By Josiah Blake Tidwell
From Malachi to The Birth of Christ.
The Close of the Old Testament History. We now come to the close of Old Testament history and prophecy. Ezra and Nehemiah were at Jerusalem, one the governor and the other the priest of the people. Jerusalem and the temple had been restored and the worship of Jehovah re-established. This was about 445 B. C. and Judea was still under Persian rule. From this date to the opening of New Testament history, a period of about four hundred years, there are no inspired records. Neither prophet nor inspired historian is found among the Jews and there is no further development of revealed religion. It was, however, a period of vast importance and the history of the chosen people may be traced from secular sources. For convenience the history of the period may be divided into four sections: (1) The Persian Period. (2) The Greek Period. (3) The Period of Independence. (4) The Roman Period.
The Persian Period. The Persians continued their rule over Judea a little more than one hundred years after the close of Old Testament history. But in 332 B. C. Alexander the Great was enthroned over the monarchy, then under Darius, and inaugurated the era of Grecian supremacy. During this period, however, little happened in Palestine that was of much interest.
Under the Rule of the Greek Kings. Alexander the Great seemed to have formed a good opinion of the Jews and granted them many special favors. He regarded them as good citizens and gave them privileges as first class citizens of Alexandria and encouraged them to settle throughout his empire. Upon his death his kingdom was broken up into four kingdoms (Macedonia, Thrace. Syria and Egypt) and Judea was alternately under the rule of Syria and Egypt. All Palestine was permeated with the influence of the Greek language and philosophy. It was while Judea was under the rule of Ptolemy of Egypt that the Septuagint version of the Old Testament was made. This made possible the reading of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Greek language and was one of the greatest missionary works of all times.
The Period of Independence. In 170 B.C. Antiochus Epiphiones began to oppress the Jews in an attempt to force them into idolatry and about 167 B.C. Judas Maccabeus began to lead a revolt which two years later was successful in throwing off the foreign yoke and establishing the independence of the Jews. They were now governed by a succession of rulers from the Maccabean family for a period of one hundred years. These rulers performed the double function of both civil and ecclesiastical head of the people. They were descendants of David and under their leadership Edom, Samaria and Galilee were added to their territory and much of the splendor and wealth of the golden days of the kingdom was restored.
The Roman Period. This period may be said to have begun in B.C. 63 and to have extended to A.D. 70. In B.C. 63 Pompey overran Palestine, destroyed Jerusalem and brought the Jews under Roman rule. By this conquest Jewish independence was forever lost. In B.C. 37 Herod the Great was appointed by the Roman emperor to the position of ruler of Palestine. In B.C. 20-18 he rebuilt the temple at Jerusalem, though it (all the buildings and walls) was not finished until many years after his death. He also built the temple of Samaria and continued to reign until Christ came and much longer.
The Entire Period. This entire period spans the time from the history of Nehemiah and the prophecy of Malachi to the coming of the Messiah. It opens with the Persian empire supreme and closes with Augustus Caesar as the head of Rome, the mistress of the world. When Jesus came Herod the Great governed Palestine and all the world was at peace.
The End of the Period. There are many points of view from which to study the conditions existing at the close of this period. But for our purpose it will probably suffice to consider (1) some signs of decadence or defects; (2) some hopeful signs. The facts touching these matters are to be gathered not only from secular history but from the life and work of Jesus as they are seen at work either for or against the progress of his work. (1) Unpropitious conditions. Among the signs of decadence or errors that needed correction should be noted: (a) There was a defective view of God. They regarded God as too far away; (b) They laid too much stress upon outward obedience and, thereby, left no place for motive in their service; (c) This led them to rest salvation upon a system of works and to multiply rules of obedience; (d) This led to too great demand for respect for the learned and of subordination to them; (e) The Jews thought that they had a special place in the salvation of God and as children of Abraham only felt the need of national deliverance. (2) Hopeful signs. Several conditions that bespeak good should be noted: (a) The Jews did have the truest conception of religion to be found anywhere in the world; (b) Their religion was a matter of deep concern to them and they showed an undying devotion to their religious institutions; (c) There was a keen sense of the worth of the individual; (d) There were many synagogues which led to a zeal to proselyte foreigners and opened the way for Gentile evangelism; (e) There was a widespread expectation of the Messiah whom the whole world could receive as its spiritual king; (f) The home life of the Jews was strongly religious and children were held in high esteem.
For Study and Discussion. (1) The career of Alexander the Great. (2) The reign of Ptolemy Soter and Ptolemy Philadelphus in Egypt. (3) The acts of Antiochus Epiphanes. (4) The story of Judas Maccabeus. (5) The story of the subjection of Judea to Rome. (6) The persecution of the Jews under the several rulers of the different countries to which they were subject during this period. (7) The religious parties of the period, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Literature. The information necessary to understand these topics may be found in any one of the better Bible dictionaries, in Josephus and more or less in text books on Biblical history such as Blakie.