HISTORY OF ISRAEL BETWEEN OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS
By Al Maxey in “The silent centuries”
Un resumen de …
- In 722 BC the Northern Kingdom –Israel – was destroyed by the Assyrians, and then in 586 BC the Southern Kingdom –Judah – fell to the Babylonians.
- The “70 years of captivity”are generally reckoned in one of two ways:
- From 606 BC, when the first group of captives was taken, to 536 BC, when the first group of captives returned to their homeland.
- From 586 BC, when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and the Temple was destroyed, to 516 BC, when the work on the new Temple was completed.
- In the year 559 BC a thirty year old man named Cyrus, from Media, began his rise to power. Within twenty years he had conquered almost all the then known world, including Media, Persia, and Asia Minor. In 539 BC captured Babylon and Cyrus thus became the undisputed ruler of Asia, which came to be known as the Persian Empire.
- With the capture of Babylon, Cyrus also became the new master of the exiled Jewish people. In his first year as monarch, Cyrus issued his famous decree allowing the Jews to return home and to rebuild their Temple (Ezra 1:1-4).
- Many Jews did not want to return to Palestine. A total of about 60,000 Jews who took advantage of Cyrus’ offer, and returned in three separate groups, led by three notable men — Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemia.
- They began to experience opposition from the peoples who were living in the land of Palestine at the time of their return. It was from these Jews who had not been taken captive, and who had intermarried with the pagans, that the Samaritans would come. All work on the Temple ceased for about 14 years. During this time of discouragement, Cyrus was killed in a battle.
- At the death of Cyrus, his son Cambyses takes the throne 530-522 bc). Cambyses was an epileptic, and toward the end of his reign had become almost completely insane.
- Although he could be an extremely cruel man, he nevertheless proved to be a benefactor to the people of Israel. He ordered the people of the land to allow the Jewish to finish the Temple. He also decreed that funds from the royal treasury be sent to the Jews to expedite the rebuilding of their Temple, which was soon completed (in 516 BC).
- The prophets Haggai and Zechariah also were active at this time, encouraging the people to resume their work on the Temple. Thirty years after the rebuilding of the Temple, Darius was slain.
- Very little is known of the 60 years that follow the rebuilding of the Temple. Political power was passing more and more into the hands of the priesthood who were intent upon accommodating the local Palestinians and their culture. Intermarriage with unbelievers was common, as was the increased adoption of their pagan beliefs and practices. This spirit of compromise led to a noticeable deterioration in the spiritual life of the people of Israel.
- At the death of Darius, the throne went to his son Xerxes, who was 35 years old when he ascended the throne in 486 BC.
- The Greeks, decided to rebel against Persian domination, and after extended battles were able to win their freedom. This may have seemed rather insignificant at the time, but over a century later these Greeks, under the leadership of Alexander the Great, would utterly defeat the Persians and take over the empire — thus, the seed for the later Greek Empire was being planted.
- The real significance of Xerxes, as concerns the Bible and the Jewish people, is that he was the Persian king who married Esther.
- During Artaxerxes I reign, Ezra requested permission to lead another group of Jews back to their homeland (Ezra 7). Permission was granted and Ezra returned in the year 458 BC with a group of about 1500 Jews (Ezra 8).
- Upon his arrival, Ezra began a large scale reform, one which was sorely needed. The Jews in Jerusalem were disregarding the Law, and were also divorcing their lawful Jewish wives and marrying the pagan women of the area. Ezra commanded the people to put away their pagan wives, and to turn back to God (Ezra 9-10). Most of the people obeyed, but some refused and were tried in a special court.
- Another thing that distressed the Jews living in Jerusalem was that their city did not have a wall; it had been destroyed in 586 BC when the city fell to the Babylonians. One of the Jews upset by this was Nehemiah, the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. When the king learned what was troubling Nehemiah, he allowed him to return to Jerusalem with a small group of his fellow countrymen to lead the efforts to rebuild the walls of the city.
- About the year 444 BC, the walls around the city of Jerusalem were completed. This event was celebrated with great rejoicing, and with sacrifices to God. That same year, Nehemiah was made Governor of Jerusalem, a position which he held until 425 BC. He also helped to institute additional reforms among the people, which are discussed in the latter half of the biblical book which bears his name.
- During the reign of Artaxerxes I, the Persian Empire began its gradual decline as a world power. They lost more and more of their previously captured territory. The empire slowly, but surely, began to slip under Greek control.
