict adherence to the written law. In 64 BCE, dynastic contenders for the throne appealed for support to Pompey, who was then establishing Roman power in Asia. The next year Roman legions seized Jerusalem, and Pompey installed one of the contenders for the throne as high priest, but without the title of king. Independent Jewish sovereignty ended, and Roman dominion began.