Crucify Him!

Matthew 27:16,17 in some versions, and some ancient manuscripts, gives a longer name for Barabbas which heightens the dramatic contrast: “Which one do you want me to release for you? Yeshua who is Bar-Abba, or Yeshua who is called Messiah?” Some biblical scholars, such as Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, suggest that the name Yeshua before Bar Abba was just a scribal error. He noticed that in Matthew 27:17, in the clause, ‘Who do you want me to release to you, Barabbas or Jesus’ the last two letters of ‘to you’ in Greek form the standard abbreviation used for ‘Yeshua’. The name ‘Yeshua’ was one of the words consistently abbreviated by writing only the first and last letter(s). Samuel reasoned that a scribe, in anticipation of the name Jesus, could have accidently read the final letters of υμιν (‘to you’) twice. Hence the name ‘Jesus Barabbas‘ in only some, rather than all, ancient manuscripts.

Others think it more likely that the name Yeshua was removed from before Barabbas in some manuscripts out of concern that it would cause confusion.
The original Hebrew-Aramaic name of Jesus is Yeshuˈa, which is derived from the Hebrew verb, yasha, that means “to deliver, save, or rescue,” and is short for Yehōshuˈa (Joshua). It was a popular name during the time of Messiah, so it is possible that both men had the same name and were thus differentiated by their designation as Bar-Abba (son of father), and HaMashiach (the anointed). If that was the case, then the crowd was choosing between the Yeshua who raised the dead and a Yeshua who murdered people and stole from them. They chose the latter.

 The chief priests and officers of the Sanhedrin were determined that Yeshua be punished in accordance with the shame filled, torturous Roman manner of punishment for slaves and rebels – crucifixion. Why? Because they wanted Him to be discredited in the eyes of the people in general, and even in the eyes of His followers. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 states: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.” For the Jewish religious leaders, to have Yeshua crucified was to demonstrate that He was not a man of God but One who was cursed of God, He hangs on the tree – this horrible instrument of torture. They failed to realise that He was taking our curse upon Himself in order to gift us His blessedness.

Scourged” was a Roman judicial penalty, consisting of a severe beating with a multi-lashed whip containing embedded pieces of bone and metal that made a bloody pulp of a man’s body. It was a brutal punishment that was standard practice before a crucifixion. The person to be scourged was stripped of his clothing, tied to a post or pillar, and beaten until his flesh hung in shreds. Unlike Jewish practice, there was no maximum number of strokes: the whipping could go on as long as the soldier administering it wished. Men frequently collapsed and died as the result of a scourging.

These Roman soldiers took out all their frustrations against the Jewish people on this One called their king. The physical torments of scourging were followed by sarcastic mocking and deriding combined with more physical abuse. The garment placed upon Jesus after his brutal scourging was likely one that had been worn and cast off as useless, “a scarlet robe…faded to resemble purple” (The Wycliffe Bible Commentary). The ancients (especially the Romans) used the term purple when speaking of various shades of red (McGarvey, 1875, p. 361; Barnes, 1997). Yeshua‘s tattered flash and blood would have stuck to this robe, and then been torn away when they stripped it off to put His own clothes back on Him. Cruel sinners doing all they could to punish and torment the pure Son of God. It was a bloodied, weakened Man who staggered back out for Pilate to present to the people as they were given one last chance to choose where their faith would lie.

Pilate had no qualms about killing anyone, guilty or innocent. But what he did care about, what affected his political fortunes, power and prestige, was ensuring the peace and stability of the region under his charge. He had bitter experience of how dedicated these Jews could be to their faith and the last thing he wanted was a riot for killing their Messiah, or for failing to kill Him. The intelligence he received would have given him some idea of how large the crowds were that followed this Man, and also of Yeshua’s total lack of attack on Roman authority or institutions in His sermons, which was in line with Pilate’s current experience in questioning the Man. All His rhetorical attacks seemed to be against these religious leaders who had now brought Him to be tried. If Pilate could get them to take responsibility for His death there would be nothing for the Jews to riot against him about.

And then there was his wife’s dream, Romans were generally superstitious polytheists. The objective of Roman worship was to gain the blessing of the gods and thereby gain prosperity for themselves, their families and communities. Anything that angered the gods could threaten such prosperity. Another good reason to goad the Jews into taking full responsibility for getting rid of this Man who threatened Roman order by His very existence and who made religious claims reserved for Caesar (like being the Son of God).

To have the chief priests cry out in loud affirmation: “We have no king but Caesar” was a mighty victory indeed. It discredited any and every suggestion of a Jewish Messiah King and denounced all Jewish longings to be free from Roman rule.

Before Yeshua HaMashiach was handed over to be crucified, Pilate gave the crowds the opportunity to have one prisoner released in celebration of Passover and offered them this “King of the Jews“. Although Rome found it highly offensive for anyone they had not appointed to be called “king“, this Man had not, and would not, partake in any violent uprising against them, so Pilate thought Him the best option to release. Those of Yeshua‘s followers who knew He’d been taken were still in fearful shock and didn’t know what to do, whereas the chief priests had planned this out and gathered their supporters to incite the mob gathered outside Pilate’s Praetorium. They called for the release of Barabbas and crucifixion of Christ.

Barabbas and the two men who were crucified with Christ were likely all involved in the same insurrection (attack, or series of attacks, on Roman interests). The scriptures do not tell us why it was Barabbas that the crowd called for, rather than either of the men who ended up being crucified with Yeshua, but we may have a hint in his name. In Hebrew and Aramaic Barabbas is Bar (son of) abba (father), which figuratively can mean son of the teacher. So, he may have been the son of a rabbi, possibly one of the men on the Sanhedrin who had condemned Yeshua. Matthew described him as ‘a notorious prisoner’ (Matthew 27:16), and Mark as ‘someone who had committed murder in the insurrection’ (Mark 15:7). Whoever he was, the crowd was clamoring for his release, and the crucifixion of the Son of God.

The hurtful betrayal, the condemnation of the only innocent Man, involved so much sin from so many, and yet it fulfilled the perfect will of God. In His sovereignty God uses all things together for good, even the greatest evil imaginable cannot escape the web of God’s goodness. Our sin can never surprise or out-maneuver God, He knows it all from before the beginning. Yet our sin can have devastating consequences for us, as it did for Judas and as it would for the population of Jerusalem. Matthew hints at the tragedy of God’s judgment that is to come through drawing attention to Jeremiah’s prophesy about the potter and at the same time loosely quoting from Zechariah’s reference to the miserly thirty pieces of silver that they had valued Him at and that was thrown at the house of the Lord. He thus assures his readers that God foretold of this travesty, and that His judgments are on their way.

The Romans intended crucifixion to be:
1) unspeakably cruel;
2) mercilessly lingering; and
3) inescapably public (public shaming and warning to others);
Thus, crucifixion was always on a low hill outside the main city gate (because a gate is a bottleneck – any person going into/out of the city must pass that way).

From the palace it was a short walk of about 400 metres to Golgotha.  For any who had been scourged almost to death before their crucifixion it was a long, arduous walk carrying the heavy crossbeam patibulum on the shredded remains of their shoulders. Yeshua‘s battered body may have made it to the city gate before failing under the weight of the patibulum. Simon from Cyrene, an ancient Greek colony near present day Shahhat, Libya in North Africa was heading from the countryside into Jerusalem, likely for Passover, when he was grabbed by the Roman soldiers and compelled to carry Yeshua’s patibulum. It seems that this encounter with Yeshua changed Simon forever, and he led his family to Christ. Mark writes that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus – obviously two men who were well known in the church. In Romans Paul writes: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother” (Rom 16:13 CSB). Paul may be referring to Simon’s son by the same name, lending further credence to the belief that this family became well known and respected members of the church in Rome.

By now the word had spread and many women came out to grieve what was being done to the only holy man they knew. If only their tears could melt the hearts of these cruel Roman soldiers. Despite His agony, Yeshua turned His attention to these women, encouraging them to stop crying for Him because this was the Father’s will, and warning them of what was to come.

Mark tells us that it was the third hour when Yeshua was crucified. The Jews divided the daylight hours into twelve. So, the third hour was three hours after sunrise, so around 9am. The whole trial process before the Sanhedrin and then Pilate had begun at sunrise and taken around 3 hours.

In the Bible, the word gall most often refers to a bitter-tasting substance made of a plant such as wormwood or myrrh. Mark specifies that the bitterness in the wine was due to the presence of myrrh. Myrrh means ‘bitter’ in Arabic. It is a resiny brownish sap that comes out of cuts from the bark of trees that are members of the Commiphora species. This species of tree typically grows in Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. In ancient medicine, myrrh was believed to have antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties. Wine mixed with myrrh created a potion that dulled the sense of pain. The Talmud states: “The women of highest rank in Jerusalem, out of free impulse, and at their own cost, gave the condemned man this draught.” This, too, was a fulfilment of prophesy from Psalm 62, with the second half of that verse to be fulfilled later that day. Yeshua refused this drink designed to lessen His suffering and dull His senses.

The accused were nailed to the patibulum while lying down, so after having refused the analgesic wine, Yeshua was stripped naked and thrown to the ground, reopening His wounds, grinding in dirt, and causing further bleeding. They nailed His “hands” to the patibulum. The Greek meaning of “hands” includes the wrist. It is more likely that the nails went through Yeshua’s wrists, between the two major bones of the forearm. Evidence of nails being used by the Romans for crucifixion is also provided by Josephus, who writes that at the Siege of Jerusalem (70 C.E.), “the soldiers out of rage and hatred, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest.” The ‘nails’ were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7 inch (13 to 18 cm) long, with a square shaft 3/8 inch (1 cm) across. The huge nail damages or severs the major nerve to the hand (the median nerve) upon impact, causing continuous agonizing pain up both of Yeshua’s arms. Then the patibulum with its sign (titulus) declaring His name and crime “YESHUA HA-NATZRATI, THE KING OF THE JEWS” was lifted up onto the upright stauros (σταυρός) and secured there. Next, thick iron spikes were pounded through His feet, attaching them to the stauros. Every part of Yeshua’s body, from head to feet, suffered torturous, agonizing assault as He hung on that cross for our sin.

John is the first to alert us to this whole scene being a fulfilment of Psalm 22 when he writes:
This was so the Scripture would be fulfilled,
“They divided My garments among them,
and for My clothing they cast lots.”

Yes, even the finer details of this horror had been foretold by God through David’s Psalm. All things are in His hands.

Yeshua’s powerful first words from the agony of the cross were: Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. When we understand what He was going through for us, and because of us, when He uttered that plea on our behalf there is no excuse left for refusing to forgive anyone for anything. Such radical forgiveness is part of what it means to take up our cross and follow Yeshua.

Do not expect a positive response to your generous forgiveness. Yeshua’s tormentors just increased their verbal abuse directed towards Him.

For Yeshua, the abandonment and rejection from His own people was total.  He was despised and rejected by men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as One from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Isaiah 53:3 ESV. Yet, His cry for their forgiveness was not dependent on them repenting or apologizing or proving faithful. It was not “forgive them for they are sorry” but “forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing“, so it was not impacted by the abuse they were now hurling at Him.

According to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (BDAG), λῃστής (translated here as “evildoers“) has two meanings. The first is “robber, highwayman, bandit” and the second is “revolutionary, insurrectionist, guerrilla, terrorist.” The Greek work kleptes refers to a common thief; but in Matthew and Mark’s account of the thieves crucified, the Greek word lestes is used, which has the root meaning “to plunder.” Though we don’t have information on the nature of their crimes, the use of this term indicates they were probably a part of a rebel group. While the ESV has chosen to translate it as “robber,” the context clearly suggests a very serious crime is in mind. If Barabbas was a robber, he must have been a violent one – and John does not need to use an adjective to express that. Mark 15:7 backs up that John means insurrectionist by λῃστής, as he describes Barabbas as a rebel who committed murder in an insurrection. Given the fact that Barabbas was in custody for his part in an insurrection, it seems likely that the two λῃστής crucified with Jesus were also insurrectionists. If not, they were at least violent robbers – the meaning of λῃστής does not allow for ordinary thieves. The best conclusion, then, is that Yeshua was crucified alongside two rebels (so NIV)/revolutionaries (so NLT). They both had blood on their hands from violently attacking others, whereas Yeshua’s hands had only touched others to bring healing. One of them recognized this.

Here was the first fruits of Yeshua’s forgiveness. A man whose heart was transformed. He had nothing to commend himself and nothing to offer, being under the same death sentence, but he believed and it was sufficient. “Remember me” is an earnest plea for mercy in the royal court when Yeshua assumes His kingly status and power. It was a declaration of saving faith that Yeshua really is the King of God’s kingdom.

Yeshua’s response brings hope and comfort to so many who have nothing to offer and no way of making up for the wrong they have done. His promise is sure and true. “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” This very day, Nissan 14th, before the sun sets, this new believer will be with Him in paradise. No penance was needed for all his sins, Yeshua was paying the full price for that. Go directly from the shame, pain and sorrows of this life into the joys of paradise with Christ. To be with Him forever!

Here we have some intimate details missed by the other Gospel accounts. Mary’s overcoming love for her Son and Yeshua’s care for His mother. The other disciples may have scattered, and stayed away out of fear of being caught and likewise crucified, as the Romans were wont to do to all members of any group they considered to be a threat to the public order of the Empire. But Mary, her sister and Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene would not be kept away by anything. This is the second glimmer of hope we see in the sea of great darkness covering this event. Yeshua was not totally alone, the women were there. One of His male disciples was also there. The one who knew the High Priest, the one this author refers to as “the disciple whom He loved“. Most scholars think the author is referring to himself. John is the Gospel writer who focused on Yeshua‘s time in Judea and temple attendance for the Jewish festivals. It appears that he is the only male disciple at the cross with the women. None of Yeshua’s brothers are there. So, fulfilling His duty as eldest Son, Yeshua hands His mother over to the care of this disciple whom He loves, this one who stayed close despite the dangers, the one who was available, the one who was supporting her now at her point of greatest need.

Yeshua had been suffering on the cross for about three hours. It was now the sixth hour since the sun came up – the middle of the day. It was the brightest, lightest time of the day and suddenly all light was gone – darkness covered the land. It was Passover time, all the Jews had been focusing on the story of their exodus from Egypt. God had sent ten plagues to convince Pharaoh to let the Jews go. The ninth plague was darkness on all the land for three days. Now they were faced with darkness on all the land for three hours. The next plague, the one that set them free, was the death of the firstborn son, a plague the Jews were only saved from by the blood of the spotless, innocent Passover lamb on the wooden lintel and door posts of their houses. Upon that middle cross, on this 14th day of the first month, His blood sprinkled on the crossbeam and upright post. After the plague of darkness, He would die as the substitute sacrifice for all mankind – the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

At the ninth hour (3pm) Yeshua gathered all His strength to cry out the first verse of Psalm 22: Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and the darkness started lifting. For the learned Jews who had memorized the TaNaKh in Hebrew (or Aramaic) this cry would have directed them to the whole of Psalm 22, which they had seen playing out before their eyes. But the bystanders close to the cross at this time were not Hebrew speakers so totally misunderstood and thought Yeshua was crying out for Elijah to rescue Him.

Psalm 69, which spoke of the zeal for God’s house consuming Him that was saw with the cleansing of the Temple, also spoke of the response to Messiah’s thirst on the cross – He was given (in the Greek) oxos.  Thayer’s Lexicon defines oxos as follows: The mixture of sour wine or vinegar and water which the Roman soldiers were accustomed to drink.

Yeshua had something more to say, but His mouth and throat were so parched by the ordeal of crucifixion that He did not have the physical strength to say it; thus this request for moisture for His lips, “I thirst“. It was sufficient, and Yeshua managed to squeeze out His last two declarations.

The Greek word translated as “been accomplished” in John 19:28 is tetelestai, the same word Yeshua cried out after He had received the oxos. He said “I thirst” because He knew that all things had already been accomplished with the three hours of darkness and it was now time to bring His suffering to an end.

We don’t know if Yeshua’s last words on the cross were in His native Hebrew (שָׁלֵם / shalem), or in the more universal language of Greek (τετέλεσται / tetelestai) so that the Roman soldiers could also understand what was being said.

The Hebrew word that τετέλεσται (it is finished) best translates is שָׁלֵם. In the context of John 19:30 שָׁלֵם has the meaning, “It is complete, finished, ended”. In the Torah, שָׁלֵם also has the meanings:
# made whole or good,
# restored the thing lost Joel 2:25, or stolen Exodus 21:37,
# debt paid 2 Kings 4:7Psalm 37:21 Proverbs 22:27 Job 41:3

The Greek τετέλεσται / tetelestai comes from the verb teleo, which means “to bring to an end, to complete, to accomplish.” It signifies the successful end to a significant course of action – “I did exactly what I set out to do.” Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek, which speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present, “this happened and it is still in effect today. The results of the cross are eternal, there never is or will be any other way for us to be reconciled to God.

It is finished” also refers to completing the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies, symbols, and foreshadowings of the coming Messiah. From Genesis to Malachi, there are over 300 prophecies detailing the coming of the Anointed One, that were fulfilled by Yeshua. From the “seed” who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15), to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, to the prediction of the “messenger” of the Lord (John the Baptist) who would “prepare the way” for the Messiah, all prophecies of Yeshua’s life, ministry, and death were fulfilled and finished at the cross.

The Cross is the sole basis for God’s total provision for us. Everything He did, does, and will do for us and in us, He does through the Cross and the shed blood of His only Son. There is no path back to Him that does not go through the Cross. Paul wrote: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14 NIV); “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Corinthians 5:21); and “God presented Him as the atoning sacrifice through faith in His blood, in order to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had passed over the sins committed beforehand. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and to justify the one who has faith in Jesus. “(Romans 3:25-26 BSB)

When the veil in the Temple was torn, the emptiness of the Holy of Holies was revealed. There was no ark of the covenant in this temple, it had been lost after the first temple was destroyed.

Yeshua’s last words from the cross, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit were once again quoted from the Psalms. This time it was Psalm 31 that the Son of David was drawing attention to. It is a sharp rebuke to His enemies, a comfort to those persecuted for righteousness, and a declaration of absolute trust in His Father.

As the first group of Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple, Yeshua breathed His last and the thick 60feet (20m) long curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. The tearing of the temple veil signified the removal of what had separated us from God’s presence and need for earthly mediators between God and man. Christ’s ministry as our High Priest was being inaugurated.  But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11–12 ESV)

Although there were different practices in different Jewish groups, for the majority of the population in New Testament times the Passover lamb was slaughtered between 3-6pm on the 14th day of the first Hebrew month (Nisan). At the same time Israel began slaughtering their Passover lambs on Nisan 14, Yeshua, the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29) breathed His last on a cross. Thus was fulfilled the prophetic symbolism of the Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7).

The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29) was, through the offering of His own precious blood, appointed our forever High Priest. Our atoning sacrifice became our High Priest. He was both the pure, unblemished sacrifice and the One who offered this sacrifice to God. The curtain was torn, the barrier between us and the holy presence of God removed, the Holy of Holies is now with us wherever we are in the world, accessed through the blood of Yeshua.

God’s ways and timing are perfect in every way, His will is accomplished no matter what man plans. Concerning the Passover lamb God had declared: It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it. (Exodus 12:46) & They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute of the Passover they shall observe it. (Numbers 9:12). He had also prophesied through David: The afflictions of the righteous are many, but the Lord rescues him from them all.  He protects all his bones, not one of them is broken. (Psalm 34:19-20). The Jewish religious leaders didn’t want anyone hanging on a cross during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so asked Pilate that their legs be broken to hasten death so they could be removed. While they were negotiating this, Yeshua committed His spirit into the Father’s hands, bowed His head and gave up His spirit. The soldiers broke the legs of the two others crucified with Messiah but seeing that He was already dead they had no need to break His legs. As God had foretold, not one of His bones was broken.

Another prophetic scripture was to be fulfilled before Yeshua was laid to rest: Then I will pour out on the house of David and on the people of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and prayer, and they will look on Me, the One they have pierced. They will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son. Zechariah 12:10 BSB. Just to make sure, one soldier thrust his spear into Yeshua’s side, likely under His ribs, piercing Him and causing blood and water to gush out. Crucifixion typically resulted in death through one of two ways. The first way was hypovolemic shock, loss of blood volume through severe dehydration or blood loss from the flogging that preceded the crucifixion. This caused the heart to beat rapidly, desperately trying to pump enough blood around the body, and this causes fluid to gather in the pericardium (a fluid-filled sac that encases the heart and the roots of the great vessels). The second way was asphyxiation as the victim tired of pulling themself up on pierced wrists and feet to breathe. Asphyxiation can also result in the buildup of fluid around the heart. The gush of water and blood confirmed that Yeshua’s pericardial sack had both filled with fluid indicating death and been pierced along with at least one of the great vessels therein, so no blood would be left for His heart to pump. It was a dramatic piercing, as the scriptures had foretold.

