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The intertestamental period

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Intertestamental Period

Introduction

The Intertestamental Period is often referred to as the “silent years”. During this time there was no prophetic word from the God. This period was a time when the political, religious and the governing atmosphere in Palestine were greatly influenced by the Hellenistic culture that was ruling the known world. The coming of the long awaited Messiah would remove the silence and usher in a new dispensation. This study will focus on the importance of the Hellenistic’s culture, the importance of Alexander the Great’s military dominance and Herodian rule and how it influenced the atmosphere for the coming of the Lord.

The Alexandrian Period

The Alexandrian period was extremely brief period of time it only lasted from: 334-323 BC. It covered the reign of the great Asiatic ruler: Alexander the Great. The Persian Empire was quickly coming to an end as Philip II of Macedon was trying to gather forces to completely wipe out Persian influence. Philip II wanted Greece to control the world, but in 336 BC he was murdered by his bodyguard. Philip’s son Alexander III took over command and was only years old when he took over the throne. Alexander was tutored and influenced greatly by Aristotle who began attending to him as early as 13 years old. [1]

In the twelve years of Alexander’s reign (335-323 BC) he revolutionized the world. Alexander conquered Greece and move throughout Asia conquering everything and everyone in his path. Within two years he set out to destroy Persia. In a series of battles over the next two years he gained control of the territory from Asia Minor to Egypt.

Alexander moved southward and conquered the coast of the Mediterranean and Egypt. When he was around 33 years old he completely subjugated Asia to Grecian rule and at the pinnacle of his rule he overtook Babylon. During the siege on Syria he encountered the Jews and took hold of Jerusalem until they surrendered. But the Jews learned from their Persia capture and tried to remain loyal to the Persian rule. When Alexander came close to the city to overtake it, the high priest at the time was Jaddua along with other priest, clothes in their priestly apparel came out to meet Alexander and ask for mercy. It was said that Alexander had a dream beforehand that this would occur. Because of this act, Alexander did not demolish the city but spared the occupants and made sacrifices to Yahweh. From this encounter forward, Alexander the Great showed the Jews great favor. They became part of his army and gave them rights as if they were Greek citizens. This helps understand why there became a pervasively strong Hellenistic spirit among the Jews. In subsequent periods of Jewish history we can see the importance of Alexander’s rule and his furtherance of the Hellenistic way of life.[2]

After Alexander conquered armies during his reign, he gave the defeated survivors the opportunity to join his forces or die. Many of the soldiers were mercenaries and immediately went over to the higher bidder. This allowed his army to increase in size by more than 400 percent, despite casualties. The original troops from Macedonia and Greece became the officer corps, getting higher positions as the army grew. This helped enable Alexander’s Greek-speaking army to become the new ruling class. This dominance helped usher in the Hellenistic movement.[3]

Hellenistic Influence

The only place where Alexander did not establish his realm was to the west where other growing kingdoms such as Rome and Carthage. Even after the death of Alexander his influence was still spreading. When Alexander conquered a region, he encouraged Hellenization by bringing Greek officials and settlers into the region. They were encouraged to intermarry and indoctrinate the conquered people with Greek philosophy and ideologies. He was obviously influenced himself by his relationship with Aristotle. He tried to instill in all those under his empire a sense of brotherhood. He was fairly successful by establishing learning centers, intermarriage, integrated military, Greek customs, festivals, athletics and dress. One of the major or significant outcomes of Alexander’s Hellenistic influence was language. After Alexander’s romp through the know world Greek became the common language of the world. This is a primary reason why the New Testament authors did not write the text in Hebrew as they did the Old Testament. But wrote in the common language of the ancient world: Greek.[4]

Greek culture was already interacting in important ways with Jewish culture centuries before Jesus was born, with the result that the church’s Jewish roots already drew much influence from the Greek culture into the fabric of Christian communities in Palestine and throughout Diaspora. Jews in the Intertestamental period, especially in Palestine, conceived of their hope as being attainable by three basic strategies.

