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The History Of The Intertestamental Period Theology Religion Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Theology
Wordcount: 5471 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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When we enter the world of the New Testament, we see a world that is much different than the world of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we discover groups and concepts that were not present in the Old Testament cultural context. This chapter is designed to familiarize you with some of the groups and concepts that are present in the New Testament, but not necessarily present in the Old Testament. We will explore where these groups and their ideologies come from.

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The Intertestamental Period is the time between the testaments. This period covers the time between the last Old Testament prophet and John the baptizing one. This period is rich with history that helps us to understand the emergence of the religious sects, synagogues, and the Kingdom of God. The background of the New Testament is very fundamental to understanding the New Testament. The term “Intertestamental” designates the period of time, approximately 400 years, between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This period significantly molded the land of Palestine. Because of the emergence of the new institutions, groups, and world powers that shaped the direction, character, and contour of 1st century Palestine, the era must be broadened to encompass the Babylonian, Persian, and Grecian periods.

Every serious New Testament student must get a grasp of this period to really understand the context of the ministry of Jesus and the disciples. It is critical to study this period for the following reasons:

New Developments

Emergence of Judaism – instituted upon the Jews’ return from exile (Ezra the father of Judaism. Strong movement that causes the Jews to become zealous for the law as a result of understanding that their exilic experiences were due to them abandoning the law of God. Ezra led this movement after the Babylonian exiles returned to their homeland. The emphases of Judaism under the leadership of Ezra:

The Torah

Hope in Messianic Deliverance

Electedness and destiny of Israel

Bodily Resurrection

Absolute Monotheism

The sacredness of the land of Israel

The Holy Land had become the Roman Province – part of the Persian satrapy at the close of the Old Testament

Change of language: The common Jew no longer spoke Hebrew, but Aramaic and Greek. This was a result of Hellenization and the exiles.

Change of geography: Samaria, Judea, Perea were created by the Roman Governor Gabinius in 57 BC.

Demographic change – from sparse to dense population

Evolution of religious parties – Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes

Development of organizations – Sanhedrin (gerousia), synagogues

Doctrinal development: systematic development of the concepts of angels and demons, world empires, apocalyptism, immortality resurrection, and retribution.

Religious reform: Jewish exclusivism and legalism

Source of information: We gained access to this information through the following sources:


Secular historians

Josephus – Jewish historian (37 – 1000 AD) the Jewish wars, antiquities against Apion

The Dead Sea Scrolls (1947)

Apocrypha-Materials in Latin Vulgate but not in Hebrew bible (Tanak)

The Bible

History of the Intertestamental Period

Let’s examine the historical events that have great significance to the foundation of the New Testament context and culture. Some of the most significant historical events that helped to shape the New Testament context and culture were:

The Babylonian Period (587 – 538 BC) – This is the period in which the Southern Kingdom was exiled. A brief description is provided to assist you in following the timeline of events. Babylon is modern day Iraq.

Political conditions:

722 BC – Israel (10 Northern tribes, called Israel of Ephraim) taken captive by Assyria

605 BC – Assyria and Egypt fell to Babylon at the battle of Carchemish under Nabopolassar. Nebuchadnezzar, his son, captured Jerusalem, Daniel, and other stalwarts and deported them to Babylon (598 BC).

598 BC – King Jehoiachim, Ezekiel, and many progressive Jews taken to Babylon.

586 BC (August 15) – Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and Temple. Jeremiah taken to Egypt, and thousands of Jews to Babylon, where they exchanged agricultural practices for commercial lifestyle.

582 BC – Final deportation or the last group of the Israelites to be taken to Babylon.

562 BC – Nebuchadnezzar died, succeeded by Evil-Merodach. Replaced by brother-in-law Neriglissar. Nabonidus ruled 556-539; replaced by his son, Belshazzar.

Three reasons for Babylonian captivity:


Social interaction with the pagans; mingling led them to pagan practices and behavior. Their values and their vision were contaminated and corrupted.

They forsook the Law of Moses; they no longer conducted their lives according to the divine prescription given by Moses.

The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple majorly shaped the world of the New Testament. Jewish life surrounded Jerusalem and the Temple and upon its destruction, it devastated the identity of God’s people. It is said that Israel went into exile defined as a covenant community and return a church. Thus, God uses the history of Israel to reveal the truths of the New Testament.

Religious conditions

Babylonians were polytheists (their chief god was Marduk). They were star-gazers, sorcerers, astrologists, and soothsayers. Though the Babylonians were highly pagan, the Jewish faith remained untainted.

