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Second Temple Period Paper

Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary

David Campbell

NBST 510: New Testament Introduction

June 28, 2015

It is imperative if one is to be a student of the bible they must know the history and chain of events surrounding the major areas of the bible and prominent figures. Do you not know that the history of the Old Testament is found primarily in the first 17 books Genesis-Esther, of our English Bibles? Genesis 1-11 more or less serves as the introduction to the whole Bible. Themes developed throughout the rest of scripture begin here. The Old Testament serves as a schoolmaster into the New and therefore requires extensive hours of study and comprehension to grasp what was happening under the law during Old Testament time. It cannot be studied without considering the influence of worldly events. Combined, the Old Testament and secular history merge to form a tapestry revealing God’s plan for humanity.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief history of the Second Temple Period beginning with the Persian Period and Israel’s return from exile and end with the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. This paper will also address how various events, individuals, and groups impacted the Jews and the land of Israel leading up to and during the time of Christ. In the Second part of the research we will look at Alexander the Great highlight the event, person, group, ideology in depth while explaining how it affected the first century world of the Jews and their expectation of the Messiah.

The Second Temple period, also referred to as the Intertestamental Period lasted from 515 BC when Zerubbabel rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem to AD 70 when it was destroyed by the Roman Empire, and includes Christ’s Earthly ministry. The sects of Pharisees, Sadducees, Essences, and Zealots were formed during this period. After the death of the last Jewish Prophets of the antiquity and still under Persian rule, the leadership of the Jewish people was in the hands of five successive generations of zugot leaders. They flourished first under the Persians (539-332 BC) then under the Greeks (332-167 BC) then under an independent Hasmonean Kingdom (140-37 BC) and then under the Romans (63 BC-132 AD). Kostenberger, Kellum and Quarles records this date as being October 29, 539 BC coinciding with Cyrus’s victory over Babylon. However, Ezra states that “construction of the Temple God began during the second year after they arrived in Jerusalem. This would place the beginning of the Second Temple period at around 536 or 537 BC. The Persians were supplanted by the Greeks in 331 BC ending their control over the Holy Land.

During this period, Second Temple Judaism can be seen as shaped by the three major cities and their results, as various groups of Jews reacted to them differently. First came the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah in 587/6 BC, when the Judeans lost their independence, monarchy, holy city and First Temple and were mostly exiled to Babylon. They consequently faced a theological crisis involving the nature, power, and goodness of God and were also threatened culturally, racially, and ceremonially as they were thrown into proximity with other peoples and religious groups. The absence of recognized prophets later in the period left them without their version of divine guidance at a time when they felt most in need of support and direction. The second crisis was the growing influence of Hellenism in Judaism, ahich culminated in the Maccabean Revolt of 167 BC. The third crisis was the Roman occupation of the region, beginning with Pompey and his sack of Jerusalem in 63 BC. This included the appointment of Herod the Great as King of the Jews by the Roman Senate, the Herodian Kingdom of Judea comprising parts of what today are Israel, Palestinian Authority, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The Persian Period 331 BC end of prophecy. Although this paper is focused on the period of history beginning with Alexander the Great, it is essential to briefly cover the Persian Empire’s rule over Judea before continuing. The Persian period began in 539 BC and lasted until 331 BC. Malachi, the last OT profit of God, recorded the existence of the temple as did Haggai. Subsequently, many scholars link the beginning of the Second Temple period Malachi’s service to God.

Following a decree by the Persian King Cyrus, conqueror of the Babylonian empire (538 BCE), some 50,000 Jews set out on the first return to the Land of Israel, led by Zerubbabel, a descendant of the House of David. Less than a century later, the second return was led by Ezra the Scribe. Over the next four centuries, the Jews knew varying degrees of self-rule under Persian (538-333 BCE) and later Hellenistic (Ptolemaic and Seleucid) over lordship (332-142 BCE).

