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In this Intertestamental Paper, I will briefly give a brief history describing the Second
Temple Period, beginning with the period of Alexander the Great and continuing through the
reign of Herod the Great and his sons. I will also address how various events, individuals, and
groups that impacted the Jews and land of Israel leading up to and during the time of Christ. The
following highlighted historic events, individuals and groups I will address will include:
Alexander the Great, The Hellenistic Period, The Ptolemaic Period, The Seleucid Period,
Antiochus IV Epiphanes, The Maccabean Period, The Hasmonean Period, The Roman Period
through Herod‟s Sons and Jesus Christ. I will conclude with how these events affected the first
century world of the New Testament.
Alexander the Great, born in 356 B.C. in Pella, Macedonia, was the son of Philip of
Macedon and Princess Olympias of Epirus. As a young boy he was always fearless, strong, and
eager to learn. He went on to inherit each of his parent‟s best qualities. His father was an
excellent general and organizer, while his mother was extremely intelligent. At the age of
thirteen he became a pupil of Aristotle. It was Aristotle who inspired Alexander's great love for
Through his mentor Alexander learned the Greek ways of living and the ideals of Greek
civilization. However, it was not all work and no play for the young Alexander. He spent a great
deal of time participating in sports and daily exercise in order to develop a strong body. At a
fairly young age Alexander was given many responsibilities. His father made him his
ambassador to Athens when he was eighteen.
Two years later, he succeeded his father as King of Macedonia. During this time the
Greek states had become restless under Macedonian rule. While Alexander was away fighting,
the people of Thebes seized the opportunity and revolted. When Alexander returned he attacked
the city and destroyed almost everything in sight. This dissipated any further attempts at
rebellion and Alexander quickly united the Greek cities and formed the League of Nations, of
which he became president.
Soon after this victory, in 334 B.C., Alexander set out to conquer Persia. On the banks of
the Granicus River Alexander quickly defeated the Persian troops who had been waiting for him.
This victory made the rest of Asia Minor vulnerable. The following year, Alexander marched
into Syria. Even though Darius III, King of Persia, had raised a large army, he was unable to
withstand Alexander's powerful infantry and phalanx.
The entire region soon submitted to Alexander. Following this he went to Egypt, where
he was welcomed as a deliverer because the Egyptians hated their cruel Persian rulers. It was
here that Alexander founded the famous city that bears his name. Alexandria, situated on a strip
of land between Lake Mareotis and the Mediterranean Sea, became a world center of commerce
and learning.
Alexander was soon drawn into battle with the Persians again. In the decisive Battle of
Gaugamela, Alexander routed Darius and forced his entire army east. After this the city of
Babylon surrendered, which allowed Alexander to easily capture Susa and Persepolis. Darius
was soon killed by one of his generals which made Alexander King of Asia. He did not rest for
long, as he had set his sights on India.
In 326 B.C. Alexander defeated Porus, the prince of India. Alexander was now at the
height of his power. His empire stretched from the Ionian Sea to northern India. However,
Alexander had even greater plans. He wanted to combine Asia and Europe into one country, and
named Babylon the new capital. In order to attain this goal he encouraged intermarriages, did
away with corrupt officials, and spread Greek ideas, customs, and laws into Asia. The great and
many plans that he had abruptly came to an end. While in Babylon Alexander became seriously
ill with malaria and on June 13, 323 B.C. he died. During his time he conquered most of the
civilized world and has been remembered as one of the greatest generals in history.
The death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. marked the beginning of a new stage in
world history. Hellenic civilization, properly defined, was now at an end. The fusion of cultures
and intermingling of peoples resulting from Alexander's conquests had accomplished the
overthrow of most of the ideals represented by the Greeks in their prime. Gradually a new
pattern of civilization emerged based upon a mixture of Greek and Oriental elements.
To this new civilization, which lasted until about the beginning of the Christian era, the
name Hellenistic was the one most commonly applied. While the Hellenistic Age was sometimes
regarded as simply a final chapter in the history of Greece, this was by no means correct. The
centuries which followed the death of Alexander were so markedly different from the Golden
Age of Greece that they could not be accurately regarded as a continuation of it.
The Ptolemaic dynasty was founded by Ptolemy son of Lagus, a general of Alexander the
Great. On Alexander's death in 323 he was appointed satrap of Egypt, and eventually declared
himself king in 304. The dynasty lasted until the death of Cleopatra VII and the Roman
conquest of Egypt in 30, an episode which is still one of the best-known chapters of ancient
The intervening period is one which was, by comparison to most of pharaonic Egypt, very well,
if not fully coherently, documented. While Ptolemy I and Cleopatra VII were perhaps the best-
known rulers, most of the Ptolemaic kings and queens emerge as distinctive and interesting
individuals. Ptolemaic Egypt was one of the two great powers of the Hellenistic East for most of
its existence. During this period Egyptian armies ranged further east and further north than at any
other time in Egyptian history. Alexandria was the center of the Hellenistic intellectual world.
The period also saw the final flowering of pharaonic Egyptian art and architecture.
Seleucus had been one of the sub-commanders under Ptolemy. He had captured Babylon
in 311 B.C. and had set himself up as a sovereign independent of Ptolemy. The dynasty which he
founded had become known as the Seleucids. When Antiochus III was defeated by Rome at
Magnesia in 190 BC., he was forced to surrender his navy, his war elephants, and his youngest
son, Antiochus IV was taken to Rome as a hostage. In order to pay the enormous tribute
demanded by Rome, he was forced to raise taxes throughout his empire, plunder the treasuries of
the various cities, and even plunder temples. It was as he was going into one temple for this
purpose that the citizens rioted and murdered him.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes who was originally named Mithradates, but renamed Antiochus
either upon his ascension or after the death of his elder brother Antiochus, was one of the
Seleucid emperors, son of Antiochus III the Great in 224-187 B.C., and the brother of Seleucus
IV Philopator in 187-75 BC. The Seleucid's ruled the area known as Asia' Babylon, Syria,
Palestine and Upper Asia from in 312, when Alexander the Great's empire was divided among
his generals.