Jews experienced marked degrees of religious liberty (life was kind of good for the Jews, that’s the reason that after exile, many did not return home)

Jewish idolatry destroyed

New emphasis for a reverence of the law

New importance attached to circumcision

Acceleration of Jewish exclusivism

Creation of the synagogue – minyan (the 10 men rule); this rule suggests that their had to be 10 men present in order for a gathering to be considered official.

Intense scribal activity

Other developments:

Aramaic became new mode of communication for the Jews

Jews changed from agricultural to commercial people

The next significant period of time that helped to shape the context of the New Testament was the Persian Empire.

The Persian Period (538 – 333 BC). Persia is modern day Iran.

Political conditions

538 BC – Babylon fell to Cyrus the Great of Persia

535 BC – Zerubbabel led 50,000 Jews back to Palestine; the Jewish people were now granted permission to return to their homeland. They began to work on the restoration of the temple.

516 BC – Jewish Temple completed

458 BC – Ezra led second batch of Jews back to Palestine and began social and religious reform. Ezra began teaching the people the necessity of returning to the Law of Moses as a way of life.

445 BC – Nehemiah led third batch to Palestine and began rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

The Jews felt out of place in exile because of the non-existence of the temple, because Jewish life centered around the temple. When they celebrated harvest time, their commandment was to bring a tenth to the temple. Even those who did not return from their exilic land sent temple dues to help rebuild it.

The highlights of the Intertestamental Period centered around exile and Hellenization, and Hellenization centered around the efforts and actions of Alexander the Great, the next significant period of time that affected the Jews. Alexander the Great, the king of Macedon in northern ancient Greece, entered the temple in Jerusalem and sieged it. He was a military genius who he died at the age of 32; in 12 years, he almost conquered the world – conquering the Persian Empire, and extending the Greek empire as far east as India and south as Egypt. Alexander allowed the Jews to move about to practice their religion.

The Classical Hellenic and Hellenistic Period (333 – 30 BC).

Political conditions

356 BC – Alexander the Great was born to Philip of Macedon

333 BC – Darius III, King of Persia, defeated at the battle of Issus (Syria)

323 BC (June 10) – Alexander the Great dies

323-322 BC – Revolt in Greece (Lamian War)

322-301 BC – Wars of the Diadochi

First War of the Diadochi, 322-320 BC

Second War of the Diadochi, 319-315 BC

Third War of the Diadochi, 314-311 BC

Fourth War of the Diadochi, 308-301 BC

The Struggle over Macedon, 298-285 BC

The Struggle of Lysimachus and Seleucus, 285-281 BC

The Gallic Invasions and Consolidation, 280-275

Cultural conditions

What is hellenism? Hellenism is from the word hellén, the native word for a Greek; thus, Hellenism means “the system of Greek culture, Greek way of life.” This Greek culture focused upon on individuals and the mind. Several philosophical views were shaped and developed during the period of Hellenism such as: humanism, which centered around intellectualism (the goal of the mind is to know one’s self), which led to a decreasing of gods; naturalism, which is the idea that in the universe, we have a plan for ourselves (world soul); and stoicism, there is no need for the supernatural.

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Stoicism was one of the new philosophical movements of the Hellenistic period. The name derives from “the porch” (stoa poikilê) in the Agora at Athens, decorated with mural paintings, where the members of the school congregated, and their lectures were held. The Stoics did, in fact, hold that emotions like fear or envy (or impassioned sexual attachments, or passionate love of anything whatsoever) either were, or arose from false judgments. They contended that the sage – a person who had attained moral and intellectual perfection – would not experience those emotions. The later Stoics of Roman Imperial times, Seneca and Epictetus, emphasized the doctrines (already central to the early Stoics’ teachings) that the sage is “utterly immune to misfortune and that virtue is sufficient for happiness.” Our phrase ‘stoic calm’ simply encapsulates these claims.

The connotations that derive from the use of the word “stoic” do not, however, hint at the even more radical ethical views which the Stoics defended, e.g. that only the sage is free while all others are slaves, or that all those who are morally vicious are equally so. Stoic ethics, no matter how nonsensical or attainable, achieves a certain plausibility within the context of their physical theory and psychology, and within the framework of Greek ethical theory that was handed down to them from Plato and Aristotle. They were aware of the mutually interdependent nature of their philosophical views. The Stoics views in logic and physics are no less distinctive and interesting than those in ethics itself. (find the Source for me)

Alexander the Great’s accomplishments:

Gave Jews civil liberty

Instituted Koine Greek as world language

Promulgated Greek culture (Hellenization) – Hellenism emphasized the following:





Elevation of beauty

Cosmopolitanized the world; Alexander the Great wanted to make the world one large city

Indelibly etched his name in the annals of military history

Founded Alexandrian library with over ½ million volumes (before the printing press and copiers). The Alexandrian library was one of the world’s largest and comprehensive libraries; it was destroyed by fire, and it is thought that this fire set society and civilization back a few centuries.