The repatriation of the Jews under Ezra's inspired leadership, construction of the Second Temple on the site of the First Temple, refortification of the walls of Jerusalem, and establishment of the Knesset Hagedolah (Great Assembly) as the supreme religious and judicial body of the Jewish people marked the beginning of the Second Temple period. Within the confines of the Persian Empire, Judah was a nation whose leadership was entrusted to the high priest and council of elders in Jerusalem.

As part of the ancient world conquered by Alexander the Great of Greece (332 BCE), the Land remained a Jewish theocracy under Syrian-based Seleucid rulers. When the Jews were prohibited to practice Judaism and their Temple was desecrated as part of an effort to impose Greek-oriented culture and customs on the entire population, the Jews rose in revolt (166 BCE).

The Greek period lasted from the defeat of the Persians in 331 BC until the Hasmonean revolt in 164 BC. Beginning with its conquest of Europe and the Greek influence abroad, the Hellenization of the Holy Land extended beyond this period. Beginning with Alexander the Great, this discourse will also discuss the Ptolemaic and Seleucid or Syrian periods.

Alexander the Great (331 to 320 BC) “The Grecian period officially began with the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great.” Philip, Alexander’s father
, ruled from Macedonia and developed a mighty military organization which he used to subdue the other Greek city-states. Philip made sure to provide a quality military and academic education for the young prince. At the age of 13, Alexander was educated by Aristotle providing him with a Hellenistic education that would serve him in his years of conquest. Alexander advanced to the throne after his father’s assassination.

Alexander became king at the age of twenty and was an efficient and sometimes brutal leader 16 as predicted by Daniel concerning the prophecy of the “great he goat.” Alexander’s advance across the rest of Greece and into Asia was swift. The young ruler desired to conquer Persia so in 334 BC he invaded Asia Minor and defeated the Persians at the Battle of Granicus River, followed by victories at Ephesus, Miletus, Halicarnassus, and Issus. The Persian ruler, Darius III, fled during the battle at Issus and was eventually captured and executed by his own people. With the fall of the Persians, Alexander became the new ruler over the Holy Land. When Alexander visited Jerusalem, he was met by a high priest who informed him of Daniel’s prophecy. This led to leniency on Alexander’s part and a tendency to allow the Jews to practice their religious traditions. Alexander died at the age of 33 of an illness. He succeeded in conquering the majority of the known world in only 13 years, and in unifying it under the Hellenistic culture, language, and freedom. These all culminated in the dispersion of the Jews over a wide part of the Hellenized world.

At the time of the return to Zion from Babylonian captivity, Jerusalem was materially rather poor. Its walls were derelict and a modest shrine now stood at the site of Solomon’s once grand temple. The city, nevertheless, enjoyed a vibrant and flourishing religious life. It was at this time that the first Mishnas were written up and both the Bible and the Halakha begun to take their modern form. The same time witnessed the emergence of a dominant priestly class, cosmopolitan elite receptive to foreign influences.

The Persians may have experimented at first with ruling Yehud as a client-kingdom under descendants of Jehoiachin, who had kept his royal status even in captivity. Sheshbazzar, the governor of Yehud appointed by Cyrus in 538, was of Davidic origin, as was his successor (and probable nephew) Zerubbabel; Zerubbabel in turn was succeeded by his second son and then by his son-in-law, all of them hereditary Davidic governors of Yehud, a state of affairs that ended only around 500 BCE This hypothesis - that Zerubbabel and his immediate successors represented a restoration of the Davidic kingdom under Persian over lordship - cannot be verified, but it would be in keeping with Persian policy in other parts of the Persian Empire, such as Phoenicia.

