The time-span between the Old Testament and the New Testament is about 470 years, and is generally known as the ‘Intertestamental Times’. This time-span is sometimes referred to by Bible students as the ‘silent years’ because the Bible does not cover this period of history. However, it is not a good description; the Intertestamental Times were anything but silent.
The interesting historical events that occurred during these years had a significant bearing on two aspects of the life and times recorded and reflected the Bible’s New Testament:
1. The thoughts and expectations of the Jews regarding their prophesied coming Messiah
2. The reason the early Christian church was able to expand so rapidly
Therefore a brief look at what happened during this period is enormously helpful in understanding the ‘HOWs & WHYs’ of the New Testament.
For instance, a far brighter spotlight shines on why such tension existed between the Jews and the Romans, and why such contempt existed between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Also a clearer picture emerges for the reason the Jews were expecting a completely different kind of Messiah.
And so this part of history actually forms an important part of the continuum of the Bible story, from Genesis right through to Revelation
The Story of What Happened
1. UNDER THE PERSIAN EMPIRE (539-330 BC)
The Persian Empire defeated the
Babylonian Empire in 539 BC, and under King Cyrus of
2. UNDER THE GREEK EMPIRE (330-63 BC)
In 336 BC a remarkable young
Although Alexander was tolerant towards the Jews, his campaign of Hellenisation threatened to undermine the (now extremely precious) traditions and culture of the Jewish people.
In fact, it had the effect of causing a division among the Jews themselves. The more secular Jews saw the far-reaching trade advantage in this unification, and wanted to embrace much of the Hellenistic culture. This group became known as the ‘Hellenists’. The others, the ‘Hasidim’, were deeply aware that their Jewish culture was God-given, and saw the dangers of diluting their own customs that were part-and-parcel of their unique religion. Over the years the division deepened as both sides clung ever more tightly to their standpoint.
The schematic diagram shows this division, also the divisions that sprung from both sides. (Click the button at the end of the page, to see which line the Pharisees and Sadducees came from.)
Back to the story . . . Alexander
had no heirs to his throne, and after his death in 323 BC, his empire was
divided among his four generals, and the Hellenisation continued. Two of these generals founded dynasties that
profoundly affected the lives of the Jewish people – the Ptolemies in
Initially, the Jews were ruled by
the Ptolemies in
Meanwhile, the conflicts continued
You will find a description of this in the Apocrypha (1 Maccabees Chapter 1). It is also interesting to compare this with Daniel’s prophecy in the Bible (Daniel 11:21-22; 29-32; 36).
The cruelty of Antiochus Epiphanes,
together with this final sacrilege, outraged the Jews and brought about the
patriotic revolt in 166 BC led by Judas Maccabaeus*. After a long struggle, Judas Maccabaeus
and his followers eventually rid the
* Judas Maccabaeus:
The Greek word Makkabaios means ‘The Hammer’. It was a nick-name given to Judas by the Greeks because of his incredible persistence.
You will find an example of what Judas Maccabaeus and his freedom fighters were up against in the Apocrypha (1 Maccabees 6:32-40).
These passionate and zealous battles became known as the Maccabean Wars, and the victory of the Maccabees allowed the Jews to once again rule themselves as an independent state under the Greeks until 63 BC.
Following the Maccabean Wars, the Jewish high priests continued to be the leaders of the Jewish people, until one such leader, Aristobulus, claimed the title of king which began a succession of ‘priest-kings’ known as the Hasmoneans*.
Aristobulus, also Judas Maccabaeus’ family name was Hasmon - hence the line of ‘Hasmoneans’.
3. UNDER THE ROMAN EMPIRE (63 BC – AD 324)
The Hasmonean dynasty ended when the
expanding Roman Empire conquered the crumbling remains of the Seleucid Empire
At various times during this period sporadic groups of zealous Jews caused small uprisings, and made attempts to rid their people of the Romans by trying to imitate the heroic actions of Judas Maccabaeus. In order to gain a faithful following, many leaders of these groups claimed to be the Messiah, sent to free the Jews. But all these small uprisings were quickly put down by the Romans.
For a short time during this period,
the Jews were again ruled by a king.
But . . . the king (Herod the Great) was a non-Jew. He was an Edomite
(a traditional bitter enemy of the Jews), who was appointed by the Senate in
The Greek and Roman
Herod the Great* implemented a programme of constructing many grand buildings
in and around
* Herod the Great:
There were two Herod’s during the time of Jesus – Herod the Great, and then his son, Herod Antipas. It was Herod Antipas who imprisoned and killed John the Baptist, and who also sent Jesus back to Pilate before Jesus’ crucifixion.
This was the point in time, when God’s real Messiah (a Messiah quite unlike anyone they were expecting) entered human history. But God’s perfect plan also had perfect timing. And it was this perfect timing that enabled the initial spread of the Gospel to be carried to the rest of the known world so quickly. But what made it such perfect timing?
Click the right-hand link below to see how God used the course of history.
Back to overview of the New Testament
(Literature from this time)
How the course of history was used