When Alexander the Great died (June 10, 323 BC), he left behind a huge empire, which was composed of many independent territories. Alexander’s empire stretched from his homeland of Macedon itself, with the Greek city-states that his father had subdued, to Bactria (modern day Afghanistan) and some parts of Asia in the east, including parts of India; Anatolia (modern day Turkey); the Levant (modern day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, State of Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, and some parts of Turkey); the Sinai Peninsula; Egypt; Babylonia (Iraq); and Persia (Iran).

Upon Alexander’s death, there was almost immediately a dispute among his generals as to who his successor should be. Meleager and the infantry supported the candidacy of Alexander’s half-brother, Arrhidaeus, while Perdiccas, the leading cavalry commander, supported waiting until the birth of Alexander’s unborn child by Roxana. A compromise was arranged – Arrhidaeus (as Philip III) would become King rule jointly with Roxana’s child, assuming that it was a boy (as it was, becoming Alexander IV). Perdiccas himself would become Regent of the entire Empire and Meleager his lieutenant. Soon, however, Perdiccas had Meleager and the other infantry leaders murdered and assumed full control.

The other cavalry generals, who had supported Perdiccas, were rewarded by becoming satraps of the various parts of the Empire. Alexander’s successors were called Diadochi. Diadochi, the plural of Diadochus, is the common Latin form of the Greek Διάδοχοι, transcripted Diadochoi, which in general means “successors.” [1] Ptolemy received Egypt; Laomedon received Syria and Phoenicia; Philotas took Cilicia; Peithon took Media; Antigonus received Phrygia, Lycia and Pamphylia; Asander received Caria; Menander received Lydia; Lysimachus received Thrace; Leonnatus received Hellespontine Phrygia; and Neoptolemus had Armenia. Macedon and Greece were to be under the joint rule of Antipater, who had governed them for Alexander, and Craterus, Alexander’s most able lieutenant, while Alexander’s old secretary, Eumenes of Cardia, was to receive Cappadocia and Paphlagonia.

In the east, Perdiccas left Alexander’s arrangements intact – Taxiles and Porus ruled over their Kingdoms in India; Alexander’s father-in-law Oxyartes ruled Gandara; Sibyrtius ruled Arachosia and Gedrosia; Stasanor ruled Aria and Drangiana; Philip ruled Bactria and Sogdiana; Phrataphernes ruled Parthia and Hyrcania; Peucestas governed Persis; Tlepolemus had charge over Carmania; Atropates governed northern Media; Archon got Babylonia; and Arcesilas ruled northern Mesopotamia.

Specifically, in hellenistic history, the wars of the Diadochi followed Alexander’s death. This was the beginning of the Hellenistic period of Greek history, the time when many people who were not Greek themselves adopted Greek philosophy and styles, Greek city life, and aspects of Greek religion.

The kingdoms of Antigonus, Ptolemy, Seleucus, Lysimachus and Cassander.

The Kingdoms of Antigonus, Ptolemy, Seleucus, Lysimachus, and Cassander

After four wars and almost 50 years after Alexander’s death, some sort of order was restored when the Gauls defeated the Greeks. Ptolemy ruled over Egypt, southern Syria (known as Coele-Syria), and various territories on the southern coast of Asia Minor. Antiochus ruled the vast Asian territories of the Empire, while Macedon and Greece (with the exception of the Aetolian League), fell to Antigonus.

Ptolemies and Seleucids were the two most important people for the Jewish movement. For a hundred years after the death of Alexander, a struggles ensued as to which of the two powers was to govern Palestine, until in the year 223 came the northern prince under whom Palestine was destined to fall to the Seleucids for good.

The Jews were under the Ptolemies (Egypt) from 320 – 198 BC:

320 BC – Ptolemy I (Soter) controlled Judah

250 BC – Ptolemy II (Philadelphus 285-247)

Ptolemy ordered translation of Septuagint (LXX)

203 BC – Antiochus III captured Jerusalem

Letter of Aristeas: the story of Septuagint where 70 men came up with same exact translations.