Not only had our Lord’s death been physically torturous, but crucifixion was also specifically designed to be the ultimate insult to personal dignity, the last word in humiliating and dehumanizing treatment. Degradation was the whole point. It was the worst of shaming.

They will look at Him...” Herein lies salvation. To look at Him who was pierced for us. To look at Him who died for us. To look at Him who took our sin upon Himself. To look at Him our atoning sacrifice. To look at Him who is able to save us completely. Not look to another, neither priest nor prophet. Not look at ourselves, neither in admiration nor disgust. Look at Yeshua, the author and perfector of our faith, and receive from Him what we are incapable of earning for ourself.

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39. Farr, Stan. The Passover Lamb. Rabbi Yeshua. [Online] 2016. [Cited: October 21st, 2023.]
40. MDiv, Rick Lanser. THE HEBREW CALENDAR OF THE SECOND TEMPLE ERA. The Shiloh Excavations. [Online] March 17th, 2023.
41. PBS. Religion. The Roman Empire in the First Century. [Online] [Cited: January 31st, 2024.]
42. Jongkind, Dirk. Was Barabbas called Jesus Barabbas? Tyndale House. [Online] April 14th, 2022.
43. Bolinger, Hope. Who was Barabbas and Why Did the People Choose Him over Jesus? Bible Study Tools. [Online] April 27th, 2023.
44. Contributors. Was Barabbas’ given name Jesus? Hermeneutics Stack Exchange. [Online] [Cited: February 1st, 2024.]
45. —. What crime was committed by the “thieves” crucified with Jesus? Christianity Stack Exchange. [Online] [Cited: February 2nd, 2024.]
46. —. What does λῃστής [= lēstēs] mean in Mark 11:17? Biblical Hermeneutics. [Online] [Cited: February 2nd, 2024.]
47. JamesOrr. BARABBAS. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: February 2nd, 2024.]
48. Editor. Who was Barabbas in the bible? Bible Info. [Online] [Cited: February 2nd, 2024.]
49. Bolt, Peter. How did Judas die? A case study In Gospel discrepancies. Moore Theological College. [Online] October 10th, 2013.
50. Fletcher, Elizabeth. Torturing the condemned Jesus. Jesus Story. [Online] [Cited: February 3rd, 2024.]
51. Lyons, Eric. Was the Robe Placed on Jesus Scarlet or Purple? Apologetics Press. [Online] [Cited: February 3rd, 2024.]
52. Windle, Bryan. Behold The Man: Where Did Pilate Sentence Jesus? Bible Archaeology Report. [Online] April 14th, 2022.
53. McIntosh, Matthew A. Crucifixion as Punishment in Ancient Rome. Brewminate. [Online] January 30th, 2020.
54. Contributors. The Greek word “Stauros” does it mean Cross or Stake? Biblical Hermeneutics. [Online] [Cited: February 4th, 2024.]
55. Gould, S. Baring. Wine Mingled with Myrrh. — the Stupefying Potion. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: February 5th, 2024.]
56. Harris, Murray J. Today You Will Be with Me in Paradise: What Did Jesus Mean? Word by Word. Lexam Press. [Online] November 8th, 2021.
57. Ryan, Joel. Why Does Jesus Give His Mother to John While on the Cross? Bible Study Tools. [Online] April 5th, 2023.
58. S. Michael Houdmann (EDITOR). What did Jesus mean when He said, “It is finished”? Got Questions. [Online] [Cited: February 8th, 2024.]
59. Pritchard, Dr Ray. The Meaning of Tetelestai – “It is Finished”. Christianity. [Online] October 11th, 2023.
60. Admin. What does the Greek word “tetelestai” mean? [Online] [Cited: February 8th, 2024.]
61. Webb, Perry. Tetelestai – What did Jesus really say in John 19:30 assuming he spoke Aramaic or Hebrew? Biblical Hermeneutics. [Online] May 18th, 2020.
62. Jr, Gary Manning. “Paid in Full”? The Meaning of τετέλεσται (Tetelestai) in Jesus’ Final Words. The Good Book Blog. [Online] April 20th, 2022.
63. Rutledge, Fleming. The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. Eerdmans. 2015. ISBN: 9780802847324

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* Jesus warned that many would come in His name and deceive many. How do we avoid doing what the Jews outside Pilate’s place did and choosing the wrong Jesus?
* What was the significance of Jesus dying on a cross (tree)?
* In your culture what obligations do people have to their parents?
* How was north Africa connected to the cross of Christ, and what impact did it have on this man?
* How do we view our sin in light of what Christ suffered for it?
* What did Jesus accomplish through His death / what was finished on the cross?

Trial & Denial – 14th Nissan

This examination before Annas was informal, and extrajudicial, distinct from the formal trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. Yeshua was not yet accused of anything; so far, no judge had ascended the judgment-seat, neither were any witnesses called to give evidence against the prisoner. It was held with the view of extorting something from the captive, which might afterwards be used against Him. Brutality and intimidation were employed to try to force a confession. Yeshua‘s response exposed both this illegitimate procedure of trying to force a confession from the accused instead of hearing testimony from witnesses and Annas’ sin of plotting in secret against Yeshua’s life as opposed to Yeshua’s innocence in doing everything in the open: I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them; they know what I said.”

The inquisitor himself was so ashamed, and for the moment so confounded, that a zealous official struck Yeshua with his open hand. The innocent, unabashed face of our persecuted Lord was thus smitten because His simple defense had silenced His cruel opponent. Seeing his tactics were failing and feeling uncomfortably exposed, the senior Kohen Gadol (High Priest), Annas, sent Yeshua on to the official Kohen Gadol at that time, his son-in-law Caiaphas.

As we saw in Who Wrote Each of the Four Gospels 7 – The Witness of the Scriptures on John – Renewal Blog, the author of John’s gospel appears to have been a priest who lived in Jerusalem and served in the temple. So, he was known to the high priest, familiar with his palace and comfortable in its courtyard. He fit in with the other priests gathered to see what the commotion was about. Peter, however, was like a fish out of water. He didn’t know anyone else here, didn’t dress the same or sound the same, with his Galilean accent. Peter would have both looked and sounded conspicuously out of place in that setting. The lowly servant girl who kept watch at the door was the first one to guess at why this stranger was sitting among them, come over to Peter and challenge that he had been with Yeshua.

Fear gripped Peter, he was a stranger in a strange and threatening place. He had lashed out in the garden and slashed off the ear of the High Priest’s servant, and now he was in the courtyard with those who had witnessed his crime, those who were determined to kill his Master. He wanted to be there for Yeshua, but couldn’t do anything to help, every option only made things worse. He was traumatized and confused. How could this be happening? None of it made sense and there was nothing he could do to fix this mess. Before he knew what had happened, Peter had denied his Lord a second time.

The pressure was mounting. Now it wasn’t just a lowly servant-girl who challenged Peter, but another man, someone who with authority, a servant of the High Priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, someone who had personal reason to want to do him harm. This time the questioning was more menacing. Peter felt trapped, like a cornered animal. He began to invoke a curse on himself, to curse and to swear an oath:I do not know the Man!

The rooster crowed. Mark tells us it was for the second time. Yeshua turned and looked at him. Suddenly Peter realized what had been happening. He had done what he was determined he would never do, denied his Lord and best friend three times. He had totally failed. He knew it and Yeshua knew it, Yeshua had known it from the beginning and now Peter saw this weakness his Master had known all along, and he was devastated. He fled that place of utter failure, went out and wept bitterly, grieving the loss of who he thought he was.

John obviously did not have access to these proceedings before the Sanhedrin, and so gives us no record of them, as he only recorded that which he witnessed personally.

Although our Saviour was falsely accused and slandered when He had done no wrong, said no wrong and thought no wrong, it is worth remembering when we are falsely accused that (as Spurgeon preached):
When I have been slandered, I have often said to myself, “Ah! they have spoken a
lie against me; but, if they had known me better, they might have said quite as bad
a thing as that, and yet have only spoken what was true.” There is not one man
living, who is in his right senses, who would like to have all his thoughts written
down, or all his words and acts recorded.
(The Spurgeon Library | Christ Before Annas)

The Mishnah, written around 200 A.D. to record the Oral Torah of second temple times and beyond, presented Jewish ideals of their legal system. Few legal systems live up to their ideals. According to the Mishnah, capital cases had to be decided by a Sanhedrin of 23 judges, a Great Sanhedrin of 71 judges for accusations such a false prophet. It is unclear whether Caiaphas convened the full Great Sanhedrin of 71 judges or just formed a Sanhedrin of 23 judges sympathetic to his cause for this hastily convened court at the crack of dawn for a capital case trial. He did what was needed to ensure the desired verdict.

The Sanhedrin were not to originate charges but only investigate those brought before it by at least two credible witnesses who had warned the perpetrator immediately prior to committing the act that it was a capital offense and whose testimony had to be in total agreement in every detail.  If the conviction in a capital case was unanimous but rendered too quickly the accused was acquitted on the assumption that the judges had not adequately considered the possibility of the defendant’s innocence.   The Mishna concludes that:

The Talmud declares that “forty years before the destruction of the [Second] Temple, capital punishment ceased in Israel. This date is traditionally put at 28 A.D., a time that corresponds with the 18th year of Tiberius’ reign. From this time on, the Sanhedrin required the approval of the Roman governor of Judea (Pilate) before they could punish anyone by death, and only the Roman governor could order execution by the most shameful and cruel means – crucifixion.

These rushed proceedings to get Yeshua convicted and crucified while Pilate was in Jerusalem for Passover contravened Jewish law but those involved justified their unlawful actions on the basis of necessity.

When their witnesses proved to be false the only legal option was to acquit the accused. They were too heavily invested in Yeshua’s guilt to do that. A sense of urgency propelled them to have Him convicted and done away with NOW, before His popularity could grow any stronger or the cries of “hosannah to the son of David” grow any louder and threaten their good standing with Pilate. No one who was not appointed by Rome could have any position of leadership over the people. That’s why groups like the Essenes considered the Temple leadership and practices irredeemably corrupt.

Yeshua‘s reply: “you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven” makes direct reference to Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13. It would have left no doubt in the minds of Caiaphas or those on the council: Yeshua of Nazareth was claiming to be the eternal Messiah and Son of God. Instantly, they all condemned Him as deserving death and some of these judges on the Sanhedrin showed their disgust by spitting on Him, mocking Him and striking Him. Solemn court proceedings had degenerated into mob violence, and that carried out by the very judges themselves!

For this sentence to be carried out they had to take Yeshua to Pilate.

John, with his particular focus on all things priestly, notes for us that the contingent from the Sanhedrin did not go into the Praetorium because entering this Gentile area would have made them ceremonially unclean and thereby unable to eat their Passover meal that evening. With Pilate’s history of brutally crushing any dissent or perceived threat to Rome’s absolute rule it is interesting that he shows any reticence to rubber stamping the Sanhedrin‘s verdict and executing this usurper who seemed so little moved by Rome’s power. He was used to men pleading or cursing, but this man did neither, showed neither fear nor disrespect but a quiet confidence that everything was going to some plan that Pilate could not grasp.

Yeshua was sent from one side of the palace to the other, from Pilate to Herod, and a friendship was born. The chief priests and scribes from the Sanhedrin followed His across to continue with their accusations and determination that the death penalty be applied before time ran out and the Passover was upon them. Herod had feared that somehow Yeshua might be a reincarnation of Yohanan the Immerser, whom he had imprisoned and then, at the insistence of his stepdaughter, murdered. Herod had enjoyed many a long and deep theological discussion with Yohanan, but Yeshua would say nothing to him, nothing! Relieved that Yeshua was clearly not Yohanan, Herod quickly tired of this sport, and sent him back to Pilate. With this political maneuver Pilate had gained an important ally in his efforts to govern these strange, stubborn people whose ways were so different to those of other groups in the Roman Empire with their insistence on only one God and vehement rejection of every Roman god, including Emperor worship.

Reference List

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3. Holy Bible. New International Version. s.l. : Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.
4. HCSB. Holman Christian Standard Bible. s.l. : Holman Bible Publishers, 2009.
5. Holy Bible. New American Standard Bible. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995, 2020.
6. Messianic Jewish and Christian scholars. Holy Scriptures Tree of Life Version (TLV). s.l. : Baker Books.
7. Translation Committee. The Legacy Standard Bible (LSB). LSB. [Online]
8. Bible Commentaries. John 18:13. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: January 20th, 2024.]
9. Contributors. What is the significance of the young man who runs away naked in Mark’s gospel? Biblical Hermeneutics. [Online] [Cited: January 13th, 2024.]
10. Kuruvilla, Abraham. Who Was That Young Man? Voice . [Online] December 30th, 2013.
11. Bilkes, Gerald M. The Healing of Malchus’s Ear. Christian Study Library. [Online] [Cited: January 20th, 2024.]
12. Webmaster. Why Was Jesus’ Trial Illegal? Bible Verse Study. [Online] [Cited: January 20th, 2024.]
13. Rajkumar, Paul. Who’s in the Dock? A Lawyer looks at the Trial of Jesus. Bible & Theology. [Online] July 18th, 2022.
14. Linder, Professor Douglas O. The Trial of Jesus: An Account. Famous Trials. [Online] [Cited: January 20th, 2024.]
15. Nydam, Don. A Lawyer Looks At Trials Of Jesus. Sermons . [Online] [Cited: January 20th, 2024.]
16. Williamson, Stephen. Timeline of the Last Supper, Jesus’s Arrest and the Crucifixion. SWCS. [Online] [Cited: January 20th, 2024.]
17. Webmaster. The Arrest of Jesus. Bible Study. [Online] [Cited: January 20th, 2024.]
18. NASEC, Thayer’s, Strong’s & Englishman’s. 4616. sindón. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: January 13th, 2024.]
19. Fillion, L. C. The Life of Christ: A Historical, Critical, and Apologetic Exposition, Volume III. s.l. : Herder Book Co., 1929.
20. Rideout, Moshe. What Is The Definition Of Cohort In Ancient Rome. Ancient Rome. [Online] December 11th, 2023.
21. NASEC, Thayer’s, Strong’s & Englishman’s. 3162. machaira. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: January 13th, 2024.]
22. Abbott, Shari. Jesus’ Last Days Timeline: the Cross and the Resurrection. Reasons for Hope* Jesus. [Online] [Cited: October 20th, 2023.]
23. —. Was Jesus Crucified on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday? Reasons for Hope* Jesus. [Online] [Cited: October 20th, 2023.]
24. Bible Study Webmaster. Last Days of Jesus Timeline. Bible Study. [Online] [Cited: October 20th, 2023.]
25. Jews for Jesus. Jesus’ Last Week Leading Up to Passover: A Day-by-Day Look. Jews for Jesus. [Online] March 09, 2011.
26. Köstenberger, Andreas. April 3, AD 33: Why We Believe We Can Know the Exact Date Jesus Died. Centre for Biblical Studies. [Online] April 8th, 2020.
27. Hunt, Michal E. Jesus’ Last Week in Jerusalem. Agape Bible Study. [Online] [Cited: October 20th, 2023.]
28. Bond, Helen K. All you ever wanted to know about Jesus’ last week on earth. Brainstorm. [Online] April 9th, 2020.,disciples%20(Monday%2FTuesday)..
29. Forbes, Peter. The Last Week Of Jesus’ Life. Bible Study Manuals. [Online] May 1999.
30. Blue Letter Bible Minister. Christ :: The Three Days and the Three Nights. Blue Letter Bible. [Online] [Cited: October 20th, 2023.]
31. Bible Info staff. Was Jesus in the tomb for three days and three nights? Bible Info. [Online] [Cited: October 20th, 2023.]
32. ‘Dating the Death of Jesus’: Memory and the Religious Imagination. Bond, Helen. 04, s.l. : New Testament Studies, 2013, Vol. 59. 461-475doii: 10.1017/S0028688513000131.
33. Bookman, Doug. A time line and chronology of the Easter Passion Week that includes Gregorian dates, First Century Jewish day/night cycles, and Galilean Jew cycles. Christianity. [Online] June 19th, 2023.
34. Brannan, Rick. The Last Week of Jesus’ Life on Earth: a Closer Look. Logos. [Online] April 3rd, 2012.
35. Lacey, Troy. How Many Times Was Jesus Anointed? Answers in Genesis. [Online] May 14th, 2019.
36. Wilson, Larry W. Chronology of the Crucifixion Week. Wake Up Am erica Seminars. [Online] March 14th, 2000.
37. Smith, Pete. Chronology & Synopsis of the Passion Week. [Online] February 25th, 2013.
38. Renan, Ernest. Last Week of Jesus. The Life of Jesus. [Online] [Cited: October 21st, 32023.]
39. Farr, Stan. The Passover Lamb. Rabbi Yeshua. [Online] 2016. [Cited: October 21st, 2023.]
40. MDiv, Rick Lanser. THE HEBREW CALENDAR OF THE SECOND TEMPLE ERA. The Shiloh Excavations. [Online] March 17th, 2023.
41. Wight, Fred H. Water Supply. Manners and Customs of Bible Lands. [Online] [Cited: December 15th, 2023.]
42. Isaacs, Rabbi Ronald H. The Paschal Sacrifice (Korban Pesach) – Understanding how Passover was celebrated in Biblical Times. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: December 26th, 2023.]
43. Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Christ Before Annas. The Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching at Midwestern Seminary. [Online] October 26th, 1882.
44. Gniwisch, Leibel. The High Priest in Jewish Tradition. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: January 20th, 2024.]
45. Got Questions. Who was Annas in the Bible? [Online] [Cited: January 20th, 2024.]
46. Webmaster. New Testament High Priests Timeline. Bible Study. [Online] [Cited: January 20th, 2024.]
47. Rhodes, Harold. 10 Reasons the Trial of Jesus Was Illegal. Life, Hope & Truth. [Online] [Cited: January 26th, 2024.]
48. Bock, Darrell L. Jesus V. Sanhedrin – Why Jesus “lost” his trial. Christianity Today. [Online] April 6th, 1998.
49. Smith, Mark D. The Final Days of Jesus and the Realities of Roman Capital Punishment: What Happened to All Those Bodies? The Bible and Interpretation. [Online] February 2018.
50. My Jewish Learning. The Death Penalty in Jewish Tradition. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: January 29th, 2024.]
51. Eisenberg, Ronald L. Beit Dins and Sanhedrin – In the Second Temple period, a system of Jewish courts emerged. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: January 29th, 2024.]
52. Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Christ before Annas. Spurgeon Library. [Online] October 26th, 1882.
53. Kennedy, Titus. The Praetorium of Pilate. Drive thru History. [Online] July 14th, 2020.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* Have you ever been falsely accused, and what can we learn from how Jesus responded?
* What problems arose from the High Priests also taking political power?
* What can we learn from Peter’s denials?
* Why do you think many Jews considered the High Priesthood of Jesus’ day to be corrupt?
* What do you think of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin?
* What did Jesus’ hearing before Pilate and before Herod prove?

Second Temple Period under Roman Rule until Messiah (63 BC – 1BC)

Read Matthew 1 & Luke 1

Rome was now expanding towards the east, and in the year 64 BC Pompey entered Damascus. The Jews sent three delegations: first from Hyrcanus with gifts to try to secure Roman allegiance for his rule; then from Aristobulus with gifts to try to secure Roman allegiance for his rule; and then from the Sanhedrin, who requested Pompey ignore both brothers and appoint the Sanhedrin to run the country. All three groups apparently agreed that some type of Roman intervention would be welcomed, which emboldened Pompey in his conquest.

The fourth beast was so unlike any of the others that it is not even described as being like any animal but simply described as terrifying, frightening and very powerful with large iron teeth that “crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left.” (Daniel 7:7 NIV).   In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the fourth kingdom is described as “legs of iron” (Daniel 2:33a). 

The fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, because iron breaks in pieces and subdues all things; and as iron that crushes all these, shall it break in pieces and crush. Daniel 2:40 WEB

Picture of the 4th beast

Another distinctive of this fourth kingdom is that none of Daniel’s visions name it.  Nebuchadnezzar is clearly named as ruler over the first kingdom (Daniel 2:37-38).  The second is named as the kings of Media and Persia in Daniel 8:20.   The third is named as Greece in Daniel 8:21-22 and Daniel 10:20.   But none of Daniel’s visions name who this fourth kingdom will be – that is left to the speculation of the reader.   And much speculation there was among Jews who eagerly searched the scriptures for the time of the coming of their Messiah.   Historically we can look back and see that the fourth kingdom to rule over Jerusalem was Rome, but when the differing Jewish factions invited the Romans to come, take over and settle their dispute in 64BC, they did not have the benefit of hindsight to see that they were inviting the rule of this brutal fourth kingdom.

