430 to 5/4 B. C. Part 1
The four hundred years between the Testaments is often thought of as the silent age of Israel’s history. This is especially true for Protestant Christians because their Bibles do not include the two apocryphal books of the Maccabees that record many of the events of this period. There is also a great deal of this four hundred year history that is tucked away in the Book of Daniel. One might be tempted just to skip over this period, thinking that it is of no value. It is essential, though, as a background for New Testament studies. This period between the Testaments might be regarded as an age of transition in the Bible lands – a time when predominantly Jewish ways were gradually eclipsed by Greek culture, language, and philosophy. This period of wide and drastic change sets the stage for the New Testament period.
Persian Decline 424 – 331 B. C.
Following the death of Artaxerxes I (464 – 424 B. C.), the Persian Empire was ruled by less able men and entered a period of decline. Artaxerxes is the ruler who appointed Nehemiah as governor of Judah. Darius II (424 – 404 B. C.) faced revolt in the more remote districts of his empire – Syria, Lydia, Media and Egypt. Artaxerxes II ruled from 404 – 358 B. C., and made two unsuccessful attempts to reassert Persian sovereignty over Egypt. Artaxerxes III (358 – 338 B. C.) marched on Egypt and reconquered it, but he was poisoned by a member of his court.
In addition to all the internal revolts, Persia faced an outside threat from the Greeks who were settled on the shores of the Aegean Sea. Persia anticipated the threat and made two attempts to conquer Greece during a ten year span, but failed on both attempts. By the middle of the next century, Philip of Macedon had united the Greek cities under his rule as a preliminary measure to the goal of bringing the entire Mediterranean world under Greek control. When Philip was murdered in 336 B. C., his 20 year old son Alexander was elevated to leadership. Alexander was a student of Aristotle and was convinced of the superiority of the Greek way of life. He also shared his father’s dream of uniting the whole Mediterranean world under one banner.
Daniel had envisioned this as the “large horn” of the male goat coming from the west. Alexander and an army of 35,000 crossed the Dardanelles from Macedonia into Asia in 334 B. C. He first fought the Persians who governed Asia Minor and defeated them soundly on the banks of the Granicus River. He then advertised himself as their liberator from Pro-Persian rule and gained possession of the Greek cities on the coast of Asia Minor. He then met Darius III and his army in 333 B. C. at Issus, the strategic pass at the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea. Darius was defeated, but escaped with his life and fled east.
Instead of pursuing the defeated Persian ruler, Alexander marched south to attack Phoenicia, Palestine, and Egypt. By 332 B. C., he had besieged and conquered Tyre and Gaza, two of the cities that had fought violently against him. According to Josephus, Alexander visited Jerusalem and the high priest showed him Daniel’s prophecy where he was destined to conquered Persia. Alexander then advanced to Egypt, which he took with little difficulty. After wintering there, he marched north through Palestine, crossed the Tigris, and met the last of Darius’ troops at Gaugamela. Once again Darius was defeated and fled.
Alexander then proceeded to occupy Persia’s royal cities – Babylon, Susa, Persepolis, Pasargadae, and Ecbatana. Darius III was killed by his own men, which marked the end of his Persian Dynasty, and the beginning of Greek rule in Asia Minor. Alexander was to endure skirmishes with other Persian rulers and dissension among his own generals, though.
Greek Rule 330 – 167 B. C.
After the death of Darius III, Alexander continued his march through eastern Persia and prepared to invade India. He reached the Indus River and turned south, expecting to be met by supply ships on the coast of the Indian Ocean. None appeared. After much suffering, the bedraggled army returned to Babylon in 323 B. C. having conquered the then known world. Alexander the Great died in Babylon in June of that year. He was only 32 years old. In a mere 12 years, Alexander had conquered the vast majority of the whole then-known world.
His premature death left his vast empire without a leader, though. He had two heirs – his brother Philip, and his child by Roxana, a Bactrian princess. The real power resided in the hands of the generals, though, and the heirs were thrust aside. After this there arose a vast struggle between those who desired to keep the empire intact and those who wanted to divide it. After much internal fighting, the empire was divided among Alexander’s four general. When the dust settled, Ptolemy held Egypt and Palestine; Seleucis controlled the vast region from Phrygia to the Indus River, including Syria; Lysimachus ruled the regions of Thrace and Bithynia; and Cassander held Macedonia. Palestine fell first to control of the Ptolemies to the south, and then by the Seleucids to the North.
Ptolemaic Rule 301 – 198 B. C.
Ptolemy ruled Egypt and Palestine from Alexandria in northern Egypt. This city had been founded in 322 B. C. by Alexander the Great. During the early period of Ptolemaic rule, the Jews in Palestine lived in relative peace. They were poor, but were treated well, and the Jewish high priest was allowed to serve as governing officer and legal administrator. It was in Egypt during this period that the Jewish Scriptures were translated into Greek (Septuagint) for the benefit of those Jews who no longer spoke or read Hebrew. At this time there was mostly peace during the land, but later the Seleucid rulers to the north were more aggressive in their desires to control Palestine because it was the much-coveted land bridge between the continents. Four Syrian wars resulted, and the bloody contest was brought to an end in 198 B. C. when Antiochus III met and defeated the Ptolemaic forces at Panias (Caesarea Philippi). The Seleucid army drove the Ptolemaic forces back to Egypt, and Palestine was brought under Seleucid control.
Seleucid Rule 198 – 167 B. C.
This rule of Palestine was directed from Antioch, on the Orontes River. With the southern border of Syria secured by his victories over the Ptolemies, Antiochus III turned his attention westward. In 196 B. C., Antiochus invaded Greece, but the controlling Romans retaliated and defeated him in 190 B. C. Antiochus signed a treaty requiring him to give up all of Asia Minor and most of his military forces. This defeat caused Antiochus III and the sons who succeeded him (Seleucus IV and Antiochus IV) to recognize the necessity of strengthening themselves in anticipation of future confrontation with Rome.
Antiochus IV (175 – 163 B. C.) is recognized as one of the most infamous characters affecting Jewish history. His character and activities are talked about in the book of Daniel. When he took power, he sought to unify the people under his rule through Hellenization. This involved adoption of the Greek language, philosophy and religion. He laid claim to divine kingship and began to encourage that he be worshiped as the incarnation of Zeus. He took the name Epiphanes, which meant “God manifest”. His enemies perverted the name to Epimanes, which meant “madman”. He believed that the majority of the Jewish people living in Palestine were ready to accept Hellenism. For a money gift and pledge to support the Hellenization of Jerusalem, he killed Onias III and installed his brother Jason as high priest. Soon Jason lost his position, though, to another person who outbid him in bribes for the position.
In 170 B. C. Antiochus invaded Egypt, which was prophesied in Daniel 11: 25. He defeated Ptolemy VI, and proclaimed himself king at Memphis. He was besieging Alexandria when he learned that Jason had tried to capture Jerusalem. Antiochus then marched to Jerusalem and captured it back.
After he returned to Egypt in 168 B. C., he was confronted by a Roman commander near Alexandria and was compelled to withdraw. He was extremely bitter about this humiliating defeat and returned to Jerusalem where he took out his bitterness on the Jews by slaughtering many of them. Daniel 11 describes these events. Antiochus was totally about to completely dominate the Jews and in 167 B. C. dedicated the temple in Jerusalem to the worship of Zeus by sacrificing a sow on the holy altar. These were dark days for God’s people as the order went out from Antiochus that the Jews must from now on make all their sacrifices to Zeus, a heathen god.
The revolt of the Jews will be covered in the next text. Below is a map of the exploits of Antiochus IV.