The Jews were under the Seleucids (Syria) from 198-167 BC:

175-164 BC – Antiochus IV Epiphanies: brilliant, bright, also known as “mad dog”; killed a pig on the altar. He thought that he was a manifestation of Zeus. He had three aims:

Unite and Hellenize his empire

Wipe out Palestinian Judaism

Have complete mastery of Jewish destiny

The Antigonid Kingdom finally fell to Rome, and the Seleucids were taken from Persia by the Parthians. The Seleucid Kingdom limped on in Syria until finally defeated by Pompey (Romans) in 64 BC. The Ptolemies lasted longer in Alexandria: Egypt finally fell to Rome in 30 BC.

The Maccabean Period (167-63 BC)

A very famous period of time was the Maccabean Period. The Maccabees were Jewish rebels who fought against Antiochus IV Epiphanies of the Hellenistic Seleucid Dynasty in defense of Jewish rights and customs. Maccabees founded the Hasmonean royal dynasty and established Jewish independence from the Seleucids.

Makhbi, which means “extinguisher” (of persecution); from kabhah, “to be extinguished.” Some believe Maccabees is derived from maqqabhay, or “hammerer” [2] 

Hasmoneus – grandfather of Mattathias

Hasmoneans – sons and descendants of Hasmoneus: Mattathias, John, Judas (or Judah Maccabee), Jonathan, Eleazer, Simon.

Mattathias, a Jewish priest, was told to sacrifice and worship Zeus on an altar in the Temple by Antiochus IV. He refused, killed a Hellenistic Jew who started to worship the idol, and then fled to the wilderness. They organized guerella warfare, and because Antiochus IV was engaged in other wars, he could not focus upon them, so they signed a peace treaty. The Jewish revolt against the Seleucids was successful in 165 BC. In triumph, the Maccabees entered Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple, and reestablished traditional worship there.

Hasideans (chasidim) loyal and conservative Jews

165 BC – Jewish religious freedom

142 BC – Jewish political freedom – Demetrius II Nicator, the Seleucid king, exempted the Maccabees from tribute (wealth given to another nation as a sign of submission)

135-106 BC – Formal appearance of religious parties: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Judaism

Due to the peace treaty, every year the Jews celebrate Hanukkah or the Festival of Rededication or Lights. Hanukkah is mentioned in John 10:22-25. Also called the Feast of the Maccabees and Feast of Lights (Josephus and Talmudic writings), mentioned in the Old Testament (1 Maccabees 4:56). It was instituted by Judas Maccabeus (164 BC) to be celebrated yearly from the 25th day of Kislev to the second or third day of Tevet (Kislev can have 29 or 30 days), in commemoration of the purification of the temple of Jerusalem which had been polluted by Antiochus Epiphanes on that day three years previously (1 Maccabees 4:41-64; 2 Maccabees 6:2). Unlike the great Hebrew annual feasts, it could be celebrated not only in the temple at Jerusalem, but also in the synagogues of all places. It was observed with manifestations of joy such as accompanied the Feast of Tabernacles, during the celebration of which the dedication of the first temple had taken place.

During the celebration of the feast, mourning and fasting were not allowed to begin. The Jews assembled in the temple and synagogues bearing branches of trees and palms and singing psalms; the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) is sung every day. The joyful character of the feast was also manifested by illuminations, which may have been suggested by the “lighting of the lamps of the candlestick” when the temple service was first restored (1 Maccabees 4:50-51). However, Feast of Lights may have been derived, according to very early Midrashim, from the miraculous burning throughout the first celebration of the feast of a vial of oil found in the temple. Since the 1st century, a general illumination of Hebrew houses has been customary, every house having at least one light, and some, according to the school of the rabbis, having one light for each person in the house on the first night and twice the number on each succeeding night. Modern Hebrews keep the feast on 12 December, with strictness, but do not forbid servile work. At the daily morning prayer, a different portion of Numbers 7 is read in the synagogue.

The Period of the Second Jewish Temple (515 BC – 70 AD)

Judaism refers to the religion and culture of the Jewish people from the beginning of the post-exilic period (538 BC) to modern times. The term “Judaism” is derived from “Judah,” the name of the southern Kingdom of ancient Israel, while “Jew” is a shortened form of “Judeans.”

