The intertestamental period (Malachi 3)

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The intertestamental period designates the time between Malachi (ca. 400 B.C.), and the birth of Jesus. This was also part of the   Second Temple period – the time between construction of the post-exilic temple in 515 B.C. and destruction of the  Herodian temple by the Romans in A.D. 70.

Israel’s historical experience changed rapidly during successive periods of Persian, Greek and Roman sovereignty. After defeating the Babylonians, the Persian king Cyrus II issued an edict in 538 B.C. allowing some Jews to return to Israel and authorizing temple reconstruction (Ezra 1:2-4). Israel, a satrapy, or province, of the Persian empire, was ruled by governors and priests. In 332 B.C. Alexander the Great overtook Judah. After his death in 323 B.C. his generals competed for control of the vast Greek empire. Israel existed under Egyptian Ptolemaic sovereignty from 302 to 200 B.C. and under Syrian Seleucid control from 200 to 152 B.C.

Antiochus III, the first Seleucid king, allowed Israel to live under the high priests jurisdiction. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, sought to reorganize Jerusalem as a Greek city in 174 B.C. In 168 B.C., Antiochus IV issued an edict prohibiting Jews observance of the Sabbath, circumcision, dietary laws and temple sacrifices (1 Maccabees 1:41-64), and he destroyed the temple by erecting an altar to Zeus (see Daniel 11:31).

This edict incited the Maccabean revolt, which began in 167 B.C. when an aged priest, Matthias, defied it by killing a Syrian official and a Jew who was preparing tp sacrifice to Zeus. After Mattathias’ death his five sons, and especially Judas Maccabeus, assumed leadership- The temple was cleansed and rededicated, an event still commemorated as Hanukkah. Maccabean success led Israel to independent statehood in 142 B.C. The Maccabean priest-king (the Hasmoneans) ruled Israel from 135 to 63 B.C., until the Roman general Pompey incorporated Judea into the Roman empire.

The Romans conferred the status of client king (a king who rules in submission to a foreign ruler and with his support) to Herod the Great, who ruled from 37 to 4 B.C. Herod’s vast building program and lavish expansion of the Jerusalem temple endeared him so some, although his willingness to slaughter all opposition sealed his memory as a cruel tyrant (Matthew 2:1-20). His sonArchelaus slaughtered 3,000 Jews during Passover. After his banishment in A.D. 6 Judea was reduced to a Roman province, governed by prefects and procurators from A.D. 6 to 66 (the most famous being Pontius Pilate). The insensitivity of Roman leadership and the memory of Maccabean success led Judea to revolt- The four-year rebellion, though bitterly fought, ended with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. A second revolt flared from 132 to 135 under Bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiba. After massive losses on both sides, Jerusalem was converted into a pagan city, Aelia Capitolina, to which the Jews were denied access.

The intertestamental period brought significant religious developments, attesting to the developing diversity within Judaism and providing the context for the New Testament:

  • The closure of the Hebrew Scripture gave Jews an authoritative canon.
  • The translation of the Old Testament into Greek (the Septuagint) produced a Bible that would supply the linguistic background for many New Testament concepts.
  • The progression of foreign nations ruling the Jewish homeland recalled Daniel’s prophecies and heightened Messianis expectation.
  • Israel’s tumultuous leadership changes contributed to the formation of diverse sects, including the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Samaritans, Zealots and Messianic pretenders.
  • The literary efforts of Palestinian and Babylonian Jews, together with those of Hellenistic Jewish communities, created a large corpus of writings, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the works of Philo and Josephus, the Apocrypha, the pseudepigrapha and the earliest rabbinic sayings.

 

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