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The Missing Four Hundred Years.

You decide to read the Bible through from Genesis to Malachi This time you want to read it in chronological order, not in the order in which the books appear in the Hebrew Scriptures, nor in the order in which they were written, but the order in which the events and people actually appear on the stage of time.

And so you do. You have a little problem sorting out the sequence of the "minor" prophets, but eventually you do. And you find that the last four books -- chronologically -- are actually Malachi (c. 460 BCE), Ezra/Nehemiah (c. 445 BCE), and Joel (c. 400 BCE).

In Malachi you read that beautiful conversation between Man and God, and you read that God is going to send a messenger ahead of the Messiah. You read that the messenger will be Elijah. (Christians believe that Elijah did come back in the body of John the Baptist, who they believe baptized Jesus as the Messiah.)

You trace Ezra as he brings back the third migration of the Israelites from Babylon in the years 464-463 BCE. Then Nehemiah brings back the last two migrations in 404 and 358 BCE. Finally you read the small book of Joel -- written about 400 BCE -- and read the immortal words: "Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions."

So you finish Joel -- and your study of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Or have you?

You do wonder--briefly--what happened to the prophecies of those sons and daughters. But then you say, well, I guess nothing happened worth recording in those 400 years from the time of Joel to the Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 66 CE and the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.


Oh, yes, lots of things happened during those 400 years.

But before we take a look at what actually did happen in those four hundred years, let's make two quick flashbacks. Over 600 years earlier, the Israelites thought that Josiah might be the Messiah, but he died in battle at Megiddo (Armageddon in the Christian book of Revelation) in 608 BCE, and his successors -- and God -- let him stay dead. Eighty-seven years later -- in 521 BCE, at the time of the second migration from Babylon back to Palestine -- they thought that Zerubbabel might be the Messiah, but he "went to sleep with his ancestors" without showing any signs of being the Promised One. God seemed to be saying: "The world isn't ready yet. Give it -- and Me -- a little more time!"

So, during those 400 years, what did happen, and how do we know what happened? We must go to three main sources: extra-Biblical history, the apocryphal books, and the pseudepigrapha.

In the recorded history of that time we run into many familiar names: Alexander the Great, Aristotle, Plato, Ptolemy, Josephus Flavius, Philo, Seleucus, Antiochus, the Maccabees, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Herod the Great, Jesus, and many others.

Be patient now as we define the "Apocrypha" and the "Pseudepigrapha." We'll slide gracefully over all the arguments, claims, counterclaims, and infighting that both Christians and Jews endured while establishing what was what, which was which, and look at the "final" results.

The apocryphal books are those that are not considered by either Jews or Christians as belonging in the Hebrew canon -- which most Christians call the Old Testament to contrast it with their "New Testament" (the four gospels, Paul's letters, and other writings). That is, they are not accepted as inspired scripture and therefore are not considered of equal importance with 39 books formally accepted as belonging in that canon. Some examples are the books of the Maccabees, The Rest of Esther, Judith, Tobit, and Baruch. The Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church ("Greek Orthodox") have accepted them as canonical, and you'll find them in their versions of the Bible. But during the Protestant Reformation, all those books were deemed non-canonical, or "apocryphal," and not worthy of inclusion in what Protestants and Jews can read when they read their Bible. They remain so today, are seldom included in Protestant versions, and never in the Hebrew Bible. I believe they should be, but that's another story!

The pseudepigrapha are those ancient Jewish writings that are not accepted as canonical by either Catholics, Protestants, or Jews. They include, for example, the writings of Philo of Alexandria, the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, the Sayings of the Fathers, and the Story of Ahikar. Many of the pseudepigraphical writings have been found only recently, as in the caves of Qumran.

With all this in mind, what I'd like to do is to fuse those three sources into a coherent story of what happened in Palestine during that 400-year hiatus.

Our story begins in Macedonia in the year 338 BCE. While the Jews in Palestine were reestablishing and consolidating their place there -- and putting the final touches to the Second Temple -- Philip of Macedonia had taken advantage of the declining Greek Empire and seized control of all Greece. But then he was assassinated in 336, bringing to the throne the 20-year-old Alexander III, soon be known as the "Great." Alexander's rotor was Aristotle, who, in turn, had been a student of Plato. Alexander set about enlarging his father's kingdom. In 333, he led his troops to Persia (modern Iran) and easily defeated that country, which was declining under the uninspired leadership of Darius III.

