The name given to the historical period between the Old and
New Testaments (fifth century BC–first century AD). It is also
known as the Second Temple period. The first Jewish temple, completed
by Solomon around 960 BC, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587/586
BC. The second temple, completed by Zerubbabel in 516 BC (and
expanded later by Herod the Great), was eventually destroyed by the
Romans in AD 70. The intertestamental period is roughly, then, the
period from the return of the Babylonian exile to the dawn of the
exile of the Israelites to Babylon marks a turning point in the
history of redemption. Prior to this experience God’s people
were constantly tempted to worship other gods. During the exile the
majority appear to have abandoned their faith. Only a small remnant
ever returned to the promised land.
rebuilt the city of Jerusalem. The Torah became their constitution,
but the expectations of the biblical prophets were not fulfilled.
When the temple was opened, there is no mention of a return of the
visible presence of God. The rabbinic tradition would later observe
that “after the later prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi
had died, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel” (b. Yoma
9b), implying that God had fallen silent. Nevertheless, the Hebrew
canon closes offering the hope of forgiveness and restoration (cf.
2 Chron. 7:14).
this period there were significant Jewish communities in Persia,
Babylon, and Egypt. They formed assemblies, or “synagogues,”
as centers of Jewish community and faith. The Jews in Egypt built a
temple at Aswan, on the island of Elephantine. In their letters they
claimed that this temple had existed before the days of Cambyses
(late sixth century BC).
were particularly challenged by the worship of idols, the threat of
persecution, and the difficulties of observing the laws of
separation, especially the food laws and the ban on mixed marriages.
We have very little extracanonical Jewish literature of the Persian
period. We do have a series of stories, difficult to date, that look
back to the time of Jeremiah (Letter of Jeremiah) or Daniel (Susanna;
Bel and the Dragon; Prayer of Azariah; Song of the Three Young Men).
See Apocrypha, Old Testament.
Rule (333–63 BC)
defeating the Persians at the Battle of Issus (333 BC), Alexander the
Great swept through Palestine on his way to Egypt. His early death
(323 BC) led to a series of wars between his four generals.
Eventually, Seleucus controlled Babylon and ruled from Syria to
India, while Ptolemy was declared Pharaoh (301 BC) and ruled
Palestine from Egypt.
Ptolemies developed a strongly Greek culture in Egypt. Alexandria
became a world center of learning. Ptolemy II Philadelphus (r.
287–247 BC) sponsored the translation of the Torah into Greek.
This coincided with the gradual translation of the rest of the Hebrew
Scriptures (the Septuagint). Under the Ptolemies, the Jews colonized
Galilee, bypassing Samaria and reclaiming the north for “Israel.”
Jews in Egypt struggled to win equality and respect for their
traditions. Some simply abandoned their Jewish distinctives. Others
attempted to win respect through wise business enterprises. Some Jews
entered the academy and attempted to explain Jewish traditions by
using the categories and values of the Greek philosophers, minimizing
the differences (Letter of Aristeas; Sibylline Oracles, book 3).
Others argued for the priority and superiority of the Jewish
tradition, claiming that Greek and Egyptian learning could be traced
back to God’s revelation through Moses and the patriarchs. Any
attempt to rigorously maintain the distinctives of the Jewish faith
and observance of the law of Moses remained the agenda of a small
minority (cf. 3 Maccabees; Additions to Esther).
the third century BC tensions between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies
grew, and Jews in Palestine became involved in these intrigues. The
high priest Simon II (219–196 BC) used to pay the
provincial taxes to Ptolemy out of his own means.
Sira (died 175 BC) ran a school in Jerusalem. He pointed his students
to the wisdom of the Jewish Scriptures rather than Greek philosophy.
Some time after 117 BC his grandson translated his work into Greek
(the book of Sirach).
family of Tobijah, who opposed Nehemiah, had become rich and powerful
and married into the family of the high priest. When Simon’s
son Onias became high priest, he refused to pay Ptolemy’s tax.