In 63 BC Pompey arrived in Jerusalem and took Aristobulus captive to Rome. After two months the Romans broke through the Jerusalem citadel and massacred some 12,000 Jews who were defending the Temple.   Pompey reinstated Hyrcanus as High Priest and ruler under Roman command.  Judea became a client kingdom of Rome. Before he left, Pompey had the walls of Jerusalem levelled, making it defenceless. He also imposed harsh taxes, but left the political governance of the Sanhedrin intact.

The Sanhedrin – comprised of 70 members from the Pharisees and Sadducees, and led by the High Priest.

Six years later, in 57 BC, Pompey appointed a governor in Syria, Gabinius, who would have ultimate control of the affairs in Judea.  Gabinius (57-55 BC) deemed it prudent to divide the Sanhedrin’s authority with two other local bodies which he established in Judaea. (1)

48 BC saw the two great Roman generals, Pompey and Caesar, battling for control of the empire. Hyrcanus had been an official ally of Pompey but after Pompey’s defeat at the Battle of Pharsalus, and subsequent assassination in Egypt where he sought refuge, the shrewd Antipater advised Hyrcanus to switch sides and declare his allegiance to Caesar. They then committed over 3,000 Jewish soldiers to an expeditionary force that invaded Egypt and helped raise the siege of Alexandria where Pompey’s remaining army was held up.   Caesar showed the Jews his gratitude for their help by revoking the harsh decrees and burdensome taxation imposed by Pompey. He also allowed the walls and fortifications of Jerusalem to be rebuilt and restored Jaffa, as well as a number of other coastal cities, to Jewish governance under Roman rule.  Caesar retained Hyrcanus in the position of High Priest and head of the Sanhedrin, which also had its political power restored over the whole area, but not for long.

In 47 BC Caesar stripped the high priesthood of its political power once again and appointed the ambitious and skilled Antipater to Procurator (Roman Governor) of Judea.  Antipater appointed his son Herodas to be Prefect over Galilee. Herod’s first act was to capture and, contrary to Jewish law which granted everyone the right to trial by the Sanhedrin, executed a Hasidim named Hezekiah who had been leading a band of rebels in attacking gentile outposts in Galilee. Some sources report that Herod executed Hezekiah’s whole gang.  As the court of the day, the Sanhedrin summoned Herod to Jerusalem to stand trial for carrying out an execution without their permission – the punishment for which was death.   The High Priest, Hyrcanus, fearful of Roman retribution should they execute the procurator’s son, managed to persuade most the Sanhedrin to absolve Herod of this crime and allow him to go free. (2)

Shemayah and Abtalion were the Zugos at this time.  They had reportedly been converts to Judaism in Alexandria and referred to themselves as “descendants of the heathen, who do the work of Aaron”, claiming that the descendants of Aaron were no longer “doing the work of Aaron”. 

Shemayah’s noted saying was: “Love work and hate to attain superiority, and see to it that your name be not known to the government.”  (Avot 1:9)

Abtalion was wont to say: “Ye wise be guarded in your words; lest you load upon yourselves the penalty of exile and be exiled to the place of evil waters; and the disciples that come after you may drink and die, and the name of Heaven be profaned.” (Avot 1:10) 

It is reported that when Herod appeared before the Sanhedrin to face trial, all lost courage except Shemayah, who predicted that if they failed to pronounce judgment on him now, he would execute them later. 

Ten years later Abtalion used his considerable influence with the people in persuading the men of Jerusalem, in the year 37 BCE, to open the gates of their city to Herod the Great. The king was not ungrateful and rewarded Abtalion.  Thus ended the pharisaic tradition, begun in response to Aristobulus in 104 BCE, of rebelling against unrighteous leaders, to be replace by a new tradition of peaceful cooperation with the ruler regardless of how unsuitable one deemed them for governing the nation. Thereby, the Pharisees became part of the establishment and secured their place on the Sanhedrin through the rest of its existence. (3) (4) (5) (6)

The Rise of the Zealots…

With the pharisaic leadership no longer willing to lead, or sanction, rebellion against unrighteous rulers, a new political group, the Zealots¸ arose from the Hasidim to take up this role in their stead.

Zealots – A Radical New Jewish Sect

The term “zealot”, in Hebrew kanai (קנאי, frequently used in plural form, קנאים – kana’im), means one who is zealous on behalf of God.

Hezekiah’s son, Judas, motivated by the Sanhedrin’s weakness in failing to convict Herod for the murder of his father and Herod’s subsequent appointment as king of Judea, went about stirring up religious fervour and expectation of another successful revolt against pagan rule as the Maccabees had done. There was strong religious feeling that it was an intolerable sacrilege for Gentiles to pollute the Holy Land and exercise lordship over the chosen people of Yahweh

Messianic hopes and expectations were high for a Davidic descendant who would lead the people to a supernatural victory over their enemies and rule the whole world from Jerusalem in accord with Daniel’s prophesy (Daniel 7). The Zealots were convinced they could help hasten this day by heroic efforts to deliver the Jews from heathen rule and purge their land from the pollution of heathen peoples. Theirs was a violent struggle. Rome would have called them “terrorists” if such a term were in vogue back then.  

Although their leaders were fearful of the impact on the Jewish nation of Roman reprisals for the Zealots’ actions, many of the Pharisees had sympathies for this group who shared their passion for the purity of the land and their zeal for ridding it of all pagans and pagan influences. Some of the Pharisees joined the Zealots out of their passion for the Law. They were particularly active in the Galilean region where the people were deeply religious and clung more closely to a traditional way of life.  (7) (8) (9)

Herod’s Brutal Rise to Power…

Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. and Antipater was poisoned in 43 B.C. Mark Anthony now ruled Rome and appointed Antipater’s two sons Herod and Phasael as tetrarchs over Galilee and Jerusalem respectively.    Herod won favour with the Romans by brutally crushing a Galilean uprising.

There had been some attempt within the Hasmonaean dynasty to reconcile the two halves of the family by marrying Hyrcanus II’s daughter, Alexandra, to Aristobulus II’s son, Alexander.   When Herod, at that time tetrarch, entered Jerusalem in triumph in 42 B.C., Alexandra sought to bring about the marriage of their daughter Mariamne to him, hoping thus to avoid the ruin of her house.   Herod welcomed this opportunity to help legitimise his reign by marrying into the royal family and took Princess Mariamne as his second wife, having divorced and imprisoned his Edomite wife, Doris, and their son, Antipater II, in order to do so. (10) (11) (12) (13)

As Roman control of the eastern provinces waned, the Parthians invaded Syria, including Judea, in 40 B.C. Phasael was taken in an ambush and forced to commit suicide.  Antigonus II, the surviving son of Aristobulus II and last of the Hasmonaean dynasty, had allied with the Parthians and captured Hyrcanus. Antigonus now proclaimed himself High Priest and king of Judea. He exiled Hyrcanus to Babylon and maimed him (some sources say cut off his ears, others say castrated) to make him there-after ineligible for the office of High Priest.

Herod was as ambitious as his father had been and as capable of reading the political climate and positioning himself for power.  So successful was he at this, and with his massive building programs, that he became known as Herod the Great.  In 39 B.C. the Roman Senate declared Herod king of Judea and Herod promptly set out to remove Antigonus.  Aided by Roman soldiers, Herod fought his way through the Jewish army and at last laid siege to Jerusalem, which after several months fell to the Romans in 37 B.C.  For some days the Roman troops indulged in murdering and pillaging until Herod was able to restrain them.  He succeeded in capturing Antigonus, after only three years’ reign, and put him to death. 

Sanhedrin Stacked with Those Who Would do Herod’s Bidding…

Next Herod took revenge on the Sanhedrin, for attempting to call him to account ten years earlier, by murdering most of them just as Shemayah had predicted.  Only the Zugos, Shemayah and Abtalion, are reported to have survived the slaughter and retained their positions in the Sanhedrin. Herod replaced those slaughtered with members who would do his bidding.

The Jewish people, however, were not well disposed to having someone of Edomite decent who rules so brutally being called king of Judea. Messianic longings and expectations continued increasing. 

Political Games with the role of High Priest…

Herod sought to undermine the last of the Hasmonaean dynasty’s claim to power and help legitimise his role as king of Judea by returning to the traditional practice of placing one of Aaron’s descendants from the Zadokite family, Ananel (Hananiel) as High Priest.  Ananel was descended from Onias IV who had fled to Egypt after his father, the rightful High Priest, had been murdered.   Herod also brought the aged and maimed Hyrcanus II back to Jerusalem, assigning to him the first place at his table and the presidency of the state council.  (14)

Alexandra, Hyrcanus’ daughter and Herod’s mother-in-law, was most upset at this intrusion on the Hasmonean line by returning to a Zadokite high priesthood. In her mind it had been well established over generations that the only high priestly family line was her own.  Alexandra wielded considerable power through Mark Anthony’s lover Cleopatra of Egypt and in 35 B.C. had Herod forced to remove Ananel and make her 17yo son, Aristobulus, High Priest in his stead.  Even though, according to the different rabbinical traditions, the age of eligibility to this office was either 20yo or 30yo, and in the past when the son had been too young for the high priest’s office another relative had been appointed in his stead.  It seemed that with every decision Herod made he increased someone’s hatred of him. (15) (16) (17) (18)

Within a year of being made High Priest the young Aristobulus drowned in suspicious circumstances and many concluded that Herod had him killed.  Ananel was reinstated as High Priest but retained the position for only three years.  There were now no males left in the Hasmonaean line apart from Herod’s own sons to Mariamne.  The next High Priest, another Jew from the Egyptian diaspora and descendant of Onias IV, Joshua ben Fabus, held the position for 7 years.

Herod’s Work on the Temple – as a monument to himself…

Herod the Great reigned with an iron fist and engaged in massive building programs, including the cities of Sebaste and Caesarea, an amphitheatre and hippodrome in Jerusalem, to display his glory and power. Herod also built temples to the Roman emperors and to other gods in cities outside Jerusalem, including a temple to Apollo and even one to Baal. 

Of all Herod’s building operations, however, the most magnificent was the restoration and refurbishment of the Jew’s Temple in Jerusalem, which he began in the 18th year of his reign (20-19 BC) and finished in just a year and a half, although work on out-buildings, courts and external walls continued for another 80 years.  Herod’s rebuilding of the Second Temple was done so that he would “have a capitol city worthy of his dignity and grandeur.” (19) 

To comply with religious law, Herod employed 1,000 priests as masons and carpenters for the building, which was even larger and grander than Solomon’s temple had been, with a massive court of the gentiles to attract tourists from all the surrounding peoples.  Filled with gold and marble there was no building that could compare with this huge and incredible masterpiece. Many Jews prided in Herod’s accomplishment, until he placed a huge Roman eagle over the most important gate of the newly refurbished temple.  This symbol of Roman rule even over their holy place stirred deep anger in many pious Jews.

Herod placed a huge Roman eagle, symbol of Roman rule, over the most important gate of the newly refurbished temple. This grand building program was undertaken for Herod’s glory, not God’s.

The temple hierarchy under Herod lacked the beauty of the building of their domain. Composed of an aristocracy who compromised whatever they needed to in order to keep their positions of power and wealth, along with their lives, they were corrupted and devoid of the beauty of holiness.  There were, however, still many priests who humbly served in the temple out of their devotion to God. (20) (21) (22)

Two Strongly Opposed Schools of Pharisees are Founded…

The last of the Zugos were Hillel and ShammaiHillel was born in Babylon, a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin on his father’s side, and from the family of David on his mother’s side.  He was proclaimed Nasi in 32 BC.  A significant shift was to occur, from Nasi being appointed by their peers or sages, to it becoming an inherited position within Pharisaic Judaism.  Although Shammai held the position for a time after Hillel’s death, thereafter the spiritual leadership of the people would be in the hands of Hillel’s descendants. A new dynasty was to begin, that would last until 356 AD. 

Hillel has three saying recorded in Avon1:
“Be a disciple of Aaron, love peace, pursue peace, love all men too, and bring them nigh unto the Law.”
“A name made great is a name destroyed; he who increases not, decreases; and he who will not learn from his masters is not worthy to live; and he who uses his knowledge as a tiara perishes.” 
“If I do not look to myself, who will do so? But if I look only to myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”  

Shammai’s defining saying is:
Fix a time for study; promise little, and do much, receive everyone with friendly countenance.”  

Bais Hillel and Bais Shammai are called the first Tannaim, or scholars of the Mishnah (Oral Law).  It was also during their time that the term rabbi was increasingly used for the great Jewish sages and scholars. The emerging talmidim (disciples) of their teachings divided into two schools of thought, or ‘houses’, known as Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. They are the most famous antagonistic schools of Pharisees that flourished during the Herodian reigns and contributed to the development of the Oral Law

Three hundred and sixteen controversies between these two schools are preserved in the Jewish Talmud. In all but fifty five of these the Shammaites were more restrictive and severe in their religious prohibitions than the Hillelites.  This beginning of large-scale argumentation between Pharisees (machlokes) is viewed by the Talmud as a sad diminution in Torah scholarship. There was, in their eyes, a danger that the Torah would become “two Torahs”; in other words, there was a danger of schism in which the religious practices and laws of one group of pharisaic Jews would be so drastically different from those of another group of pharisaic Jews that they could not both be governed by the same Sanhedrin.

Throughout Herod the Great’s reign, the Hillelites held sway in the Sanhedrin.  They were the party of the middle, with the aristocratic Sadducees on one side and the restrictive Shammaites on the other.  Hillel and Shammai had both trained under Shemayah and Abtalion, with Hillel faithfully keeping to his sage’s new pragmatic tradition of working peacefully with the leaders of the nation, regardless of how unrighteous they may be.  Shammai, who was younger, reverted to the earlier pharisaic tradition of supporting opposition against unrighteous and heathen rulers. 

The Shammaites would not bow to Roman rule nor countenance any social intercourse with either the Romans or those who in any way worked with them.  The Hillelites were more moderate in their political and social views.  Beit Shammai is known for criticizing the leniency of Beit Hillel, especially in regard to Gentile converts and contact with heathens. Shammai himself was renowned for driving away potential converts who then turned to Hillel, who accepted them with gentleness (b.Shabbat 31a). 

The Shammaites’ basic stance towards gentiles was fear of being polluted by them and their ways.  So, their active proselytization was only of fellow Jews (sheep stealing).  They put the bar very high for any gentiles who sought to convert to Judaism, so as to deter as many as possible, or at the very least ensure that they had been totally purged from anything ‘un-Jewish’ before coming close to earning acceptance into the community. 

The Hillelites’ basic stance towards gentiles was love, which expressed itself in active proselytization and making conversion as easy as possible while not compromising on their own standards. Thus, the Hillelites continued to grow in number and influence during this time with their middle path being broad and encompassing of most. (23) (24) (3) (25) (26)

It was a time of religious fervour and bitter battle for the soul of the nation. Increasing political and judicial power through dominating the Sanhedrin was seen as an important way to steer the nation in the religious direction that each ‘house’ believed it should go. It was into this atmosphere that Yeshua (Jesus) was to be born, and His ministry gave God’s answer to these power struggles.

Wealth and Power do not provide Happiness, Peace or Security…

Herod responded to any Jewish unrest by increasing taxes, banning any kind of public assembly, and quickly executing or imprisoning, in one of his many fortresses, any critic of his reign. He appears to have been deeply affected by his father’s assassination, and that of other leaders at the time, to the extent that he became very suspicious, even paranoid, of almost everyone.  Herod had his uncle and brother-in-law, Joseph, executed on suspicion of adultery with his wife.   In 30 B.C. Herod charged the aged and maimed Hyrcanus with participating in a conspiracy and had him executed so that there would be no male Hasmoneans left for the new emperor Augustus to make ruler of the Jews in his stead.  The following year a trusted courtier, Sohemus, and his much loved wife, Mariamne, were both executed by Herod.  The next year he had his mother-in-law executed.  Then he put to death his sister Salome’s husband and all the sons of Baba.  It was dangerous to be in any way related to Herod or close to the throne. (27) (28) (29)

Herod fell in love again, to another Mariamne, this one the daughter of priest Simeon ben Boethus.  As it was unseemly for a king to marry such a commoner, Herod removed Joshua ben Fabus from the high priesthood and replaced him in 23 B.C. with Simeon ben Boethus so that his marriage to Simeon’s daughter might not be regarded as a mesalliance (to someone of significantly lower social position). (30)

Through the years, many were charged with seeking Herod’s death, soldiers and sages alike, and executed.  Such suspicions returned again to Herod’s own household and in 6 B.C. his two sons to Mariamne I, the last remnants of the Hasmonaean dynasty, were also executed.  A year later his oldest son, Antipater, was executed on charges of plotting his father’s death, his third wife, Mariamne II, was sent away and her father removed from his position as High Priest.  Matthias ben Theophilos was promoted to High Priest in his place, but only for a year before Herod suspected him and had him replaced by Joazar ben Boethus. (31) (32)

God’s Plans Fulfilled Through a Godly Priest…

Although the high priesthood had been corrupted into a political office to suit Herod’s whims, and much of the temple aristocracy were focused on temporal power, position and comforts, there was still great piety among many of the priests and people who came to worship in the temple.  Luke’s gospel begins not with a critique of the corruption but with an affirmation of the piety of Torah obedience within the priesthood:

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain cohen (priest) named Zechariah, of the priestly division of Abijah. He had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisheva (Elizabeth).   They were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.  But they had no child, because Elisheva was barren, and they both were well advanced in years.      
Now it happened, while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to enter into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  The whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.   An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.                   (Luke 1:5-11)

Zachariah burning incense on the alter of incense in the holy place within the temple, when an angel of the Lord appeared to him.

Verse 19 identifies this angel as Gabriel, the same angel who appeared twice to Daniel (Daniel 8 & 9).  Daniel chapter 9 begins with Daniel responding to Jeremiah’s prophesy of Jerusalem being left a desolation for 70 years with repentance prayer and fasting for the restoration of Jerusalem and coming of Messiah.  God responds by sending Gabriel to give Daniel revelation concerning 70 sevens from the going forth of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, with 69 of those sevens to pass until Messiah would be revealed, and be ‘cut off’. 

“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.  Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’    Daniel 9:24-25a NIV

The decree to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem was given by Artaxerxes in the seventh year of his reign – 458 BC, so it was coming close to the prophesied time of Messiah (69 sevens – 483 years) to ‘finish the transgression, put an end to sin, atone for wickedness and bring in everlasting righteousness’ (Daniel 9:24) when Gabriel was sent with another message, this time to the faithful priest Zechariah.  It was in response to the piety and prayers of priest and people that this angel was sent with a message declaring that now was the time of the fulfilment of those prayers.

…the angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, because your request has been heard, and your wife, Elisheva (Elizabeth), will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Yochanan (John).  You will have joy and gladness; and many will rejoice at his birth.   For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord, their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to prepare a people prepared for the Lord.”   (Luke 1:13-17)

Then to a Young Woman in a Neglected Rural Community…

Six months later this same angel, Gabriel, made a much more private appearance to a young woman in the Galilee region.  No one was waiting outside to witness the effect of her heavenly encounter.  To Zechariah had been the promise of a son to turn the people to the Lord their God in preparing them for ADONAI.  To this young woman was the promise of the One for whom the people were being prepared, the Messiah that Gabriel had all those years before told Daniel about.

Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Yosef (Joseph), of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Miriam (Mary).  Having come in, the angel said to her,

“Rejoice, you highly favoured one! ADONAI is with you. Blessed are you among women!”   

But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of salutation this might be. The angel said to her,

“Don’t be afraid, Miriam, for you have found favour with God.   Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and will call his name ‘Yeshua.’  He will be great, and will be called the Son of Ha’Elyon (the Most High). ADONAI, God will give Him the throne of His father, David, and he will reign over the house of Ya’akov (Jacob) forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.”  

Miriam said to the angel, “How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?”

