I. THE PERIOD IN GENERAL
II. A GLANCE ALTES TESTAMENT CONTEMPORANEOUS HISTORY
III. HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS
1. The Persian Period
2. The Alexandrian Period
3. The Egyptian Period
4. The Syrian Period
5. The Maccabean Period
6. The Roman Period
IV. INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS IN THIS PERIOD
1. Literary Activity
(a) The Apocrypha
(c) The Septuagint
2. Spiritual Conditions
4. Preparation for Christianity
As the title indicates, the historical period in the life of Israel extends from the cessation ofprophecy to the beginning of the Christian era.
I. The Period in General.
The Exile left its ineffaceable stamp on Judaism as well as on the Jews. Their return to the land of their fathers was marked by the last rays of the declining sun of prophecy. With Malachi it set. Modern historical criticism has projected some of the canonical books of the Bible far into this post-exilic period. Thus Kent (HJP, 1899), following the lead of the Wellhausen-Kuenen hypothesis, with all its later leaders, has charted the period between 600 BC, the date of the first captivity, to 160 BC, the beginning of the Hasmonean period of Jewish history, in comparative contemporaneous blocks of double decades. Following the path of Koster, the historical position of Ezra and Nehemiah is inverted, and the former is placed in the period 400-380 BC, contemporaneously with Artaxerxes II; Joe is assigned to the same period; portions of Isa (chapters 63-66; 24-27) are placed about 350 BC; Zec is assigned to the period 260-240, and Da is shot way down the line into the re ign of the Seleucids, between 200 and 160 BC. Now all this is very striking and no doubt very critical, but the ground of this historical readjustment is wholly subjective, and has the weight only of a hypothetical conjecture. Whatever may be our attitude to the critical hypothesis of the late origin of some of the Old Testament literally, it seems improbable that any portion of it could have reached far into the post-exilic period. The interval between the Old and the New Testaments is the dark period in the hist ory of Israel. It stretches itself out over about four centuries, during which there was neither prophet nor inspired writer in Israel. All we know of it we owe to Josephus, to some of the apocryphal books, and to scattered references in Greek and Latin historians. The seat of empire passed over from the East to the West, from Asia to Europe. The Persian Empire collapsed, under the fierce attacks of the Macedonians, and the Greek Empire in turn gave way to the Roman rule.
II. A Glance at Contemporaneous History.
For the better understanding of this period in the history of Israel, it may be well to pause for a moment to glance at the wider field of the history of the world in the centuries under contemplation, for the words "fullness of time" deal with the all-embracing history of mankind, for whose salvation Christ appeared, and whose every movement led to its realization.
1. The Egyptian Empire:
In the four centuries preceding Christ, The Egyptian empire, the oldest and in many respects the most perfectly developed civilization of antiquity, was tottering to its ruins. The 29th or Mendesian Dynasty, made place, in 384 BC, for the 30th or Sebennitic Dynasty, which was swallowed up, half a century later, by the Persian Dynasty. The Macedonian or 32nd replaced this in 332 BC, only to give way, a decade later, to the last or 33rd, the Ptolemaic Dynasty. The whole history of Egypt in this period was therefore one of endless and swiftly succeeding changes. In the Ptolemaic Dynasty there was a faint revival of the old glory of the past, but the star of empire had set for Egypt, and the mailed hand of Rome finally smote down a civilization whose beginnings are lost in the dim twilight of history. The Caesarian conquest of 47 BC was followed, 17 years later, by the annexation of Egypt to the new world-power, as a Roman province. Manetho’s history is the one great literary monument of Egyptian history in this period. Her priests had been famous for their wisdom, to which Lycurgus and Solon, the Greek legislators, had been attracted, as well as Pythagoras and Plato, the world’s greatest philosophers.
