B414 -- The History of the Levant from Alexander the Great to Herod the Great

ASSIGNMENT: Read Allen, C. ed.,The Broadman Bible Commentary Vol. 8, pages 1-60; Keck, L. ed., The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 8, pages 1-71; Koester, H., Introduction to the New Testament, Sections 1-5.

To correctly understand and interpret the text of the New Testament, one must have a good grasp of the history and archaeology of the period from Alexander the Great to at least the Bar Kochba revolt; for it was in this period that the ideas which formed the New Testament were birthed and brought to fruition. For example, on cannot correctly interpret what it means to call Jesus "Lord" without knowing how the word was used in the Hellenistic world of the first century.

The reading assignments above may seem rather long; but they must be fairly well in hand by the student if the student hopes to grasp what needs to be grasped in the remarks that follow.

Alexander the Great was ruler of Macedonia and later ruler of Greece and the entire civilized world (from the Tiber to the Tigris -- as one writer has said). Alexander ruled from 336-323 BC He conquered the Persian s who had earlier conquered Palestine and thus Alexander became "lord" of the Jews. Alexander's conquest of Palestine was not a violent even t, however; it simply came to his hands with the rest of the Persian empire. Alexander passed along the coast of Palestine from Tyre to Gaza in 332 and was given free will offerings by both Samaria and Jerusalem. This seems to have been his only contact with Palestine.

The most impressive activity of Alexander, and the one which was to have the most significant result was his spreading of "Hellenism" in the wake of his military victories. But Alexander also assimilated a great deal in his travels so that as he spread Greek culture he also spread Iranian and Egyptian culture. In Alexander East met West and the two were fused together.

For the Jews of Palestine the advent of Greek culture was a mixed blessing. In the wake of Hellenism the Jews were the recipients of Greek culture, Greek style cities (including the gymnasium- wherein the athletes exercised in the nude! A great shock to the Jews!!), the Greek language, an d the idea of the "divine king" (which Alexander learned from Persia) 2E All of these contributions fed the thought of the early Church like streams feed a river.

When Alexander died his empire was divided among his generals. Egypt an d Palestine fell to the Ptolemies; while Syria fell to the Seleucids. Both of these powers would control Palestine before the advent of the Roman Empire.

The Ptolemies ruled Palestine from 320 to 200 BC

Ptolemeus I Soter- 320- 283 B.C.

Ptolemeus II- 283- 246

Ptolemeus III- 246-221

Ptolemeus IV- 221-204

Ptolemeus V- 204-180 (though the Syrians captured Palestine in 200)

The Rulers of the Ptolemaic Empire

The Ptolemies were essentially benevolent to the Jews of Palestine, allowing them a great deal of self rule even though Palestine itself was administered as "temple lands". That is, the priests of Egypt received t he monetary benefit of Palestinian trade.

In 202 the Syrians, after several attempts, were able to drive the Ptolemies from Palestine and thus began one of the most trying times of the hi story of the Jews after the exile. The Syrians (or Seleucids) ruled Palestine from 200 till 142 BC.

Antiochus III- 222-187 BC

Seleucus IV- 187-175

Antiochus IV- 175-164 (known as Epiphanies; the most hated of the line)

Antiochus V- 164-162

Demetrius I- 162-150

Alexander Balas- 150-145

Antiochus VI- 145-142

The Kings of Syria

The Syrians were much more savage in their rule of Palestine than the Ptolemies were. And the most savage of them all was Antiochus IV. He outlawed reading of the Jewish law and indeed even the owning of it. He persecuted the Jews to the point of extinction and then erected for himself a statue of Zeus in the Jerusalem Temple and sacrificed a sow on the altar as a sign of his contempt for the Jewish religion. Needless to say, he was reviled by the Jews. His incredible cruelty gave rise to a horrid persecution which saw the birth of the Apocalyptic movement and the writing of the Book of Daniel.

The response of the Jews to this time of terror was what came to be know n as the Maccabean revolt. The Maccabeans were successful in overthrowing Syrian rule of Palestine and so for the first time in many centuries the Jews were politically, religiously, and economically free.

Simon- 143-134 BC

Hyrcanus I- 134-105

Aristobulus I- 104

Alexander Janneus- 103-76

Alexandra- 76-67 (the only queen of the dynasty)

Hyrcanus II- 67

Aristobulus II- 66-63

The Rulers of the Maccabean Dynasty

These Maccabeans sometimes were simultaneously High priest and king. The rule they inaugurated was rejected by some of the more pious people and these people split off and went into the desert to a place called Khirbet Qumran where they came to be known as the "Essenes". The general populace of the land was indifferent to the Maccabean (or Hasmonean) rulers. However the powerful Pharisees were opposed to their leadership (for they saw them as far to acculturated to Hellenism). The Pharisees thus continuously stirred up discontent among the people; and the Sadducees (the supporters of Hellenism and the Hasmoneans) kept up their support of the ruling class.

After a brief period of repose- the kingdom was again thrown into turmoil because of the constant in-fighting. By this time the mighty Romans had appeared on the horizon and were not pleased with unrest on their borders.

The Hasmoneans appealed to Rome for assistance in the struggle and the Romans were pleased to respond- by annexing the land of Palestine as a new segment of the empire and by setting on the throne of Israel the half-Jewish, half-Edomite king Herod the Great. The year was 37 BC Thus the brief period of independence came to an end and the Jews were once again under the dominion of a foreign power.

Herod the Great was perhaps the most competent ruler (in his early reign ) that the Jews would see in the Roman period. He was a man of great genius and, unfortunately, great cruelty. He built temples, aqueducts, gymnasiums, cities, and ports. He was a consummate politician and his brilliance was famous. But the dark side of Herod is that part of him which is generally remembered. He was amazingly cruel and extraordinarily suspicious. He killed his wife, many of his children, and countless innocents merely because he was suspicious of them.

As Herod grew older he became ridden with disease and paranoia. His final wish was that when he died, all of the village leaders throughout Palestine would be killed so that someone would mourn. This wish was not granted -- and upon his death there was great celebration throughout the country.

During the last months of his reign, Herod would be told by some messengers from the east that a king had been born in Bethlehem. This incensed Herod; but it helps us immensely because it aids us in dating the birth o f Jesus to 4 BC- for that is the year in which Herod died.

Thus, in the period from Alexander to Herod the seeds were planted in Palestine that would issue forth in the movements and ideas that determined the course and shape of Christianity for centuries to follow. It is to an investigation of the concrete shaping of those forms that we must now turn.