The angel answered her,
“The Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) will come on you, and the power of Ha’Elyon (the Most High) will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God.”  Luke 1:26- 35

Fulfilling what the Angel Gabriel had Told Daniel…

Rome ruled over Jerusalem for longer than any of the three kingdoms preceding it.  During this Roman rule Daniel 9’s sixty-nine ‘sevens’ (483 years) since the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem would come to completion:

“Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.”  Daniel 9:25-26 NIV

Looking ahead from Daniel’s perspective in verse 26a, we see that “the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.” The Hebrew word translated “put to death” is the common word used in the Mosaic Law and implies that the Messiah would not only be killed, but he would die a penal death by execution. The Hebrew expression translated “and will have nothing” has two meanings. It may mean “nothingness,” emphasizing Messiah‘s state at death. It can also be translated “but not for himself,” and the meaning would then be that he died for others rather than for himself, a substitutionary death. The latter meaning would be much more consistent with what the Prophets had to say about the reason for Messiah‘s death (e.g. Isaiah 53:1-12). The first three purposes of the 70 sevens – to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for wickedness – have to be accomplished by an atonement. The Law of Moses decreed that atonement is made by blood (Leviticus 17:11).  Thus, Messiah‘s death “not for himself” but for others would be the means by which Israel’s transgression, sins and iniquity would be atoned for. The point of this phrase is that between the end of the second subdivision (the 69th seven) and before the start of the 70th seven, Messiah would be killed and would die a penal, substitutionary death. (33)

But all that was yet to come.  For now, the angel’s message focused on miraculous births, not death:

 “You have a relative, Elisheva, who is an old woman; and everyone says she is barren. But she has conceived a son and is six months pregnant! For with God, nothing is impossible.” 

Miryam said, “I am the servant of Adonai; may it happen to me as you have said.”

Then the angel left her. Luke 1:36-38 CJB

Mary Visits Elizabeth…

Miryam (Mary) was eager to see the one person who might understand what had just taken place, Elisheva (Elizabeth), so she could share her joy and wonder.   Such required a long journey through difficult country, not the sort of journey that a young woman would normally take alone.  But these were not normal circumstances and Miryam did not know how to explain it so she just raced off.   Elisheva was the one person whom the angel had named, so to Elisheva she would go, immediately.   Miryam was a teenager.

Without delay, Miryam set out and hurried to the town in the hill country of Y’hudah (Judea) where Z’kharyah lived, entered his house and greeted Elisheva.  When Elisheva heard Miryam’s greeting, the baby in her womb stirred. Elisheva was filled with the Ruach HaKodesh and spoke up in a loud voice,

“How blessed are you among women! And how blessed is the child in your womb!  But who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For as soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy! Indeed you are blessed, because you have trusted that the promise Adonai has made to you will be fulfilled.” Luke 1:39-45 CJB

Already a tiny baby was growing in Miryam’s womb.   What had appeared an impulsive decision to undertake such a journey on her own was amply rewarded the moment that Myriam arrived at this distant relative’s home.   Confirmation of everything the angel had spoken to her.   Confirmation that her obedience would indeed see the fulfilment of God’s promise.   Miryam magnified the Lord:

My soul magnifies Adonai; and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, who has taken notice of his servant-girl in her humble position. For — imagine it! — from now on, all generations will call me blessed! The Mighty One has done great things for me! Indeed, His name is holy; and in every generation he has mercy on those who fear him. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm, routed the secretly proud, brought down rulers from their thrones, raised up the humble, filled the hungry with good things, but sent the rich away empty. He has taken the part of his servant Isra’el, mindful of the mercy which he promised to our fathers, to Avraham and his seed forever.” Luke 1:46b-55 CJB

Meanwhile in Herod’s Palace…

Herod’s fourth wife was a Samaritan, Malthace, and his fifth wife was Cleopatra of Jerusalem. He also had another five wives who were not considered as significant. Herod’s sister was continually stirring up intrigues within his household and playing on his paranoia, inciting suspicions against both wives and children. 

As Herod grew older, his physical and mental health deteriorated.  He developed arteriosclerosis and suffered much pain.   Herod’s physical weakness seemed to feed his increasing paranoia.  Around 4 BC, As news spread that he had an incurable disease, two rabbis, Judas ben Sepphoraeus, and Matthias ben Margalus, stirred up their talmidim to tear down the Roman eagle from the Temple gate that had been such an offence to the Jews, having to walk under this symbol of an empire of pagan emperor worship to enter the holy precincts of the temple.

Roman eagle torn down from the Temple gate

Herod seized the offenders and passed sentences of death upon them and had the chief leaders publicly burned alive.  (29) (34)

Strengthened in fellowship…

Miryam stayed with Elisheva for about three months and then returned home. Luke 1:56 CJB

Three months of spiritual mentoring.  Three months of inspiration and encouragement.  Three months of close friendship and deep bonding.  Both women were experiencing a miraculous pregnancy, one in her old age and the other in her youth.  Somehow their babies were connected, Yochanan had leapt in the womb when Miryam arrived with Yeshua in her womb – this connected them.  Elisheva had been filled with the Holy Spirit at that moment and prophesied over Miryam and her unborn baby – this had connected them.  Miryam had likewise been filled and magnified the Lord, declaring His goodness to the lowly and to Israel – this had connected them.    Miryam had needed this time of affirmation to strengthen her for what lay ahead.  

How could she explain to her fiancée Yosef that she was pregnant?   How could she face all the village gossips in Nazareth, who never would believe her that she had not been with a man?  Elisheva had a husband who was the father of her baby, and a community who would rejoice with them over the miracle of his birth. All that Miryam had was the Word of God.

Yochanan (John) is born…

The time arrived for Elisheva to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard how good Adonai had been to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day, they came to do the child’s b’rit-milah (covenant of circumcision). They were about to name him Z’kharyah, after his father, when his mother spoke up and said, “No, he is to be called Yochanan.” 

They said to her, “None of your relatives has that name,” and they made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. 

He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is Yochanan.” 

At that moment, his power of speech returned, and his first words were a b’rakhah  (blessing /thanksgiving) to God.  All their neighbours were awestruck; and throughout the hill country of Y’hudah (Judea), people talked about all these things. Everyone who heard of them said to himself, “What is this child going to be?” For clearly the hand of Adonai was with him.

His father Z’kharyah was filled with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) and spoke this prophecy: “Praised be Adonai, the God of Isra’el, because he has visited and made a ransom to liberate his people by raising up for us a mighty Deliverer who is a descendant of his servant David. It is just as he has spoken through the mouth of the prophets from the very beginning – that we should be delivered from our enemies and from the power of all who hate us. This has happened so that he might show the mercy promised to our fathers – that he would remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore before Avraham avinu (our father Abraham) to grant us that we, freed from our enemies, would serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. You, child, will be called a prophet of Ha‘Elyon; you will go before the Lord to prepare his way by spreading the knowledge among his people that deliverance comes by having sins forgiven through our God’s most tender mercy, which causes the Sunrise to visit us from Heaven, to shine on those in darkness, living in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the paths of peace.”   Luke 1:57-79 CJB

Standing Alone in the Midst of a Trial…

Miryam arrived back home in Nazareth, three months pregnant.   She was not showing yet but may have been experiencing morning sickness and other symptoms.   She had not been with her fiancée, Yosef, and soon people would start to notice that she was carrying a baby.   It had sounded so wonderful when the angel had first spoken to her, and when her relative Elisheva had greeted her with prophesy confirming the angel’s every word, but now earthly realities came crashing down.   This put Yosef in a very difficult position.  Miryam had not wanted to do that, she had not wanted to make things difficult for him.   This put her life at risk, for she knew what the religious zealots wanted to do to any woman found to have been unfaithful, and what further evidence did they need than for her to be with child.   There was nothing that Miryam could do to “fix” the situation, she would not abort God’s son.  All that she could do now was trust God to step in so that His word would be fulfilled in her life.

Judaism Dictated Every Aspect of Daily Life…

Judaism during Herod the Great’s reign was diverse and all encompassing.  There was no separation of “church” and “state”, no division between the sacred and the secular.  Their religion was their politics, and their law, and their education, and their community, and their culture.  It dictated every aspect of daily life: what they did when they woke up in the morning, what they could and could not eat, what they could and could not wear, how and when they groomed themselves, how they conducted business, how and when they had to attain ritual purity, and how they treated others.  Even the most trivial and mundane acts, such as eating and getting dressed, were thus turned into acts of religious significance where one was deemed to have either obeyed or disobeyed God’s law. 

Diversity existed only in the variety of different interpretations of what that law properly demanded.   Each of the different Jewish sects; Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Hasidim and Zealots, had their own interpretations of God’s law and intolerance of other perspectives.  Priests and rabbis disagreed on much.   Even within the Pharisees, each of their different schools (the two most famous of which were that of Hillel and Shammai) were developing very different sets of laws that “God had laid down in the beginning”.   One can imagine what the response would be if God Himself stepped down from heaven, walked among them, and started telling them what He really wanted.

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33. Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. The Messianic Time Table According to Daniel the Prophet. Jews for Jesus. [Online] [Cited: 20th Oct. 2016.]
34. King of the Jews. Bible Histoy. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept. 2016.]

* Biblical References from: Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* Why did the Jewish leaders ask Rome to come and rule over them?
* Have leaders in your church, or community, or nation ever given up the freedom of self-rule to try to gain power or wealth?
* In what ways was Rome different to the other empires featured in Daniel’s visions?
* It is often quoted: “Sin will take you farther than you ever expected to go; it will keep you longer than you ever intended to stay, and it will cost you more than you ever expected to pay.” Rome’s takeover cost the Jewish people more than they thought it would. What were some of the consequences they suffered?
* Why was Herod not judged for carrying out an execution of Jews without affording them the opportunity to be tried before the Sanhedrin?
* What were the consequences of their failure to follow the processes of justice?
* Who were the Zealots and what motivated them?
* There was so much pride, greed and power-hungry corruption in the government and religious establishment, but there were still some priests who were humble, godly men. Who was one of these and what can we learn form his example?
* What would it have been like for Mary to be pregnant with God’s baby and what can we learn from her faithfulness?

The Maccabean Revolt & Hasmonean Period (166 – 40 BC)

Please read I & II Maccabees
These are not divinely inspired scripture but do give us an account of God’s dealing with His people during this time.
Mattathias ben Johanan, the priest who refused to sacrifice to the Greek gods and slew those who demanded the Jews do such, along with the Jew who was complying.

This was a time of hard-one victory over a despised enemy, only to be followed by such bitter internal division that the Jews eventually gave away their freedom in trying to defeat one another.

Revolt against evil rulers

In 166 B.C., within a year of offering a pig on the Temple alter, Antiochus IV sent a contingent to force local villagers to sacrifice pigs to Zeus.  Still, many in Israel chose to die rather than to break the holy covenant.  When Antiochus’ men came to the small town of Modein, about 12 miles northwest of Jerusalem, and a young man stepped forward to perform the required sacrifice to Zeus the priest Mattathias stabbed him to death, then turned on the Greek commander and killed him as well. Mattathias quickly grabbed his five sons and headed to the hills to hide, as did many of the townspeople, fearing reprisals.  Thus a rebellion was started by the priest Mattathias and his five sons.

Over the next few months more people from the countryside, including many of the Hasidim, joined them in the hills of Judea and they began a campaign of guerrilla warfare. Casualties were heavy against the much larger and better equipped Greek army. Mattathias and two of his five sons had been killed before the first substantial victory was won.

Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people?”
He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”  Daniel 8:13-14 NIV

Despite heavy losses, Mattathias’s third son, Judas (called Maccabeus), managed to recapture Jerusalem. The name “Maccabee” or “Maccabeus” is composed of the initial letters of a verse the Jewish people sang after God split the sea (Exodus 15:11): Mkamocha ba’eilim Hashem (מי כמוך באילים י׳) / “Who is like You among the mighty, O G‑d.” It is said that this phrase was the battle cry of Maccabees, written upon their banners and shields.

On Kislev 25, 165 BC, three years to the day after the first abominable sacrifice had been offered, the temple was cleansed, new altar was rededicated and the daily sacrifices to Yahweh once again offered in the Jerusalem temple. From the time Antiochus IV had plundered the temple in 170 BC until Judas Maccabeus recaptured Jerusalem and led the people in shattering the statue of Zeus and cleansing the temple on 25th Kislev 164 BC was six years and 110 days (2,300 evenings and mornings without their proper sacrifices).   (1)

Temple cleansed and miracle lights

They shattered the statue of Zeus and cleansed the Temple. The legend is that they could only find one small flask of uncontaminated oil with the seal of the High Priest for lighting the Menorah (seven-branched golden lampstand) and re-dedicating the temple to Yahweh.  This was only enough to last one day, and it would take eight days to produce a new batch of pure oil.  Miraculously it burned for the full eight days. This re-dedication of the temple has been celebrated by the Jews every year since 164 B.C. for eight days.

Eight days is also the length of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), the holiday some say the Jewish people celebrated upon rededicating the Temple (as they had been unable to celebrate it at the proper time due to the ongoing battle). Solomon himself had chosen that very same Feast of Tabernacles to dedicate the first Temple when it was newly built. So, the eight-day festival of joy and thanksgiving would have been an especially appropriate way to commemorate this rededication of the Temple. Thus, the festival established to commemorate this victorious dedication, Hanakkah / Chanuka (Feast of Dedication, often now referred to as the Festival of Lights), lasts for eight nights (2) (3).

Priest lighting the Menorah in the Temple
Priest lighting the Menorah in the Temple

Judas Maccabeus ruled as leader of the army after his father’s death in 167 BCE. When Judas died of the Battle of Elasa (161/160 BCE), the youngest brother, Jonathan, was chosen as the new leader.  He attacked enemy armies and Jewish Hellenists alike. Through military victories and strategic alliances Jonathan achieved peace and was appointment as High Priest by the new ruler of the Seleucid Empire, Alexander Balas.  The High Priesthood was no longer primarily a religious office focused on the temple and determined by descent through the line of Levi, Aaron and Zadok (Lev. 21:1, 1 Chr. 29:22, 2 Chr. 31:10) but had degenerated into a political office appointed by a foreign power to rule the Jewish people. Thus there was no thought to send to Egypt to request someone from the high priest’s line return to Jerusalem and take up their rightful place again. Indeed, much of the purpose of the writing of I & II Maccabees was to justify the Maccabees’ holding these positions due to their bravery in battle to restoring Temple worship. 

On Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) of 153 BC, Jonathan put on the High Priest’s garments and officiated in the temple for the first time. Ten years later Jonathan was tricked and captured by Diodotus Trypho.  After the capture of Jonathan, his brother Simon became leader of the people.  He paid the ransom asked for his brother but Trypho killed Jonathan instead.  Simon had ongoing battles with Trypho until he sided with Demetrius II and received freedom from taxation and recognition of Judah’s political independence in return (142 BC).

The Hasmonean Period (142 – 40 BC)

The period from 142 BC (the date of independence) to 40 BC (the beginning of the reign of ‘Herod the Great’ under the Romans) is called the Hasmonean period, because the ruling family – the family of the priest Mattathias and his sons Judas, Jonathan, and Simon – was the house of Hasmon.   Under the Hasmoneans the Sanhedrin continued to hold an important place in Jewish life, but the autocratic tendencies developed by some of these princes led to a curtailment of its authority at times. (4)

Simon declared himself both High Priest and king (even though he was neither from the line of Zadok nor that of David, he was from the priestly Aaronic line). Combining the office of the king with that of the high priest was strictly forbidden in the law of Moses. The Essenes were among the more oppositional to this dual Hasmonean rule.

Zugos – fathers of pharisaic Judaism

Zugos (pairs) of sages

The period of the Zugos (Pairs) –

five pairs of renown pharisaic sages who shared the leadership of the developing
pharisaic movement. 

Another shift had taken place in the development of the Pharisees.  With the death of Antigonus the authority over the Torah school that he represented was transmitted to two of his disciples, Yose ben Yoezer and Yose ben Yochanan. With them began the period of the Zugos [Pairs], five pairs of renown pharisaic sages who shared the leadership of the developing pharisaic movement.  Designated Nassi (prince/president); and Av Beis Din (chief/vice president of the court), they were responsible for developing the Oral Law and heading the judgments on such.  Each of these pharisaic sages established Torah schools in their own generation to teach their disciples their wisdom and interpretation of the Torah and Oral Law. It was from their disciples that the next Zugos would be chosen on their passing. During times of pharisaic political ascendancy they also held the two top positions in the Sanhedrin.  

With the purge of Hellenists from Jerusalem, many leading Pharisees took advantage of the opportunity to gain political power and influence as members of the Sanhedrin.  They operated as a balance to Simon’s spiritual and political power and there was respect shown between the two.  The people were now freely worshipping God and had been unburdened of foreign taxes and so started to prosper. (5) (6) (7)

Each of the pharisaic sages, during this period, had a saying that epitomised their wisdom and teaching.  These are recorded and discussed in the first chapter of Pirkei Avot, and give us further insight into the development of Jewish thought and prioritisation in their religious practice.

Pirkei Avot (sometimes just referred to as Avot) is among the most well known of all writings in Rabbinic Judaism. Pirkei (sayings) Avot (fathers) is one of the sixty-three tractates found in the Mishnah, the code of Jewish law compiled in the early third century C.E. from the Oral Law that was being developed throughout the time of occupation. Pirkei Avot is considered supremely important to Judaism because it justifies the authority of the rabbis, something the Bible does not do.  The statements attributed to the rabbis in Pirkei Avot express the basic concerns and central ideas that occupied the rabbis.

Yose b. Yoezer’s saying was: “Let your house be a meeting place for the wise; sit in the dust of their feet; and drink in their words for thirst” (Avot 1:4).

Yose b. Yochanan’s saying was: “Let your house be so wide open that the poor may enter it as were they intimates there; and do not hold too much discourse with women” (Avot 1:5).  The sage’s discussion on this one counselled even against engaging in much conversation with one’s wife.

Yose b. Yoezer was killed in 140 BC and Yehoshua ben Perachya became Nassi.

Yehoshua’s admonition was: “Provide yourself with a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge all people favourably.” (Avot 1:6)

Yehoshua’s pair was Nithai the Arbelite, who was accustomed to say: “Keep aloof from a wicked neighbour, associate not with a sinner, and never consider yourself exempt from God’s chastisement.” (Avot 1:7)

Many Romans turn to Judaism…

The Jewish diaspora had spread far and wide, taking their religion with them and influencing people everywhere they went to leave their pagan ways and worship the one true God as He desires to be worshipped.  As Rome gained territory many were now under Roman rule.  In 139 BC the Romans ruled that Jews could worship freely in all Roman territories.  That same year, however, all Jews were expelled from the city of Rome because the government became fearful of the Jewish influence as many Romans began believing and practising the Jewish teachings.

Politics and power mired in strife, division and murder…

Simon reigned for seven years until he and his two oldest sons were slain at a banquet by his son-in-law Ptolemeus, the governor of Jericho, in 135 BCE. (8)

Jonathan Hyrcanus, the only son of Simon not slain at the banquet, immediately rushed to Jerusalem and installed himself in his father’s place as both High Priest and King.  Then he rallied the Sanhedrin and the people to his side, rescued his mother who had been held to ransom and forced Ptolemeus to flee.  His tenure then faced a year-long Syrian siege that forced him agree to tear down Jerusalem’s fortifications and renew tribute to the Greek emperor in 133 BCE. Within a few years, however, he took advantage of political turmoil in Syria following the death of Antiochus VII (129 BCE) to rebuild his forces, reclaim independence and extend Judean control over Palestine and Jordan. He also took the seaport of Jaffe and Jews became partners with the Phoenicians in shipping and trade all the way to North Africa, Italy and Rome. Jonathan strengthened the Torah education system, observed it closely himself, put great expense into improving the temple edifice and insisted on higher standards for the temple service.  Under his reign the nation reached new heights of prosperity and greatness. 

Some of Jonathan’s efforts, however, had unintended consequences.  To ensure ongoing peace and stability, he forcibly brought all his new territories under the Torah. On the southern front he forced Judah’s neighbours in Idumea (the Edomites) to convert to Judaism. From these forcibly converted Edomites, Herod the Great later emerged. 

On the northern front he destroyed the rival temple at Shechem in Samaria. 

Like many of the wealthy aristocrats, Jonathan developed an appreciation for Greek culture and learning, seeing this as perfectly compatible with his Jewish faith and essential for engaging on the world stage.  This put him at odds with the Pharisaic religious leaders who forbade attendance at Greek theatres or gymnasiums or engaging with Greek learning or other forms of Greek culture as they laboured to put a fence around the Torah to keep the Jewish population from being polluted by this most insidious outside influence.

The Hasidim (“pious ones”) had been warning about the dangers of Hellenism since this foreign culture first presented itself to the Jews, and knew that their hatred of these strange ways had been proven justified by all that led up to the Maccabean Revolt and the bloody battles that followed.  To them there was no difference between reading Greek literature and polluting the temple by offering a pig as sacrifice to Zeus on its alter; all of it was detestable and led down that same slippery slope to destruction.  It was from the Hasidim that the Pharisees had developed.  Jonathan now found himself rejected by the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin, who challenged his right to be High Priest. 