In Greece also the old glory was passing away. Endless wars sapped the strength of the national life. The strength of Athens and Sparta, of Corinth and Thebes had departed, and when about the beginning of our period, in 337 BC, the congress of Greek states had elected Philip of Macedon to the hegemony of united Greece, the knell of doom sounded for all Greek liberty. First Philip and after him Alexander wiped out the last remnants of this liberty, and Greece became a fighting machine for the conquest of the world in the meteoric career of. But what a galaxy of illustrious names adorn the pages of Greek history, in this period, so dark for Israel! Think of Aristophanes and Hippocrates, of Xenophon and Democritus, of Plato and Apelies, of Aeschines and Demosthenes, of Aristotle and Praxiteles and Archimedes, all figuring, amid the decay of Greek liberty, in the 4th and 3rd centuries before Christ! Surely if the political glory of Greece had left its mark on the ages, its intellectual brilliancy is their pride.
Rome meanwhile was strengthening herself, by interminable wars, for the great task of world-conquest that lay before her. By the Latin and Samnite and Punic wars she trained her sons in the art of war, extended her territorial power and made her name dreaded everywhere. Italy and north Africa, Greece and Asia Minor and the northern barbarians were conquered in turn. Her intellectual brilliancy was developed only when the lust of conquest was sated after a fashion, but in the century immediately preceding the Christian era we find such names as Lucretius and Hortentius, Cato and Cicero, Sallust and Diodorus Siculus, Virgil and Horace. At the close of the period between the Testaments, Rome had become the mistress of the world and every road led to her capital.
In Asia the Persian empire, heir to the civilization and traditions of the great Assyrian-Babylonian world-power, was fast collapsing and was ultimately utterly wiped out by the younger Greek empire and civilization. In far-away India the old ethnic religion of Brahma a century or more before the beginning of our period passed through the reformatory crisis inaugurated by Gatama Buddha or Sakya Mouni, and thus Buddhism, one of the great ethnic religions, was born. Another reformer of the Tauistic faith was Confucius, the sage of China, a contemporary of Buddha, while Zoroaster in Persia laid the foundations of his dualistic world-view. In every sense and in every direction, the period between the Testaments was therefore one of political and intellectual ferment.
III. Historical Developments.
As regards Jewish history, the period between the Testaments may be divided as follows:
(1) the Persian period;
(2) the Alexandrian period;
(3) the Egyptian period;
(4) the Syrian period;
(5) the Maccabean period;
(6) the Roman period.
1. The Persian Period:
The Persian period extends from the cessation of prophecy to 334 BC. It was in the main uneventful in the history of the Jews, a breathing spell between great national crises, and comparatively little is known of it. The land of Palestine was a portion of the Syrian satrapy, while the true government of the Jewish people was semi-theocratic, or rather sacerdotal, under the rule of the high priests, who were responsible to the satrap. As a matter of course, the high-priestly office became the object of all Jewish ambition and it aroused the darkest passions. Thus John, the son of Judas, son of Eliashib, through the lust of power, killed his brother Jesus, who was a favorite of Bagoses, a general of Artaxerxes in command of the district. The guilt of the fratricide was enhanced, because the crime was committed in the temple itself, and before the very altar. A storm of wrath, the only notable one of this period, thereupon swept over Judea. The Persians occupied Jerusalem, the temple was defiled, the city laid waste in part, a heavy fine was imposed on the people and a general persecution followed, which lasted for many years (Ant., XI, 7; Kent, HJP, 231). Then as later on, in the many persecutions which followed, the Samaritans, ever pliable and willing to obey the tyrant of the day, went practically scot free.
