Lecture 6: The Inter-testament Period, 400 Not-So-Silent Years
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The history found in the Old Testament comes to an end about 400 years before we take up the story of the New Testament. In between the testaments is a period often called the 400 silent years because by Jewish reckoning no prophets spoke in the land of Israel during this period. Well, it may be called silent, but as you’ll soon see, it is anything but that. Rather, it’s a dynamic period of conquest, political and religious developments, and conflict around compromising or not compromising the foundational values and traditions of Israel. It’s a period that has the feel of God setting the cultural/historical table for the coming of His Son.
The Inter-testament Period, 400 Not-So-Silent Years
C. Dead Sea Scrolls
A. Temple and Synagogue
B. Sadducees and Pharisees
C. Sanhedrin and Scribes
D. Herodians and Essenes
E. Publicans and Zealots
Welcome to session six of our journey through the whole Bible in five hours or less. We have just finished up The Old Testament sessions, two and-a-half hours through the whole Old Testament. I hope you are not too tired at this point in time because we have a long journey in front of us as we make our way through The New Testament together.
You know what I’m going to say next and that is, let’s review. Before we go into any new material today, I would like to just cover with you some of the things that we have been working on together as we have worked our way through The Old Testament, now moving toward the coming of Christ and The New Testament story. You remember, we started with simple things. We are talking about the Bible here. There are 66 books in the Bible. We call them books, they are various writings that have been put together in groups in order to coordinate this great book that we call the Word of God, the Bible. The first section we looked at was The Old Testament or the Hebrew scriptures where there are 39 books. We have not looked at The New Testament yet, where there are 27. You remember, we broke these into three segments. This is a functional outline for us. What we are trying to do here, you remember, is to get the perspective of the whole scripture, to create a functional outline, a management tool, if you will, that helps us to take what we learn about scripture and put it into a usable form.
We talked about how this can be used. For instance, you can find your way through here, through a little section, when you are working on a particular book. You know where you are in that history and you might find yourself saying, “I know there is something down here in this third, instructional section, that fits here, and you can go check it out.” Remember, we did that many times as we worked together through this first part, just to get a handle on what is going on here. If you recall, we call this first section the foundational section, foundational. There are five books there: Genesis through Deuteronomy. These five books basically are like a compass. They set the principles; they set direction for the people who are going to live these compass principles out later in their lives. This is God setting the stage for what is going to come, how these people are going to live for him, what the practices are going to be of their lives, what principles are going to drive who they are, how their leaders are going to lead. All of those things become focused in these five books. Remember, we moved through Abraham and Abraham’s children, down to Joseph, down through Moses, who becomes this great leader that we pick up in Exodus and who takes us into Deuteronomy. We have this powerful, powerful compass setting section, foundational things.
We followed that with what we call the historical section and there were 12 books in this section. Those 12 begin with Joshua and end with Esther. In this section we see the people of Israel, God’s people, as they become Israel and later break into two nations – Judah and Israel – that these people are living out these foundational things. We begin to ask ourselves basic questions like, “How are they doing? Are they living out these foundational things and finding the blessings and some of the results that God promises? Or are they not?” And we begin to see that happen. Remember a couple of things that we saw in this historical section: One of them had to do with leadership, that as the leaders went, so went the people. Remember, Judah broke into two nations. Judah has a number of kings and out of those 20 or so kings, eight of them are actually described as doing something good. So the majority were in the other direction. But Judah in this picture did not do very well at times in terms of fulfilling the foundational things. We looked at Israel and discovered they had 19; and out of those 19, nowhere in scripture were any of them described as being good kings. So they are going to have less success in working this out. So we followed those things a little bit, as much as we could in a 30-minute time frame in each of these.
