The Three Periods of Rule
Greek Rule 331-167 BC
The Greek Rule Period includes the rule of Alexander the Great from 331-320 BC, the Ptolemies rule from 320-198 BC and the Seleucid or Syrian rule from 198-167 BC. These three rules set the scene for control of the land through many defeats and victories. The most significant influence that needs to be noted is that the impact of this rule was the spread of Greek culture, also known as ‘Hellenization.’
Prior to the Greek rule, worth mentioning as a precursor is that Israel was under the control of the Persian Empire; and the Persians were tolerant and allowed the Jews to practice their religion and rebuild their temple. This continued into the first 100 years of the Intertestamental Period.
Alexander the Great from 331-320 BC
Opening the stage for the Intertestamental Period was Alexander the Great. At age 20 in 334 BC , Alexander the Great was the King of Macedon as he rose to the throne once belonging to his father Philip. Philip was assassinated by Pausanias. Alexander was “arguably the most successful military commander of all time.” His key conflicts included the conquest of the Persian Empire and the invasion of India. Alexander first occupied Persian-ruled Asia Minor and from that point forward he initiated a series of crusades that lasted slightly over a decade. Alexander crumbled the authority of Persia in a sequence of decisive encounters; most notable were the battles of Issus and Gaugamela . He successively overthrew the Persian King Darius III and dominated the entirety of the Persian Empire. At that point, his empire stretched from the Adriatic Sea to the Indus River.
Seeking to reach the "ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea" , he headed toward India in 326 BC, but was eventually forced to turn back at the revolt of his troops. Alexander’s influence covered over “70 cities and created an empire that stretched across three continents and covered over two million square miles.” Although Alexander was unable to conquer India in its totality, he was able to insert true “world commerce from Spain to India, and beyond through Central Asia to China.”
Alexander’s rule did however affect the Jews in a precocious way. Alexander was well liked by the Jews as they thought highly of him as a student of Aristotle. Alexander made a pact with the Jews as where if they stayed loyal to him and paid their taxes, they could stay autonomous. With much gratitude toward Alexander, the Jews agreed to name every first born son over the next year ‘Alexander’, which is why the name in this common day is still a popular Jewish name. This also opened the door for Jews to tap into the Greek names for child naming, which these names are found in the Talmud. The adverse acts of Alexander’s rule came when Alexander died. The Jews agreed to enter into a tax collection system which led to great corruption, the Talmud speaks to this as a “tax collector is a thief.” “This terribly pernicious system destroyed the morale of the Jewish community in the time of the Greeks long after Alexander was gone.” With Alexander’s death came chaos, especially to the Jews. “For the next 130 years the Jews people bounced back and forth between the north and south territory, as the North attempted to pursue the Jews by force and the South attempted to win the Jews over by persuasion and culture. Both failed as the Jews resisted.”
Although the Jews endured chaos and persecution after the death of Alexander, Alexander positively directly affected the first century world of the New Testament. The terrestrial mass that Alexander controlled or influenced was critical to the New Testament world. Alexander the Great had influence over what contributed to the birth of Christianity due to the large land mass he acquired and the Greek (Hellenistic) culture that he instilled in so many people. The two factors of great land mass and instilling Greek culture helped develop a foundation for a culture to flourish, although this did not happen with ease.
“Alexander the Great placed his stamp onto the history of nations as the precursor of Christ, since he: brought the Hellenic civilization to the East, established the Greek language as the only common tongue of communication amongst all the nations of the then known world, which was used as a vehicle to promulgate Christianity, that addressed peace and love between nations and condemned racial discrimination and declared religious freedom.”
“One outcome and result of Alexander's vision and achievements, is the fact that during the year 285 BC, the Old Testament was translated in Greek. This Greek translation is the formal text used in East and West. The New Testament was also written in Greek. This kind of scholarship, which was spread in the East, had its origins in Macedonia. It is also through Macedonia that Christianity was carried to Europe and to the rest of the then known world. Apostle Paul, influenced by the endeavors of Alexander the Great and his Successors, accepted the Greek intellect and teachings and he began spreading Christianity first in the city of Philippi, in Macedonia .”
“The historical significance of the Greek intellect, which during the Hellenistic years was epitomized by the Macedonians, it is crystallized in Chap. 12th, par. 20-23 of the Gospel, According to John, when Philip and Andrew, Christ's Disciples, said to the Lord that the Greeks came to see Him; Jesus answered them: "The time has come, for the Son of Man to be glorified". Christ's statement in reference to the events that would follow about His Own glorification and the glorification of Christianity, clearly prescribed the historical significance and the role that Hellenism played in conveying Christianity to the world.”
The above principles can be further noted by the following arguments: The Prophets of Israel not only foreshadowed about Alexander the Great, but Alexander's advent to Jerusalem indicated the encounter of Hellenism with Judaism and the meeting of monotheism with the pagan religion of the ancient world, which in reality prepared the world's transition to Christianity.
