On Scripture pages, Babylonian empire occupies a prominent place. This is because the decisive events for Israel’s history took place as a result of the rise to power of Babylon and its quick end after the death of Nebuchadnezzar. All this time from the Babylon period, between 606 and 39 BC, through the roman period, between 63 BC and 70 AD, are critical in the history of Israelites. There were various periods in the history of Jews. Each of these periods came with events that would either build or destroy the Jews in general. The aim of this paper is to address various important events, individuals and groups associated with this historical era and their impact on the Jews and the land of Israel.
The Persian Period (539-331 BC)
The Persian period, between 539 and 331 BC, is the period just after the collapse of Babylon. The death of Nebuchadnezzar left Babylon internally divided and highly weakened so that its parts could not hold the empire together. Nabonidus came to power in 556 BC, though he was unable to re-unite Babylon. Babylon was too much wasted by the prior rulers, and that is why it was hard to merge the divided parts of Babylon back into one solid state. Due to this issue, Nabonidus later left Babylon and established headquarters at Teima in the Arabian Desert. He was trying to look for a place good enough to make his plans. Although Nabonidus later went back to Babylon, the division of Babylon led to gradual rise of the Persia under Cyrus. This rise was possible as the Persian rulers were taking advantage of the political instability in Babylon. First, Cyrus managed to unite many antagonistic tribes by 550 BC and conquered the Median Empire, joining the Medes to his empire. The unity of Persians and Medes made a strong state that could conquer other powers. For some time, they had a well-trained army, big enough to keep extending their territory. In 539 BC, Gobryas peacefully took the city. This left Cyrus in control of all of the former Babylonian Empire. Within a year, he was to control all the Middle East, except Egypt.
Now, the Persian rule was highly charitable compared with the previous rulers. Cyrus stayed with these people for long enough to understand their likes and dislikes. He was accepted as a liberator. In return, he showed high level of generosity to his subjects. The Persian period was marked by the worship of Marduk with Cyrus himself participating in the worship. He realized that worship of more than one god would bring the divisions that would extend to political dissensions. To avoid this, he restored the gods of the land and requested that everybody was to worship only those gods of the land. The policy of tolerance and acceptance of many cultures and beliefs improved the peaceful coexistence in the empire. The peace interested many other rulers as they admired it and wanted the same to be on their territories. Due to this, godly prophets also started to emerge from within so as to restore the glory of the Israelites. Cyrus extended their freedom by issuing an edict allowing Israelites to return home in 538 BC. He also ordered and facilitated the rebuild of the Jerusalem Temple. Sheshbazzer, a prince of Judah, led the first return of Israelites to Palestine. However, Zerubbabel was given the credit to begin laying the foundation, and not Sheshbazzer. This, however, left questions as to why it is that Sheshbazzer was never recognized despite his efforts and deeds.
Many Israelites did not go back to their land due to the good life in Babylon, though there was no emergence of any new Davidic kingdom as many expected. On the other hand, those who returned faced enormous problems in their new homeland. Despite the fact that it was the land of their ancestors, other people had already settled there. The returnees were harassed by the marauding bands of the local tribes’ elders who did not want to rebuild the walled city. Religious and economic crisis also faced them. Later, in 538 BC, Zerubbabel emerged as a leader of the returned exiles in Babylon. He rebuilt the Temple and joined the efforts begun by Sheshbazzer. Still, within this period, high priest Joshua emerged as the spiritual leader of the reforming community. Emergence of Joshua gave the community spiritual direction. He was accepted by the locals and his god was accepted too. As time passed, more godly prophets started emerging. At around 520 BC, Haggai and Zachariah became the two famous prophets. The two encouraged people and got the rebuilding projects back. In 515, the Temple was completed and dedicated. Due to lack of skilled workers, the Temple was not exactly as the Solomon’s, but looked like a mere shadow. Those that could remember the Solomon’s Temple were anxious to see the inability of the workers to make the identical Temple. Though not much cited, Judah later rose to leadership after the appointment of Nehemiah as governor. The Persian Empire was later conquered by Alexander the Great, which led to the establishment of the Greek empire. The conquest of the Persian Empire, though not expected, was by leadership wisdom and manpower of the Great Alexander.
