The Post-exilic period of the Old Testament – The Greek and Hasmonean period (Nehemiah 7)

Bilderesultat for antiochus epiphanes abomination of desolation

Illustration: Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecreated the Temple by sacrificing pigs on the altar within the Temple, and dedicated the Temple to the worship of Zeus Olympus

The Greeks.

Historical sources are virtually silent about the history of Judea from the later Persian period (see the previous post) until the time of Alexander the Great. In 332 B.C. this Macedonian king conquered the region and ended centuries of Persia control. Alexandre brought with him Hellenism, a popular from of Greek culture that left a lasting impression on all societies with which it came into contact.

Following his death in 323 B.C. Alexander’s most powerful generals waged war among themselves in an effort to claim portions of the empire. By 301 the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Greek family that ruled Egypt, had gained control of Judea. Sources for this period are scant at best, but this may suggest that the Jews existed quite peacefully under the Ptolemies.

In 200 B.C. the Seleucid king Antiochus III conquered Judea (the Seleucids were a Greek dynasty that ruled Syria). He established favourable relation by guaranteeing religious liberty to his subjects. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, reversed this policy and engaged in extreme religious persecution of the Jews. He is most likely the “contemptible person” who rose to power in Daniel 11:21|. Historians believe that Antiochus’ desperate need for money to fight the Romans contributed to this state of affairs. It also appears that quartteling factions within the Jerusalem priestly class attempted to strengthen their own positions by cooperating with the Greek-speaking leadership, even to the point of suppressing their own people.

Antiochus used Judea as a staging ground for a campaign against Egypt, but in 168 B.C. this effort was thwarted. The repressed people of Jerusalem seized the opportunity to rebel against Antiochus, who crushed the uprising and punished the citizens by installing pagan cults in the city and forbidding the observance the Jewish religious practices. The author of 1 Maccabees (an Apocryphal book not found in the traditional Protestant canon) records that the words insult of all occurred in 167 B.C. when Antiochus defiled the temple by sacrificing a swine, an “unclean” meat, on the altar. Daniel 11:31 probably also refers to this incident, which it calls the “abomination that causes desolation.” The Jews reacted violently with a revolt led by the priest Mattathias of the Hasmonean family and his five sons. Within a few years the Jews had won back their religious freedom, and the temple was cleansed and rededicated in 164 B.C.

The Hasmoneans.

The Maccabees, because of their victory over their Seleucid enemies, established themselves as the ruling dynasty in Judea. The most famous member of this family was Judas Maccabeus, son of Mattathias. His name provided the common title for this uprising, the Maccabean Revolt.

Judas led successful military campaigns in 173 and 162 B.C. to protect Jews who were being attacked in other areas of the Holy Land. The Hasmoneans soon gained a reputation as a national leaders and defenders. The Seleucids attempted unsuccessfully to quell the growing tide of Jews nationalism, and in 161 B.C. the Hasmoneans increased their advantage by singing a mutual defence treaty with the Roman republic.

Meanwhile, the Seleucid empire was crumbling from within. Ironically, the contenders for the throne now sought help from the Hasmoneans to secure their positions. In return, they promised autonomy to the Jews. The Hasmoneans profited from this period of Seleucid weakness by taking control of large areas of the Holy Lan. Finally, in 141 B.C. the last Greek garrison was removed from Jerusalem, and the city no longer bore any burden of taxation by the Seleucids.

The Hasmonean dynasty achieved significant territorial expansion. John Hyrcanus I (135-104 B.C.) was particularly notable for his military campaigns against the Samaritans and Idumeans. He destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim and conquered the capital at Shechem. The Idumeans were allowed to stay in their lands on the condition that all their males be circumcised. Galilee fell to Hyrcanus’ son, Aristobolus (104-103 B.C.). The subsequent ruler, Alexander Janneaus (103-76 B.C.) extended the Hasmonean reach to Greek cities along the coast of the Holy Land and to the region of the Transjordan. However, Jannaeus gained a reputation for severe cruelty. Internal dissension increased and threatened to tear apart this increasingly fragile state. Janaeus bequeathed the sizable Hasmonean kingdom to his wife, Salome, whose nine-year rule was marked by a civil war between her two sons, Aristobolus II and Hyrcanus II.

Another important development of this period was the rise of the Sadducees and Pharisees. The Sadducees represented the Jewish priestly upper class and their aristocratic associates. They sought prominence in both the religious and political spheres and were seen by some as being too friendly toward Hellenistic cultural influences. The Pharisees, or “separatists”, developed as a reaction against such Hellenism. This group was characterized by its strict, uncompromising observance of the Mosaic Law. Over time its members gained a lofty status in the eyes of many Jews, who viewed them as defenders of pure religion.


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