The intertestamental period refers to the duration between the Hebrew Bible writings to the New Testament writings. This period is said to have lasted for a total of four hundred years covering the ministry of Malachi (c. 420BC), last Old Testament prophets, appearance of John the Baptist, and the Second Temple period (530 BC to 70 AD) . The protestant community refers to this period of time as the “silent 400 years” since God did not reveal anything new to his people during this period. However, some of the deuterocanonical books that are accepted by Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholics were written during this time. For that reason, this period is also called the deuterocanonical period. The intertestamental time is very important for the study of the New Testament. Although it is referred to as the silent years, several dynasties came up and diminished during this period. A proper understanding of the intertestamental period lays the platform for the New Testament. This essay seeks to provide a brief history about the Second Temple period, starting from the period of Alexander the Great up to the reign of Herod`s sons.
Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire in the year 330 BC and later died in the year 323 BC in Babylon . The duration of his reign was referred to as the Hellenistic period. This conquest did not just bring about Grecian domination to the Jews but also led to the introduction of Greek language and ideas across the ancient world. Alexander the Great was considered as the greatest military conqueror due to this conquest. Due to his famous conquest, Hellenism was very popular during the New Testament period. The Jews were significantly affected by the Greek culture and most of the books in the New Testament were addressed to the Hellenized Jews. No body could oppose or resist the Greek culture at that time. Hellenization was very powerful to an extent that even after Rome had conquered the Jews, the Roman Empire was still dominated by the Greek culture.
The reign of Alexander the Great lasted for a very short period of time from 336 BC to 323 BC. He took over from his father, Philip II, the king of Macedonia who had united all the Greek states and attempted to conquer Persia before being killed in 336 BC. Alexander the Great, who was only 19 years at that time, took over leadership and continued with his father`s mission. He crossed the Hellespont in the year 334 BC where he met the Persian army. He also met the Darius` army in the year 333 BC within the mountains between Syria and Cilicia. It during this time that the Persian army was almost defeated. Alexander the Great then decided to conquer Tyre up to Gaza. Jerusalem just submitted to him without any struggle. He then conquered Egypt in which he built a city near the mouth of the Nile and called it after himself.
Alexander the Great later crossed the Euphrates River in the year 331 BC where he completely defeated Persians in Arbela. Although Darius fled, he was followed up and killed. Alexander entered into Babylon in the year 330 BC and traveled far to the east conquering and building cities . He went up to Punjab in India and latter turned back to Babylon in the year 324 BC in order to make it his capital. He died only one year later in 323 BC at the age of 32 after excessive drinking of ardent spirits. He left a legacy of conquering the world within a period of six years only.
While surrounding Tyre, Alexander the Great wrote a letter to the governor and high priest at Jerusalem demanding that more supplies and troops be send. However, Jaddua refused to do that and he formed a great priesthood procession where he marched in the front while holding the scriptures only. Alexander acknowledged him and agreed to offer anything that Jaddua wanted. He allowed people to plant crops during the sabbatic year, enjoy their religion, and also have a separate section within his city in Egypt . According to Alexander`s explanation, he had a dream in which Jaddua came to him and said that Persians would eventually fall before him.
Ptolemaic and Seleucid Dynasties
After the death of Alexander the Great, his kingdom was literally divided and the struggle ensued between the monarchs of Syria and the Ptolemies of Egypt. This resulted into the Egyptian rule over Judea which was later on overturned by the Syrian rule. This resulted into a very dark period in the history of Jews, especially during Antiochus Epiphanes` reign . He was a Syrian king and he committed several offences against the Jews, defiled the Second Temple and attempted to introduce idolatry within Jerusalem.
Antiochus Epiphanes was the father of Antiochus the Great. He died leaving his son under hostage in Rome after the Magnesia battle. He grew up at Rome and liked the Greek culture and the Roman fashion. The young Antiochus used treachery and flattery to take the place of Demetrius, who was his nephew, as a king despite the fact that he was not a rightful heir. Antiochus was a vile and he did not have any conscience about holy or sacred things . Due to this reason, he established a Jew called Jason to be the high priest during his reign. Jason claimed to be Hellenized and believed in the Greek religion. This however, did not last for long before another man called Menelaus offered a better bargain to the king hence replacing Jason as the high priest. Menelaus also claimed to be a Jew but he did not profess the Jewish religion. He established a Greek gymnasium within the holy city of Jerusalem in an effort to Hellenize the Jews.