Alexander followed this up with the conquest of Palestine and Egypt. Then he marched east into Babylon, Parthia (modern Afghanistan), and India, and conquered them all. Now he wept, lamenting: "There are no more worlds to conquer." On his return trip to Macedonia, he fell in in Ecbatana, Parthia, and died. He was 33. However, he had introduced Greek culture to the east; it was very attractive and widely adopted, even by many Jews. But the writer of Maccabees stands aghast at the gymnasia, because athletes performed in the nude. And the majority of Jews still regarded this Hellenism as nature worship and deplored it.

Why is this important to our understanding of the four-century hiatus? Because of what followed Alexander's death. Four of his generals fought for mastery for 20 years; none succeeded. So in 301 BCE, the empire was divided into four parts: Macedonia was "given" to Cassander; Thrace and Asia Minor to Lysimachus; Syria and Babylon to Seleucus; and Egypt to Ptolemy.

We can now do as the writers of the book of the Maccabees have done and skip lightly over almost 150 years of history to the early second century BCE. The Jews in Palestine were living peacefully, without prophets, without kings, without judges -- but also without much interference in their lives from outside rulers. In Egypt, the descendants of the original general, Ptolemy I, continued their rule, all of their rulers being called Ptolemy. (Their wives were all called Cleopatra.) During the reign of Philadelphus, 70 (some say 72) Greek-Hebrew scholars in Alexandria (Egypt) translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, so that the Jews who now spoke Greek as their native tongue could read the scriptures in their own language. This translation was called the Septuagint and was used for centuries as the Bible for Greek-speaking Jews. (As late as 383 CE, Jerome, a Christian, used it when he began translating the Hebrew Bible into Latin.) In Western Asia, the descendants of Seleucus continued their more or less benign rule, their rulers all being called either Seleucus or Antiochus.

But then, in 223 BCE, Antiochus III began a vicious campaign to restore all of the original empire of Alexander the Great to Seleucid control. By 187, he had conquered Egypt and Judea. He was assassinated in 187 and was succeeded by his oldest son, Seleucus IV Philopater, but he, too, was assassinated, in 176 or 175.

Now the fun really began. Antiochus IV gained the throne. He called himself "Epiphanes," a Greek word "God manifest." In 170, he returned to Jerusalem, invaded the holy sanctuary of the Temple and stripped it of everything: the golden altar, the lampstand, the offering table, and everything else made of gold or silver. Two years later, he sent his forces again, attacked the city, and took the women and children captive. He built strong towers and a massive wall. The Temple Mount became the conqueror's citadel.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes then ordered his whole kingdom to be Greek in customs, language, religion, everything. He built pagan altars, temples, and shrines. The Jews were prohibited from burning holocausts, offering sacrifices and libations in the holy sanctuary, and circumcising their infants. Anyone who refused to obey was put to death. Mothers caught with circumcised infants were killed, along with their children.

The final desecration -- predicted by Daniel (Daniel 9:27) -- was to invade the Holy Sanctuary again. He erected the "horrible abomination" upon the sacred altar of holocausts. (This abomination is thought to have been a statue of Zeus with the face of Antiochus IV.) Then, according to legend, he offered swine as a holocaust on the holy altar.

Meanwhile, in the village of Modein, 17 miles northwest of Jerusalem, there lived a priest by the name of Mattathias. He had five sons, all of whom were prominent in the ensuing revolt, and three of whom would die. When they heard about the desecration in Jerusalem, they tore their garments and put on sackcloth.

Officers of the king spread out over his entire kingdom. One came to Modein with a contingent of soldiers to enforce Antiochus's edict. Mattathias and his sons refused to bow down and sacrifice to foreign gods. Most of the inhabitants followed their lead. But one Jew did step forward toward the altar and prostrated himself in obeisance. Mattathias killed him. Vastly outnumbered by the enraged Jews, the officer and soldiers left, promising to return with an enlarged army.

Mattathias, his sons, their families, and many thousands of others fled into the mountains. The armies of Antiochus did return and began to hunt down the refugees. On one sabbath day, they surrounded a group of a thousand, and when the Jews refused to fight on the sabbath, all of them were slaughtered -- men, women, and children.

Mattathias, too old to actually fight, nevertheless began to organize a resistance movement. This was in 167 BCE. At first, they acted as a guerrilla force, striking from ambush in small parties, tearing down pagan altars, and harshly punishing any Jews found obeying the orders of Antiochus. But when Mattathias died in 166, the brothers, under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus ("The Hammer"), organized a formal army and began to attack the Syrians systematically. One of the first places they headed for was the Citadel in Jerusalem. They laid siege to it and after two years captured it.

They were now able to purify the Temple -- predicted in Daniel 7:25. Judas Maccabeus ordered eight days of celebration and sacrifice, initiating the Feast of Dedication, still celebrated by Jews as Chanukah.

