Between the Halves: From Ezra to John the Baptist

Following the books of the Prophets, with the Jews once again reestablished in their Promised Land, there is a significant gap of about five hundred years that separates these stories from the coming of Christ in the New Testament. In some cases, these are referred to as ‘The Silent Years,’ but we would like to fill in some of these blanks with what we do know of the Jewish people and the faith that they clung to as they waited for this Messiah. While this period is not as closely tracked with a play by play of Biblical texts, the area was long plagued by shifts in regional owners and warring borders, as it had been for many years. During this time, the Jews could only cling to the laws that were still being carried out from Moses’ time and the newly rebuilt cities, even as the world continued to shift around them. From this, we will be entering the New Testament with much the same rules and regulations as we left off, but with a firmer understanding of their experiences and how they hung onto their faith.

Shortly after the end of Ezra and Malachi’s glimpse of life in Jerusalem, the Persian lost ownership of the territory to the invading Greeks. Alexander the Great was coming through spreading his Grecian Empire, leaving much of the local cultures intact as long as taxes were paid and they adapted to the Greek language. After his death, the land was governed by the Ptolemies over Egypt, using the area primarily as a buffer between the warring factions of the splintered Hellenistic Nations. The Library of Alexandria commissioned, with the approval of the Jewish High Priest at the time, a Grecian translation of the Old Testament, giving us the Septuagint.

The area today known as Syria was seized from the Ptolemies by the Seleucids, who forced much stricter Hellenistic integration. These new rulers sacked the temple, forbidding the people from practicing their offerings, circumcisions, and sabbaths. This spurred the people into what would be known as the Maccabean Revolution. An attempt by the Seleucids to bring about a quick end to the rebellion by executing anyone in defiance and building fortresses to enforce their rule resulted in the development of a more determinedly traditional group taking root. It is thought that this is the beginning of the group we will see in later lessons as the Pharisees, those that would risk their lives to hold to the Mosaic law. This revolution secured them 79 years of independence, in part due to the life or death dedication that the Jews had long put towards protecting their traditions. This ended when the Romans moved in and demanded vassalship, installing their own rulers over the region. Herod was appointed King of the region through the favor of the Emperor in the Senate. This half-Jewish King ruled tyrannically, which only further distanced the People of Judea from accepting their latest owners. Herod commissioned yet another Temple, hoping to quell the rebellious nation.

Despite the 500 year gap between the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible, we know quite a bit about the historical background and the power struggle over the Jewish people and their land. As ownership passed between hands, the Jews had their first translation of the Old Testament into a new language, the Septuagint, wrapping up the end of this section as it was passed along as a finished product. We have several other books and texts from the time, but these were determined much later by the Catholics to not be included in today’s standard compilation. We left off in Malachi with preparations for the Messiah and a look into what he will bring for the Jewish people. So, next week, we will jump ahead, as the Bible does, to the birth of Jesus Christ.

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