Bible Chronology Timeline

Chronologies of the Mysteries of God

Genesis 5:1
“This is the book of the generations of
Adam. In the day that God created man,
in the likeness of God made he him”
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The Time Period Between the Testaments

Between the close of the Old Testament and the beginning of the narrative of the New Testament stretches a period of approximately four centuries. An understanding of the vicissitudes through which the Jews passed during this time, with special emphasis on their history under the later Seleucid rulers and during the years that witnessed the rise of Roman power in the Mediterranean, is necessary to a proper appreciation of the New Testament, particularly the Gospels. This article summarizes briefly the experiences of the Jews under the waning power of Persia and during the protracted struggle for control of the Palestine between the Seleucids to the north and the Ptolemies to the south. More detailed consideration is given to developments growing out of attempts by Antiochus Epiphanes to Hellenize the Jews, to the extension of Roman power throughout the Mediterranean world, and to the political situation in Palestine under the Hasmonaeans and under the Herod the Great.

I. The Jews Under the Persians During the 4th Century

Nehemiah and After.—Historical records of the Jews during the 5th century B.C. have been scanty, but extra-Biblical evidence is gradually coming to light. According to the Elephantine papyri Johanan was high priest in 410 B.C. and a Persian by the name of Bagoas (Bagoses, Bagohi, Bigvai) was appointed governor of Judea at least by 407 B.C. (Olmstead thinks he was Nehemiah’s successor). This Bagoas, mentioned in the Elephantine papyri as the governor of Judea in the days of Sanballat (and therefore of Nehemiah), lived nearly a century earlier than the eunuch Bagoas who was a commander of Artaxerxes III against Egypt and who later became Persia’s kingmaker. It is possible to harmonize the incidents connected with Nehemiah’s governorship, involving several men who later became high priests, and the statements of Josephus about Bagoas and Johanan, etc.

The Persians did not interfere with the Jewish religion, although the Zoroastrians, to whom fire was sacred, felt it was a desecration to burn flesh in the flames. This may possibly be one of the reasons why Bagoas had put a fine of 50 drachmas on every lamb offered on the Temple altar in Jerusalem, although the quarrel with the Jewish high priest would seem a sufficient reason. In Egypt the Jews of Elephantine offered sacrifices in their temple until it was destroyed by the Egyptians. In the Egypt the Persian dislike of animal sacrifices would be supported by the Egyptians, who worshiped some of the animals offered by the Jews in Elephantine. When the local ruler was absent, therefore, the Egyptians destroyed this Jewish temple. It lay in ruins for some time while the Jews sought, first through Johanan, then through Bagoas, for permission to rebuild. Bagoas, in giving this permission, authorized only meal offerings and incense for the new temple.

Dangers to the Jewish Religion.—The returned Jews during the reign of Artaxerxes I were probably acquainted with the teaching of Zoroastrianism, since it was the official religion of the Persian Empire. Nehemiah and other leaders probably realized the necessity of exercising care lest the common people confuse the worship of Jehovah with that of Ahura-Mazda. Both Persians and Jews believed that there would come a great judgment day, when the God of righteousness would vanquish the adversary of all good, and that then the righteous would be given a blessed abode under new conditions. The Persians arranged their two opposing spirits, the righteous Ahura-Mazda, and the evil Ahriman, in a dualism that tended to make them equal. The Jews, through their sacred literature, spoke much of one eternal all-powerful God, and very little of a distinctly inferior evil adversary who had at one time been created perfect (Ezekiel 28:14-19), but who later became the author of all sin.

A Rival Religion in Samaria.—The Jews returning to Jerusalem were opposed when they tried to set up standards of worship at variance with the popular concepts of the half-pagan peoples who had settled in the land during the Captivity. Thinking of them as narrow and bigoted fanatics, Sanballat and Tobiah made every effort to thwart their plans. A son of Joiada the priest was banished by Nehemiah because of his marriage to the daughter of Sanballat. This may have been the Manasseh mentioned by Josephus (see on Nehemiah 13:28, 29), whom Sanballat of Samaria welcomed and made priest of a rival Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim. The result was a rival Samaritan cult, which is mentioned in the New Testament (John 4:20), and still survives in a remnant numbering a few hundred souls.

The Development of Jewish Tradition.—Such opposition as that of the Samaritans gave great impetus to the study and exaltation of the Torah (Pentateuch) on the part of the Jews, who set about strictly enforcing all its requirements. Synagogues were established throughout the land. Readings from the Scriptures, presented in the Sabbath services, were translated or explained in Aramaic, which had become, during the Exile, the spoken language of the people. Through these explanations the rabbis guided the minds of the laity in what were considered proper interpretations of the Torah. Under such conditions it was not at all strange that a body of traditional interpretation of the Scriptures gradually grew up, although the leaders disagreed among themselves on points of doctrine and procedure. Revived Jewish nationalism had driven them to study their sacred books, but they became confused as to the correct meaning of Scripture. Instead of laying aside their preconceived opinions and letting the Spirit of God guide them into all truth, they hewed out for themselves broken cisterns of error from which to drink. These false concepts paved the way for the rejection of Christ by the leaders of His day. Here were laid the foundations of a complex body of tradition that was to dominate Jewish religion through subsequent centuries.

