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The Four Hundred "Silent Years"

Unknown author

Fall of Jerusalem and exile in Babylon

Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and captured city after city, then came to Jerusalem. He laid siege against it for eighteen months, with the Jews strongly defending it. In July 587 BC, the Babylonians broke through the walls. Nebuchadnezzar made huge mounds of earth as high as the city walls on which he placed war machines. The Jews, in turn, invented machines to fight back. When at last a breech was made, Zedekiah tried to escape, but some deserters informed Nebuchadnezzar who killed his sons and gouged his eyes out, then put him in chains and took him to Babylon with many of the Jewish people (2 Kg 25).

Jeremiah wrote to the Jews in exile and told them to build houses, plant vineyards and gardens, and live normal lives (Jer 29). The Jews were allowed to maintain some community organisation headed by their own elders. Some Jews went into business and prospered. Jeremiah and Ezekiel encouraged the Jews to wait because they were going back into their land.

In 539 BC, Cyrus, king of Persia, conquered the Babylonian empire. Two years later, a Jewish prince, Sheshbazzar, led a group back to start building the temple. Ezra and Nehemiah followed and the temple and walls were rebuilt.

Alexander the Great

In 332 BC, Alexander the Great, on his way to Egypt, assumed control over Jerusalem from the Persians, thus inaugurating its Greek period. The defeat of the Persian empire, formed the Macedonian / Hellenistic empire, the largest empire in history, consisting of the whole Persian empires, plus Afghanistan and western Pakistan. Nine years later, in 323 BC, Alexander died in mysterious circumstances. Antigonus, one of his generals, gained control. The empire did not survive politically, but the influence of Greek culture dominated in the ancient Near East for over a thousand years until the rise of Islam in the 7th cent AD.

The Seleucids

The empire was divided into four, under four of Alexander's generals, including Ptolemy I, ruling in Alexandria, Egypt and Seleucid I, ruling in Antioch in Syria. Judea initially came under the control of Ptolemy.

The Jews ran a temple state around Jerusalem, ruled by the High Priest and regulated by the Torah. The High Priest was always from the family of Zadok, the High Priest under Solomon. The leaders of the return from exile were Zerubbabel, a descendent of David and Joshua the High Priest, a descendent of Zadok.

In 198 BC, Antiochus IV conquered Judea from the Ptolemies and was welcomed into Jerusalem because the Jews thought he would give them greater freedom to practice their religion. This was not to be so. Antiochus, desiring greater ease in controlling his kingdom, tried to impose Greek culture and worship on them.

The Seleucids clashed with Rome in 190 BC and were beaten at the Battle of Magnesia in Asia Minor. They lost territory and had to pay indemnity for twelve years. While Onias IV was High Priest, his brother Jason who wanted to be High Priest, tried to bribe Antiochus IV, to help him pay the indemnity to the Romans, promising that he would help the Hellenisation of the temple state.

Antiochus IV, who wanted to expand his empire and his income, took the name "Epiphanes", meaning "glorious one", saying he was an incarnation of Zeus. Menelaus, not from the family of Zadok, offered a higher bribe and promised to do more to help the process of Hellenisation. Antiochus removed Jason and replaced him with Menelaus in 171 BC.

Antiochus marched to Egypt to fight the Ptolemies, but discovered the Romans there, who had been invited in to help defend Egypt. Antiochus was defeated and embarrassed by the Romans. The Jews took this opportunity to restore the High Priesthood to the family of Zadok, but replacing Menelaus by Jason.

Antiochus was furious. In December 167, he restored Menelaus and banned the practice of Judaism, introducing a new constitution in Jerusalem of a Hellenistic state. Circumcision was banned with the punishment of execution. He burned the Jewish Torah. He converted the temple to a temple to Zeus, called "Baal Shamen" (the Lord of Heaven), which is "Abomination of Desolation" in Hebrew, or appalling sacrilege. He set up an altar to Zeus in the temple, where he sacrificed swine, and sought to make Jews worship it. This fulfilment of Daniel's prophecy lasted three years, an period of intense persecution and martyrdom.

There is more information about Antiochus Ephipanes on another page.

The Maccabean revolt

The Hasmonean family started armed resistance, led by Mattathias, an old man. His son, Judas Maccabeus, was a military genius. With only a few people in a guerilla army, in 167 BC, he led a revolt and had some brilliant victories over the larger and better Greek armies. In 165 BC, Judas Maccabeus cleaned the "abomination of desolation" (as Daniel put it), the altar to Zeus, out the temple and they eventually regained the religious freedom they had lost. The Maccabean line became priest-kings. In December 164 BC, Antiochus retracted the ban on Judaism.

The Hasmonean rulers

The Maccabees continued to fight for political independence, Jonathan succeeded his father Judas in 160 BC, becoming High Priest in 152 BC. He was not a legitimate Zadok priest, but a political and military leader. Simon, the son of Jonathan, won complete independence from the Seleucids in 142 BC. This period is described in the book of 1 Maccabees.

John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon, expanded the small city state into Samaria, Galilee and Idumea, to almost the area of David's kingdom. He died in 104 BC, and was succeeded by his son Aristobulus, for one year, before Alexander, the brother of Aristobulus declared himself king.

Alexander extended the empire into the Transjordan, making the empire bigger than David's kingdom. He was both king and high priest, a complete unprincipled vandal. He died in 76 BC, and was succeeded by his wife, Salome as queen until 67 BC.

The Roman empire grew and consolidated their power over the Mediterranean as the Greek empire collapsed. They made the first son of Alexander, Hyrcanus II the high priest and the 2nd son, Aristobulus II the general of the armies. When Salome died, there was civil war between the two brothers and their followers. Each sought support of the Romans to establish power and to settle the civil war, inviting the Romans to come. Approximately 63 BC, Hyrcanus, was displaced by his brother, Aristobulus.

Roman rule of Judea

The leading Roman general of the area was Pompey, based in Damascus. When he arrived at Jerusalem, Aristobulus resisted and Hyrcanus surrendered. Aristobulus made the temple his fortress and destroyed the bridge between the city and temple. This was over a valley and it was at this place that he held out for three months. Pompey captured the temple by filling in the valley, killing about 12,000 Jews, taking many off to slavery, and levelled the walls of the city. Pompey, out of curiosity, walked into the Holy of Holies, and was surprised to find nothing there. The Glory of the Lord never returned after 586 BC, until Jesus walked in the temple.

Because of Hyrcanus' surrender, he was allowed to continue to be high priest by Pompey, but more and more power went into the hands of the Edomite (Idumaean) administrator (chieftain) called Antipater, hired as a wise counsellor of Pompey. Antipater was made a tax-free Roman citizen and procurator in 47 BC. He was assassinated in 44 BC. Antipater had two sons, Phasael, who was made Tetrarch of Judea, and Herod, who was governor of Galilee, both until 40 BC.

In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated, Anthony took over the Eastern part of the Roman empire, and Augustus, a nephew of Julius Caesar, the Western part.

In 40 BC, the Parthians from Persia attacked and plundered the city and carried off Hyrcanus to Babylon. They chopped off his ears, so he could no longer be High Priest. Phasael was killed, and Herod fled to Rome. The Hasmonean Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus was made priest/king by the Parthians.

Rome then appointed Antipater's son Herod as a client king over Israel and in 37 BC, Herod, using Roman troops, brought Jerusalem under siege again and with greater slaughter set himself up as king, conquering Judea from the Parthians.


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