According to the biblical narrative, Zerubbabel was a governor of the Persian Province of Judah (Yehud Medinata) and the grandson of Jehoiachin, penultimate king of Judah. Zerubbabel led the first group of Jews, numbering 42,360, who returned from the Babylonian captivity in the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia. The date is generally thought to have been between 538 and 520 BC. Zerubbabel also laid the foundation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem soon after.
In all of the accounts in the Hebrew Bible that mention Zerubbabel, he is always associated with the high priest who returned with him, Joshua (Jeshua) son of Jozadak (Jehozadak). Together, these two men led the first wave of Jewish returnees from exile and began to rebuild the Temple. Old Testament theologian John Kessler describes the region of Judah as a small province that contained land extending 25 km from Jerusalem and was independently ruled prior to the Persian rule. Zerubbabel was the governor of this province. King Darius I of Persia appointed Zerubbabel governor of the Province. It was after this appointment that Zerubbabel began to rebuild the Temple. Elias Bickerman speculates that one of the reasons that Zerubbabel was able to rebuild the Temple was because of "the widespread revolts at the beginning of the reign of Darius I in 522 BC, which preoccupied him to such a degree that Zerubbabel felt he could initiate the rebuilding of the temple without repercussions".