Greek Period 331- 167 BC
Hellenization is the act of the Greeks bringing their own way of life into the territories they conquered. The Greek period was marked by Hellenization. The defeat of the Persian Empire and the conquering of the whole world by Alexander led to changes in almost everything. This is because upon conquering, Alexander would Hellenize every conquered territory. This led to introduction and diversification of the Greek culture and language. New buildings, laws, military, government and general way of living was introduced. The whole world was united by the simplicity of a common language known as Koine Greek. What the world did not know was that God aimed to use Hellenism in order to prepare people for Jesus Christ’s gospel. The world saw the gospel in a couple of centuries. Even the cleverest human could not devise such a plan. More and more common people were becoming Grecianized, while religious leaders and the scribes separated themselves as the firm pillars of Judaism. The beginning of Orthodox Judaism was forming within interesting new approach to interpret Scripture. This was because of the influence of Hellenism.
Four Generals of Alexander
In 323 BC, Alexander died. Upon his death, the empire he created was now divided between his four generals. The division was completed in such a way: two eastern (Syria and Egypt) parts went to Seleucus and Ptolemy respectively. Israel, lying between Syria and Egypt, went first to Syria; however, some time after was assessed to Egypt (301 B.C.), and remained under the control of Egypt until 198 B.C.
The life of the Jews under the kings of Egypt was predominantly happy and peaceful. Those people who lived in Egypt could build synagogues in any of their settlements. Alexandria became the city with a great religious influence on Jews. The Jews found themselves between two antagonizing kingdoms with Israel being in the very middle. Eventually, Syria managed to re-conquer Israel ruled by Antiochus the Great (198 B.C.). Thus, Israel went again went under the control of the kings of Syria that were called the "Seleucids". Later, all the concerned Greek leaders continued with the spirit of Hellenization. As a result, the Hebrew Torah was translated into Greek language, which led to Septuagint being written in 250 BC.
The Antiochus Epiphanes
Between 175 and 164 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes was angry with the Jews hence forcing all of them to entirely convert to Hellenism. He tried to eradicate the Jewish religion and the Jews themselves, and defiled the Temple. The defiling was through offering a pig on its altar, erecting an altar to Jupiter, prohibition of worship of Temple and making circumcision a serious capital offense. Also, he decided to sell many Jewish families into slavery, destroy the copies of Scripture he was able to find. Moreover, he ordered to slaughter everyone who appeared to possess such copies and employ every thinkable torture to make Jews renounce their religion. Daniel the prophet foretold Antiochus Epiphanes’ coming and portrayed him as a smaller version of the Antichrist who was expected to come in the end times. The rule of Antiochus Epiphanes provoked the Maccabean revolt, which is known as one of the most brave feats in the world’s history.
Alexander the Great (331-320 BC)
At the age of 20, Alexander the Great assumed command of the Greek army. He swept eastwards over the lands that had been under Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian dominion. By 331 BC, Alexander gained control over a rather big land. He invaded Palestine in 332 BC, showing great consideration to Jews. He spared Jerusalem and offered immunities to the Jews to settle in Alexandria. He facilitated establishment of Greek cities all over the conquered domains. This led to spread of the Greek culture and the language. Alexander died in 323 BC.
Alexander the Great started his war against the Persians in 334 BC. At that time, the leader of Macedon was only twenty-two years old. When he died eleven years later, Alexander became the ruler of the largest empire of the ancient world. This was the former Persian Empire. To gain this victory, Alexander first won the battle of Gaugamela on the plains of Persia. This decisive conquest covered the defeat of king Darius III, Alexander’s Persian rival King. Despite having prepared the battle ground to favor him and his army, Darius III was defeated tactically by Alexander who had comparatively smaller army.
The Gaugamela battle made Alexander such great and might. Sources have it that around 40,000 Persians were killed while Alexander lost only 390 of his army. This shows how prepared and strong Alexander’s army was. Alexander always led from the front of his army. Thus he was the first to meet the enemy. This highly motivated his army hence it gained the courage to defeat. On the other hand, Darius led from the behind surrounded by body guards. This means that Darius’ army was less motivated by their leader. Alexander finally won the battle by surrounding the Persian army then charging his horse towards them. Darius left the scene leaving his family members behind. Alexander captured the Darius’s royal family but treated them with kindness and respect. He made Darius’ mother one of his most trusted advisors. She was later on at the Alexander’s bed-side when he died in Babylon.
Ptolemaic Period 320-198 BC
The invaders from Persia managed to occupy Egypt in the sixth century until 332 BC. However, Alexander the Great could defeat the Persians and enter Egypt. In Egypt, Alexander was received as a son of Amun, supreme god of the Egyptians. Here, he decided to found a new city on the Mediterranean shores. Following the Alexander’s death in 323BC, his brother Ptolemy 1 Soter established the Egyptian Ptolemaic State. This led to Egypt becoming one of the great powers of the Hellenistic world. Egypt used its power to extend its rule over parts of Asia Minor, Syria, Libya, Cyprus, and Phoenicia. In addition, Ptolemy 2 extended the empire in Aegean Sea, Syria and Nubia.