You remember the third section, we referred to as the instructional section. This section contains 22 books. Here we said of this instructional section that the voices that are here, the writings that are here, they speak into this history in a different way. This speaks into this history in a directional kind of way. Here are the foundational things you follow. These voices spoke into this history, evaluating how the people here were doing, speaking into the need for correction if correction was needed; speaking into heart issues where heart issues were being struggled with; speaking into things that were to come that they needed to anticipate; all of this being instructional into this history. So as you look here, oftentimes what you will find as you follow through this history - you may be looking at a given period of the kings or what might be going on - it is likely that you can look into these instructional pages, as we did a few times just to see, and you can find voices and writings that speak into this history. As you begin to think through this, – remember, we took a leader perspective – this becomes a way for you to manage the things that you know in scripture.
One of the things that I do occasionally is, I will come to one of these sections and just ask myself, “Okay, what books are in this section?” For instance, here is the book of Habakkuk and Habakkuk was a prophet. Habakkuk was a prophet to Judah before they went into exile, before Babylonia conquered them, remember that? We covered that. The leading people of Judah were hauled away into exile. Habakkuk spoke before that judgment came. As you might guess, he was warning the people about judgment. But if you remember him, he first was complaining about God doing nothing. That is, there was all of this bad stuff going on. “God, how come you’re not doing something about it?” Then God says, “Keep your eyes open and watch what I’m doing.” He says, “You keep your eyes on the Babylonians and the Chaldeans because I’m raising them up and they are going to become an instrument of judgment. Remember, Habakkuk did not like that. So he tests God and basically challenges God to prove Himself. God does, and at the end of the book we find Habakkuk’s attitude changes and he ended up embracing what God was going to do and realizing that through that, there will be something better and important that will happen to Judah, even though it will be a very difficult time.
So I go in, as I hope you will, you find these books and you ask yourself, “What do I know about this piece? Where does this piece fit here? What are the foundational things playing into this piece?” It does not happen overnight, but it never happens without the structure you have learned. That is the important part of this. It is important to remember, the Bible does not create the structure, we create the structure to help us manage what we are learning. Again, isn’t that crucial? Remember, we talked about being an influence and being a leader. That means that if you are a parent or you are a grandparent, or you are a Sunday School teacher, or you are a pastor, or you are a missionary, you are a person of influence. Who isn’t a person of influence in the kingdom? The last I checked, the mandate to make disciples rests on all of us. In a sense, we are all called to be influencers. As a result, one of the great tools of influence we have is this Word we have been talking about, and that is why this is so important.
In this session we need to move to The New Testament. On this side we are going to have 27 books. You guessed it already, you know this, that these match The Old Testament. There is a foundational section; this time there will be four books in it. We will get to those in a later session. There is a historical section, only one book in it. There is an instructional section, which low and behold, has 22 as well; so we will be there in another session.
The Silent Years
Today we need to fill in a piece here because here is the interesting thing: When I open my Bible and probably when you open yours, if you open it to the end of Malachi and turn the page, you are in The New Testament. But, with that page turning there is 400 years of time that elapses before The New Testament really engages after the book of Malachi. So you have to ask yourself in this session, “What happened in these 400 years?” Oftentimes they are called the 400 silent years. Interesting title, for sure.
Why are they called the silent years, oftentimes the intertestamental period, by the way? It is interesting, and you need to remember, the reason that historians and others have referred this as the 400 silent years is that because of The Old Testament with Malachi and Nehemiah being kind of equivalent books at the close, and the beginning of The New Testament when you walk your way into Matthew, you have this 400-year period, which by Jewish reckoning, there were no prophets who spoke in the land. So it looks as if the prophetic voice was silent. In fact, one writer out of this period, writing a book other than scripture, refers to this time. Let me read the quote so I don’t misquote him. He refers to this period as “the worst of any since the day the prophets ceased to appear among them.” So even in that time, they were recognizing that the prophetic voice had come to a close for some reason in this period of time. This cues you up to an interesting thing over here in The New Testament, if you want to think with me for just a minute. Remember, there is a guy who shows up on the scene early in The New Testament story, named John the Baptist. He is a guy who lived out in the desert. He is speaking a message that sounds a whole lot like an Old Testament message, it is a proclamation message , “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” People are flocking out to see this guy and now you know why. You know why because for 400 years this voice has been quiet. Now people are saying to themselves, “Could it be? Could it be that God is speaking again?” So you get this dynamic over here. We need to get into that.