- The reign of Darius II, which lasted 19 years, was one filled with intrigue and extreme corruption. Throughout his reign, revolts and rebellions were rampant. The Medes rebelled. The Egyptians rebelled, and even destroyed the places of worship that the Jews had built throughout the land.
- The reign of Artaxerxes II was plagued with further rebellions against the Persian Empire, and further loss of territory. Egypt declared its independence, as did Cyprus, Phoenicia, and Syria. One after another the western satraps all fell away from the empire. Egypt, allying itself with Sparta and the rebellious satraps, decided to destroy Persia. They formed a large army and began to march toward the capital of the Persian Empire. However, a revolt against Pharaoh Takhos made it necessary for them to abandon their plans and return home. Although this major threat to the empire was averted, the disturbances and revolts continued until the death of Artaxerxes II in 358 BC.
- When this son of Artaxerxes II took the throne, he determined to restore the power and prestige of the Empire, which was fast declining. Artaxerxes III began his reign by murdering all his brothers and sisters (several dozen in all). He then burned the city of Sidon to the ground for sympathizing with Egypt in their rebellion against the Empire. He soon captured Egypt and then tore down the walls of its principle cities.
- Following this, the king turned his attention to Greece. The Greeks, fearing that Persia was on the rise again, formed an alliance with Artaxerxes in order to prevent war. Although many of the Greeks agreed with this strategy, others did not. Those who opposed this alliance with Persia, led by Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander, overthrew Athens in 338 BC and gained control of Greece. That same year, an Egyptian eunuch, named Bagoas, murdered Artaxerxes III and all of his sons, except for the youngest, whose name was Arses.
- Bagoas, who had political ambitions of his own, spared Arses in the hope of using him as a puppet king. When Arses began showing signs of having a mind of his own, however, Bagoas poisoned him, just as he had his father. Arses died in the year 336 BC.
- In looking for someone to replace Arses as a puppet king, Bagoas chose a cousin of Artaxerxes III. However, Bagoas had chosen unwisely. The first act of Darius III was to have Bagoas poisoned. That same year, a twenty-year-old man by the name of Alexander ascended to the throne in faraway Macedonia with a commission from his father to destroy the kingdom of Persia. Alexander wasted no time. In just four short years he had defeated the mighty Persian Empire. Darius III fled to Bacteria where he was murdered by his cousin Bessus. The year was 332 BC, and the Jews found themselves under new masters — The Greeks!
- Alexander, the son of Philip of Macedon, was born in the year 356 BC. When he was just 20 years old (336 BC), his father was assassinated and he ascended to the throne of Macedonia. He immediately began to implement his father’s plans for world conquest. He quickly subdued the nations around him and then turned his sights on the mighty Persian Empire.
- The Egyptians were so thrilled to be rid of Persian domination that they declared Alexander to be the son of their god Ammon, and they dedicated a temple to him in his honor
- Although Alexander was a great military leader and strategist, perhaps his largest and most lasting accomplishment, historically, was the bringing of Greek culture to the lands he conquered.
- One of the ironies of history, however, is that even though Alexander succeeded in spreading Hellenism to the nations he conquered; yet he himself, toward the end of his life, became converted to the oriental culture. He began dressing like the Persian kings before him, he took on their customs, and he even began to act cruelly toward those who opposed him. In the city of Persepolis, for example, he killed all the men of the city and enslaved the women. Then, he and his soldiers fought with one another over possession of the plunder.
- This struggle among the generals continued until 315 BC, at which time it was decided to divide the kingdom four ways among the top four generals:
a. Ptolemy Lagi — who ruled over Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, and Peterea. He was assisted by a general named Seleucus.
b. Antigonus — who controlled Syria, Babylonia, and central Asia.
c. Cassander — who ruled over Macedonia and Greece.
d. Lysimachus — who was the ruler of Thrace and Bythinia.
- There were frequent outbursts of violence as they sought to gain each other’s territory. Antigonus was probably the worst of the generals. The others finally allied themselves together and drove him out in 312 BC.
- General Seleucus seized upon this opportunity and took back the territory which had originally been given to him. This area, Syria and Babylonia, now became the Seleucid Dynasty. At the same time, (312) Ptolemy Lagi extended his boundaries northward from Egypt to include the area occupied by the Jews. Thus, the Jews came under the rule of the Ptolemies, which rule they held until 198 BC.