So Joseph Tobiad, Onias’s nephew, paid the tax and won the
contract to collect the taxes of Judah. His youngest son, Hyrcanus,
outbid his father and so started a family feud. Joseph worked for the
Seleucids, while Hyrcanus remained loyal to Ptolemy.
a series of wars the Seleucids defeated the Ptolemies (198 BC). A
steady flow of Jews migrated to Egypt. Initially, Antiochus III
(r. 221–187 BC) issued a decree granting certain privileges to
the Jews and funded the repairs to Jerusalem necessitated by the
wars. Following his defeat by the Romans (190 BC), his son Antiochus
became a Roman hostage, and he was required to pay a huge tribute. He
decided to loot the temple in Jerusalem. He died in Babylon while
looting the temple of Bel. Seleucus IV (r. 187–175 BC)
sent his son to Rome in exchange for his brother Antiochus and made
another raid on the Jerusalem temple for funds. In 175 BC Antiochus
overthrew his brother and took the throne as Antiochus IV
Epiphanes (“God made visible”).
during this period works started to appear claiming to be the
writings of Enoch and Noah. According to these works, Gentile nations
were empowered by demons operating through idols. Gentile religion
and culture arose from their deceptions. God had revealed to Enoch
and Noah the secrets needed to counter these deceptions. This
involved the adoption of a distinctive 364-day calendar. As this
tradition developed, other works appeared that incorporated these
ideas into a rereading of the Scriptures. Both the book of Jubilees
(c. 168–150 BC), which cites the writings of Enoch and Noah as
authentic, and the Temple Scroll claim to be a second revelation
given to Moses on Mount Sinai—a revelation for the chosen
righteous of the last days. Other books had been passed on to
Abraham, Jacob, and eventually Levi. While Israel had failed to keep
“the first law,” this body of revelation claimed to
enable the elect to rightly interpret the law, survive the coming
judgment, and gain possession of the whole earth.
about this time also we hear of the rise of the “pious ones”
(Hasidim) indicating a widespread stirring of heart and a seeking
after God (1 Macc. 2:42; 7:12–18). The additional stories
contained in 1 Esdras may reflect some of the concerns of this
time. The difficulty was to know the right way back among so many
Hasmoneans (168–63 BC)
Antiochus IV took the throne (175 BC), Jason, brother of the
high priest Onias III, offered the king money to make himself
high priest instead and to declare Jerusalem a Greek city. The king
agreed, and when Onias III died, his son Onias IV fled to
Egypt, where, inspired by the prophesy of Isa. 19:19, he built a
temple at Leontopolis.
Tobiads and most of the wealthier Jewish nobility, including many
priests, were deeply committed to Greek culture, educating their sons
in the Greek gymnasium, which involved nudity and homosexuality and
making offerings to Zeus. This hugely offended Jews who were focused
on returning Israel to God’s favor.
had stated that only men descended from Zadok could officiate as
priests (Ezek. 40:46). Menelaus offered the king more money and
replaced Jason. From this point onward, the office of high priest
would be up for sale. Menelaus was not descended from Zadok, and his
appointment was widely recognized as corruption. He began selling
temple vessels to raise money.
Antiochus had embarked on two failed attempts to conquer Egypt (170
and 168 BC) and had raided the Jerusalem temple for funds. While he
was away, Jason, believing that Antiochus had been killed, attacked
Menelaus and tried to regain the high priesthood. Antiochus had been
humiliated in front of his troops when Rome ordered him to leave
Egypt, and he was in financial trouble. So when, upon his return,
riots broke out in Jerusalem, he took excessive measures. After his
departure the rioting resumed, and he determined to put an end to
desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig to Zeus on the altar (cf.
Dan. 9:27). The Scriptures were banned. Parents who circumcised a son
were executed along with the boy. His cruelty and excesses are
recorded in gruesome detail in 1–2 Maccabees (esp. 2 Macc. 7).
king’s officials began to force the citizens to offer sacrifice
to Zeus. When they came to the village of Modein, a priest,
Mattathias of the family of Hasmon, killed the king’s officials
and those who had obeyed them and fled with his five sons. A revolt
ensued, and within three years the Seleucids were defeated. It took
another twenty years before an independent Jewish state was
established (October 20, 142 BC).
Mattathias’s death, his son Judas (nicknamed “Maccabeus,”
meaning “the hammer”) led the revolt. Jerusalem was
recaptured and the temple cleansed (164 BC), an event still
celebrated as the Feast of Hanukkah (Lights). When Antiochus was
killed fighting the Persians, the Seleucids restored Jewish freedom
and executed Menelaus. The new king, Demetrius, attempted to appoint
Alcimus as high priest. Hostilities intensified, and Judas, who had
concluded a treaty with Rome, was killed in battle (c. 160 BC). His
brother Jonathan, not a Zadokite, took over and became high priest
(152 BC). The Jewish historian Josephus’s first mention of the
Essenes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees occurs during his reign.
Sadducees were predominantly priests who, while advocating their own
interpretations of the law, were increasingly more concerned with
power and money. They rejected predestination in favor of human free
will and denied the existence of angels and the resurrection.