Let’s take a look at this 400 silent years. I want to look at three things with you in this period of time. I want to look at rulers, that is where are are going to go first. Who rules over the land during this period of time? The second thing I am going to do is look with you at readings. There are some important writings out of this period you need to know about. We can’t look into them in detail. The last piece I want to look at with you is religion. We will find out as we get into these New Testament books, that issues of religion are going to become a big deal. With the issues of religion, even like today, are going to become tensions and conflict; and we will want to take a look at that because it is going to be very much a part of the life of Christ and of the early church.
We find as we enter into these 400 years, that the first set of rulers represent Persia. We know Persia from our travel through The Old Testament. Persia’s rule is going to last to about 331 BC, or BCE if you want to use the modern terminology. We will stick with the old stuff, since I am an old guy. Persia contributes some remarkable things to the Jewish people. When they conquer Babylonia and take over the land, they make one big contribution and that contribution is founding a foreign policy. Remember, when Assyria conquered Israel, they scattered all the people all over the empire. When Babylonia conquered Judah, they took many of the people out of Judah and took them into Babylonia and went to work to make them Babylonians. Read Daniel and Ezekiel if you want to get a piece of that. You are familiar with those books. So Persia creates a foreign policy that lets the conquered people go home. Right away we begin to get a movement of people who have been taken out, mostly of Judah, but some out of Israel; they are taken out and they begin to migrate back. When they begin to migrate back, Persia lets them do some things. They let them begin to rebuild the temple, to rebuild Jerusalem, to do some remarkable things. So Persia is a significant piece.
They are replaced by Greece. Eventually Alexander the Great is going to conquer this area beginning in 331 BC and he is going to last to about 164 BC or so; not Alexander specifically, but those who follow him in terms of Greek leadership in that area. Greece is going to follow on the heels of Persia by allowing, at least initially, the people of Judah to continue to have a fair amount of rule over themselves. Their institute, the Sanhedrin, which we will talk about in The New Testament gospel section, becomes the group that handles the civil law in the nation. They will set a lot of other things in place. Their educators will create some educational systems. Their philosophers – some of their philosophy unfortunately will invade the people of Judah at this particular period of time. The most significant thing they will do is introduce a language. That language will permeate all of this area. That language of course is Greek. From this time out, more and more what is going to happen is, the people are going to speak whatever their local dialect is, whatever that might be. Because Greek becomes the language of commerce, they will begin to speak and read Greek as well. That will have huge implications for what will be in front of us. This leadership from Greece will deteriorate. Alexander the Great will do some wonderful things. Those who follow him will be pretty good. But over time, as is often the case, the leadership deteriorates and becomes more and more anti-Jewish.
Eventually a group of Jewish people, headed by an old priest named Mattathias, carry out a rebellion oftentimes called the Maccabean rebellion and that rebellion will sort of get underway. Let’s call this the time of independence. That rebellion will get underway around 164 BC and over time they will free themselves up and begin to rule themselves. They will rule over themselves to about 63 BC.
This is an excellent period of time for them because some important things that are lost begin to get re-introduced. Those things include a return to the idea of One God. “Hear O Israel, your God is One God.” Greece introduced a pantheon of gods to the area. A lot of people have drifted off into a different kind of worship and this independence period pulls people back from that.
The second thing we find that is really significant is that there is a hope that grows. There had been kind of a loss of hope as Persia’s leaders got worse and worse, even though they allowed a fair amount of freedom. Greece, which had so much promise at the beginning with Alexander the Great, become more and more anti-Jewish. Now they are independent and somehow hope gets regained. Maybe, just maybe we will be able to rule ourselves. We will be back where we thought we would be a long time ago. Some important things do take place, such as re-introduction of monotheism in the culture and the introduction of hope that also pointed toward The Messiah, which was really the object of that hope. Unfortunately the leaders here also deteriorated over time.