He responded by dismissing all the Pharisees from the Sanhedrin and forming an exclusively Sadducean Sanhedrin. By removing from power all those with whom he disagreed, Jonathan removed the checks and balances which had been part of the strength of his early reign. The Pharisees and Sadducees were devolving into fiercely opposing political powers who saw no value in the other.   Jonathan died in 104 B.C. (9) (10) (11) (12)  (13)

Religious disputes…

Vehement differences of opinion were evident between different Torah scholars and priests during this time.   One of the big issues of debate was Hellenism which was on the rise once again.   Many of the scholars shared the views of the Hasidim that every aspect of Greek culture was an abomination to God and the Jews needed to keep themselves totally separate from it.  Others, particularly among those who had the wealth and connections to benefit from the changes, were more open minded and argued for integrating those aspects that would bring such godly blessings as increased knowledge, reasoning, sophistication and wealth. 

Another area of increasingly bitter dispute was the Oral Law.  Proponents claimed that it provided the necessary fence around the Torah, safeguarding their law, customs and traditions from the pollutions of Greek culture and other heathen ways, and so had to be fully obeyed, yet were divided among themselves as to what the correct laws were.   Detractors argued that it had no legitimacy and they were only bound to obedience to the written Torah.  

While all agreed on the spiritual authority of the Torah, there were differing interpretations of what it meant to obey Torah.  The spiritual authority of the rest of the scriptures in the Tanakh was also hotly disputed with some exalting the other scriptures to the same level of inspired authority as the Torah, and others refusing to accept the divine inspiration of the Nev’im (Prophets) and/or the K’tuvim (Writings). 

There were also arguments over the correct way of performing many of the temple duties, correct timing and method for celebrating each feast, and regulations for marriage and divorce.  Almost anything that could have a doctrine or practice formed around it, had bitterly opposed doctrines and differing practices formed around it.  Judaism had become polarised around extremes.  The three most significant parties to come out of this time and continue until after the destruction of the second temple were the Pharisees and Essenes who came from the Hasidim tradition and the Sadducees whose roots were generally in the priesthood and who were open to the benefits of Hellenization. 

Jewish Sects of the Hasmonean Period

Pharisees means “separated ones“.  Originally this sanctification referred to their separation from Hellenism in all its forms, but by the beginning of the first Century it had broadened to being separated from the “people of the land”, who were seen as incapable of being pious because they were unrefined and unskilled in the Pharisees’ interpretations of Torah and Oral Law.  Pharisees were not, however, separated from the power structures of the land, but rather saw their role as leading and defining those power structures in order to corral the uneducated masses into their view of what it meant to be the sanctified nation of God’s people.  Judea could not be a holy nation unless their leaders were holy, so the Pharisees became entwined in the political process in order to occupy the positions of power necessary to enforce obedience to Torah on the leaders of their nation as well as the masses.  Pharisees were strong proponents of the Oral Law, although they had many disputes within their ranks about what its’ true rendering and interpretation was.  Some of them were priests but many were not and gained their position through the strength of their Torah study under one of the respected sages (latter called rabbis).  Pharisees had a strong role in the Sanhedrin through most of its existence after the Maccabean revolt and saw their input as essential to keeping the nation in God’s blessings and averting further judgments like the Babylonian captivity.  In the end it was the Pharisees who proved to be the most enduring force within Judaism, apart from the followers of Yeshua, after the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and they shaped what became the rabbinical Judaism of today.  Thus, most Jewish history, of the second temple period and beyond, is written from their perspective. (14) (15) (16)           

The Essenes were a Jewish sect during the Second Temple period, that flourished from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD. The Essenes were among the more oppositional to the Hasmonean rule as well as the way they operated the Temple. Essenes were very strict in their religious practice and shunned both the priesthood and the political class for their corruption.   As they lost power and influence within the Temple’s political governance they ceased involvement in the Sanhedrin or any of the power structures of their day.  Some remained in Jerusalem, and others settled in other Jewish towns, but some withdrew from the rest of society to live in their own closely knit communities where they shared all things, including the community in Qumran who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some would have nothing to do with the currencies of the time because of the images on the coins. They believed in the immortality of the soul and in angels, but generally not in the PhariseesOral Law  Some of their communities isolated themselves and developed unique doctrines and practices.  Much of what we know about the Essenes comes from the Dead Sea Scrolls which had been kept by one of their communities and detailed some of their communal life and beliefs.   

Sadducees came mostly from the priestly aristocracy and upper classes.  They were open to Hellenism and closed to the Oral Law.  They generally did not accept the doctrine of the resurrection or the immortality of the soul.  Some attribute this to their interpretation of the Jewish sage Antigonus of Soko’s maxim “Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of wages, but be rather like those who serve without thought of receiving wages.”  Others attributed it to more Hellenistic influences, and others to their rejection of the divine inspiration of the Nev’im (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings) in the TaNaKh (Old Testament).  Sadducees generally centred their interests in political life, of which they were the chief rulers before the destruction of the Second Temple, where their power had resided.  Instead of sharing the Pharisees’ messianic hopes they took the people’s destiny onto their own hands, fighting or negotiating with the heathen nations as they thought best, while seeking their own temporal welfare and worldly success.  Most of the High Priests were Sadducees and they also had a strong role in the Sanhedrin through most of its existence (16) (15) (17).

Hasidim means “pious ones”.  This movement began in response to Antiochus IV’s defilement of the temple and forced Hellenization of the Jewish people.  It continued developing as a reforming and revival movement within Judaism throughout the Hasmonean period.  Both Pharisees and Essenes could trace their roots to the rural Hasidim, but both took very different paths.  Unlike the Essenes, the Hasidim did not withdraw from society but remained vitally involved in the broader community.  Unlike the Pharisees, the Hasidim were not part of the political power structures nor did they have a seat on the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, nor consider study the highest virtue.   All references to Hasidim in the Second Temple period relate to Galilee and several renowned Hasid sages came from this area.  Theirs was a practical spirituality that focused on intimate and privileged relationship with God as their heavenly Father and regarded obeying “Torah” as more important than just studying it.  In many instances the Hasidim had halachic (Jewish law) traditions that were not in keeping with the accepted Halakha decreed by the Sanhedrin, and in some cases even opposed to it.  They also had some customs and modes of behaviour which differed from that of the dominant Pharisaic sages.   They believed in God doing miracles in response to the faith of those who were intimate with Him.  Most of the ancient passages pertaining to Hasidim refer to their causing rain to fall, healing the sick or exorcising demons.  Even in the case of rain there is a difference between the Hasidim and the Pharisaic sages.  The sage prayed for rain as part of a public prayer ritual – sometimes his prayers were answered and sometimes not.  The Hasid prayed privately and as a son beseeching his Father and their prayers were always answered.  Unlike the Pharisees, the Hasidim saw virtue in poverty and in giving away all one’s possessions “the Holy One, blessed is He, examined every good quality and found none better for Israel than poverty.”   A midrash (ancient rabbinic commentary) states: “A person becomes a Hasid to suffer all things.  He is given an angel who treats him in the manner of the Hasidim…and says, “You save the afflicted (/poor) but Your eyes are on the haughty (/rich) to humble them.” 2 Samuel 22:28.”  Characteristics of a Hasid were described as: “he is humble… a fearer of sin, judges a man according to his deeds, and says, ‘I have no need of anything found in this world.”  They generally did manual labour and menial jobs to support the most basic needs for themselves and their family. (18) (19)

Interactions between religious and political leaders

Jonathan had directed that after his death his oldest son Aristobulus would become High Priest and his wife become leader of the nation.  Although women leaders were not a part of Jewish culture or tradition, they were well accepted in several of the surrounding Hellenised nations, so the idea was gaining credence among the Jews involved in international trade and relations.  All welcomed the separation of powers between High Priest and civic leader, that is, all except AristobulusAristobulus was not convinced that his power should in any way be limited and so seized the crown with the support of his brother Antigonus, had his stepmother put in prison where she starved to death and placed his other three half-brothers in prison.  The Pharisees were infuriated and began working on stirring up a massive rebellion, but Aristobulus died in pain and with internal bleeding from an unknown disease before any attempt to depose him could come to fruition.  As his health faded during the single year that he reigned, much of the governing was done by his wife, Queen Alexandra Salome, and brother Antigonus.  Just days before Aristobulus died Salome used trickery to have Antigonus killed by his guards.

When Aristobulus died in 103 BC Queen Salome released the half-brothers from prison and, in line with Jewish law as she was childless, married the oldest of them, Alexander Jannaeus, to whom the throne and High Priesthood went. Initially Aristobulus’ enemies were Alexander’s friends, so he removed the Sadducee members from the Sanhedrin and reorganised it to be composed exclusively of Pharisees. This also met with his new wife’s approval, as she was sister to the leader of the Pharisees, Simin ben Shetah. (15)

Alexander had only one aim in life; to continue the great Maccabean tradition of conquest and increase the extent of his kingdom to its natural boundaries – the Mediterranean Sea and the eastern desert.  Unfortunately, he lacked the military prowess of his ancestors, and his early campaigns were quite disastrous.  Were it not for the large and wealthy Jewish diaspora in Egypt putting political pressure on Cleopatra to send her army to his rescue, Alexander would have likely lost his crown and Judea its independence.  While Alexander was away at war, he allowed his queen a major role in the nation’s internal affairs, and she was instrumental in encouraging the introduction of synagogue schools in many towns to teach young children the Torah.

The Pharisee Zugos (pairs) during this time were Simeon ben Shetach (Queen Salom’s brother) and Judah ben Tabbai

Simeon’s noted saying was: “Interrogate the witness very closely, and be careful with thy words, lest they be put by them on the track of falsehood”. 

That of Judah was: “Make thyself not as those that predispose the judges, and while the litigants stand before thee let them be in thine eyes as guilty; and when dismissed from before thee let them be in thine eyes as righteous, because that they have received the verdict upon them.” (20)

Conflicts between Pharisees and Sadducees

The Pharisees had become rather disillusioned with this line of leaders who claimed to be both king and High Priest, and their pragmatism could see no good purpose in picking fights with other nations only to lose the battles, have the kingdom’s freedom threatened and tens of thousands killed in the fighting.  Even though the Sanhedrin was now totally comprised of Pharisees with their Nassi (prince/leader), Simeon ben Shetach, being a brother of Queen Salome and frequent guest at the palace, Alexander would not listen to their pleas to abandon this policy of conquest and conform to their view of Judaism.  The more the Pharisees felt that their influence over the king was waning, the more critical they became of him and his right to the offices of High Priest and king.  Alexander responded by seeking the support of their political rivals, the Sadducees, who included many of the aristocratic leaders of the priesthood over which he presided as High Priest.

As mentioned earlier, the Pharisees and Sadducees were opposing political parties in Judah who disagreed on almost everything, including on how each of the festivals should be performed and how each of the functions of the priests and High Priest was to be carried out.   Although most of the aristocracy of the priesthood were Sadducees, they would generally bow to performing their functions as the Pharisees prescribed out of fear of the political backlash if they performed them strictly as was written in the Torah, with nothing added.  One of the Pharisaic innovations was adding an elaborate Water Libation Ceremony (Nissuch Ha-Mayim) following the daily sacrifices during Sukoot (the Feast of Tabernacles).  They taught this as fulfilling Isa. 12:3: “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation“.  This became a very jovial time and one of the most popular parts of the celebration of this festival.  With much joy, music, singing, dancing and sometimes even acrobatics and rabbis juggling flaming touches, water was drawn from the pool of Siloam and the High Priest poured that water out on the alter, which to Jewish people of the Second Temple era was symbolic of the Spirit of God being poured out during the days of the Messiah and so stirred the expectation and hopes of the people, particularly when they were feeling oppressed.  Such expectations and hopes were not shared by the Sadducees and especially not by the man who saw himself as the only leader the Jews needed, the High Priest Alexander.

Religious conflict becomes bloody civil war…

In around 98 BCE Alexander, while officiating as the High Priest at the Temple in Jerusalem during Sukkot, poured the water onto his own feet instead of onto the alter.  The Pharisees and their followers were enraged, saw this as blasphemous, ‘stoned him’ with the citrons (large, thick skinned citrus fruit) they were carrying in accordance with another of the customs of the festival, while shouting derogatory cries about his unfitness for the priesthood.  Alexander summoned his troops to attack those who attacked him and about 6,000 Jews were slain in the temple courts that day.

Not all of Alexander’s attempts at conquest were fruitless, he did win some battles and take some new land, but his attack against Obedias, the king of the Arabs, was poorly executed, the Jews suffered heavy losses and Alexander returned defeated to find the people in Jerusalem, incited by the Pharisees, armed and arrayed against their High Priest and king. What followed was a six year long bloody civil war that cost the lives of 50,000 Jews. 

The Pharisees went so far as to request the Syrian king Demetrius III join them in fighting against their monarch and High Priest in exchange for reigning over them. However, after defeating their brothers in a few battles, many deserted Demetrius’ army and helped Alexander defeat him and retain the kingdom’s independence.  According to Pharisaic tradition Alexander took the advice of a Sadducee to punish their treason by crucifying 800 captured Pharisees after executing their wives and children before their eyes while he and feasting courtiers enjoyed the bloody spectacle.  Animosity and distrust between the two parties, Pharisees and Sadducees had reached its zenith and 8,000 Pharisees fled to seek asylum in neighbouring lands. 

Hatred driven underground

Alexander suffered terribly with ill health for the last three years of his life and died of his ailments from an unknown disease while at the siege of the fortified town of Ragaba in 76 BCE. His wife Salome was with him at his death and reported that he repented of his treatment of the Pharisees on his death bed. (21)  (22) (23) (24) (25) (26)

After her husband’s death, Queen Salome reigned over Judah and her eldest son, Hyrcanus II, was appointed High Priest.  Salome called the Pharisees to return to Jerusalem and brought them into her government, gradually pushing the Sadducees out of every important office and position.   She appointed her brother, Shimon ben Shetah, leader of the Pharisees, and Yehudah ben Tabbai as joint heads over the new Sanhedrin (Great Bet Din), now comprised exclusively of PhariseesSalome allowed the Pharisees’ Oral Law to be adopted as the law of the royal court.  Education was also placed in the hands of Pharisaic teachers and the care of the many thousands of widows and orphans left from Alexander’s wars placed in the hands of Pharisaic leaders. Salome’s was generally a peaceful reign, without the civil war of her husband’s rule and only one brief foreign battle.  The trade routes were re-opened, and the nation began to prosper again. 

The strong ideological differences and hatreds between Jews did not lessen during Salome’s reign, however, they were just driven underground and nowhere was this more obvious than in her own family. Salome’s two sons are reported to have hated one another with the eldest, Hyrcanus II, firmly siding with the Pharisees and the younger, Aristobulus II, continuing his father’s alliance with the Sadducees.   The Pharisees started exacting retribution against the Sadducees with the execution of one of their leaders.  Fearing mass exterminations, the Sadducees petitioned the queen for protection against the now ruling party.  Salome responded by removing the Sadducees, many of whom had been leaders of the temple priesthood, from Jerusalem and assigning them to several fortified towns for their residence.

Civil war between brothers

After a nine year reign Salome died in 67 BCE and bequeathed the throne to her eldest son, Hyrcanus II, who had been High Priest since the beginning of her reign.  (27) (15) (28) (29) (30) (31) (32)

Hyrcanus II had scarcely reigned three months when his brother, Aristobulus II, rallied an army from the Sadducean party to rise in rebellion.  Near Jericho the brothers met in battle.  As Aristobulus gained the upper hand, Hyrcanus fled back to Jerusalem to take refuge in the citadel, but the capture of the temple by Aristobulus eventually compelled Hyrcanus to seek a peace agreement.  According to the terms of the peace Hyrcanus was to renounce both the throne and the office of High Priest but would continue to enjoy the revenues of the latter office (some sources say he retained the high priesthood).

The agreement lasted about six weeks.  Aristrobulus was more capable as a military leader, but Hyrcanus was endowed with skill in negotiating and forging alliances to accomplish his goals. Hyrcanus sought counsel from the talented and ambitious administrator, Antipater, satrap of Idumaea (a neighbouring province conquered and forcibly converted by Hyrcanus II’s grandfather, Jonathan Hyrcanus I).  Antipater offered to support him in waging war on Aristobulus and the Sadducees to regain his crown.  Their joint army of Pharisees and Idumeans routed the forces of Aristobulus and forced the remnants to retreat to the Temple area fortress. The rest of Jerusalem and the entire country now came under the domain of Hyrcanus and the Pharisees, with the High Priesthood and temple all that was left for Aristobulus

No ethics in the battle for power

Despite their animosity toward each other, both sides firmly believed in the necessity of the temple sacrifices, so the two made an agreement to ensure that the twice-daily sacrifice was offered. Every day the army on the outside would send up the necessary sheep to be slaughtered. The priests inside the Temple continued their daily service and worship after the manner of the Sadducees.  The siege lasted months and showed no sign of ending. One day Hyrcanus sent up a pig instead of a sheep for the temple sacrifice.  The Hasmoneans had initiated their rebellion after the Greeks desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig on the alter, and now their descendants were killing each other and sending up a pig for the temple sacrifice!  This caused many devout Jews to turn from supporting Hyrcanus and the focus of the conflict shifted from Pharisee against Sadducee to power-hungry brother against power-hungry brother. (33) (34) (35) (36) (37) (38) (39) (40) (2)

Reference List

1. Dankenbring, William F. The Mystery of Hanukkah – The ABOMINATION of DESOLATION Revealed! Triumph. [Online] [Cited: 31st Oct. 2016.]
2. Palmer, Micheal W. History & Literature of the Bible The Hellenistic Age. Greek Language. [Online] 19th October 2002. [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.]
3. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. The Miracle of Chanuka. Jewish [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] .
4. Morrison, W. D. The Sanhedrin, or Supreme National Council. Heritage History. [Online] [Cited: 6th Sept. 2016.]
5. Richard Gottheil, Samuel Krauss. Simon Maccabeus. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.]
6. Simon Maccabeus. Biblical Training. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug 2016.]
7. The Hasmoneans. Jewish [Online] [Cited: 24th Aug. 2016.] .
8. Prsons, John J. Torah sheba’al Peh – the Oral Torah and Jewish Tradition. Hebrew4Christians. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept 2016.]
9. Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. John Hyrcanus I. Encyclopaedia Britannica. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.]
10. John Hyrcanus. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug 2016.]
11. Johanan [John] Hyrcanus. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.]
12. Keyser, John D. Hebrew and Aramaic – Languages of First Century Israel. Hope of Israel. [Online] [Cited: 25th Aug 2016.]
13. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. The Hasmoneans. Jewish History. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.]
14. Ross, Allen. 2. The Pharisees. [Online] 10th April 2006. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.]
15. Wilhelm Bacher, Jacob Zallel Lauterbach. Sanhedrin. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.]
16. Kohler, Kaufmann. Sadducees. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.]
17. Ross, Allen. 3. The Sadducees. [Online] 12th April 2006. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.]
18. Safrai, Shmuel. Jesus and the Hasidim. Jerusalem Prspective. [Online] 01 Jan 1994. [Cited: 18th Aug 2019.]
19. Jesus and the Hasidim. Safrai, Shmuel. Jerusalem : David Bivin Jerusalem Perspective, 1994, Vols. 42, 43 & 44.
20. Tractate Avot: Chapter 1. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 6th Sept. 2016.]
21. Water Libation Ceremony. Jewish Roots. [Online] [Cited: 29th Aug. 2016.]
22. Ginzberg, Louis. Alexander Jannaeus. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 29th Aug. 2016.]
23. Alexander Jannaeus. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: 29th Aug. 2016.]
24. Eisenstein, Judah David. Water Drawing, Feast of. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 29th Aug. 2016.]
25. Kathleen Mary Kenyon, Glenn Richard Bugh, Rashid Ismail Khalidi, Nabih Amin Faris, Ian J. Bickerton, Peter Marshall Fraser. Palestine. Encyclopedia Britannica. [Online] 27th April 2016. [Cited: 29th Aug. 2016.]
26. Judaica, Encyclopaedia. YANNAI (Jannaeus), ALEXANDER. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] 2008. [Cited: 29th Aug. 2016.]
27. New World Encyclopedia. Salome Alexandra. New World Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]
28. Taitz, Emily. Salome Alexandra – the first Hasmonean Queen of Judea. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]
29. Mindel, Nissan. Queen Salome Alexandra. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]
30. Weiner, James. The Forgotten Ancient Queen: Salome Alexandra of Judea. Ancient History et Cetera. [Online] 22nd Jan. 2013. [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]
31. Silver, Carly. The Peace of Zion. Archaeology Archive. [Online] 2010. [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]
32. Salome Alexandra, Queen of Judaea. Geni. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]
33. Hyrcanus II. Jordan Expert. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept 2016.]
34. John Hyrcanus II. Bibleview. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]
35. Hyrcanus II. Project Infrafting. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]
36. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. The End of the Hasmoneans, The Rise of Rome. Jewish [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]
37. Hyrcanus II. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]
38. Richard Gottheil, Isaac Broydé. Hyrcanus II. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]
39. —. Hyrcanus II. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]
40. Britannica, Editors of Encyclopedia. John Hyrcanus II King of Judea. Encyclopaedia Britanica. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.]