- After the Battle of Ipsus (301 BC), Seleucus succeeded in taking all the territory previously held by Antigonus; the kingdom of Lysimachus was also absorbed into the Seleucid Dynasty. Thus, with the exception of the small Macedonian kingdom, the entire empire was now controlled by the Seleucids in the North and the Ptolemies in the South. Caught right in the middle of these two struggling factions was Palestine, and it became the source and site of constant conflict between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. For the first 100 years or so the Ptolemies held the upper hand in the struggle over Palestine, the home of the people of Israel.
- The first group to maintain any real consistent control of Palestine after the death of Alexander was the Ptolemies, who ruled from the land of Egypt. For the most part, they were very good to their Jewish subjects, although they did tax them quite heavily.
- Ptolemy I, Soter (323-285 Bc) was also known as Ptolemy Lagi, and was one of the Diadochoi. Palestine came under the dominion of the Ptolemies during his reign. He also relocated many of the Palestinian Jews to the land of Egypt where Greek soon became their native language.
- Ptolemy II, Philadelphus (285-246 bc) was the son of Ptolemy I. Under his rule the Jews, both in Egypt and Palestine, enjoyed a lengthy period of quiet, and also some degree of prosperity. These first several Ptolemies were more concerned with intellectual pursuits than with military matters. In Palestine, the High Priest, aided by a council of priests and elders, was allowed to rule as a political underlord of the Ptolemies. As long as they paid their annual tribute of 20 talents, they were left pretty much alone.
- In Egypt, the Jews were allowed to build Synagogues to worship and study in, and Alexandria soon became an influential Jewish center. Under the rule of Ptolemy II, the Jewish Scriptures were translated into the Greek language. This translation is known as the Septuagint (LXX), a translation which would become the most popular version of the Scriptures among the Jews of the dispersion, and which would be used a great deal by the writers of the New Testament books.
- In the year 221 BC, Ptolemy III died and was succeeded by Ptolemy IV, Philopater, who was without a doubt the most cruel and vicious ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. He hated the Jews, and as a result persecuted them without mercy. He even attempted to force his way into the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple and thus defile it. The Jews detested this madman, and celebrated with great rejoicing at his death in 203 BC.
- In 198 BC the Seleucids, under Antiochus III the Great, finally took control of Palestine (at the batle of Palion in the Jordan Valley), which control they held, more or less (mostly less), until the coming of the Romans in 63 BC.
- At about this same time, Hannibal, who had been defeated by the Romans at Zama, fled to the court of Antiochus the Great for protection. Still interested in stirring up trouble for Rome, however, he convinced Antiochus to invade Greece, whereupon Rome promptly declared war on Antiochus. The Romans defeated Antiochus in 190 BC, and made him pay dearly for his alliance with Hannibal. He was forced to pay enormous amounts of money, and to surrender his navy and his war elephants. To insure that Antiochus continued making his payments, the Romans took his youngest son to Rome where they kept him hostage for twelve years. This young boy was later to return to the Seleucid Empire and assume the throne under the name Antiochus Epiphanes.
- Three years after his defeat by the Romans, Antiochus the Great died and was succeeded by Seleucus IV, who ruled for the next twelve years. His situation was a most precarious one — somehow he had to come up with fantastic amounts of money to send to the Romans. To raise this money he heavily taxed the people of the land, including the Jews of Palestine.
- This created a moral dilemma for the Jews. Some felt it was morally allowable to give money to the government, whereas others felt it was sinful. Thus, two opposing factions formed among the Jews over this issue. The Oniads, under the leadership of the High Priest Onias, were opposed to helping the Seleucids in any way. The other group, led by a man named Jason, felt the opposite, and set about making many false, slanderous reports to the king concerning Onias, in the hopes of undermining him.
- Jason, who was the brother of Onias, was only interested in one thing — becoming the High Priest in his brother’s place. He hoped to accomplish this by offering the Seleucids large amounts of money (see — II Maccabees 3-4 and Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Book 12, Chapters 4-5). King Seleucus IV ignored the Jewish squabble, for the most part, and refused to get that deeply involved.
- In the year 175 BC, Antiochus IV, also known as Epiphanes, murdered Seleucus IV and took the throne. He immediately took advantage of Jason’s offer of money, and removed Onias from the office of High Priest, installing Jason in his place. Three years later, a man named Menelaus offered Antiochus even more money, so the king removed Jason and made Menelaus the High Priest.