2. The Alexandrian Period:
The Alexandrian period was very brief, 334-323 BC. It simply covers the period of the Asiatic rule of Alexander the Great. In Greece things had been moving swiftly. The Spartan hegemony, which had been unbroken since the fall of Athens, was now by destroyed by the Thebans under Epaminondas, in the great battles of Leuctra and Mantinea. But the new power was soon crushed Philip of Macedon, who was thereupon chosen general leader by the unwilling Greeks. Persia was the object of Philip’s ambition and vengeance, but the dagger of Pausanias (Ant., XI, viii, 1) forestalled the execution of his plans. His son Alexander, a youth of 20 years, succeeded him, and thus the "great he-goat," of which Daniel had spoken (
3. The Egyptian Period:
The Egyptian period (324-264 BC). The death of Alexander temporarily turned everything into chaos. The empire, welded Thrace together by his towering genius, fell apart under four of his generals--Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Cassander, and Selenus (
4. The Syrian Period:
The Syrian period (204-165 BC). Israel now entered into the valley of the shadow of death. This entire period was an almost uninterrupted martyrdom. Antiochus was succeeded by Seleucis Philopator. But harsh as was their attitude to the Jews, neither of these two was notorious for his cruelty to them. Their high priests, as in former periods, were still their nominal rulers. But the aspect of everything changed when
5. The Maccabean Period:
The Maccabean period (165-63 BC). The slaying of an idolatrous Jew at the very altar was the signal of revolt. The land of Judea is specially adapted to guerilla tactics, and Judas Maccabeus, who succeeded his father, as leader of the Jewish patriots, Was a past master in this kind of warfare. All efforts of Antiochus to quell the rebellion failed most miserably, in three Syrian campaigns. The king died of a loathsome disease and peace was at last concluded with the Jews. Though still nominally under Syrian control, Judas became governor of Palestine. His first act was the purification and rededication of the temple, from which the Jews date their festival of purification (see Purification). When the Syrians renewed the war, Judas applied for aid to the Romans, whose power began to be felt in Asia, but he died in battle before the promised aid could reach him (Ant., XII, xi, 2). He was buried by his father’s side at Modin and was succeeded by his brother Jonathan. From that time the Maccabean history becomes one of endless cabals. Jonathan was acknowledged by the Syrians as meridarch of Judea, but was assassinated soon afterward. Simon succeeded him, and by the help of the Romans was made hereditary ruler of Palestine. He in turn was followed by John Hyrcanus. The people were torn by bitter partisan controversies and a civil war was waged, a generation later, by two grandsons of John Hyrcanus, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. In this internecine struggle the Roman general Pompey participated by siding with Hyrcanus, while Aristobulus defied Rome and defended Jerusalem. Pompey took the city, after a siege of three months, and entered the holy of holies, thereby forever estranging from Rome every loyal Jewish heart.
6. The Roman Period:
The Roman period (63-4 BC). Judea now became a Roman province. Hyrcanus, stripped of the hereditary royal power, retained only the high-priestly office. Rome exacted an annual tribute, and Aristobulus was sent as a captive to the capital. He contrived however to escape and renewed the unequal struggle, in which he was succeeded by his sons Alexander and Antigonus. In the war between Pompey and Caesar, Judea was temporarily forgotten, but after Caesar’s death, under the triumvirate of Octavius, Antony and Lepidus, Antony, the eastern triumvir, favored Herod the Great, whose intrigues secured for him at last the crown of Judea and enabled him completely to extinguish the old Maccabean line of Judean princes.
IV. Internal Developments in This Period.
One thing remains, and that is a review of the developments within the bosom of Judaism itself in the period under consideration. It is self-evident that the core of the Jewish people, which remained loyal to the national traditions and to the national faith, must have been radically affected by the terrible cataclysms which mark their history, during the four centuries before Christ. What, if any, was the literary activity of the Jews in this period? What was their spiritual condition? What was the result of the manifest difference of opinion within the Jewish economy? What preparation does this period afford for the "fullness of time"? These and other questions present themselves, as we study this period of the history of the Jews.
1. Literary Activity:
The voice of prophecy was utterly hushed in this period, but the old literary instinct of the nation asserted itself; it was part and parcel of the Jewish traditions and would not be denied. Thus in this period many writings were produced, which of although they lack canonical authority, among Protestants at least, still are extremely helpful for a correct understanding the life of Israel in the dark ages before Christ.
(a) The Apocrypha.