Ptolemies Rule Period from 320-198 BC
Following Alexander’s death c. 322 BC, his four general’s struggled for control of the empire. Palestine was taken in 301 BC by Ptolemy, whom had gained Egypt as his share of Alexander’s empire. The Ptolemies rule consisted of Ptolemy I, II and III. “All rulers of Egypt bore the name ‘Ptolemy’ regardless of actual descent.” The administration was “controlled and was run carefully and economically.” Ptolemy could not avoid involvement in battle and war, but his best to keep things to a minimum.
“It was however Ptolemy who brought Palestine and the Jews under the dominion of the Ptolemies. After the death of Alexander the Great Cœle-Syria and Judea were apportioned to Laomedon, but Ptolemy I. took them from this weak prince—as Josephus maintains, at least as regards Jerusalem by deception as well as by persuasion. Ptolemy appeared before the city (320 B.C.), pretending that he wished to sacrifice, and seized it on a Sabbath, a day on which the Jews did not fight. As authority for this statement Agatharchides of Cnidus, a Greek author, is cited by Josephus ("Contra Ap." i., § 22; more briefly in "Ant." xii. 1, § 1; comp. Müller, "Fragmenta Historicorum Græcorum," iii. 196; T. Reinach," Textes d' Auteurs Grecs et Romains Relatifs au Judaïsme," i. 42). On this occasion Ptolemy I. is said to have taken many captives from Jerusalem and from the rest of Judea as well as from Samaria, and to have settled them in Egypt.”
In the grand scheme of things, the Jews were content, for as long as their taxes were paid, Ptolemy let them be. They did demonstrate loyalty to the administration as they later followed Ptolemy into Egypt. Ptolemy’s passion was to the arts, more so than battles, war and acquiring land. Inspired by Aristotle, Ptolemy developed a museum and a library. He was not interested in just bringing together the greatest collections; he wanted to inspire learning, “as the world had ever known.”
This passion of learning and creating a learning environment for all, that Ptolemy strived for so fervently transcended to Ptolemy II. This transcended passion was beneficial for the Jews and Christians alike, as “Ptolemy II sponsored the translation of the Hebrew Bible, now known as the Septuagint and abbreviated LXX.” This was a great contribution to the New Testament, as most of the New Testament authors were Jews by birth, but they wrote in Greek. This was paramount when the New Testament was being formed, as the authors used the Septuagint to quote from, as well as used the text as a testimony to Jesus. Examples of the quotes can be found in 1 Peter 4:18, Romans 11:34, Hebrew 13:6, Matthew 13:15 and many others. The testimony to Jesus can be seen in the foreshadowing of the text as well as to understand Jesus; you must understand the Old Testament. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me. (John 5:39 ESV)
Seleucid Rule Period from 198-167 BC
In 197 BC the Ptolemaic rule gave way to the Syrian based Seleucid rule, although his didn’t fully take place until many battles and war were fought previously. The Syrian war marked the beginning of the challenge between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids in 274 BC. “The Seleucid Empire began when Seleucos I, one of Alexander the Great's former favorite companions was given the satrapy (governorship) of Babylon in the second division of the empire in 321 BC.” However in 312 BC Seleucos conquers Babylon and founds the Seleucid dynasty. By 304 BC the Dynasty is now the rule of Mesopotamia.
“Initially the Jews were allowed to retain their native laws and customs; however when Antiochus IV (175-64 BC) took control he took bribes of money in exchange so the King could introduce Greek institutions into Jerusalem” “His program of aggressive Hellenization outraged the Jews.” However, Antiochus IV was mild compared to what took place after the death of Onias III. Onias, the name for the Jewish High priests: Onias I, II, III and IV as well as Menelaus, it was Menelaus who not only assassinated Onias III, but became a major proponent of Hellenization and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem. His actions contributed to the Maccabean revolt. Another chief family amongst the Jews was the Tobiads. “Joseph, the Tobiad, was one of the heads of the Jewish people. In Jerusalem his influence was paramount, not only because of his relationship to the high-priestly family, but also because of his decent and great wealth.”
“When Onias had refused to pay his taxes to the royal treasury, and had thereby incurred the wrath of the king, Joseph had stood up before the people in Jerusalem as the political rival of the high priest. He was dispatched by the people to Egypt as their 'chief in order to appease the king: Ptolemy evidently trusted him. From the story of Josephus it appears that this post had already passed from Onias to Joseph before the latter’s voyage to Egypt, and that he stood before the the Jews in Jerusalem as their highest civil functionary. Joseph, however, was not satisfied with this, and he succeeded in obtaining from the king the tax-farming rights for the whole of the Ptolemaic province. He continued in this profitable task for twenty-two years.”
“During this time Antiochus IV, who inherited the throne in 176 B.C. continued his father's rule without accepting the Jews. A brief Jewish revolt only toughened his views and led him to outlaw central tenets of Judaism such as the Sabbath and circumcision, and defile the holy Temple by erecting an altar to the god Zeus, allowing the sacrifice of pigs, and opening the shrine to non-Jews” The revolt began.