The first strategy involves assimilation to the Gentile world in varying degrees. Prosperity and secure employment will come to the individual Jew or even the nation as a whole as a result of blending in with the dominant Greek culture. A second strategy focused on political independence and autonomy for the Jewish people. This included visions of the conquering Messiah, the son of David who will restore the kingdom and the power to Israel, although the figure of a Messiah was not essential to this hope. A third strategy centered on spiritual renewal and purification. Under this heading fall the attempts to restore or renew covenant loyalty through Torah, visions of priestly messiahs, promises of the breaking in of the Spirit of God to renew all things and apocalyptic expectations.[5]

When Alexander died his captains and leaders vied for command of the land which they had previously conquered. These commanders and troops fought among one another to gain control until the Romans came in 197 BC gaining control and dominion. Antiochus IV gained control in 175 BC and his desire was to establish Hellenism as a way of life. Antiochus refused to allow the Jews practice and worship God. He wasn’t as sympathetic as Alexander was toward Jewish customs and rites. He ordered the Jews to worship Zeus. He erected a pagan alter in the Jerusalem temple in 167 BC. Jesus makes mention of this in Mark 13:14 referring to Daniel 12:11 “the abomination of desolation”, referring to a future desecration which will happen during in-times.[6]

There were many Jews that simply refused to comply with Antiochus commands and suffered martyrdom rather than disobey the command of God that they should worship Yahweh alone. Some Jews directly opposed Antiochus with leaders in the priesthood leading the charge. Mattathias part of the Hasmonaean family and his five sons lead the assault. Eventually leading the resistance was Judas Maccabaeus whose efforts were successful in allowing the continuance of the Jewish religious practices and temple observances.[7]

Maccabean Period

The revolt started in 166 BC in a village outside of Jerusalem. The aforementioned altar was erected in the middle of the small town. A Jewish priest killed a pig – of all animals, why a pig? At any rate they killed the pig and offered it to Zeus as a sacrifice. The villagers where to eat the sacrifice, signifying they would accept the Greek god and establish the worship of Zeus. Mattathias would not eat the pig even when offered wealth and honor. One of the commoners among the crowd was willing to partake of the sacrifice. Mattathias full of zeal and outrage took the knife form the priest and killed the man willing to accept the sacrificial pig. He also killed the Seleucid official. The soldiers standing around where so caught off guard, before they had a chance to react; the five sons of Mattathias began an assault on the soldiers killing them as well. The town crystallized together with Mattathias and his sons leading the revolt. Mattathias and his sons formed a small coalition group that attacked Seleucid soldiers by night. As victories grew, so did the resistance movement into other villages and towns.[8]

Mattathias died within a year in the initial revolt, but his third son Judas, was an invincible leader and tactician. His stealthy and sudden attacks routed the armies of Antiochus that were far superior in number. This revolution became caused Judas to become known as Maccabeus or “the Hammer.” In 164 BC, 3 years after the temple was desecrated, Judas and the Maccabeus defeated Antiochus armies and instituted a state of independence. Judas led the Jews back to the temple to worship God in a purified temple. Some modern Jews still commemorate the accomplishments of the Maccabeus with the annual celebration of the Feast of Lights, or Hanukkah.[9]

Herodian Rule

After the death of Antipater (43 B.C.) who was poisoned by his butler, leaving Phasael and Herod in charge of the kingdom. The death of Antipater left Hyrcanus in the position of authority in Israel, but Phasael and Herod were the real power behind the scenes. Herod at this time was nearly 30 years old. When Cassius left Syria to lead his armies westward against Antony, he left Herod in charge of all of southern Syria. Herod had already shown his ability by capturing an executing an infamous robber and his band out outlaws.[10]

The years of Herod’s rule were a time of turmoil for the Jewish people. His ancestors had been forced to convert to Judaism, but the people never accepted him. He was the representative of a foreign power. No matter how well he served Rome, he could never satisfy the Jews. Even his marriage to Mariamne, the granddaughter of Aristobulus II, gave no legitimacy to his rule in their sight. The most spectacular of his building achievements, the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, did not win the loyalty of the Jews.[11]

Herod was not only an Idumaean in race and a Jew in religion, but he was a heathen in practice and a monster in character. He was extremely jealous, cruel and had an exceedingly vial vindictive nature. He used his position at every opportunity to display his power and rule. He showed his vial character often against his own family, he had nine or ten wives and was always suspicious of them all. This lead to him murdering his favorite wife, Mariamne and her sons: Aristobulus and Alexander. Days before his own death he had his own son Antipater killed. Herod was a viscous and insanely insecure egomaniac. It was said that: “It is better to be Herod’s hog than to be his son!”