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* The priest Mattathias and his sons fought and killed to regain their religious freedom. What are your thoughts on this?
* They eventually won the battle but lost a lot of lives in the process. Was it worth it?
* Has your community ever faced such battles?
* How do you lead your community through times of conflict?
* What effect did pride have on the leaders and the nation?
* Do you think Judaism was developing in healthy or unhealthy ways? If you were trying to reform Judaism during this time what issues would you tackle?
* Who were the Pharisees?
* Who were the Sadducees?
* Who were the Essenes?
* Who were the Hasidim?
* Did the arguments over faith and practice between the Pharisees and Sadducees strengthen or weaken Judaism?
* Was God honoured by the ways the different groups fought over who had the right doctrines and the right way of worshipping Him?
* When we disagree with a fellow believer over doctrine, how can we be constructive instead of destructive in our disagreement?
* Who wins when we fight with one another?

Greek Conquest and Hellenization (332 – 166 BC)

Read Daniel 10-12
Greece – the belly and thighs of bronze, the leopard with four heads and four wings, the goat with the powerful horn that demolished the ram but was replaced by four horns.

By 400BC all the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) had been written.   The years between then and the coming of Messiah are often referred to as the “Silent Years” because there were no recognised Jewish prophets during this time and nothing written was considered worthy of being designated as scripture.  Yet, the scriptures are not silent about these years and, as we shall see, God was certainly not inactive during these years as He brought about what had been prophesied by Daniel, and prepared His people for the coming of their Messiah

332 BC saw a new challenge to Jewish society and religious thought as Greece rose to prominence in the region with the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, and subsequent Hellenization of all their neighbouring peoples. 

Almost 200 years before, in the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia (535 BC), Daniel had received his last recorded vision (Daniel 10-12).  In this vision Daniel was told that a mighty king would arise in Greece and conquer all. 

Alexander the Great arose from Greece (Macedonia) and conquered Eurasia all the way to India, uniting all the peoples culturally and politically. This Hellenization was a major challenge for Judaism.

 Then, when this Geek conqueror was strong his kingdom would be broken and divided into four:

but not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion with which he ruled; for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others besides these.” (Daniel 11:2-4 WEB).

The third beast was like a leopard with four bird wings on its back and four heads (Daniel 7:6). 

History now tells us that the Greek ruler, Alexander the Great, defeated the Persians and created one of the largest empires of the ancient world by the age of thirty, but died at just 32yo in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, after which his brother and son were murdered and his empire was divided between his four generals: Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus. (1) These four are referred to as the “Diadochi”, from the Greek, Diadokhoi, meaning “successors”.

Map of the land ruled over by each of Alexander the Great's successors

The two that would impact Israel in the years to come were Ptolemy (the king of the south) and Seleucus (the king of the north), as they kept jostling for power over that region and shifting the border between them.

God’s prophetic preparations…

Daniel’s visions gave a detailed account of what was to happen in the occupying kingdoms ruling over the Jewish people, and as we study Israel’s history through these years, we find the fulfilment of Daniel’s writings and gain a greater understanding of why there was such fervent expectation that God would send Messiah during the time of Herod’s reign in Jerusalem. 

In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the third kingdom was a middle and thighs of bronze (Daniel 2:32c).  The vision in Daniel 8 describes a male goat coming from the west with a conspicuous horn between his eyes who struck the ram, shattered his two horns, hurled him to the ground and trampled on him.  This goat magnified himself exceedingly, but as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken and in its place there came up four horns towards the four winds of heaven (Daniel 8:5-8).  In Daniel 8:21 -22 this goat is identified as Greece and the large horn between its eyes as the first king, then the four horns that arose to replace it are four kingdoms which will arise from Greece but not with the power of its first king.  Daniel 9 gave a timeframe of 69 sevens of years from the decree to re-build Jerusalem until Messiah was to come, and be cut off.  Daniel’s final recorded vision, Daniel 10-12, described what was to happen under the rule of the third empire to reign over the Jewish people – Greece; and more particular, as Jerusalem keeps changing hands between the rulers of Ptolemy to the south and the rulers of Seleucus to the north, until a final ruler abolishes the daily sacrifices to God in the temple and sets up “the abomination that causes desolation“.

A godly High Priest…

Shimon Ha Tzaddik was High Priest (Kohen Gadol) at the time of Alexander the Great’s conquest, and the most renown of the High Priests of the second temple era. He is identified in Pirkei Avot (1:2) as “among the last of the Great Assembly.” That fabled institution, the “Men of the Great Assembly”, “Anshei Knesset HaGedolah,” is said to have been founded by Ezra and provided leadership for the Jewish People between the Biblical Period (the years during which the Hebrew Bible was written), and the Talmudic Period of Jewish history. Jews describe the Talmudic Period as the years (from around 330 BCE – 505CE) during which Torah-sages edited and collated the evolving teachings of the Mishna (Oral Torah) and the Talmud (commentary). It was into this period that Yeshua would be born.

Tradition has it that when Alexander the Great came to the gates of Jerusalem intent on destruction, Shimon Ha Tzaddik came out to him clothed in “Bigdei Lavan,” the white garments that he wore on Yom Kippur when he entered the Holy of Holies, and the Emperor descended from his chariot and bowed down to him.

When Alexander’s generals protested,
Such a great king as yourself bows to that Jew?

Alexander replied,
This face appeared to me before every battle which I won…”

Several miracles are attributed to the piety of Shimon Ha Tzaddik, and his most famous saying is: Upon three things the world is based: upon Torah, upon avodah (service; prayer), and upon acts of kindness. (Pirkei Avot 1:2)

Shimon Ha Tzaddik was followed as High Priest in 320 BC by his son Onias I (Honio ben Jaddua). There was no longer the accountability between prophet, high priest and king that had been the hallmark of early Jewish society. Under their foreign rulers the High Priests now exercised sole authority over the people, and this level of power corrupted many.

From Alexander to his generals…

Daniel’s third and fifth visions go into some detail about the impact of this Greek empire after Alexander’s passing.  It may have seemed strange at the time for God to give details concerning the conflicts between northern and southern heathen kingdoms.   Now we can look back and see that Israel ended up near the border of the territory of the Seleucids (who ruled Syria “the king of the North”) and the Ptolemies (who ruled Egypt “the king of the South”), and so was greatly impacted by the conflicts between them.  During the first 20 years Jerusalem changed hands between the Ptolemies and Seleucids five times.  This instability reduced Hellenism’s impact.

Daniel 11:5-35 outlines this conflict which lasted about two centuries.  If we read these verses without any detailed knowledge of what took place during those centuries, it is a bit confusing. However, they so closely correlate to what was to come, and has now been, that some modern scholars have concluded that the last chapters of Daniel could not have been written until around the time of the Maccabean revolt in 166 BC.  

Where the Greek Bible (Septuagint) came from…

Also the king of the South shall become strong, as well as one of his princes; and he shall gain power over him and have dominion. His dominion shall be a great dominion.    Daniel 11:5 NKJV

By 301 B.C. Ptolemy (the king of the South) had grown strong and established a firm hold on the land of Israel.  The process of Hellenization (the imposition of Greek language, reasoning, philosophy and culture) now accelerated while the people of Israel still enjoyed relative peace and freedom to practice their religion.  Ptolemy’s dominion was great as he had a passion for learning and books and so commissioned the first translation of the Tanakh (Hebrew scriptures) into Greek (the Septuagint).

The spread of Hellenism…

Hellenism spread through several avenues.  Military units were stationed throughout Judea and the soldiers who married native women were given homes and fields – incentivising a breakdown of ethnic purity in the captured territories.  Many Greek cities were established and run under the Greek democratic model. The Greek language was imposed as the official language for government and the main language for commerce.  Greek schools, temples, stadiums and theatres were established to foster the values of Greek culture.  This influx of sophisticated culture attracted many of the Jews who began to give their children Greek names and local styles of art and architecture began to imitate Greek models. 

One of the most famous aspects of Hellenism is Greek philosophy.  As Jews became exposed to this, they reframed it as having begun with King Solomon whose wisdom attracted leaders and thinkers from many regions, including Athens.  From this Jewish viewpoint, philosophy was just an adjunct of Torah that was given away to the wise men of Athens who visited Solomon.  The Greeks were said to have absorbed Solomon’s methodology and spirit of inquiry, taken it back with them and developed it in their own ways. (4)

Outside Judea, Greek became the lingua franca of the Jewish communities. A Hellenistic Judaism developed which had its metropolis in Alexandria, Egypt. This became the wealthiest, most powerful, influential and sophisticated Jewish community.  It is also reported to have been the largest Jewish community at that time.    They had built a synagogue that is described as having seated up to 10,000 people, and many other synagogues throughout Alexandria and Egypt.  At the court and in the army of the Ptolemies, the Jews rose to prominent positions, just as they had done in the Persian Empire. (5) (6)

Early Anti-Semitism…

Despite such prominence, or perhaps because of it, the Jews attracted ridicule and rebuke in Egypt. Jews and Egyptians did not share a common understanding of their common history.  Both saw themselves as superior to the other and had their own historical records to prove it.  Thus began a history war that dominated the interactions between Jewish and Hellenistic intellectual interactions throughout the Graeco-Roman period.  The earliest records of written attacks on the Jewish people and history are from the Egyptian historian Manetho during this time. He described the Jews as inferior, lacking in intelligence, not possessing proper character or cherished virtues, barbaric and seditious. The criticism and overt persecution of the Jews of Egypt reached its crescendo in the Hellenistic and early Roman periods, largely due to cultural elitism, xenophobia, and the metanarrative and practise of hegemony which came from the ideology of imperialism. (7) (8) (9)

The beginnings of the pharisaic movement…

Onias I (Honio ben Jaddua), was followed as High Priest in 280 BC by his son Simon I.   When Simion I (Shimon) died his brother Eleazar became High Priest (260-245 BC) while his most ardent disciple, Antigonus, founded a Torah school to pass on Shimon’s wisdom and further develop the wall around the Torah to protect the people from becoming defiled by the increasing Greek influence. The pharisaic movement had begun and some even referred to Antigonus as “Nassi“, a prince of the people in Torah study and teaching.   While the High Priest retained sole governance of the temple worship and political leadership of the people, this growing movement of Torah scholars and scribes saw it as their role to determine the doctrines Jews were to espouse and the laws they were to live under in order to retain their ethnic, cultural and religious purity.  (2) (3) 

Jews wrestled with Hellenising influences…

Ptolemy commissioned the first translation of the Tanakh into Greek (around 250 BC), the Septuagint, so named because 72 Jewish scholars were involved in translating the text (10) (11).  It is the order of the books in the Septuagint that is reflected in modern Christian Bibles, while the Tanakh sequence was finalised in the land of Israel after the time of Ezra.  The Egyptian Jews held an annual celebration of the translation of the Septuagint and it was used exclusively in many of their synagogues as Greek had become their mother tongue. They also saw it as an opportunity to open the Torah up to the wider world so it could have a positive influence on Greek society. Around the Septuagint a Jewish-Greek literature was created which soon became extensive.  

The Pharisees in Judea were horrified at the thought of others having access to their holy book. They saw no good in having the sacred words of scripture being translated into such a profane language as Greek.  To them this was not the spread of Judaism but the pollution of Judaism with the evils of Hellenization. (12)  

Despite their religious and social isolation, it was impossible that the Jewish communities dispersed to the west of Israel, and thus immersed in Greek culture and modes of thought, should remain unaffected by such.  The earnest Jew living in these lands could not shut his mind against Greek thought.  That restless, searching, subtle Greek intellect would penetrate everywhere, it was in the forum, in the market, in the counting house, in the street; in all that a Jew saw, and in all to whom he spoke. Alfred Edersheim described the dilemma facing the observant Jew in the Greek world:

It was refined; it was elegant; it was profound; it was supremely attractive. He might resist, but he could not push it aside. Even in resisting, he had already yielded to it. For, once he opened the door to the questions which it brought, if it were only to expel, or repel them, he must give up that principle of simple authority on which traditionalism as a system rested. Hellenic criticism could not so be silenced, nor its searching light be extinguished by the breath of a rabbi. If he attempted this, the truth would not only be worsted before its enemies, but suffer detriment in his own eyes. He must meet argument with argument, and that not only for those who were without, but in order to be himself quite sure of what he believed. He must be able to hold it, not only in controversy with others, where pride might bid him stand fast, but in that much more serious contest within, where a man meets the old adversary alone in the secret arena of his own mind, and has to sustain that terrible hand-to-hand fight, in which he is uncheered by outward help. But why should he shrink from the contest, when he was sure that his was Divine truth, and that therefore victory must be on his side? … so the Hellenist would seek to conciliate the truths of Divine revelation with those others which, he thought, he recognized in Hellenism. … there was the intellectual view of the Scriptures – their philosophical understanding, the application to them of the results of Grecian thought and criticism. It was this which was peculiarly Hellenistic. … Strip these stories of their nationalism; idealise the individual of the persons introduced, and you came upon abstract ideas and realities, true to all time and to all nations. But this deep symbolism was Pythagorean; this pre-existence of ideas which were the types of all outward actuality, was Platonism! (8)   (emphasis mine)

This engagement of the Jewish dispersion with Greek thought conversely engaged the Greek world with Jewish thought.  Thus, the Greek world, despite popular hatred and the contempt of the upper classes, could not wholly withdraw itself from Jewish influences.  Indeed, there were many converts to Judaism among the Gentiles. 

Daniel 11 fulfilled in conflict between northern and southern Greek kingdoms…

And at the end of some years they shall join forces, for the daughter of the king of the South shall go to the king of the North to make an agreement; but she shall not retain the power of her authority, and neither he nor his authority shall stand; but she shall be given up, with those who brought her, and with him who begot her, and with him who strengthened her in those times.  Daniel 11:6 (NKJV)

Around 252 BCE, king of the South, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, sent his daughter Berenice to king of the North, Antiochus II Theos. His plan was to stop the war that was raging (the Second Syrian War) and unite the two kingdoms through their marriage.  In order to secure the peace and regain most of the Syrian possessions his father had lost to the king of the south, Antiochus II put away his wife, Laodice and her children, and married Berenice.  When Berenice gave birth to a son, Antiochus III, he was named as successor to the throne.    However, after Ptolemy II died in 246 BCE, Antiochus II repudiated his 6-year marriage to Berenice and returned to his first wife, Laodice.  Doubting his faithfulness, Laodice quickly murdered Antiochus II with poison and convinced her 19yo son, Seleucus II, to kill both Berenice and her young son.

But from a branch of her roots one shall arise in his place, who shall come with an army, enter the fortress of the king of the North, and deal with them and prevail.     Daniel 11:7 NKJV

Ptolemy III Euergetes, the eldest son of Ptolemy II and brother of Berenice, invaded the Seleucid kingdom in retaliation for the murder of his sister and nephew. His armies defeated the forces of new king of the North, Seleucus II and killed Laodice.

And he shall also carry their gods captive to Egypt, with their princes and their precious articles of silver and gold; and he shall continue more years than the king of the North.     Daniel 11:8 NKJV

During the Third Syrian War, the king of the South, Ptolemy III, is credited with recovering many of the sacred statues that the Persian forces of Cambyses had carried off during their conquest of Egypt some three hundred years earlier. Because of this, he was known as Euergetes (“Benefactor”). Ptolemy III acquired much gold and silver during his victorious campaign. In fact, from Seleucia alone he received 1,500 talents of silver annually as tribute (about 10% of his annual income). Ptolemy III outlived Seleucus II by four or five years.

Connection between Jewish and Samaritan High Priests…

Back in Jerusalem Eleasar’s uncle, Manasseh, succeeded him as High Priest in 245 BC, but he had married a foreign woman and was given the choice to either leave the priesthood or divorce his wife – tradition has it that he left the priesthood in 240 BC to become high priest in the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim.  Onias II (son of Simion I), who had been too young for the office when his father died, now ascended to be High Priest.  According to the 1st Century Jewish historian Josephus, Onias II was a covetous man of limited intelligence, thus giving further impetus to the growing conviction among the Pharisees that they alone were qualified to lead the nation spiritually.

Continued Greek conflicts and intrigue…

Also, the king of the North [lit. “he”] shall come to the kingdom of the king of the South, but shall return to his own land.  Daniel 11:9 NKJV

In 240 BCE, the king of the North, Seleucus II, attempted to invade Egypt (the king of the South) in response to the humiliation he had suffered at the hands of Ptolemy III. However, he had to return in defeat after his fleet perished in a storm.

However his sons shall stir up strife, and assemble a multitude of great forces; and one shall certainly come and overwhelm and pass through; then he shall return to his fortress and stir up strife.     Daniel 11:10 NKJV

The sons of Seleucus II were Seleucus III, Ceraunos (“Thunder”) and Antiochus III (the Great). Seleucus III, the eldest son of Seleucus II, began a war against the Egyptian provinces in Asia Minor. However, he was unsuccessful and was assassinated by members of his army in Asia Minor in 223 BCE. Seleucus II’s younger son, Antiochus III, took the throne at the age of 18 after his brother’s death. In 219-218 BCE, Antiochus III victoriously went through Judea, coming almost to the borders of Egypt.

On Onias’ death in 218 BCE his son Simon II succeeded him as High Priest and was greatly respected by all as he steered the nation through the turbulent times of the shift in Greek power to the Seleucians.  (12) (11)

And the king of the South shall be moved with rage, and go out and fight with him, with the king of the North, who shall muster a great multitude; but the multitude shall be given into the hand of his enemy.   Daniel 11:11 NKJV

Antiochus III met Ptolemy IV at the Battle of Raphia (also known as the Battle of Gaza) in 217 BCE. Antiochus III, the king of the North, had 62,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and 103 war elephants. But the forces of Ptolemy IV, king of the South, were victorious in the battle and Antiochus III was forced to withdraw into Lebanon.

When he has taken away the multitude, his heart will be lifted up; and he will cast down tens of thousands, but he will not prevail. For the king of the North will return and muster a multitude greater than the former, and shall certainly come at the end of some years with a great army and much equipment.    Daniel 11:12-13 NKJV

After the death of Ptolemy IV in 204 BCE, Antiochus III rallied his forces once again to attack the kingdom of the South. In the Fifth Syrian War (202-195 BCE), Antiochus III swept down into Judea and retook the territory that he had occupied some eighteen years previously.

Now in those times many shall rise up against the king of the South. Also, violent men of your people shall exalt themselves in fulfilment of the vision, but they shall fall.    Daniel 11:14 NKJV

Antiochus III negotiated an alliance with King Philip V of Macedonia to divide up Egypt’s Asian possessions and in 199 BC inflicted a crushing defeat on the Ptolemaic forces near the headwaters of the Jordan River.  According to Josephus, the Jews went over to Antiochus and readily assisted him when he besieged the garrison which was in the citadel of Jerusalem.

Then the king of the North shall come and throw up siege works and take a well-fortified city. And the forces of the South shall not stand, or even his best troops, for there shall be no strength to stand. But he who comes against him shall do according to his own will, and no one shall stand against him. He shall stand in the Glorious Land with destruction in his power.     Daniel 11:15-16 NKJV

Following his defeat at Paneas, Scopas fled to the fortified port city of Sidon. But after Antiochus III besieged it, Scopas surrendered in 199 BCE in exchange for safe passage out of the city back to Egypt. He and his troops were allowed to leave the city naked after giving up their weapons.  With his final victory over Scopas at Sidon, Antiochus the Great took the Holy Land away from the Egyptians for good. Judea and Jerusalem had passed from the king of the South to the king of the North.