Antiochus IV's religious zeal for Zeus, of whom he believed himself to be a
manifestation, resulted in the desecration of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and in what was a
reign of terror for Jews who refused to comply with his policy of Hellenization. This resulted in a
revolt and eventually in territorial loss, and in the loss of political prestige, for his successors.
An example of religious bigotry and intolerance, Antiochus' legacy as a ruler serves as a
warning to others who choose to impose religion, or culture or ideology from the top, and to
disrespect others convictions. For those people who believed that all cultures should be valued
and respected, the more tolerant policy of Antiochus' predecessors that aimed at cultural fusion,
not domination, was more attractive. For Jews, the victory against Antiochus IV's successor,
Demetrius I 187-150 B.C. in 164 B.C., and the restoration of the temple, marked a moment of
restoration annually celebrated in the feast of Hanukkah. Antiochus IV name was later changed
from „Ephipanes‟ which means “a manifestation of God” to Epimanes.
The death of Alexander the Great of Greece in 323 B.C. led to the breakup of the Greek
empire as three of his generals fought for supremacy and divided the Middle East among them.
Ptolemy secured control of Egypt and the Land of Israel. Seleucus grabbed Syria and Asia
Minor, and Antigonus took Greece. Though many Jews had been seduced by the virtues of
Hellenism, the extreme measures adopted by Antiochus helped unite the people. When a Greek
official tried to force a priest named Mattathias to make a sacrifice to a pagan god, the Jew
murdered the man. Predictably, Antiochus began reprisals, but in 167 B.C. the Jews rose
up behind Mattathias and his five sons and fought for their liberation.
The family of Mattathias became known as the Maccabees, from the Hebrew word for
"hammer," because they were said to strike hammer blows against their enemies. The Jews refer
to the Maccabees, but the family was more commonly known as the Hasmoneans.
Like other rulers before him, Antiochus underestimated the will and strength of his
Jewish adversaries and sent a small force to put down the rebellion. When that was annihilated,
he led a more powerful army into battle only to be defeated. In 164 B.C., Jerusalem was
recaptured by the Maccabees and the Temple purified an event that gave birth to the holiday of
It took more than two decades of fighting before the Maccabees forced the Seleucids to
retreat from the Land of Israel. By this time Antiochus had died and his successor agreed to the
Jews' demand for independence. In the year 142 B.C., after more than 500 years of subjugation,
the Jews were again masters of their own fate.
When Mattathias died, the revolt was led by his son Judas, or Judah Maccabee, as he was
often called. By the end of the war, Simon was the only one of the five sons of Mattathias to
survive and he ushered in an 80 year period of Jewish independence in Judea, as the Land of
Israel was now called. The kingdom regained boundaries not far short of Solomon's realm and
Jewish life flourished.
The Hasmoneans claimed not only the throne of Judah, but also the post of High Priest.
This assertion of religious authority conflicted with the tradition of the priests coming from the
descendants of Moses' brother Aaron and the tribe of Levi.
It did not take long for rival factions to develop and threaten the unity of the kingdom.
Ultimately, internal divisions and the appearance of yet another imperial power were to put an
end to Jewish independence in the Land of Israel for nearly two centuries.
As a part of the ancient world conquered by Alexander the Great of Greece in 332 B.C.,
the land remained a Jewish theocracy under Syrian based Seleucid rulers. When the Jews were
prohibited from practicing Judaism and their Temple was desecrated as part of an effort to
impose Greek oriented culture and customs on the entire population, the Jews rose in the revolt
in 166 B.C.
First led by Mattathias of the priestly Hasmonean family and then by his son Judah the
Maccabee, the Jews subsequently entered Jerusalem and purified the Temple in 164 B.C., events
commemorated each year by the festival of Hanukkah. Following further Hasmonean victories in
147 B.C., the Seleucids restored autonomy to Judea, as the Land of Israel was now called, and
with the collapse of the Seleucid kingdom in 129 B.C., Jewish independence was again achieved.
Under the Hasmonean dynasty, which lasted about 80 years, the kingdom regained boundaries
not far short of Solomon's realm, political consolidation under Jewish rule was attained and
Jewish life flourished.
Antipater the Idumean, who was the Roman ruler called procurator of Judea in the time
of Ethnarch Hyrcanus II, had a son named Herod. Herod subdued the last Hasmonean ruler and
ushered in his own dynasty. He came to be known as Herod the Great, king of the Jews, tetrarch
under Rome‟s authority, and ruled from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C.
After Herod‟s death his sons Herod Archelaus, Philip, and Herod Antipas succeeded him
and reigned over various parts of Palestine. The dynasty saw its end with the death of Herod the
Great‟s great-grandson Herod Agrippa II in 92 A.D. Although politically, the dynasty ended
with the fleeing of Herod Agrippa II from Jerusalem in 66 B.C. due to the Jews‟ Great Revolt
against Rome.
Herod the Great and his progeny had a profound effect on the New Testament times
because they were ruling Palestine during the time of Jesus. Herod the Great was the tetrarch of
Palestine during the days of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus when Jesus was born in
Bethlehem Matt. 2:1; Luke 3:1. He was the one who tried to kill baby Jesus and caused his
family to retreat into Egypt until his death.