First of all among the fruits of this literary activity stand the apocryphal books of the Old Testament. It is enough here to mention them. They are fourteen in number: 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, 2 Esther, Apocrypha., Ecclesiasticus, in Baruch, So of the Three Holy Children, History of Susannah, , , 1 and 2 Maccabees. As 3 and 4 Maccabees fall presumably within the Christian era, they are not here enumerated. All these apocryphal writings are of the utmost importance for a correct understanding of the Jewish problem in the day which they were written. For fuller information, see
Thus named from the spurious character of the authors’ names they bear. Two of these writings very probably belong to our of period, while a host of them evidently belong to a later date. In this class of writings there is a mute confession of the conscious poverty of the day. First of all, we have the Psalter of Solomon, originally written in Hebrew and translated into Greek--a collection of songs for worship, touching in their spirit, and evincing the fact that true faith never died in the heart of the true believer. The second is the
(c) The Septuagint.
The tradition of the Septuagint is told by Josephus (Ant., XII, ii, 13). Aristeas and Aristobulus, a Jewish priest in the reign of Ptolemy Philometor (2 Macc 1:10), are also quoted in support of it by Septuagint. The truth of the matter is most probably that this great translation of the Old Testament Scriptures was begun at the instance of Ptolemy Philadelphus 285-247 BC, under the direction of Demetrius Phalereus, and was completed somewhere about the middle of the 2nd century BC. Internal evidence abounds that the translation was made by different hands and at different times. If the translation was in any way literal, the text of the Septuagint raises various interesting questions in regard to the Hebrew text that was used in the translation, as compared with the one we now possess. The Septuagint was of the utmost missionary value and contributed perhaps more than any other thing to prepare the world for the "fullness of time."and by Eusebius. See
2. Spiritual Conditions:
The return from Babylon marked a turning point in the spiritual history of the Jews. From that time onward, the lust of idolatry, which had marked their whole previous history, utterly disappears. In the place of it came an almost intolerable spirit of exclusiveness, a striving after legal holiness, these two in combination forming the very heart and core of the later Pharisaism. The holy books, but especially the law, became an object of almost idolatrous reverence; the spirit was utterly lost in the form. And as their own tongue, the classic Hebrew, gradually gave way to the common Aramaic, the rabbis and their schools strove ever more earnestly to keep the ancient tongue pure, worship and life each demanding a separate language. Thus, the Jews became in a sense bilingual, the Hebrew tongue being used in their synagogues, the Aramaic in their daily life, and later on, in part at least, the Greek tongue of the conqueror, the lingua franca of the period. A spiritual aristocracy very largely replaced the former rule of their princes and nobles. As the core of their religion died, the bark of the tree flourished. Thus, tithes were zealously paid by the believer (compare
During the Greek period the more conservative and zealous of the Jews were all the time confronted with a tendency of a very considerable portion of the people, especially the younger and wealthier set, to adopt the manners of life and thought and speech of their masters, the Greeks. Thus the Hellenistic party was born, which was bitterly hated by all true blooded Jews, but which left its mark on their history, till the date of the final dispersion 70 AD. From the day of Mattathias, the Chasids or Haside ans (1 Macc 2:42) were the true Jewish patriots. Thus the party of the Pharisees came into existence (Ant., XIII, x, 5; XVIII, i, 2; BJ, I, v, 2). See Pharisees. They were opposed by the more secular-minded Sadducees (Ant., XIII, x, 6; XVIII, i, 3; BJ, II, viii, 14), wealthy, of fine social standing, wholly free from the restraints of tradition, utterly oblivious of the future life and closely akin to the Greek Epicureans. See Sadducees. These parties bitterly opposed each other till the very end of the national existence of the Jews in Palestine, and incessantly fought for the mastery, through the high-priestly office. Common hatred for Christ, for a while, afforded them a community of interests. 4. Preparation for Christianity:
Throughout this entire dark period of Israel’s history, God was working out His own Divine plan with them. Their Scriptures were translated into Greek, after the conquest of Alexander the Great the common language in the East. Thus the world was prepared for the word of God, even as the latter in turn prepared the world for the reception of the gift of God, in the gospel of His Son. The Septuagint thus is a distinct forward movement in the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise (
Henry E. Dosker