Formation of the Sanhedrin

In 198 B.C. the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus of Syria (Antiochus the Great / Antiochus III) won control of Judea.  As in other states under Greek rule, he created a Senate (or Council) in Jerusalem to govern the nation.   (Greek: συνέδριον, gerusia “sitting together”, hence “assembly” or “council”, always signifies an aristocratic body; Hebrew:: סנהדרין‎‎, sanhedrin).   In Greek and Roman literature the senates of Sparta, Carthage, and even Rome were also called Sanhedrin.  This aristocratic council of priests and elders was presided over by the hereditary leader of the nation, in this case the High Priest. Since the reins of government were held by the High Priest during this time, Simon II, he also bore the title “Nassi” (prince).  This became the official title for the president of the Jewish Sanhedrin, which was composed of seventy members, plus the president.  The number seventy drew links back to Moses’ seventy elders (Exodus 18:13-26; 24:1; Numbers 11:11-17, 24-30) and so brought a sense of Jewish respectability to this otherwise Hellenistic institution. (13) (14)

Under the Seleucians there arose among the Jewish population in Judea a group called the Misyavim, meaning Hellenists, who adopted Greek culture as a way of life to such a degree that they were considered by the Pharisees to have given up their Jewish culture and identity.   With increasing division between the different schools in Judaism over what constituted Mosaic Law, whether it included the ‘Oral Torah’ or not, how it was to be interpreted and what of Hellenism was to be embraced or rejected, the composition and decisions of the new gerusia (which was to become the Sanhedrin) were no small matter when it came to the development of Judaism.  As the initial gerusia were comprised of the aristocracy of Jerusalem, most of whom had been far more eager to embrace Hellenism than the general populace, the direction they tried to lead the nation was not always the one people wanted to follow.  This provided strong impetus for the Pharisees to continue all the more vigorously building their wall around the Torah throughout all the towns of Judea and seek the political power of being admitted to, and dominating, the Sanhedrin.

Rome enters the picture…

He shall also set his face to enter with the strength of his whole kingdom, and upright ones with him; thus shall he do. And he shall give him the daughter of women to destroy it; but she shall not stand with him, or be for him. Daniel 11:17 NKJV

Young Ptolemy V had entered into a treaty with Antiochus III after his military defeat in the Fifth Syrian War. Through this treaty, Antiochus III tried to strengthen his position and expand his empire even further. Ptolemy V surrendered his Asian holdings to the king of the North and accepted Antiochus III’s daughter, Cleopatra I, as a bride. They were married in 194 BCE. Through this marriage, Antiochus III sought to gain a foothold in Egypt itself but his plan backfired. Cleopatra I was a true wife to Ptolemy V, standing by him instead of seeking to benefit her father. Cleopatra I was beloved by the Egyptian people for her loyalty to her husband.

After this he shall turn his face to the coastlands, and shall take many. But a ruler shall bring the reproach against them to an end; and with the reproach removed, he shall turn back on him.   Daniel 11:18 NKJV

In 192 BCE, the ambitious Antiochus III crossed into Greece to aid the Aetolians. Then went to war against Rome. He sailed across the Aegean Sea and took some strongholds in Asia Minor but in so doing alienated his former ally, Macedonian king Philip V. The Roman army entered Asia Minor and defeated the larger forces of Antiochus III at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BCE.   In the peace treaty of Apamea in 188 BCE, Roman general Publius Scipio set a high cost on Antiochus III for peace. He demanded twenty hostages (including his son, Antiochus IV), a reduction of naval ships to twelve, and payment to Rome for the cost of the war totalling 15,000 talents over the next twelve years. The all-consuming ambition of Antiochus III had finally brought defeat to the kingdom of the North.

Then he shall turn his face toward the fortress of his own land; but he shall stumble and fall, and not be found.  Daniel 11:19 NKJV

As a consequence of the Roman victory over Antiochus III, the outlying provinces of the Seleucid empire again reasserted their independence. Antiochus III, in dire need of funds with which to pay Rome for the cost of the war, attempting to plunder a pagan temple in Babylon and was murdered in 187 BC.

Simon II’s son, Onias III, succeeded him as High Priest and head of the Sanhedrin in 185 BC.  Onias III is described as a pious man, of the religious persuasions of the Pharisees, who argued strongly against the policies of the Hellenizers in the Sanhedrin.

His successor will send out a tax collector to maintain the royal splendour. In a few years, however, he will be destroyed, yet not in anger or in battle.   Daniel 11:20 NIV

Antiochus III’s eldest son, Seleucus IV, took over after his father’s death. Due to the heavy debt burden imposed by Rome, he was forced to seek an ambitious taxation policy on his shrunken empire. This included heavy taxation on the people of Israel and even extracting money from the temple in Jerusalem.

The Roman senate decided to trade hostages; therefore, they ordered Seleucus IV to send his son Demetrius, the heir to the throne, to Rome. In return, the Romans released Seleucus IV’s younger brother, Antiochus IV. When released, Antiochus IV went to Athens.  In 175 BCE, after Demetrius had been sent away to Rome, Seleucus IV was poisoned by his minister Heliodorus. Some historians think that Heliodorus desired the throne for himself, while others believe that Antiochus IV was behind the murder. Seleucus’ young son, (another Antiochus – age 5) was put on the throne in his place. However, Heliodorus was the actual power behind the throne.

And in his place shall arise a vile person, to whom they will not give the honour of royalty; but he shall come in peaceably, and seize the kingdom by intrigue.  Daniel 11:21 NKJV

With Seleucus IV dead, the rightful heir to the throne was the young Demetrius. However, he was no longer available, having been sent to Rome as a hostage. At the time of the murder, Antiochus IV was in Athens.  When he heard of his brother’s death, he quickly sailed to Pergamum. Once there, he sought the help of Eumenes II, the king of Pergamum. By flattering Eumenes II and his brother Attalus, he received their support and backing.  Antiochus IV arrived in Seleucia with a powerful ally and thwarted Heliodorus’ designs on the throne. It was still 175 BC when Antiochus IV took power to become co-regent and protector of Seleucus IV’s 5yo son.

With the force of a flood they shall be swept away from before him and be broken, and also the prince of the covenant.  Daniel 11:22 NKJV

Corruption overruns the Jewish priesthood…

Because of his ability to charm people and ally himself with them, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) was able to overcome all threats to his throne. He had little regard for the religion of the Jewish people and took advantage of the corruption in the priesthood at that time, upsetting the line of succession of the High Priests. As local governance, with all the accompanying power, prestige and accumulation of wealth, was the domain of the priests, with the High Priest ruling over all, this position was highly sought by those with personal ambition. The prince of the covenant here is a reference to the Jewish high priest Onias III, whom Antiochus IV replaced with his brother Jason for a bribe that same year.  Jason and the Sanhedrin promoted Greek culture in Jerusalem by introducing many Greek customs and building a gymnasium. 

Just three years later Jason’s emissary to Antiochus, Menelaus, made use of his position to bribe the king and was thus appointed High Priest in 172 BC, even though he was not of the priestly line.  Menelaus proceeded ruthlessly to oppress his people and plunder the treasures of the Temple. Menelaus and his brother Lysimachus took the golden vessels of the Temple and sold them to raise the money they needed to pay the royal tribute and keep their positions of power.  When Onias III, the lawful High Priest, protested this act, they had him murdered.   

Jewish society in the cities, while generally still adhering staunchly to monotheism, was becoming increasingly Hellenised in language, sports, entertainments and clothes.  With such rapid change came ever stronger divisions in Jewish society between the Hellenists and traditionalists.

Jewish temple and worship in Egypt…

Onias III’s son, Onias IV, fled to Egypt and built a Jewish Temple at Leontopolis where he presided as High Priest.  Onias IV justified building a temple outside Jerusalem on the basis of Isaiah’s prophesy:

In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the Lord because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Saviour and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them. Then the Lord will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day, and will make sacrifice and offering; yes, they will make a vow to the Lord and perform it. Isaiah 19:19-21

The Leontopolis temple served the large Jewish population in Egypt who sacrificed regularly there, even while continuing to fulfil their duty towards the temple in Jerusalem.  All the Jewish sacrifices and feasts were performed at this temple under the continuing Zadok line of the High Priesthood.  This persisted until the Romans destroyed this temple, three years after destroying the Jerusalem temple.  (15) (16) (17) (18)

Deceitful dealings…

And after the league is made with him he shall act deceitfully, for he shall come up and become strong with a small number of people.  Daniel 11:23 NKJV

In Egypt, the 14-year old Ptolemy VI Philometer had become king. He was the nephew of Antiochus IV; his mother (Cleopatra I) being Antiochus IV’s sister. Antiochus IV sought an alliance with Ptolemy VI, seeking to take advantage of what he perceived as weakness in the Ptolemaic kingdom and gain Egypt for himself. He moved through Syria and Judea into Egypt with a small army, so as to not arouse suspicion to his true motive, and seized Egypt. His cover story was that he was coming to act as the “protector” of his nephew, Ptolemy VI.

He shall enter peaceably, even into the richest places of the province; and he shall do what his fathers have not done, nor his forefathers: he shall disperse among them the plunder, spoil, and riches; and he shall devise his plans against the strongholds, but only for a time.   Daniel 11:24 NKJV

Antiochus IV pursued a novel plan for gaining the Egyptian-controlled provinces. He moved into the parts of the kingdom that were the richest. Then he did something that no other Seleucid king had ever done, spread around some of the spoils from his war campaigns to secure the loyalty of the people.  It is even reported that he would go into the streets and throw money to the citizens there. However, this was only the beginning of Antiochus IV’s plan. Using his cunning, he visited Egyptian strongholds to find out their power.

He shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the South with a great army. And the king of the South shall be stirred up to battle with a very great and mighty army; but he shall not stand, for they shall devise plans against him.  Yes, those who eat of the portion of his delicacies shall destroy him; his army shall be swept away, and many shall fall down slain.  Daniel 11:25-26 NKJV

In 170 BCE Antiochus IV decided to take Egypt by force in what came to be known as the Sixth Syrian War. The Egyptians had a large army arrayed against him at Pelusium, which is near the Nile Delta. Ptolemy VI’s army, although large, was not able to withstand Antiochus IV who had corrupted several of the Egyptian ministers and officers.

In the midst of man’s evil, God is still sovereign…

Both these kings’ hearts shall be bent on evil, and they shall speak lies at the same table; but it shall not prosper, for the end will still be at the appointed time.  Daniel 11:27 NKJV

With that phrase “for the end will still be at the appointed timeDaniel gives us the sense that despite all of man’s intrigues and plans, God is still sovereign and has a divine timetable for the events of history.  After he took control of Pelusium and Memphis, Antiochus IV set his sights on Alexandria. Due to the intrigues of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) mentioned in verse 26, the Alexandrians had renounced their allegiance to Ptolemy VI, and had made his younger brother, Ptolemy VII Euergetes, king in his place. While at Memphis, Antiochus IV and Ptolemy VI had frequent conferences. Antiochus IV professed his great friendship to his nephew and concern for his interests, but his true plan was to weaken Egypt by setting the brothers against one another.  Conversely, Ptolemy VI professed gratitude to his uncle for the interest he took in his affairs. He laid the blame of the war upon his minister Eulaeus, one the guardians appointed to watch over him after his father’s death. All the while, Ptolemy VI sought to smooth over things with his brother Ptolemy VII so they could join forces against their deceitful uncle, Antiochus IV.

In 170 BCE, the younger Antiochus was murdered while Antiochus IV was conveniently absent, paving the way for him to take sole possession of the throne.

While returning to his land with great riches, his heart shall be moved against the holy covenant; so he shall do damage and return to his own land. Daniel 11:28 NKJV

While Antiochus IV was engaged in Egypt, a false rumour arose in Judea that he had been killed. This prompted deposed high priest Jason to raise an army of 1,000 men and attack Jerusalem. His army captured the city and forced Antiochus IV’s appointed high priest Menelaus to take refuge in the Akra fortress in Jerusalem.

When news of the fighting in Jerusalem reached Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) , he took it to mean that Judea was in revolt against him.  In 170 BC Antiochus IV left Egypt and on his way home marched against Jerusalem. His army massacred the inhabitants in three days, 80,000 Jewish men, women and children. A similar number were captured and sold into slavery.  He also entered the Temple and took the holy vessels, including the golden altar, the menorah (seven-branched golden lampstand), the table for the showbread, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple, then returned to Antioch.  Menelaus was restored to the high priesthood and retained that position until 161 BC. (12)

Many of the wealthier Jews in the cities of Judea were drawn to the apparent sophistication, great learning and philosophical thought of Hellenism. Some even embraced this as superior to their own traditions.  Totally contrary to the example set by Daniel and his three friends so many years before in Babylonian captivity, these Jews considered success for themselves and their children as their top priority and the pathway to such as being paved with Greek culture and education. Conflict was growing within the Jewish community between those who embraced Hellenization and those who despised it.  The official leaders of the people, High Priest and most of the Sanhedrin, were among those who promoted Hellenism at this time. That left Jews trying to hold onto their traditional way of life feeling increasingly dispossessed in their own nation, stirring calls to depose their leaders.  

At the appointed time he shall return and go toward the south; but it shall not be like the former or the latter.  Daniel 11:29 NKJV

In 168 BCE Antiochus IV once again sought to go to war against Egypt. However, this time he would not have the same success as he achieved previously.

For ships from Cyprus [Kittim] shall come against him; therefore he shall be grieved, and return in rage against the holy covenant, and do damage. So he shall return and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant. Daniel 11:30 NKJV

The “ships from Kittim” here refer to the ships which brought the Roman legions to Egypt in fulfilment of their new defence pact with the Ptolemy brothers who were now aligned.  In 167 BC Antiochus IV and his army marched toward Alexandria and were met by three Roman senators led by Gaius Popillius. There, Roman ambassador Popillius delivered to Antiochus IV the Senate’s demand that he withdraw from Egypt. When the king requested time for consultation, Popillius drew a circle around Antiochus IV with a stick he was carrying and told him not to leave the circle until he gave his response. Astonished and humiliated by this display of Roman arrogance, Antiochus had no choice but to bow to their demands.

Truth was thrown to the ground…

Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) retreated back to Syria in a rage and disturbed by reports of growing conflict among the Jews decided to salve his wounded pride by exerting his will over Jerusalem.

And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation.  Daniel 11:31 NKJV

Here we’re brought back to Daniel 8 where he sees a little horn come out of one of the four divisions of the Greek empire that exalted himself and took away the daily sacrifices (Vs 9-14 & 21-26).  

Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land… It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down. Because of rebellion, the Lord’s people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.  … In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue, will arise. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy those who are mighty, the holy people. He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes.  Daniel 8:9, 11-12, 23-25a NIV

Antiochus IV’s army descended on Jerusalem, slaughtered multitudes, desecrated the Temple and stopped the daily sacrifices. On the 15th Kislev, in December 167 BC, the Syrians built a pagan altar over the altar of burnt offering in the Temple and placed an image of Zeus upon it – the ‘abomination of desecration’.  Ten days later, on the 25th Kislev, swine’s flesh was offered on the altar to Zeus. 

Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people?”
He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”       Daniel 8:13-14 NIV

Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) was an anti-Christ (anti-Messiah/ anti-the anointed one) determined to exterminate the Jewish religion.  He outlawed any possession, reading of or obedience to Torah and resorted to every conceivable torture to force the Jews to renounce their religion, their laws and their God, seeking to replace Judaism with a universal religion of Greek polytheism.   Only those in the city who had forsaken the Torah and allied themselves with him and his Greek polytheistic religion survived this attack.    

With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him. Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.     Daniel 11:32-35 NIV

According to II Maccabees 6:2, Antiochus IV ordered the Temple to be renamed for Zeus Olympios.  Worst of all, he managed to convince many of the Jews that they were being modern, sophisticated and open minded in rejecting Judaism and joining him in the persecution of their ‘backward brothers’ who were ‘stuck in the past’.  “Many also of the Israelites consented to his [Antiochus’] religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the Sabbath” (I Macc.1:20-53).  Others, particularly peasants in the countryside, were horrified and a group called Hasidim (the “pious ones”) emerged in resistance to these changes. Rabbinical sources describe Antiochus IV as “the wicked.” (19) (20) (21) (22) (5) (6) (10).

Antiochus IV is considered to be a ‘type’ of the antichrist to come.  One who considered himself above God and attempted to abolish all worship of God and obedience to His Torah.  Surely, many thought, such a time as this is when Messiah would come to destroy the kingdoms of this world and establish God’s eternal kingdom on earth.  Gabriel had told Daniel “the vision concerns the time of the end” (Daniel 8:17).  As Daniel’s other visions had made it clear that the Greek empire was not the “time of the end”, this riddle suggested that history repeats itself, that the Greek ruler Antiochus IV was just a picture of the one who was to come in the end time and rage against the Lord’s anointed.  But still the time was not yet.  The fourth beast had not yet arisen, the iron legs kingdom had not yet arisen over Israel, and still they must wait for the appointed time of Messiah’s coming and reign.   (23) (24) (25) (26) (27)

Reference List

1. Kaiser, Walter C. The Book of Daniel. Torah Class. [Online] [Cited: 23rd Oct. 2016.]
2. Sanhedrin. Biblical Training. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.]
3. Wilhelm Bacher, Jacob Zallel Lauterbach. SANHEDRIN. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 3rd Sept 2016.]
4. The Coming of the Greeks. Jewish History. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept 2016.]
5. Schiffman, Lawrence H. Palestine in the Hellenistic Age. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.]
6. Palmer, Micheal W. History & Literature of the Bible The Hellenistic Age. Greek Language. [Online] 19th October 2002. [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.]
7. Thayer, Bill. The Fragments of Manetho. Manetho. [Online] [Cited: 2nd Oct. 2016.]*.html.
8. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886.
9. Armin Lange, K.F.Diethard Römheld, Matthias Weigold. Judaism and Crisis: Crisis as a Catalyst in Jewish Cultural History. Oakville : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011.
10. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. The Hell in Hellenism. Jewish [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] .
11. A.M., William Whiston. Josephus – The Complete Works. Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.
12. God’s Secret. 2nd Temple History and More – Persian and Hellenistic Periods (538-142 BCE). [Online] 19th Sept. 2008. [Cited: 19th Sept. 2016.]
13. Gerousia. The Sanhedrin – History and Function. St John Lutheran. [Online] 2008. [Cited: 6th Sept. 2016.]
14. Morrison, W. D. The Sanhedrin, or Supreme National Council. Heritage History. [Online] [Cited: 6th Sept. 2016.]
15. Lists of High Priests of Israel. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: 4th Sept. 2016.]
16. The Return of the Priests of the House of Zadok. Bible Searchers. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.]
17. Richard Gottheil, Samuel Krauss. Leontopolis (Greek = Lion City). Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 4th Sept. 2016.]
18. Kantrowitz, Jonathan. Jewish Temples of Onias & Elephantine in Egypt. Archaelology News Report. [Online] 6th Sept. 2008. [Cited: 4th Sept. 2016.]
19. Antiochus IV Epiphanes. New World Encyclopedia. [Online] 5th April 2016. [Cited: 31st Oct. 2016.]
20. Antiochus IV Epiphanes Bust. Bible History. [Online] [Cited: 31st Oct. 2016.]
21. Bright, John. The History of Israel. Kentucky : Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.
22. Tenney, Merrill C. The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 4: Revised Full-Color Edition. s.l. : Zondervan.
23. Kaiser, Walter C. The Book of Daniel Lesson 10:Daniel Chs. 10,11,12. Torah Class. [Online] [Cited: 25th Oct. 2016.]
24. Gordon, I. Book of Daniel Bible Study Chapter 11 A Tale of Three Madmen. Jesus Plus Nothing. [Online] [Cited: 25th Oct. 2016.]
25. Franklin, Pat. Daniel 11 as History. Christian + Revolution. [Online] [Cited: 25th Oct. 2016.]
26. Walvoord, John F. 11. World History From Darius To The Time Of The End. [Online] [Cited: 25th Oct. 2016.]
27. Huie, Bryan T. DANIEL 11 – PROPHECY FULFILLED! Here a Little, There a Little. [Online] 2nd January 2012. [Cited: 16th Oct. 2016.]

In the comments section below share your thoughts on some of the following questions…

* Sometimes God speaks and sometimes God acts. What actions was God doing between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New?
* What has God been doing in your community?
* What are some differences between western (Greek) ways of thinking and eastern ways of thinking like the Jews were working hard to hold on to?
* What ways of thinking and educating are dominant in your culture?
* Some of the actions that were considered virtues in Greek thought were considered abominations to God. Are there things that your culture calls good that God calls evil?
* In many ways the Jewish people were being moulded by the Greek culture surrounding them, but they were also impacting that culture and seeing people converted to Judaism. In what ways is your church being moulded by the surrounding culture and in what ways is it changing the surrounding culture?
* Why are the wealthy often the most compromised with the ways of the world around us?
* How could the people know that it was not yet time for Messiah when Antiochus IV set up the abomination in the Temple?