Ptolemy 2 re-dug the canal that connected the Nile with the Gulf of Suez. He also set a caravan route connecting the Red Sea with the Nile. Many areas of the land were claimed back, and in Fayum, there were olives and grapes planted. Due to the strategic position of Egypt, trade boomed, making Alexandria the center of great trade in the Hellenistic world. The rule of Ptolemy 4 saw the decline in dynasty, and the empire eventually was lost. In 30 BC, during the rule of Cleopatra 7, Rome managed to win the Battle of Actium, which brought the Ptolemaic period to an end. Egypt became a Roman province.
The Syrian Period 198- 167 BC
Between 198 and 167 BC, one part of Alexander’s empire controlled the period. The part later came to be known as Syria. Upon the death of Ptolemy II, his infant son was appointed to fill the gap. This was a mistake since Antious Epiphanes of Syria took this chance to take over Palestine. Antious Epiphanes was stronger than other rulers so he demanded the Jews to adopt both the Greek culture and religion if they wanted peace. He further claimed to be god and demanded to be worshiped. Antious Epiphanes divided his subjects into Hellenistic Jews and the conservative Orthodox Jews. The former were comfortable with him while the latter refused to follow. Alexander in his time had totally avoided this division. The Hellenistic Jews were seen by the conservative ones as traitors. They were seen as if after riches and fame. The conservative Orthodox Jews did not want to condone this compromise since it could anger the true God.
Both the Hellenists and the Orthodox Jews were fighting to have their man as High Priest. The dispute led to a local rebellion between the two parties. This rebellion was mistaken as if against the government of Antiocus Epiphanes. In response to that, Epiphanes send his troop to intervene. The troop quelled the rebellion after a great bloodshed. Many Jews lost their lives over this fracas. Later on, Antiocus Epiphanes went back to overthrow Egypt. As he was trying to settle the dispute in Palestine, Rome had already arrived there. Rome was trying to conquer the whole region. Antious Epiphanes was so much angered and went back to Jerusalem to revenge. He burned all the scriptures of the true God. He went ahead and banned all form of worship other than the one he was for. In 168BC, Antiocus Epiphanes confiscated the treasury of the Temple and set up an idolatrous altar. On the altar he sacrificed a pig which was not to be sacrificed on any holy altar.
Jewish Self-Rule 167 – 63 BC
It came a time that Judea was ruled by a Jewish family. It had never happened before hence it was referred to as Jewish self-rule. The period began after the Maccabean and Hasmonean revolts in 167 BC. They continued to the Roman occupation beginning 63 BC. The period is divided into two distinct sub-periods: the Maccabean and the Hasmonean periods.
The Maccabean Period
At the beginning of the period, Maddithias was the priest. As he was practicing in the temple, a Greek agent came in and demanded that Maddithias should start an idolatrous worship. Maddithias was from the conservative Orthodox Jews so he viewed the act as mock to the true God. When he refused to do this, a Hellenistic Jew nearby offered to do so. Maddithias was so much angered by the step taken by his fellow Jew. He killed the Hellenistic Jew, a soldier who was nearby and also the Greek agent. After doing all this, Maddithias took his sons and they fled to the wilderness. Judas Maccabean was the son of Maddithias. The son assumed the 4ole of his father and from 167 BC to 63 BC, he was leading a guerilla against Antiocus Epiphanes’ armies. The guerilla achieved their goal by gaining all the Palestine though it was a small part. Judas led the troop to Jerusalem where they entered Temples and destroyed all the pagan belongings. This day became famous and was made a holiday by the Orthodox Jews.
During all this time, Syria had so many internal problems which had weakened them such that they were not able to resist the Jew’s actions. Due to this, the Jews were given freedom to worship their GOD. This was an achievement to the side of Judas. Having achieved this, Judas was highly motivated by the success and started fighting for the political freedom too. The main goal of Judas was to attain both social and political freedom. He continued with the attacks though some unsuccessful. At the same time, the number of the guerrillas were being reduced. Some died while others surrendered to the government of Syria. Judas requested for assistance from Rome. Rome complied though their troops did not manage to react in time. Syria send a very big army that destroyed Judas and his guerrillas.
On the other side, Jonathan, the Judas’ brother was leading other guerrillas outside to fight the Hellenistic Jews. This weakened the Syrians slowly such that they stop attacking. The other Judas’ brother, Simon maintained the guerrilla attacks against Syria. Simon continued with the same spirit conquering the Syrians to that point where the Jews were given political freedom in 143 BC. Moreover, Simon was supposed to be a High Priest, a Civil Leader as well as a military Governor due to his efforts. The son of Simon, John followed his father’s footsteps thus maintaining Judah’s freedom for several more years.