Toward the end of this period two sons in a sense inherit the kingdom, if you will, or the opportunity to lead it. They come in conflict as to who is going to be the real leader. Here is the interesting thing they do. They invite this group to settle the argument. They ask Rome, a powerful, powerful nation of the day, to help them settle the conflict. Rome settles the conflict by simply taking over. So that ends independence and Rome in 63 BC steps into the fray. They are going to continue to rule over this area for about a period of time that will last until 135 AD. If you think with me for a little bit: When Christ comes on the scene, when we look at this history in The New Testament and all that is going on there, it all takes place in this segment of Roman rule.
Rome does some great things and some really bad things. Rome introduces, for instance, peace in the land. They stop conflict by and large and they stop it by pure power. They just don’t allow it. If you want to rebel, you will pay a huge price for it. So all through the empire they gradually introduce what is oftentimes called the “Pax Romana” (0:18:29.7) peace.
They also introduce systems. They are systems people. They introduce roads and other kinds of business systems and things that become invaluable for he commerce of the empire. They continue to use Greek as the language of the land. It continues to be the language of commerce. Rome really admires the Greek culture, so they hold onto big pieces of it. The last thing they introduce, which is very critical, is roads. They are road builders, master road builders, some of the early builders of what we would call networks. They networked the whole empire. When you think about the expansion of the gospel, what is going to carry the gospel out? When we look at the book of Acts, we discover that a lot of what is going to happen is going to travel right down these Roman roads. This network is going to be invaluable.
There is a great passage in Galations that explains this time. In Galations 4:4 says that “When the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” That phrase, “the fullness of time” describes this period, this 400 silent years. They were not silent at all, were they?
We still have a couple of things that we need to look at here, as we continue our journey. We have rulers, who started with Persia, who let people go home and re-establish themselves in the land; followed by Greece, the great contribution being the language. We see how that works out even in a book that becomes very important to the New Testament history. Then a period of independence when they rule over themselves. This Maccabean rebellion we referred to establishes Jewish rulers in the land and they rule up until about 63 BC, not without conflict. Ending conflict causes two brothers who invite Rome to settle their conflict. Rome settles it by simply taking over. They then rule over the land from about 63 BC to 135 AD. That is a very dynamic period of time.
Within that period of time there is another set of things that create influence that we need to understand. I am going to call those readings. There are just a few readings I am going to mention and you have them in your notes. Let me just read for you and you can jot a note or two.
The first one we want to talk about is called the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha, the word means “hidden things.” These were kind of viewed as somewhat mysterious books. Really there was nothing hidden in them that you would think of in that regard. They were never, even in their own time, seen as scripture. In fact, the rabbis tended to view them as “the outside books.” So you can see that even in the context, they were not viewed as part of the Hebrew scripture. But they are not unimportant. They teach us a lot of history and they show us a lot about the culture of the time. They are well worth paying attention to, at least in summary fashion. I would refer you to various Bible encyclopedias and other places where you can get a summary of what these books are about. I think you would find them very helpful.
The second reading is a word I’m glad I don’t have to spell for you. It is Pseudepigrapha . Basically this is a group of about 60 or so writings from a variety of authors. Some of the books ostensibly have names that seem to reflect authorship, but the truth is, they don’t really. Mostly, the people named in those things were not the authors at all. But what you do have is a look into history, a look into commerce, a look into relationship, a look into a lot of things that were going on in the history of that time. There are various links and various kinds of writings there.
A third piece that we want you to think about – and this is much more clear to us – would be The Dead Sea Scrolls. Remember back in the ruler part of this period when Rome takes over and gradually puts more and more pressure on the land, eventually there are separatists who pull out of that scene. They separate themselves physically as much as they can from the Roman influence and they establish their own communities and the like. Many of these were established in the Dead Sea area where we found, in recent years, much of what we call The Dead Sea Scrolls. Those become crucial to understanding a lot about these separatist groups, what they believed, how they functioned, how they related to one another, how they related to the culture, how they saw things. This is a powerful group. Again, I would refer you to summary pieces where you can get a good overview of what was found in many of these documents. It also gives a lot of affirmation, particularly to the Old Testament scripture.