- Those Jews who were still trying to be faithful to their God were infuriated by this state of affairs, and their hearts were pained that the position of High Priest could be bought by the highest bidder. Those who were outspoken concerning these abuses were known as the Hasidim (“the pious ones”).
- In the year 169 BC Antiochus invaded Egypt in an attempt to destroy once and for all the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Soon it was reported back in Palestine that the king had been killed in battle. When this news reached Jason, he returned from exile and threw Menelaus out of the city and once again assumed the office of High Priest. The news of Antiochus’ death was false, however, and when he returned to Jerusalem he utilized his army to forcibly remove Jason from office and reinstall Menelaus. At this time Antiochus also entered the Temple and stole a great deal of valuable treasure, an act which the pious Jews looked upon as an abomination before God.
- The following year (168 BC) Antiochus renewed his campaign against the Egyptians, but he was stopped by the Roman representative. This so infuriated Antiochus that he came back and took out his frustration on the city of Jerusalem. He tore down the city walls, slaughtered a great many of the Jews, ordered the Jewish Scriptures to be destroyed, and he and his soldiers brought prostitutes into the Temple and there had sex with them in order to defile the Temple. He also issued orders that everyone was to worship the Greek gods, and he established the death penalty for anyone who practiced circumcision, or who observed the Sabbath or any of the Jewish religious feasts and sacrifices.
- The cruelty of Antiochus in enforcing these new laws against the Jews became legendary. An aged scribe by the name of Eleazar was flogged to death because he refused to eat the flesh of a swine. In another incident, a mother and her seven young children were each butchered, in the presence of the Governor, for refusing to worship an idol. In yet another incident, two mothers, who had circumcised their newborn sons, were driven through the city and then thrown to their deaths from the top of a large building.
- The final outrage for the pious Jews of the land came when Antiochus sacked the Temple and erected an altar there to the pagan god Zeus. Then, on December 25, 168 BC, Antiochus offered a pig to Zeus on the altar of God. This was the last straw! The Jews had taken all they were going to take from these oppressors. The stage was set for a large-scale rebellion of the Jews against the Seleucids. This famous rebellion is known in history as the Maccabean Revolt.
- In the little village of Modein, which was 17 miles NW of Jerusalem, there lived an aged priest named Mattathias, who had five sons — John, Simon, Judas, Eleazer, and Jonathan. This family is sometimes referred to as the Hasmoneans or Maccabeans (a nickname meaning “hammerer”).
- In 167 BC Antiochus sent his officers to the village of Modein to force the Jews living there to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. Mattathias, as a leader in the city, was commanded by the officers to be the first person to offer a sacrifice — as an example to the rest of the people. He refused with a noble speech. He then attacked and killed the officers, tore down the altar to the pagan gods and fled to the mountains of the Judean wilderness, with his sons and some followers.
- These men organized themselves into a large, powerful guerrilla-warfare army, and soon began to launch raids against the towns and villages of the land, tearing down the pagan altars, killing the officials of Antiochus, and also executing those Jews who were worshipping the pagan gods. The aged priest Mattathias was much too old for such a rigorous lifestyle, however, and died in 166 BC just as the rebellion was gaining momentum. He chose wisely, though, when he left his son Judas in charge of the rebel forces.
- Antiochus again made a major mistake-he sent out some of his less capable generals, with only a small army. These generals and their forces were simply not equal to Judas, who was possibly one of the greatest military minds in all of Jewish history! Even though greatly outnumbered, Judas and his rebels defeated general after general in battle, with only 6000 poorly equipped Jewish rebels
- Antiochus to exterminate the Jewish people in the process. He sent Lysias, the commander-in-chief of the Seleucid army, along with 60,000 infantrymen and 5000 cavalry, to utterly destroy the Jews. This powerful army finally encountered Judas, who had a force of only 3000 poorly equipped rebels, in the town of Emmaus, which was just over 7 miles from Jerusalem. Judas managed to gather together another 7000 rebels, but was still terribly outnumbered. He prayed to God for strength and deliverance (I Maccabees 4:30-33), and won a huge victory over the Seleucid army.
- Judas entered Jerusalem and liberate the city to purify the Temple and rededicate it to God. On December 25, 165 BC (exactly three years after Antiochus had defiled the altar of God by offering a pig upon it), the Temple of God was rededicated to God with rejoicing and sacrifices. This is the famous “Feast of Lights” (Hanukkah) which is still celebrated by the Jews to this day.