Of course many of Herod’s problems were due to his jealous rages and fears of being exposed as a non Jewish ruler. His ongoing relationship with the Romans was often rocky because of the internal unrest in the empire, even though Herod was a willing supporter of Anthony. Herod couldn’t stand Cleopatra even though Anthony was stricken by her. When Anthony lost in battle to Octavian in 31 BC, Herod although an Anthony supporter, turned his allegiance totally to Octavian. Octavian accepted Herod support and became and an effective and brutal administrator on behalf of the Roman rule. He was able to keep Palestine in peace among people who hated him and were hard to govern. To be sure people acquiesced to his rule he remained a very cruel and vindictive man. Herod did have streaks of generosity, using his authority and money to feed the people during times of famine. One of his biggest mistakes that he never was able to overcome was the execution of his favorite wife, Mariamne. This caused him much grief and mental anguish and emotional instability.[12]

Herod’s did have remarkable building projects. Herod embarked on a fantastic series of building projects which were rivaled only by those in the days of Solomon. He expanded the Temple in Jerusalem, built the Antonia Fortress, as well as other fortresses.[13]

Conclusion

When we open the New Testament about 400 years have passed between the Old Testament. Between these two pillars of history the ebb and flow of wars, struggles, hope and defeats have passed over Palestine. These events ushered in important political, religious, linguistic and social orders that helped usher in a new dispensation.[14]

The Bible states:

But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. 4 For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer. 6 You were not pleased with burnt offerings or other offerings for sin. 7 Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God- as is written about me in the Scriptures.'” Hebrews 10:3-7 (NLT)

The Intertestamental Period was not silent. It was a time of preparation for indeed a new dispensation and a new King. We have looked at the importance of several key aspects: The reign of Alexander the Great and his dominance over the world and subjugation of the Greek influence; the Hellenistic movement and how it influenced governments, policies and Jewish governing practices. Herod’s rule capped our study with his murderous governing exploits, leading to a new ruler. We yet wait the future governing reign of the true King of Kings, the kingdom without end. Until he comes we must occupy our minds and hearts to learn why the Intertestamental Period was not only important but how it helped form our current world and how this dispensation will unveil greater understanding and hope.

Intertestamental Period 10

Bibliography

Brand, Chad, Chares Draper, Archie England, ed. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.

David A. DeSilva. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3: K-P, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1995)

John Stevenson. “The Intertestamental Period.” John Stevenson Bible Study Page. www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/15-400sy.html. (accessed November 15, 2009).

Michael A. Harbin. The Promise and the Blessing: A Historical Survey of the Old and New Testaments. Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 2005.

Thomas D. Lea; David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message. 2nd ed. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003.

Vincent McCann. “In What Ways Does A Knowledge Of Intertestamental History And Literature Shed Light On The New Testament Gospels, Which Knowledge Of The Old Testament Books Alone Could Not?.” Spotlight Ministries, 1998. www.spotlightministries.org.uk/inter.htm. (accessed November 15, 2009).

[1] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3: K-P, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1995), 197.

[2] Chad Brand, Chares Draper, Archie England, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).

[3] Michael A. Harbin, The Promise and the Blessing: A Historical Survey of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 2005), 361.

[4] John Stevenson, “The Intertestamental Period,” John Stevenson Bible Study Page, www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/15-400sy.html. (accessed November 15, 2009).

[5] David A. DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 37-38.

[6] Vincent McCann, “In What Ways Does A Knowledge Of Intertestamental History And Literature Shed Light On The New Testament Gospels, Which Knowledge Of The Old Testament Books Alone Could Not?,” Spotlight Ministries, 1998, www.spotlightministries.org.uk/inter.htm. (accessed November 15, 2009).

[7] Vincent McCann, “In What Ways Does A Knowledge Of Intertestamental History And Literature Shed Light On The New Testament Gospels, Which Knowledge Of The Old Testament Books Alone Could Not?,” Spotlight Ministries, 1998, www.spotlightministries.org.uk/inter.htm. (accessed November 15, 2009).

[8] John Stevenson, “The Intertestamental Period,” John Stevenson Bible Study Page, www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/15-400sy.html. (accessed November 15, 2009).

[9] Thomas D. Lea; David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 18-19.

[10] John Stevenson, “The Intertestamental Period,” John Stevenson Bible Study Page, www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/15-400sy.html. (accessed November 15, 2009).

[11] Chad Brand, Chares Draper, Archie England, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).

[12] Chad Brand, Chares Draper, Archie England, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).

[13] John Stevenson, “The Intertestamental Period,” John Stevenson Bible Study Page, www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/15-400sy.html. (accessed November 15, 2009).

[14] Thomas D. Lea; David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 8.


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