We have the Apocrypha, we have the Pseudepigrapha and we have The Dead Sea Scrolls. There is one that is not on your list. I want to reference this quickly, that is philosophies. I do not want to overlook the fact that there are philosophies that impact this time. Particularly the people who admired the Greeks are going to pick up on people like Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and others. These are going to be people who begin to adopt some of that philosophy into the Jewish system and other places. Philosophers, particularly from the Greek period, will continue to have high impact all the way through even the Roman occupation of the land. That becomes a significant piece.
The last reading I want you to think about, I have referenced it already, is a reading called the Septuagint. The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. Remember how important that language was? What Greece did for the land was, it provided now an empire-wide language. Now the Hebrew scriptures are being translated and are translated into that language during this period of time. When you think what that language and this book is going to do for the spread of the gospel when we begin to read, for instance the book of Acts, it is going to be a huge piece of what goes on. Because all through the Roman empire Jewish people were scattered. They were scattered out by Assyria and have been in place for a long time. They were hauled away by Babylonia and have been in place for a long time. They have scattered out themselves to try to avoid some of the things that went on during these ruling ages. Now there is a book that can get to them that is in Greek. They can read it, they can use it, they can share it. This begins to be a huge piece of the great commission aspect when we touch into The New Testament.
Those are some of the readings in very great shorthand. We need to wrap up quickly. There is one more piece and we need to get there. That is the piece of religions.
Temple and Synagogue
I want to start with the big picture part if I could. Your notes start with a temple versus synagogue piece. I don’t know if versus, kind of opposition, is fair; but there is a conflict that begins to grow between these various segments. What I want you to see here is how it works its way out. When we get to The New Testament time and definitely to this time as well, we begin to have a couple of things going on. We have a couple of groups which become very different. We have a group associated with the temple and more of the ceremonial aspects of the Jewish religion; and we have groups associated with the synagogue that are much more related to the traditional way of life aspects of the Jewish religion. In fact, when you look at the Jewish practice of this time, it is much more a way of life than a doctrinal thing. A lot of issues arise over way of life things, rather than doctrinal things. Jesus takes them on for some of this when he talks about, for instance, ceremonial washings as a way of life and kind of challenges why they do those things. You begin to see that that is what is going on here. We have these people in the temple who reflect more of the ceremonial aspects of Judaism and they are just that, they are ceremony. A lot of them have begun to lose their meanings, that high level, the temple level, among those who would lead the religion at that level. At the synagogue level it is way much more focused on, this is your way of life; this is how we live together; this is how we do things. So you begin to have this ceremony versus grass roots kind of tension. That plays its way out in a couple of groups that I want you to see, the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
Sadducees and Pharisees
The Sadducees become those who lead this temple piece. So you have temple and synagogue , now you have Sadducees and Pharisees. The Sadducees become the leaders in this temple setting. The Pharisees become much more influential at the grass roots side. That does not mean that they are less intelligent or brilliant. These are brilliant teachers by and large and highly respected in their culture. The Sadducees get their respect basically from position. These Pharisees mostly get their respect from their presence with the people.
So you have two very different setups here. I think you can see how there would begin to be a little tension that would exist between these two groups. Interestingly, the only time they are going to like each other is when they discover that neither of them likes Jesus. Then they are going to be allies; but they are not going to like each other too much other than that.
The Sanhedrin and Scribes
A couple of more groups we have here. Remember, I mentioned the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin kind of got their start back in the Greek period. They continued to be the people who ruled over the civil matters of the land. They take care of the civil law. Remember, when Jesus comes to trial, there is always the question of where that trial should be. Does that belong with Rome? Does that belong with civil issues of the Jewish nation? You see it again when Paul comes before Felix, Festus and Agrippa. The question is, where does he really belong? Does he belong with the Jewish civil matters or is this an issue that Rome should handle? So you begin to see how these people fit there and they are much more connected with the Sadducees and the temple side of things. In fact, the head of the Sanhedrin is the high priest. So you get a sense of how this works.