Pharisees based their interpretation of the law on the traditions of
their forebears, which they claimed could be traced back to oral law
given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. They accepted predestination,
angels, and bodily resurrection. Coming from the middle and lower
classes, the Pharisees had popular support and were active in
teaching the law in the synagogues.
the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a scholarly consensus has
grown that identifies the Qumran sect as being part of the group
called the “Essenes” by Josephus, Philo, and Pliny. As
such, their roots can be traced back to Jewish exiles in Damascus
(CD-A 6:5) who adopted the teachings of the early Enoch literature
and entered into what they called the “new covenant” to
repent and rightly live by the law. Under the leadership of one
called the “Teacher of Righteousness,” they returned to
Judea following the Hasmonean takeover of Jerusalem.
many, such as the author of the Animal Apocalypse (1 En.
90:9–19), saw the Hasmonean revolt as God’s intervention.
The appointment of Jonathan as high priest produced two strong
reactions. The Sadducees and the Pharisees vied for the favor of the
Hasmoneans, while the Essenes declared the Hasmonean high priesthood
illegitimate and abandoned worship in the temple.
Jonathan was murdered (142 BC), his brother Simon took over, and
Jewish freedom from Seleucid control was finally established. In
September of 140 BC the Jewish leadership decreed that Simon would
have total control of Judaism, including the final say in all matters
regarding the correct observance of the law (1 Macc. 14:25–47).
Groups that followed any other interpretation of the law would face
his sanctions. It is not clear how rigorously he used these powers.
the Essenes, the group that followed the Teacher of Righteousness
suffered internal division, and the “Man of the Lie” led
a significant number to turn back and “depart from the Way”
(see 1QpHab 2:1–4; 5:6–12; 10:6–9; CD-B 20:10–15).
act of uniformity was designed to unite the Jewish faithful against
those who had abandoned the faith and gone over to the Greeks, but
the Jewish faithful were not united. The high priest had to choose
sides. Those who dissented were bound to live in the political
134 BC the Seleucids invaded Judea, and Simon was murdered. The high
priesthood passed to his son John Hyrcanus I (135–104 BC),
who made peace with the Seleucids. He captured Samaria (129 BC),
destroyed the Samaritan temple, and forced the Samaritans to adopt
the Jewish lifestyle. He appears to have extended greater tolerance
within Judaism, but he was opposed by the Pharisees.
was during this period that the Essenes were able to establish their
facility at Qumran. There scholars collected, copied, and composed
books that would later become known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. This
library contained all the books of the OT (with the probable
exception of Esther). Works attributed to Enoch, Noah, Levi, and the
patriarchs as well as Jubilees and the Temple Scroll constituted a
second body of written revelation. There were works claiming to be
inspired commentaries on the Scriptures, hymns possibly written by
the Teacher of Righteousness, and rules governing communal lifestyle
and worship. We also find copies of Sirach and Tobit. The Testament
of Moses and Psalms of Solomon, though not found among the DSS, may
well have originated in groups influenced by this tradition.
was the academic center for Essene scholarship and training. It also
functioned as something of a Sanhedrin in exile. Essenes believed
that the exile had not ended, and their way of keeping the law was
the only way of salvation. They vehemently opposed the Pharisees and
Idumeans were the descendants of Esau, known in the OT as Edomites.
Nabatean Arabs had moved into their territory southeast of Judea and
driven them out. In 164 BC Judas Maccabeus had opposed their advance
(1 Macc. 4:61). They now appealed for acceptance within the
southern borders of Judea, and John Hyrcanus agreed on condition that
they convert to Judaism.
John’s son Aristobulus I (104–103 BC) became high
priest, he had himself declared king as well as high priest. He
extended Hasmonean rule into Galilee.