The death of Alexander the Great left his empire divided among four of his top generals: Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, and Lysimachus. The rise of these four kings out of the remnant of Alexander’s kingdom was foretold by the Profit Daniel: The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia. And the shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king. And the broken horn and the four horns that arose in its place represent four kingdoms which will arise from his nation, although not with his power. With the kingdom divided, Ptolemy became Pharaoh of Egypt ruling Northern Africa and Palestine. The Ptolemy’s ruled Egypt and Judea until 198 BC when, after the death of Queen Cleopatra, the Syrians took control of the Holy Land. The Ptolemaic Dynasty provided Egyptian Jews with many benefits that were not present under previous rulers. Jews were allowed freedom to practice their religious traditions and ceremonies, and even maintained a level of self rule as a subordinate temple state led by the high priest.

Another benefit of Ptolemaic rule was the production of the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament. Since Greek was the common language of the known civilization, this new translation allowed the Word of God to spread throughout the Hellenistic world. The next 31 years of rule came at the hand of the decedents of another of the former generals of Alexander the Great. The Seleucids ruled from Syria and had contended with the Ptolemy’s over the Holy Land. Under the Seleucids, the Jews were initially tolerated and allowed to continue a limited self rule as they did with the Ptolemy’s. Within 11 years, the Seleucid king, Antiochus III, was faces with an encroaching Roman army. Antiochus was defeated by the Romans at Magnesia, and was forced to send his son, Antiochus IV, to Rome as a hostage. A high tribute was required from the Seleucids while Antiochus IV was in Rome.

The king, Antiochus III, was murdered in 187 BC and replaced by his son, Seleucus IV. Seleucus was able to free his brother from Roman captivity and return him to Syria. Upon
Seleucus’ death in 175 BC, Antiochus IV ascended to the throne. Antiochus IV was a brutal ruler. Under his kingship, the Jews were persecuted, bribery was common place, and post of high priest was open to the highest bidder.
Antiochus IV called himself “Antiochus Epiphanies” which means “Glorious One.” He was implying that he was the incarnation of Zeus. Antiochus attempted to limit Judaism by prohibiting certain Jewish rites and customs including circumcision and sacred festivals. At one point, he erected a statue of Zeus in the temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar. This is the
“abomination that causes desolation” as prophesied by Daniel. In an effort to impose his ban on Judaism, Antiochus ordered the execution of thousands of Jews who refused to submit. Finally, at the village of Modein a priest named Mattathias (of the Hasmonean family) refused to comply with the required sacrifice and killed the king’s representative. Mattathias and his sons fled into the wilderness touching off the Maccabean Revolt.

The purpose of this discourse was to provide a brief history of the Second Temple Period, beginning with Alexander the Great and concluding with the sons of Herod Antipas. This paper also described various factors that impacted the Jews and the Holy Land leading up to and
Including the time of Christ. In addition, this paper highlighted the “Pax Romana” or Roman Peace and its influence on the world in which Jesus Christ was born. Beginning with Alexander the Great, it is easy to see God’s divine providence as the prophecy of Daniel is fulfilled. Although not as easily predicted, the dispersion of the Jews provided the lines of communication from Judea to Samaria and the rest of the known world that would carry the Gospel to the outer limits of the empire. Under Ptolemaic rule, Jewish writers translated Old Testament into the Septuagint which tied the Diaspora together and provided a mechanism that would be used to spread the Gospel. The brutal Seleucid period continued to push the Jews further away from the Holy Land and increased the Diaspora. It also reinforced the religious convictions of Jews and led to Maccabean Revolt. Finally, the Hasmoneans followed by the Herodians and the Roman Empire provided the “Pax Romana” that allowed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be carried throughout the world.

Michael D Coogan,

The Oxford History of the Biblical World
, Oxford University: (Oxford University Press, 1999), 350. W.D. Davies, and L Finklestein,
The Cambridge History of Judaism.
Cambridge University, (Cambridge University Press, 1989). Werner Eck,
The Bar Kokhba Revolt: The Roman Point of View
, (Peter Schfer (editor), Tibingen: Mohr: 2003), 87-88.

K stenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, 5. Ibid, 64.

Malachi , (ESV); Haggai 2:3, (ESV)

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