On the other side of the coin here, I would like to put the scribes. These are a group of people who are much more committed to tradition. While these are willing to adopt to whoever rules the land and kind of compromise to keep their role and their position and their power, these on this side are much less inclined to do that. The scribes are instrumental in hanging onto the Hebrew scriptures and to the way of life. They oftentimes counter the Sanhedrin, which is way more interesting, to make sure it stays in power. So you again see this intensification of conflict.
Herodians and Essenes
The Herodians are Jewish people who connected themselves to the Roman aristocracy. They are very interested in Rome staying healthy in the land. Their wealth, their power, everything rests on that fact.
On the other hand the Essenes are part of those groups that pull out of the culture. They basically say, “We’re not going to compromise and the way we are going to do that is, we will separate ourselves as much as we can.” You can see these things going on today, can’t you? This is nothing new, is it? Nothing new. So we have the Herodians, these Jewish people who are compromising to a Roman way of life. They are very interested in keeping their wealth, their power, their position and prestige and all of those things. We have the Essenes basically saying, “No thanks, I’m leaving this. We believe in what we believe in and we are going to sustain that; and if we have to, we will pull out of this culture as much as we can and separate ourselves.”
Publicans and Zealots
Lastly, I would like to throw in here the publicans – not the Republicans – and opposite them, the zealots. The publicans are Jewish people who sold out to them as well. The publicans are the dregs of the culture. There are the wealthy and the prominent of the culture, these are the dregs of the culture. Rome had a process of tax collecting and nobody likes a tax collector. Rome did not want to be disliked, so they chose people as tax collectors who they knew would receive all of the dislike, and not Rome. So you have people here who are the lowest of the low, collecting the taxes. They get their money by not only collecting what Rome wants, but collecting however much more they can to fill their own pockets. They are not very popular, they are very attached to Rome.
On the other side you have zealots, who are extreme religious radicals way back when the Maccabean revolt started under the rulers. That revolt never really goes away. There is always a slight rebellion going on under the surface. There are a few in The New Testament. This rebellion will pick up in intensity with this group. The zealots are willing to do anything to overthrow the reality of Rome’s power in their midst. It is probably not fair to say it; but in some measure, at least with some of these groups, they would be felt to be the terrorists of the day because they were willing to do anything to bring Roman rule to an end. Of course, eventually what they succeed in doing is intensifying the conflict to the place where Rome will destroy Jerusalem, tear the temple down and basically bring an end to all of that. That is for another story as we go a little further.
What I hope you would see is that this is anything but silence. This is all about filling up the time. All of these things are going to flow into The New Testament ages that we are going to look at in our next few sessions. I don’t want you to miss this. Rulers: Persia, Greece, period of independence, then Rome. There are some great readings that are important to this period of time. They are not scriptural necessarily, except for the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scripture. But the others, the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, The Dead Sea Scrolls are much reflective of the culture of the time, ways of life at the time, those kinds of things. They are very helpful in terms of history and how people thought, not to be overlooked.
Then we have to remember that some of the Greek philosophy of the time also flows into that time; and then if you think about the book of Acts, some of the stories from them. Paul at Athens actually takes on some of the folks that are speaking out philosophy, as he brings his own understanding to it. He gets it. So you can see that even at these levels, philosophy is present. We need to pay attention to all of those things. Lastly, the kind of religious process and conflicts growing between the temple oriented, ceremonial, somewhat compromising approach to the religion of the land versus the synagogue approach, where you have it much more at the grass roots, much more into stated tradition and the way of life and the like. This plays out in various groups – the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin and the scribes, the Herodians and the Essenes, and then the publicans and the zealots.
All the way along the line there is going to be conflict and that conflict is going to work its way over into the stories of the life of Christ. In the fullness of time, God sent his Son, and he filled up the time, did he not. We’ll see how that works next session. See you then.
What was the most valuable thing you learned from this lesson?