There were claims that Antiochus had died while conquering Egypt and the Jews attempted to overrule Menelaus. This information reached Antiochus and he decided to come back. Based on the information that Jews were rebelling against his man, Antiochus killed several Jewish men and stole many items from the temple . He later sent another general called Apollonius to Jerusalem. He completely destroyed the temple, stole several objects and corrupted it by offering unclean sacrifices and animals to the Greek gods. This was mainly due to the fact that he did not have a strong believe in religion. Judas Maccabeus was later appointed to take charge of the army. He used his position to conquer Edom an also helped in the oppression of Judah. The Antiochus` army was defeated by Judas, something which did not please Antiochus at all. Since he was nearing his death, he decided to crown Philip who was his close friend to be the ruler of his kingdom.
The Maccabean revolt started in 166 BC as a result of the Antiochus` activities. Matthias, the priest, and his sons managed to defeat the Syrians through a series of battles that secured independence of Judea province. This formed the foundation for the Hasmonean dynasty that ruled from the year 166 BC to 63 BC. Judas Maccabees was the main proponent of the Hasmonean dynasty. When Judas was in power, the Syrian king appointed Menelaus to be the high priest. The Syrian king also sent an army troop against Judas to overturn his rule. Judas decided to meet this army with a group of 3000 men that had warned him against fighting. However, Judas chose to fight and he was defeated in the process. He later on advised Antiochus that peace should be made. Although peace was finally made, there was a condition that the Jews will be free to practice their own religion but they must remain under Syria.
Later on, Judas managed to defeat the Syrian army general and brought back power to Jerusalem.
The fight was not easy as Demetrius sent an army troop of 22,000 men when Judas only had 3,000 men. This scared Judas` men and some of them left leaving him with only 800 men . Judas requested Rome to enter into a treaty with him but unfortunately he was killed in the battlefield even before information reached. His brother called Jonathan was appointed to become the King and he later joined hands with Alexander in the war of becoming a Syrian ruler. As a way of strengthening his kingdom, Alexander also entered into another peace treaty with Ptolemy whereby he gave away his daughter called Cleopatra to Alexander. Ptolemy later ended this treaty because he wanted to become a ruler of the Seleucids. As a result, Trypho who was the general and minister to Alexander invited Jonathan. He then killed a total of 1,000 men on Jonathan`s army and Jonathan himself was imprisoned since he was preventing him from becoming the king.
Pompey of Rome later on conquered Jerusalem in the year 63 BC whereby the whole of Judea was put under the Roman control. Eventually, the Roman senate made Herod the Great a king of Jews. This nation controlled and taxed the Jews and finally crucified Jesus of the Roman cross. Under the Roman Empire, both the Greek, Hebrew and Roman cultures were mixed together in Judea. It is the Roman Empire that is credited for coming up with a stable government, Roman roads, uniform laws, water as well as sewerage systems. However, there was a rebellion at the Census of Quirinius and numerous Jewish-Roman Wars before that region was fully conquered and renamed as Syria Palaestina in the year 135 AD . Rome was literally turned into a madhouse in the year 44 BC. This was as a result of assassination of Julius Caesar within the Roman Senate. The murder was committed by a team of 60 senators under the leadership of Cassias and Brutus. The Jews poisoned Antipater in 43 BC as he was organizing an army to assist Brutus and Cassias. Finally, Antony and Octavius managed to defeat Cassias and Brutus who committed suicide.
Herod the Great took over the mantle and reigned from the year 37 BC up to 4 BC. Herod had married the Hasmonean princess before capturing Jerusalem. Eventually, he had to kill his own beautiful wife due to the fact that she was being tortured by his Arabian mother and the sisters. Herod also killed the two sons that were born by that worn. He married many other women but this was the only woman that he truly loved. Herod always felt guilty throughout his life for killing her. He also killed 43 people who were members of the Sanhedrin since they had summoned him to appear in court for a trial.
Herod erected several heathen temples in Samaria and Caesarea. His greatest achievement was rebuilding of the temple called the Herod`s Temple which started in the year 20 BC and ended in 65 AD. Before being destroyed, this temple was far much superior to both the Zerubbabelian and Solomonic temples . Herod was also accused of committing several other murders throughout his life. He murdered one of his other wives in the year 28 BC and later killed his own mother after just one year. He also slaughtered several infants of Bethlehem in 4 BC in order to destroy future kings of the Jews. Herod died in the year 4 BC leaving majority of his kingdom to his three sons called Antipas, Philip and Archelaus.
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Josephus, Flavius. Josephus – The Complete Works, trans. William Whiston. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.
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Stevenson, John T. “The Intertestamental Period.” Website: www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/15-400sy, 2000.