Jewish works of this time, the book of Judith presents the plight of
pious Israelites in the guise of a godly woman. Laced with humor and
irony, it depicts the horror of Gentile power against the wisdom and
beauty of a woman who manages to decapitate the enemy. The book of
Baruch echoes much of Sirach, but it is difficult to date. The book
of 1 Maccabees was written to defend the claims of the Hasmonean
dynasty. It tells the story of events during the years 200–135
BC. Jason of Cyrene then wrote a history to refute Hasmonean claims
while still celebrating the accomplishments of the family in freeing
the Jews from Greek domination. Later his work would be abridged and
appear as 2 Maccabees, focusing closely on the Maccabean wars
Pharisees opposed the next king, Alexander Jannaeus, also known as
King Jonathan (r. 103–76 BC). When he appeared drunk in the
temple, the crowd pelted him with lemons, and he sent in his troops,
resulting in a massacre (Josephus, Ant. 13.372–73). He
crucified eight hundred Pharisees, slaughtering their families before
their eyes. When he died, his wife, Alexandra Salome (r. 76–67
BC), supported the Pharisees and was more conciliatory toward the
Samaritans. Her eldest son, Hyrcanus II, became high priest. The
Sadducees backed her younger son, Aristobulus II, who rebelled
and claimed both the throne and the high priesthood. At this point
the struggle between Pharisees and Sadducees developed into open
Rule (63 BC to the Birth of Jesus)
initial setbacks, Hyrcanus II obtained the support of Antipater,
the governor of Idumea. Antipater was an ambitious man, well placed
with the Romans. He called upon the Arabian king Aretas for help, and
together they defeated Aristobulus II in 65 BC. When the Roman
general Pompey defeated the last Seleucid king and made Syria a Roman
province, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus went to him. Pompey sided with
Hyrcanus, and the supporters of Aristobulus were finally routed from
the temple (63 BC). Priests were slaughtered in the fighting.
Aristobulus and his supporters went as prisoners to Rome. Thus ended
the independent Jewish state established by the Maccabees in 142 BC.
Pompey then ordered the cleansing of the temple and the reinstitution
of the sacrifices and the priesthood. Hyrcanus II served as high
priest until his death (40 BC).
Roman Empire soon entered a period of civil war as the republic came
to an end, with Julius Caesar defeating Pompey (48 BC). Just in time,
Antipater and Hyrcanus switched sides and appealed to Caesar to
forgive their initial alliance with Pompey, which he did. Antipater
was appointed procurator of Judea, and Hyrcanus II was confirmed
as high priest.
appointed his son Herod as governor of Galilee, in which position he
quickly had to deal with a bandit, Ezekiel, who terrorized the area.
With the defeat of these criminals (46 BC), Herod won the favor of
the Galilean people.
administration of Palestine came under the rule of the governor of
Syria, Sextus Caesar. In 46 BC Hyrcanus brought Herod to trial before
the Sanhedrin in an attempt to limit his power to interfere with
Jewish lifestyle and law, but the Syrian governor intervened, and the
high priest had to back down. Herod then moved his administration to
in Rome, having murdered Julius Caesar (44 BC), Cassius set up his
headquarters in Damascus and promised to make Herod king of Judea in
return for his support against Caesar’s heir, Octavian. In 42
BC Mark Antony defeated Cassius. Meanwhile, Herod maintained law and
order in Judea, for which the people were genuinely grateful, but he
continued to struggle with the Sanhedrin, which made unsuccessful
attempts to have him removed.
40 BC Persia took the opportunity presented by Rome’s civil
wars to invade Judea, entering into alliance with the last Hasmonean,
Antigonus. Herod fled while Antigonus was taken to Persia. Herod
returned to Palestine in 38 BC with Roman troops and quickly captured
Galilee and Jerusalem. With the execution of Antigonus, the Hasmonean
dynasty was finished. Herod then married Mariamne, the niece of
Antigonus, hoping that this would give him some legitimacy as king of
Judea and win him some popular support.
Pharisees continued to reject him as a non-Jewish collaborator with
the Romans. When the last male heir of the Hasmonean dynasty died (25
BC), Herod’s mother-in-law, Alexandra, forced Herod to appoint
her sixteen-year-old son, Aristobulus, as high priest. After the boy
drowned in Herod’s swimming pool, Alexandra had Herod called
before Mark Antony for trial. He was exonerated.
Octavian and Mark Antony went to war, Herod was caught in the middle.
Herod’s enemies, with Cleopatra’s support, attacked but
were driven back. With Antony’s defeat and the death of
Cleopatra, Herod went to Rhodes to reassure Octavian (Caesar
Augustus) of his loyalty and was confirmed again as king of Judea.
Upon his return, he accused his wife of adultery, and she was
promptly executed, followed shortly by her mother.
then went on a building spree of enormous proportions extending
beyond the borders of Judea, attempting to impress both his subjects
and Caesar. He built temples for Caesar and also started work on a
massive renovation and rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. As his
wives and sons began to position themselves to inherit the throne, he
became fearful of assassination and had many of his family executed.
died in 4 BC. His execution of the infant boys of Bethlehem (Matt.
2:16–18) was one of the last acts of his reign, consistent with
his increasingly desperate attempts to keep the throne.