The life of the Jewish people revolved around the Temple in Jerusalem, which was finally built under the reign of Solomon. However, the united Kingdom of Israel under Saul, David, and Solomon came to an end shortly after the death of Solomon. Rehoboam, his son, provoked a revolt about 930 BC on the part of the 10 northern tribes by levying unreasonably high taxes (1 Kings 12). From that time on, the Kingdoms of Israel (or Samaria, the northern Kingdom) and Judah (the southern Kingdom) maintained a separate existence. The northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, and thousands of captives, primarily members of the upper class, were forcibly exiled and taken to Assyria, where they presumably intermarried with the native population and disappeared from history.

The Kingdom of Judah survived as an independent state until 597 BC, when it came under the control of the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. The temple was destroyed in 586 BC, and many captives were carried off to Babylonia, beginning a period of exile that would last two generations. The Babylonian conquest of Judea and the destruction of the Solomonic temple produced dramatic social and religious changes in Jewish life. The cessation of the temple cult struck a serious blow at the heart of the Israelite religion, since the Jerusalem temple alone was the legitimate and divinely appointed place for discharging much of the ritual requirement of the Mosaic Law, chiefly the sacrificial cult. Even the three annual pilgrimage festivals, Succoth (Tabernacles), Pesach (Passover), and Shavuoth (Weeks) could no longer be observed by pious Jews who had remained in Judea after 586 BC. When after 538 BC many exiles chose to return to Judea, many others elected to remain in their new homeland.

The Babylonians were defeated by Cyrus the Persian in 539 BC, and the following year, the king issued a decree permitting all captive peoples to return to the lands of their origin (2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Ezra 1). At least four waves of Jewish expatriates returned from Mesopotamia to Judea during the century following the decree of Cyrus, under such leaders as Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Many Jews, however, chose to remain in their adopted Mesopotamian homeland.

The dedication of the second Temple in the spring of 515 BC provided a formal end to the exilic period. Rebuilding the Temple lasted approximately 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10), and was a direct result of the prophetic exhortations of Haggai and Zechariah. Unfortunately, the temple cult, even when reinstituted in 516 BC, no longer played a significant role in their religious lives. The decline in the usage of the Temple does not mean that religious practices ended; during the exile, Jews just began to use the synagogue as the preferred place of worship.

In Judea (Palestine), Jewish governors, who held office at the pleasure of the Persian king, ruled the Jewish people. One of the earlier governors was Zerubabbel (Haggai 1:1; 2:1-2), a descendant of David (1 Chronicles 3:10-19). In some way, he shared rule with the high priest Jeshua ben Jehozadak. Palestine was part of one of the 20 satrapies of the Persian Empire, which lasted from 539 to 331 BC, when it fell to the Greeks under Alexander the Great. Little is known about the historical developments in Palestine during most of the Persian period.

When Alexander died in 323 BC, his empire was divided up among his generals; Egypt and Palestine fell to Ptolemy I. The Ptolemies were benevolent despots who allowed the Jews of Palestine a measure of freedom and autonomy. They could still travel to the Temple for worship and sacrifice. After the battle of Paneion in 198 bc, Palestine came under the rule of the Seleucid Empire, founded by Seleucus I, another of Alexander’s generals.

The Seleucid Empire embraced a very large area with a diverse population, extending from Asia Minor and Palestine in the west to the borders of India on the east. Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) ascended the Seleucid throne in 175 BC and attempted to unify his vast empire by Hellenizing it (i.e., forcing the adoption of Greek language and culture). Local cultures and religions were forcibly suppressed as a result of this policy, and the Jewish state in Palestine was perhaps the hardest hit of all. In 167 BC, Antiochus IV dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem to Olympian Zeus, sacrificed a sow on the altar, destroyed scrolls containing the Jewish Scriptures, and forbade the rite of circumcision. This repression triggered a revolt led by an aged priest named Mattathias and his sons. The Seleucids were repulsed, and finally in 164 BC, the temple was retaken by Mattathias’s son Judas the Maccabee (an epithet meaning “the hammer”). This Jewish victory has been commemorated annually by the festival of Hanukkah (“dedication”). Judas and his brothers, called Maccabees or Hasmoneans (Mattathias was of the house of Hasmon), and their descendants ruled Judea from 164 to 63 BC, when Palestine fell to the Roman general Pompey. Thereafter, Palestine held land In the Roman Empire, and received protection in return for homage and allegiance to Rome.