The Hasmonean period is generally referred to as the Hasmonean Dynasty. It existed during the Jewish self-rule. It begins with the famous story of Hanukkah. Following Alexander the Great's conquest of much of the ancient world, the Holy Land was placed under control of the Seleucid Greek rulers, an Empire of the Hellenistic Jews. The Greeks backed the Torah study and dishonored the Holy Temple. The aim of the Greeks doing this was to eradicate what they termed as "backward" Jewish religion and culture.in this case, the Greeks wanted the Jews to do everything their way. This rooted out Jews still practicing their beliefs. The conservative Orthodox Jews were even harassed over that.
In 166 BC, the Jewish people rebelled over the restrictive nature of the Greek on them. Judah the Maccabee, one of the Hasmonean family which was successful in militarily. Judah led the Jews in repelling Greek rule. The mission was successful. They entered the Temple and purified it. The Jews found the miraculous jug of oil, which had only enough oil to light the Menorah (candelabra) for one night. The return to Jerusalem was triumph. After this triumphant return to Jerusalem, the Hasmonean rule began. More Hasmonean victories was combined with theweakening of Seleucid authority. These two situations made the Seleucids to return the independence of Israel to the Jewish people. The Hasmoneans ruled in the Holy Land for close to a century. The Hasmonean leaders believed they were continuing the reign of the Judges and Kings as of early Israel. The Hasmoneans united the Jews since they all worshiped one true God. The rulers took this chance to consolidate the religious, legal, political and military power. They also expanded their land’s physical boundaries. Jewish life flourished under the Hasmonean leaders. The Jews within this time enjoyed both their social and political freedom. Unfortunately, the Hasmonean period came to an end. It was brought to submission under Roman emperor, Herod the Great. This led to the Roman period.
The Roman Period
Alexandria was the wife of two ruling sons. When the both sons died, Alexandria took over the throne. She was good in leadership as Queen. She ruled the Jews to satisfaction. Aristobules and Archanus were her two sons. Each of the two wanted to be the heir of the throne. To solve this family dispute, they appealed to Rome and it was now upon Rome to decide. The ruler in Rome by then was Pompei. She took this chance and came to Palestine to overthrow it. Rome overthrew the area and appointed Judah to rule over it. Also Archanus was appointed on the throne to serve both the religious and governmental leadership responsibilities of Palestine. The people of Israel continued with their rebellion. This made Rome to removetheir political powers fully.
The political powers in Judah naturally started to increase towards the High Priest. This was because of the instability that was being encountered by then.As time passed, the High Priests of Israel entered the worldly politics. This made him become less concerned with spiritual things and more concerned over the politics. This caused a group of ordinary Jews to rise up in Israel to seek and minister to the spiritual needs of the people.The Israelites at this point were almost losing their spiritual direction.
Near the boundaries of Israel, there was a nation of people referred to as the Idiomeans. Since Rome misunderstood the Jews, they thought of a way of dealing with the situation. One main proposal was to place the Israel under the Idiomean rule. They resolved that doing so will assist them do what they termed as “getting rid of a bad situation". In addition to that they felt that the Israelites could not consider in any case to come together with another nation like Idiomea. It is in this nation where later Herod the Great comes out (Matthew 2). Despite the evil deeds of Herod, he was a great builder and administrator. This can mean that to some extent, he probably helped Israel a much. Using his wisdom to gain peace, Herod married a Jewish woman to better his bond with the people. Herod was responsible for remodeling and expanding the Temple of Israel.The continued rebellion from Jews led to the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70. This is due to emergence of the first Jewish-Roman war. The Roman army was under Emperor Titus and Julius Alexander. They conquered the city of Jerusalem whose natives were the Jewish defenders. At the end of the siege, the famous Second Temple came in.
In conclusion, since the return of Israelites from exile, there exist distinct time periods whose impacts either positively or negatively affected the Jews. The Persian period shone some light to the future of Israelites though upon the overthrow of the empire, they went back to suffering. The Greek period was characterized by Hellenism. This oppressed the Jews though the fact that they came to learn a common language made it easier to spread the gospel. Alexander the Great facilitated the conquest of the Persian Empire. During the Jewish Self-Rule period, both the Maccabean and Hasmonean period coexisted. These led to the Roman period. It is during the roman period when the Jerusalem siege took place. It led to destruction of the famous Second Temple in AD 70.