Developments in Judaism under Persian Occupation (430 – 332 BC)

Read Nehemiah 8-13

Nehemiah was written around 430 BC.  Persian kings continued to rule over the Jewish people for the next hundred years.  During this time there were concerted efforts to re-establish Jerusalem as the centre of Jewish religious life.  To this end, groups of Torah scholars were set up in Jerusalem to help establish it as the hub of Torah authority, as well as the epicentre of the sacrificial system. They let it be known that all important questions of Jewish law should be sent to Jerusalem and there is historical evidence of a faraway group of the Jewish diaspora writing to the High Priest with questions about how they should practise the Torah (1).   

The elaborate garments worn by the priests are described in Exodus 28, and again in Exodus 39:1–31. Four of these garments are worn exclusively by the High Priest. They alone are called בִּגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ, the holy garments. The ephod’s precious stones, inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes, are said to serve as אַבְנֵי זִכָּרוֹן “stones of reminder” to remind God of Israel, and the same is true of the twelve stones on the breastplate. Thus by his very person, the High Priest personifies the whole of the Israelite people לִפְנֵי ה’ “before YHWH,” (Exodus 28:12, 29; 39:7). The Urim and Thummim, connected with the breastplate, enable the High Priest, each time he enters the sanctuary, to inquire of God for His judgment on matters (Exodus 28:30). The robe is “worn” for its bells, their sound alerting the divine presence to the High Priest’s approach as he enters the sanctuary “so that he not die” (Exodus 28:35). Finally the diadem on Aaron’s head is said to remove from God’s abode any wrongdoing connected with Israel’s offerings and to ensure, by means of the inscription proclaiming that Israel’s worship is קֹדֶשׁ לַה’ “Holy to Yhwh,” that God graciously accept their sacrifices (Exodus 28:38). Thus the High Priest’s garments transform him who “wears” them into a walking embodiment of the whole nation of Israel, and they play indispensable roles in the worship that he enacts on Israel’s behalf. Having such a High-Priest, we come boldly to the throne of grace.

There remained, however, significant Torah schools in Babylon and the role of the synagogue in Jewish life did not diminish with the re-establishment of temple worship.   Jews now had two centres of spiritual authority and worship – the central authority of the temple in Jerusalem and the local authority of the synagogue. Influencing both of these were the Torah schools in both Babylon and Jerusalem.

Several of the innovations of the Babylonian exile were continued and built upon in Jerusalem, and throughout the diaspora, after the temple was rebuilt. These were attributed to Ezra’s highly respected leadership in Torah study and teaching. Being a scribe, Ezra also produced copies of the Torah and other Jewish religious books (notably the Nev’im (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings) that would come to be accepted as part of the Hebrew Scriptures). The practises further developed during this period included the prominent use of the singing of Psalms, prayer and instruction as part of the Synagogue service. Synagogue worship and rabbinical teaching continued to operate alongside the temple worship and reading of Torah (2). Formalised prayers that had been developed to replace temple worship during the exile continued to be used and a universal Jewish prayer service was established (3).  To give these prayers a clear framework the wording of the Shemoneh Esrei, Eighteen Blessings, was standardised as well as the blessings before and after food, before and after performing a mitzvah (good deed done within a religious duty and keeping of the commandments), and before and after the Sabbath (Kiddush and Havdalah) (4).

When Yeshua Blessed Food What Did He Say?

Before partaking of any food, a brachah rishonah (preceding blessing), is said. There are six different blessings, each beginning with the same words: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, (Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe), and concluding with a few words related to the type of food eaten.

For any meal that containes bread the blessing is: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz. (Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.)

For wine or grape juice the blessing is: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam borei p’ri hagafen. (Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the
Universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.

A longer grace (Birkat-HaMazon) is said after the meal. Thanking God for what has been received and appreciated. Reciting the blessing after the meal is a mitzvah written in the Torah, Deuteronomy 8:10 states, “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless Adonai your God for the good land which God has given you.”  This blessing (which is actually a series of four blessings) is mandated for use following any meal in which bread has been eaten, since according to Jewish law, eating bread officially constitutes a meal.
I. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Who feedest the whole world with goodness, with grace and with mercy. Blessed art Thou, O, Lord, Who feedest all.
II. We thank Thee, O Lord, our holy God, that Thou hast caused us to inherit a goodly and pleasant land, the covenant, the Torah, life and food. For all these things we thank Thee and praise Thy name forever and ever. Blessed art Thou, O, Lord, for the land and for the food.
III. Have mercy, O Lord, our God, on Thy people Israel and on Thy city Jerusalem, and on Thy Temple and Thy dwelling place and on Zion Thy resting place, and on the great and holy House over which Thy name was called, and the kingdom of the house of David mayest Thou restore to its place in our days, and build Jerusalem soon. Blessed art Thou, O, Lord, who buildest Jerusalem.
IV. Blessed are You, O Lord, the Good and Who does good, our Father and our King.

During this period the Levites translated the Torah into the Aramaic vernacular and explained it so the people could understand.

“The Levites … instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.  They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” Nehemiah 8:7–8  

This made it much more accessible to the diaspora for many of whom Aramaic was now their mother tongue.  For those in Judea, and especially in Jerusalem, Hebrew was emphasised even though many still used Aramaic as a trade language.  Everything in the Temple and synagogues of Judea was in Hebrew, as was the learning in the synagogue schools. (5)

Origins of the Sanhedrin and Recognising the inspiration of all the TaNaKh (OT)

Ezra is credited by rabbinical Judaism with having brought like-minded Torah scholars together for what became called the “Great Synagogue,” or Sanhedrin following on from the Nehemiah 8-10 gathering, although there is no historical evidence of a Sanhedrin existing at this time. Ezra certainly engendered a grass-roots movement of Torah study and public Torah reading and explanation, which was much needed because many of the population were now Aramaic speakers who lacked understanding of the finer nuances of the Hebrew language.  With like-minded scholars and students he is said to be responsible for the canonisation of the Prophets (Nev’im), and Writings (K’tuvim) into the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible – what Christians refer to as the Old Testament). (6) (7) (8).   

TaNaKh is an acronym referring to the traditional Jewish division of the Bible into Torah (Teaching), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Kituvim (Writings). The Tanakh that Ezra and his disciples compiled, and that Yeshua and all the original apostles grew up with, and is still used by Jews today, consists of twenty-four books.  This is less than the usual Christian count of thirty-nine because each of the following are considered to be a single book: 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, the twelve Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi), and Ezra-Nehemiah.   The order, groupings and names of books are also different to the Christian Bible.  The TaNaKh is divided into:
1. Torah (Law/ Teachings) – consisting of the five books of Moses;
2. Nevi’im (Prophets) – consisting of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel & the twelve minor prophets;
3. K’tuvim (Writings) – consisting of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles. 

In Christian Bibles, following Greek tradition, the books are named according to their main theme, but in Jewish Bibles the books were named according to their first words.  What we call Exodus (the book about the Jewish exodus from Egypt) the Tanakh calls Sh’mot (Names), because it starts with “These are the names…”.  Hence we do not see Yeshua or the B’rit Hadasha (New Testament) writers using the same referencing of the Tanakh as Christians do today.

Not all priests were in agreement with the Canonisation of the Nevi’im and K’tuvim, giving them the same status as the Torah, although they generally saw great spiritual value in these works.  Thus a division started appearing in Jewish religious thought and practise between those who believed that their lives should be based just on the Torah or just the Torah and the Nevi’im, and those who believed that their lives should be based on the whole Tanakh.

Yeshua would endorse all three sections of the Tanakh in Luke 24:44 “that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Torah of Moses and the Nev’im (Prophets) Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (by “Psalms” Yeshua was using the Jewish convention of stating the first to refer to the whole. The K’tuvim (Writings) section in the Tanakh begins with the book of Psalms, not Job as in our OT).  It was not until much later that the dispute was settled unequivocally in Jewish circles. Only after the Sadducees had lost all power and influence with the Roman destruction of the Second Temple did Rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakki convene the Council of Yavneh, in about 90 C.E., to conduct a final Jewish review of the canon where the whole Tanakh at last was confirmed as the Jewish canon.

The Jewish “Oral Law”

Halakhah also continued to be developed and passed down orally from sage (rabbi) to talmidim (disciple / student) after the restoration of the temple and sacrifices. They taught: “Be deliberate in judgment; raise many disciples; and make a fence around the Torah” (Avos 1:1). This fence around the Torah consisted of rules and practises deemed necessary to keep the people from straying away from Torah observance, or their cultural heritage, and becoming in any way like their heathen neighbours.   

Halakhah – הֲלָכָה, the Way – is the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from both the “written Torah” and the “oral Torah”.  As such it consists of:
* Mitzvot D’Oraita (an Aramaic word meaning “from the Torah”) – the 613 commandments (mitzvot מִצְווֹת, plural of mitzvah מִצְוָה) that Jewish rabbis and sages had reasoned from the Torah; plus
* Mitzvot D’rabbanan (Aramaic for “from the rabbis”) all three categories of rabbinic commandments, which also became known as the “Oral Torah” and came to be attributed to Moses’ revelation on Mount Sinai, thus giving them, according to many pharisees, the same status as the Written Torah (ie. books of Moses, first 5 books in the Bible). :
~ Gezeirahlaws instituted by the rabbis to prevent people from accidently violating a Torah Mitzvot.  Commonly referred to as a ‘fence’ around the Torah.
~ Takkanotlaws unrelated to the Biblical commandments that were created by the rabbis for the public welfare, to ‘make the world a better place’. 
~ Minhag – all long-standing customs of the community.

An example of how this developed is in one of the dietary laws.  The Torah states: “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 34:26).  The Mitzvot D’Oraita derived from that verse decrees: “Do not eat flesh with milk” – the 164th commandment in their list of 613 commandments “from the Torah”.  This is then explained by the rabbis to be a prohibition on consuming any meat with any dairy products – a cheeseburger would be “illegal” for an observant Jew to eat.   Then, to prevent the people from accidently consuming any meat and cheese together Gezeirah were instituted which included declaring that any utensils, pots and pans with which they are cooked, plates and flatware from which they are eaten, and anything used in cleaning such as the towels with which the utensils that have come in contact with meat are dried, cannot be used with dairy, and vice versa.   The only “safe” way to run the household is to have two sets of pots, pans and dishes – one for meat and one for dairy.  In addition to all that, one must wait a significant amount of time between eating meat and dairy (different schools dictated different amounts of time) because fatty residues or meat particles could cling to the mouth and therefore still be present when the dairy was consumed if enough time had not lapsed between the two.

These rabbinical teachings came to be considered of equal authority to the Torah and by around 100 BC were starting to be referred to by some scholars as the Oral Law.   This elevation of cultural practises and rabbinic reasonings to the same status as the Torah was again not accepted by all priests or Torah scholars.  Among those who espoused the Oral Law there was considerable debate over what the correct practises, interpretations and laws were. (4). Even the mitzvot d’oraita (Torah commandments) contained differences in listings of commandments between the different schools (9).

There was, however, little dispute over the number of commandments (mitzvoth) because of the significance attached to the number 613.  The Talmud notes that the Hebrew numerical value (gematria) of the word “Torah” is 611, and there’s a midrash that says the first two of the Ten Commandments were heard by the Jewish people directly from God, so 611+2 = 613. These are divided into 365 negative commandments (do not do) “like the number of days of the sun”; and 248 positive commandments (do this) “like the parts of a person”. Other significances have also been given to the numbers 613, 365 and 248, all pointing to the overriding importance placed on the keeping of mitzvot d’oraita. (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) 

Many of the mitzvot cannot be observed apart from the temple in Jerusalem, although they still retain religious significance. According to one standard reckoning, out of the total 613 mitzvoth, there are 77 positive and 194 negative commandments that can be observed today, of which 26 apply only within the Land of Israel. (15) (16)

Development of the Permanent Jewish Calendar…

A major accomplishment of the Torah scholars of this period was the development of a permanent Jewish calendar.  The Jewish calendar is based on the cycle of the moon. However, if it were a strict lunar calendar then every year would be 11¼ days less than the solar year. The problem then would be that in three years an entire month would be lost.   Therefore, the Jewish sages added a leap month to the Jewish year. The solar and lunar years line up exactly every 19 years so seven times every nineteen years an entire month, Adar I, is added.

Jewish leadership under the Persians…

Torah scholars who gained renown were generally referred to as sages during this period, but sometimes the term of honour, rabbi (‘master/teacher’), was used – this term gained increasing popularity over the centuries that followed.

The High Priests during this period included men of noble character and those corrupted by power and greed. Although the First Temple saw only 18 High Priests throughout its 400 years, over 300 served during the Second Temple’s 420 years! Several were righteous, and their combined service accounts for around 141 of those years. Soon after Nehemiah the position of governor faded from view and the High Priest was left as the single governing authority over Judea under the Persians.

After Eliashib, who was High Priest during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, his son Joiada (Nehemiah 12:10) held this position from 433-410 BC.  As the sole leadership position, the High Priesthood ceased to be determined purely on a religious hereditary basis and became subject to Persian appointment.  Joiada’s son, Joshua, was promised the High Priesthood by Bagoses, general of Artaxerxes II.  He was killed by his brother, Johanan, in the temple during a quarrel.  Bagoses, being horrified that Johanan as a priest would perpetrate murder in the temple, forbade him from entering its holy precincts again.  Johanan justified his act, took up the High Priest’s office and entered the temple for the duties of that office from 410-371 BCE. Bagoses had the Persians respond by attacking the temple and imposing a tribute on the Jews. 

Johanan’s son Jaddua (also known as Shimon Ha Tzaddik / Simion the Just) served as High Priest from 371-320 BCE.  He restored the temple, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and earned the respect of all.  Tradition has it that Simion met Alexander the Great on his way to attack the Temple. Alexander prostrated himself and promised to treat the Jews benignly, explaining that before every battle he would see a vision of Simion leading his troops to victory. Simion is also traditionally considered to be one of the last members of the Great Assembly, and there are claims that after his death men ceased to utter the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) aloud. (17) (18) (19)

Developing Messianic Expectations…

This was also a time of developing Messianic expectations in the aftermath of exile and cessation of the Davidic dynasty.  In the light of what God had promised King David, hope arose that He would someday restore a godly king to Israel: 

Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”          2 Samuel 7:16 NASB

 “I will save my flock; they will no longer be prey; and I will judge between sheep and other sheep. I will raise up one shepherd to be in charge of them, and he will let them feed — my servant David. He will pasture them and be their shepherd. I, Adonai, will be their God; and my servant David will be prince among them. I, Adonai, have spoken.”                                Ezekiel 34:22-24 CJB

For many, the expectation went beyond just a godly Davidic descendant to reign over Israel and extended to one who would also rule justly over all the gentile nations.  Such expectations were fuelled by scriptures such as these that hinted that the coming anointed one, the Messiah, would be God Himself:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might,the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord – and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears; but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth.  He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist.   Isaiah 11:1-5 NIV

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.  Daniel 7:9-14 NIV

Other scriptures that were interpreted in the light of the Messianic hope during this period included (20):

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.  Genesis 49:10 NIV

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.   Numbers 24:17 NIV

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.    Zechariah 9:9 NIV

Developing Understanding of the World to Come…

Associated with this development of doctrines of the Messiah were also those of Olam Ha-Ba (The World to Come), which included immortality of the soul and resurrection of the dead in an age to come.  While the focus of Judaism remained on living and doing the best in the here and now, the present troubles and injustices were not seen the end of the story; there was a reward, an inheritance, still to come for those who lived in obedience to Yahweh.  As Daniel had prophesied that so many troubles would come to the Jewish people in the foreseeable future, it was comforting to know that was not all there was to come.(21)           

As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”    Daniel 12:13 NIV

Your dead will live, my corpses will rise; awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust; for your dew is like the morning dew, and the earth will bring the ghosts to life.   Isaiah 26:19 CJB

At that time, your people will be delivered, everyone whose name is found written in the book. Many of those sleeping in the dust of the earth will awaken, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting shame and abhorrence. But those who can discern will shine like the brightness of heaven’s dome, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:1b-3 CJB

 These doctrines were not developed in any systematic way during this period, as it was before the systematic thinking of Hellenization had impacted this part of the world and the Torah scholars were organic rather than systematic thinkers.  The general picture that emerged was firstly of the state of the soul in heaven after the death of the body, followed by the Messianic age here on earth “at the end of days” and then the resurrection of the dead which embraced a nationalistic hope of the resurrection of all Israel. (21)

Enlightened by these revelations in the Nev’im (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings), many sages and scholars also saw evidence of existence after death in the Torah.   Several noteworthy people are referred to as being “gathered to their people”, which they understood as a separate event from the physical death of the body or the burial.  Examples included: Gen. 25:8 (Abraham), 25:17 (Ishmael), 35:29 (Isaac), 49:33 (Jacob), Deut. 32:50 (Moses and Aaron), and II Kings 22:20 (King Josiah).  Genesis 17:14 and Exodus 31:14 refer to sins for which the punishment is being kareit “cut off from his people”, which they saw as referring to the soul losing their position in Olam Ha-Ba (The World to Come). (22)                     

Reference List

1. Jewish The Men of the Great Assembly. Jewish History. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.]
2. Dell Markey, Demand Media. What Effects Did the Babylonian Exile Have on the Jewish Religion? The Classroom. [Online] 18 Aug 2016.
3. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. The Beginning of the Second Commonwealth. Jewish [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.]
4. The Sanhedrin English. Historical Overview. The Sanhedrin. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug 2016.]
5. Keyser, John D. Hebrew and Aramaic – Languages of First Century Israel. Hope of Israel. [Online] [Cited: 25th Aug 2016.]
6. Encyclopedia Judaica: The Great Synagogue. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.]
7. Hirsch, Emil G. Ezra the Scribe. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.]
8. Mindel, Nissan. Ezra the Scribe. [Online] Kehot Publication Society. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.]
9. Levine, Jason. Judaism: The 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 29th Sept. 2016.]
10. Hartman, Osher Chaim Levene & Rabbi Yehoshua. 613: Your Wish is My Command. Aish. [Online] [Cited: 28th Sept. 2016.]
11. dlevy. Lies We Were Taught in Hebrew School, or why 613 is a Meaningless Number. Jewschool – Progressive Jews & Views. [Online] [Cited: 28th Sept. 2016.]
12. The Number 613: Properties and Meanings. VirtueScience. [Online] [Cited: 28th Sept. 2016.]
13. McGough, Richard Amiel. The Number 613. The Bible Wheel. [Online] [Cited: 29th Sept. 2016.]
14. Rich, Tracey R. A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). Judaism 101. [Online] [Cited: 29th Sept. 2016.]
15. Chaim, Chofetz. Sefer HaMitzvot HaKatzar (in Hebrew). Jerusalem : Feldheim., 1990.
16. HaCohen, Yisrael Meir. The Concise Book of Mitzvoth: The Commandments which can be Observed Today. s.l. : Feldheim, 1990.
17. God’s Secret. 2nd Temple History and More – Persian and Hellenistic Periods (538-142 BCE). [Online] 19th Sept. 2008. [Cited: 19th Sept. 2016.]
18. The Jewish Temples – High Priests of the Second Temple Period (516 BCE – 70CE). Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] AICE. [Cited: 14th March 2020.]
19. Gniwisch, Leibel. The High Priest in Jewish Tradition. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 14th March 2020.]
20. Evans, Craig A. A Closer Look: Messianic Expectations. Christianity Today. [Online] 7th March 2012. [Cited: 5th Nov. 2016.]
21. Jacobs, Rabbi Louis. Jewish Resurrection of the Dead. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 6th Nov. 2016.]
22. Rich, Tracey R. Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife. Judaism 101. [Online] [Cited: 6th Nov. 2016.]
23. Palley, Kate. What is Birkat Hamazon, or Benching? My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 6th May. 2023.]
24. Staff. Laws of Blessings After Eating. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 6th May 2023.]
25. Ben C. Smith. The Jewish food blessing and the Didache eucharist. Biblical Criticism & History Forum . Thu Oct 01, 2020 [Online] [Cited: 6th May 2023.]

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and some of the following questions…

* What were some of the changes in Judaism during this time?
* What happened with the high priests became both the civic and spiritual leaders of the Jewish community?
* How can we prevent church leaders becoming corrupted by money and/or power?
* What are some of the similarities and differences between Jewish culture during this, and your culture?
* What “oral laws” has your community, church or denomination developed?
* What did the OT scriptures say about the coming Messiah?