This is the second part of the Biblical History shoot in Israel. Although we have provided some suggestions of where to shoot, there are many more.
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The Return to Zion:
Persian and Hellenistic Periods
In 538 BCE, Persian King Cyrus conquered the Babylonian empire and because of his conquest and wishes some 50,000 Jews were freed from their captivity to return to the Land of Israel. Their leader was Zerubbabel, whose descent from the House of David, empowered him to lead them. Within a century the remnant of Babylon’s Jews made a Second return under the guidance of Ezra the Scribe.
During the next four centuries that followed under Persian rule (538-333 BCE) and then Hellenistic (Ptolemaic and Seleucid) rule (332-142 BCE), the Jews knew varying degrees of autonomy. The Second Temple period was marked by the repatriation of the Jews (under the guidance of Ezra), the construction of the Second Temple on the site of the First Temple, the refortification of the walls of Jerusalem and the establishment of the Knesset Hagedolah (Great Assembly) as the supreme religious and judicial body of the Jewish people.
Although the Syrian-based Seleucid rulers were the ultimate authorities, the high priest and Council of Elders in Jerusalem ruled Judah and the Land remained a Jewish theocracy. The house of Caiaphas who was the highest priest of the great assembly
There were Temple guards at the Antonia fortress on Via Dolorosa.
Bethesda archeological remains and a pool from the Second Temple period
The Jews only revolted when they were prohibited from practicing their religion and their Temple was desecrated (166 BCE).
With the inspiration of his father Mattathias (of the priestly Hasmonean family) Judah, the Maccabee directed the capture of Jerusalem and the purification of the Temple (164 BCE). Each year the festival of Hanukkah commemorates these events.
Autonomy to Judea, as the Land of Israel, was now called, was restored by the Seleucids after further Hasmonean victories (147 BCE). The Seleucid kingdom collapsed (129 BCE) and the Jewish state achieved its independence. The Hasmonean dynasty lasted about 80 years, and Jewish rule and political consolidation flourished. Moreover, boundaries close in size to those of Solomon’s realm were regained.
(63 BCE-313 CE)
When the Seleucids were replaced by the Romans as the great power in the region the Hasmonean king Hyrcanus II was given limited authority by the Roman governor of Damascus. Unfortunately, during the following years, the Jewish population was hostile toward the new regime and frequent insurrections took place.
Mattathias Antigonus made a final attempt to restore the former glory of the Hasmonean dynasty. Hasmonean rule ended in 40 BCE with his defeat and death and the Land returned to its status as a province of the Roman Empire.
In 37 BCE, Herod (a son-in-law of Hyrcanus II) was appointed King of Judea by the Romans. Almost unlimited autonomy was granted to him to control the country’s internal affairs, allowing him to become one of the most powerful monarchs in the Roman Empire, particularly in its eastern part. Herod was a great admirer of Greco-Roman culture and his massive construction program included the cities of Caesarea and Sebaste and the fortresses at Herodium and Masada. Under his reign, the Temple was remodeled into one of the most magnificent buildings of its time. However, although Herod achieved many things during his reign, he never succeeded in winning the trust and support of his Jewish subjects.
King Herod’s mountaintop palace complex of Masada near the Dead Sea was occupied and fortified by nearly 1,000 Jewish men, women and children, who had survived the destruction of Jerusalem; Roman forces then made numerous attempts to dislodge them. When Masada was finally scaled and the walls breached it was discovered that the defenders and their families preferred suicide to enslavement.
After Shimon Bar Kochba’s revolt (132 CE) there was one brief period when Jerusalem and Judea were once again Jewish. The Roman power, however, was overwhelming and it was inevitable that the Jewish forces would be conquered. In accordance with Roman custom, Jerusalem was “plowed up with a yoke of oxen.” Palaestina became Judea’s new name and Aelia Capitolina, that of Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, Jews and Judaism continued in spite of the fact that the Temple no longer existed and Jerusalem had been burned to the ground. The Sanhedrin (successor of the Knesset Hagedolah) reconvened in Yavneh (70 CE) and later in Tiberias. Returning exiles renewed institutional and communal life and rabbis replaced priests. The synagogue now became the focus of Jewish communities as is shown by excavations of synagogues at Capernaum, Korazin, Bar’am, Gamala and elsewhere. And Jews continued to share the Jewish religious law (the Halakhah), regardless of where they were in the world.
Since post-biblical times, Religious Jewish life has been guided by the Halakhah, the body of Jewish law that deals with the religious obligations of Jews in both interpersonal relations and ritual observances. Practically all aspects of human behavior – birth and marriage, joy and grief, agriculture and commerce, ethics and theology are dealt with in Halakhic Law. Halakhic Law is based on the Talmud and is rooted in the Bible. The Talmud is a body of Jewish law and lore (completed c. 400) that includes the Mishnah, the first written compilation of the Oral Law (codified c. 210), and the Gemarah, which in turn, is an elaboration of the Mishnah.
In the first and second centuries, religious scholars began to provide practical guidance in the form of concise, systematic digests or Halakhah. The Shulhan Arukh that Joseph Caro wrote in Safed (Tzfat) in the 16th century is one of the most authoritative of these codifications.