Hyrcanus, a Hasmonean, was high priest after the conquest of Judea by the Romans, though Antipater (an Idumean) was the real power behind Hyrcanus. The sons of Antipater, Phasael and Herod, were governors of Jerusalem and Galilee, respectively. Upon the assassination of Antipater in 43 BC, and through his connections in Rome, Herod (later called Herod the Great) was named king of Judea by the Roman senate; he reigned from 37 to 4 BC.

When he died, Palestine was divided up by the emperor Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD) and placed under the governorship of three of Herod’s sons:

Herod Archelaus (ethnarch of Judea, Idumea, and Samaria from 4 BC to 6 AD)

Herod Antipas (tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from 4 BC to 39 AD)

Herod Philip (tetrarch of Batanea, Trachonitis, and other small states from 4 BC to 34 AD).

These territories were generally placed under Roman procurators after the sons of Herod had died or been deposed. For a brief period (41-44 AD), Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, ruled virtually the same territory as his grandfather. Upon his death (narrated in Acts 12:20-23), his territories were placed under Roman procurators.

The greed and ineptitude of these procurators provoked the Jewish populace to rebel. The unsuccessful Jewish revolt of 66-73 AD resulted in the destruction of the second temple by the 10th Roman legion under Titus in 70 AD. The revolt was completely quelled in 73 AD, when more than 900 Jews under siege in the desert fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea committed mass suicide, rather than fall into Roman hands. These tragic events permanently ended the temple and the priestly system in Judaism.

Social and Religious Developments [3] 

During the exilic and early post-exilic period, the peculiar Jewish institution of the synagogue (a Greek word meaning “gathering place”) began to evolve. The synagogue became such a popular and useful institution for Jewish communities outside Palestine that in the centuries after the dedication of the second Temple, they sprang up throughout Palestine – many in Jerusalem itself. By the end of the second Temple period, the synagogue had come to play three important functions in Jewish life: it served as a house of prayer, a house of study, and a place of assembly.

First century synagogue worship is illustrated in Luke 4:16-30 and Acts 13:13-42. The service focused on a reading of a selection from the Torah (Law of Moses), then one from the Haphtorah (Prophets). These readings were followed by a homily based on scripture. Other elements in 1st century AD synagogue worship included the recitation of the Shema (“Hear, O Israel”), a combination of biblical passages including Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41, and the Shemoneh Esreh (18 Benedictions) called the Amidah (“standing”), because it was recited while standing upright. Jews also wore fringes on their garments in obedience to Numbers 15:38-39 (Matthew 23:5), and phylacteries on their foreheads and left arms. Phylacteries are little boxes containing the portions of scripture recited in Shema; they were used in literal fulfillment of the command in Deuteronomy 6:8. Archaeologists have discovered 1st century phylacteries in the ruins of Masada.

Outside of Palestine, Mesopotamia (the name for the area of the Tigris-Euphrates river system, corresponding to modern-day Iraq and to a lesser extent northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and smaller parts of southwestern Iran) became the second most important center of Judaism. The Babylonian Jewish community was known as the Golah (“captivity”), and its titular head was called the Resh Galuta or Exilarch (both terms mean “leader of the captivity”). By the end of the exilic period, the descendants of the ancient original captives had forgotten Hebrew and had adopted Aramaic, the international language of the ancient Near East and sister language to Hebrew, as their first language. Even in Palestine, Aramaic was the primary language spoken. Thus, when portions of scripture were read in synagogue services in Hebrew, most of those present were unable to understand what was read. This problem was solved by providing a methurgeman (translator) who would orally translate short sections of scripture. Eventually these targums (“translations”) were reduced to writing, beginning in the second century AD.

By the 1st century AD, it had been estimated that there were from “four to seven million Jews in the Greco-Roman world, perhaps three to four times the population of Palestine. Jews, in lands outside of Palestine, came to be known collectively as the Diaspora (“scattering”). After the Greeks dominated the Mediterranean world through Alexander and his successors, Greek became the common language throughout this region. Just as Mesopotamian Jews spoke Aramaic in place of Hebrew, so Jews in the Greco-Roman world came to speak Greek. By the middle of the 3rd century BC, Hellenistic Jews began to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.” [4] This translation, called the Septuagint (a term meaning “seventy,” based on a legend that it was translated simultaneously by 70 Jewish scholars), contained a more extensive canon of scripture than that recognized by Palestinian Judaism. This reflects the fact that Hellenistic Jews held more liberal attitudes that the Palestinian Jews.

Jewish Sects

During the 2nd century BC, most of the major sects within Palestinian Judaism came into being, including the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, and others.


The Sadducees were perhaps connected with Zadok, a high


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