But the war was not over. In fact, it had barely begun and would go on for another 22 years. Judas could see that this was going to be a long battle. When Antiochus enlisted his allies in the attempt to put down the insurrection, Judas engaged two strange bedfellows to help drive out the Syrians. He persuaded the Egyptians -- long-time enemies of the Syrians -- to help. Then, shortly after the rededication of the Temple in 164, he sent trusted officers to Rome with a petition. The Romans, just beginning to consolidate and to solidify their empire, gladly entered into a treaty of mutual aid with the Israelites. Their legions therefore were actually invited to intervene by the Jews, initiating what would soon become a formal occupation that would last for over 300 years.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes died in 163, but his successors -- Antiochus V Eupater and the infamous Demetrius -- continued the war and even escalated it. We don't need to add much more to the details of this war, but we should honor the heroes of it, the five sons of Mattathias. Eleazar Avaram died in 163, crushed by a Syrian elephant under which he had crawled to stab it in the belly with his sword. In 160,Judas "The Hammer" Maccabeus was killed in battle against the forces of Demetrius. His brother, Jonathan Apphus, the youngest of the brothers, was given the command of the Judean armies. He expanded Judas's conquests and eventually controlled all of Judea. In 159, he sent his brother, John Gaddi, to Petra to seek help from the Arab Nabateans, but en route John was ambushed, abducted, and later killed. This left just two brothers alive, Jonathan Apphus and Simon Thassi.

In 152, Jonathan was installed as high priest, forming a strong opposition party to the descendants of Aaron. His new line was called Hasmonean, a name coined by Josephus Flavius a century-and-a-half later, honoring Asamonaio, Mattathias's great grandfather.

War and peace alternated until 142 BCE, when "the yoke of the Gentiles was removed from Israel." (1 Maccabees 13:41) In 141, the Temple was again consecrated and rededicated, the first permanent occupation by the Jews since Sennacherib had attacked and burned Solomon's Temple 445 years earlier.

Jonathan reigned as spiritual leader of Judea for ten years, until he was assassinated in 142. Simon Thassi became the second Hasmonean priest, but in 135, he too was assassinated. He was succeeded by his son John, who later was known as Hyrcanus I, and who reigned for 31 years, until 104. Hyrcanus I consolidated Jewish control over Samaria and Idumea (ancient Edom, southeast of the Dead Sea) and forced those people to become Jews by religion. (King Herod the Great was Idumean and a Jew by religion.) Hyrcanus had become a Sadducee in spirit -- upper-class, conservative, worldly, agnostic, and urbane. The Revolution had become the Establishment.

The Seleucid empire, dating from the first Seleucid king w the Seleucus who was one of the four generals who divided up Alexander's kingdom -- effectively died in 135 BCE, when Antiochus VII overplayed his hand, invaded Persia, and was killed there. Judea now entered a half-century of prosperity and glory. When Hyrcanus died in 104, his son took over and founded a dynasty strong enough to deserve a king, the first one since Solomon's First Temple had been destroyed almost five centuries earlier.

It was a short half century. In 63 BCE, Pompey invaded Judea and ended the Maccabean monarchy. Pompey died in a civil war with Julius Caesar. Caesar himself was assassinated in 44 BCE. Antipater, Rome's puppet ruler in Judea, was assassinated in 43 BCE. Five years later, Antipater's son Herod (later to be called "The Great") persuaded Mark Antony to make him king of Judea. With Roman arms, he took Jerusalem. He cleared the decks, so to speak, by executing the remaining male Maccabeans, as well as his second wife because she was Idumean. He married eight times after that.

So, in 6 BCE, when Jesus was born, we come full circle. The Greeks are gone. The Seleucids are gone. The Romans have become the World Power and rule the known world, including Palestine. The Jews are now looking for -- desperately awaiting -- the Messiah. Their Messiah will restore the Kingdom of David. The Jews know full well that their King Herod is Idumean, not of the line of David. Christians believe Jesus was the Messiah.

In 66 CE, the Jews revolted against Roman rule. They were ruthlessly suppressed, culminating in effect with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The revolt simmered until 72, when the final remnant of the revolt was crushed with the siege and capture of Masada.

So this is a brief summary of what happened in those missing 400 years.

J. BIRNEY DIBBLE, M.D., a graduate of the University of Illinois medical school, served as chief of surgery in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before undertaking missionary service in overseas hospitals, including in East Africa, Guam, Saudi Arabia, Liberia, Belize, Honduras, Niger, and Ecuador: He is now writing full time and has had six books published in addition to almost a hundred short stories, articles, and essays.
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Title Annotation:biblical chronology, between book of Joel (c. 400 BCE) and Jewish Revolt against the Romans (66 CE)
Author:Dibble, J. Birney
Article Type:Chronology
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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