- Within a rather brief period of time they were able to regain possession of much of the land. However, their successes were short-lived, for Lysias, now acting as king after the death of Antiochus, gathered a large army and marched upon Jerusalem, in the autumn of 163 BC, with an army of 120,000 men and 32 war elephants. Lysias surrounded Jerusalem in the hopes of starving the Jews into submission. But during this siege he learned that one of his rivals was marching against his own capital city in an effort to overthrow him and take the throne. He made an offer of peace to Judas — the Jews would be allowed to worship their God unmolested, if they would remain politically loyal to the Seleucid Empire. Judas agreed to these terms, and Lysias and his army departed.
- Although the rebellion now appeared to be at an end, the Jews were nevertheless soon deprived again of peace. The Hellenistic Jews began seeking to force their beliefs and practices upon the pious Hebraic Jews. This led to civil war between Judas and his followers and the Hellenistic Jews. The Hellenists were able to convert large numbers of the rebels, and they convinced the Seleucids to send an army to defeat Judas. In 160 BC, Judas and his 800 men were surrounded by the enemy, and almost all of them, including Judas, were killed. Only a handful escaped and fled into the Wilderness of Judea. With the death of Judas, the first phase of the Maccabean struggle ended.
- The band of surviving rebels chose Jonathan, the brother of Judas, as the new leader. For the next couple of years they continued to hide out in the wilderness, building up their forces. Jonathan was much more of a diplomat than a warrior, and for many years he was able to make progress for his people through diplomacy rather than military force.
- In 152 BC civil war broke out in the Seleucid Empire between two factions who both wanted the throne. Both sides sought the help of Jonathan When the civil war ended, Jonathan had managed to place himself on the winning side, and as a reward was made the new High Priest in Jerusalem, as well as Governor of Judea and a member of the Syrian nobility. His brother Simon was made Governor of the Philistine coastal region.
- During the next decade the Empire was beset time and again with revolutions and rebellions from various conquered peoples, and also by challenges to the throne. Nevertheless, Jonathan, by virtue of his skills in diplomacy, managed to survive.
- In 143 BC, however, Jonathan miscalculated in a very tricky diplomatic situation, and he was taken prisoner by the Seleucids. His brother Simon immediately assumed control of the rebel forces in Jonathan’s place. The enemy soldiers advanced upon Jerusalem, but were trapped in a severe snow storm just as they were about to attack. In their frustration they executed Jonathan and then retreated. The year was 142 BC.
- A few months later, civil war again broke out in the Seleucid Empire over who would be king. Once again the warring factions appealed to the Jews for support in their struggle. Simon, who was also an able diplomat, .negotiated the complete independence of the Jewish his support. The Jews were at last free — after almost 400 years of foreign bondage.
- Two years later, in the summer of 140 BC, the people of Israel made Simon the leader of the newly formed nation, and they made this supreme office a hereditary one. Thus, Simon became the High Priest (the religious leader), the Commander of the Army (the military leader), and the King (the political leader).
- Under his leadership the nation enjoyed peace and prosperity (I Maccabees 14:4-15). Unfortunately, Simon’s son-in-law, who was Governor of Jericho, decided to attempt to seize power for himself. He convinced the new Seleucid king, Antiochus VII, to support him, and he then murdered Simon and two of his sons in 135 BC.
- A third son of Simon’s, John Hyrcanus, managed to escape the slaughter. By out-maneuvering his brother-in-law, and by paying heavy taxes to the Seleucids, he was able to retain power. The Seleucids, however, exercised control over Palestine until the death of Antiochus VII in 128 BC.
- With the death of Simon, the last of the sons of the aged priest Mattathias, the heroic period of Jewish history known as the Maccabean Revolt came to an end.
John Hyrcanus (135 – 104)
Aristobulus I (104 – 103)
Alexander Jannaeus (103 – 76)
Alexandra (76 – 67)
Period of Struggle for Power (67 – 63)
Pompey Invades Palestine (63)
Reign of Pompey (63 – 48)
Role of Hyrcanus II & Antipater (63 – 40)
Reign of Julius Caesar (48 – 44)
Period of Struggle (44 – 31)
Reign of Augustus (31 BC – 14 AD)
Local Rule in Palestine (40 BC to NT Times)
Antigonus (40 – 37)
Herod the Great (37 – 4)
The Kingdom Divides (4 BC)
The Birth of Jesus (c. 4 BC