The Tradition of Jaddua and Alexander.—For the reigns of Artaxerxes II (Mnemon), 405/04—359/58 B.C., and Artaxerxes III (Ochus), 359/58—338/37, when Johanan and Jaddua were high priests, there are few records concerning the Jews. Without doubt antagonism continued.

Josephus mentions an incident connected with the campaign of Alexander, which, though many scholars label it unhistorical, is here given because of its possible bearing on Daniel’s prophecy of Greece, and because it is not inherently impossible if an early date for Daniel is accepted.

The story goes (Josephus Antiquities xi. 8. 4, 5 [325–339]) that from Tyre Alexander went to Jerusalem en route to Egypt and was shown the prophecy of Daniel (probably chapter 8:21); that he was so impressed by it that he granted the Jews great favors, not only for themselves but also for their kinsfolk in lands he might conquer in the future. It is true that Josephus, referring to Sanballat and Darius III as contemporaries, confuses this story with the one about the marriage of Sanballat’s daughter to a son of Joiada (Nehemiah 13:28), but it is not impossible that this or another Jaddua was high priest in Alexander’s time and that such an incident could have occurred. God could direct Alexander as easily as He could Cyrus in the days of Daniel.

Another incident led to Alexander’s bestowal of favors on the Jews. The Samaritan leaders burned to death the governor, Andromachus, whom Alexander had stationed in Samaria to administer all Coele-Syria and Palestine. Upon his return from Egypt, Alexander avenged this outrage, gave certain border territory claimed by Samaria to the Jews, and granted them other privileges.

II. Rise of the Greeks and Macedonians

The Greek Background.—Historically, the peoples living in Greece, on the islands of the Aegean Sea, and on the west coast of Asia Minor formed part of the successive waves of Indo-European peoples who came from the north east in the 2d millennium B.C. (see on Daniel 2:39). By the close of the 6th century a democratic form of city-state government was developed in Greece. Each city was a direct, not a representative, democracy, in which all citizens met to vote on all issues. This was possible because each body of citizens was small (slaves and “strangers” of non-native descent, who had no political or social standing, formed the majority). These small, independent Greek states, which were developing democratic principles of administration, eventually challenged the autocratic power of Persia.

The Persian War With Greece.—The Ionian Greek settlements on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea, formerly under Lydia, were incorporated into the Persian Empire along with Lydia, though it took many years to reduce them to Persian control. Half a century after Cyrus the aid furnished to the revolting Ionians by the European Greeks evoked the vengeance of Persia. The city-states in Greece, which had proved themselves incapable of any long-term concerted action because of bitter jealousies and intrigues, where thus driven to work together in the face of the Persian threat. The campaigns of Darius I and Xerxes against the Greeks ended in failure, first at Marathon in 490 B.C., later, in 480, at Salamis, and, in 479, at Plataea (see on Daniel 11:2). About the same time the Persians suffered serious losses at Mycale on the Ionian coast. Thus Greece was saved from the Persian Empire, and the Greeks of Ionia (the Aegean Islands and the west coast of Asia Minor) joined in a defensive league with the Athens and other Greek city-states that had participated in the Persian defeat. This period of Athenian leadership was the Golden Age of Greek culture. In 431 began the Peloponnesian War, which spanned more than 25 years, in which Athens and Sparta struggled for supremacy and both were supplanted by Thebes. This war weakened the Greek states still further and gave Persia an opportunity to play off Greek against Greek.

Alexander’s Conquest of the Persian Empire

Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire

While Greece proper was embroiled in conflict the semi-Greek country of Macedonia to the north became a monarchical state and sought to expand its territory. About the time that Artaxerxes III (Ochus) became king of Persia, 23-year-old Philip II came to the throne of Macedonia and started the formation of a national army. He soon gained supremacy over nearly all of Greece. But before his plan for a united Greek-Macedonian attack on Persia could be executed, Philip was assassinated.

Alexander the Great.—Philip left the torch of conquest to be carried by his 20-year-old son, Alexander the Great (see on Daniel 2:39; 7:6). Within two years of his accession Alexander was able to secure the backing of all Greece and Macedonia in an alliance against the Persian Empire. With his Macedonian army he pushed eastward around the Aegean, crossed the Hellespont, and won his first important battle at the Granicus River (334). He then rapidly deprived Persia of her source of revenue from all Asia Minor. Darius, coming up the Euphrates, met him at Issus, near the north eastern corner of the Mediterranean. There the Persians were routed (333). Alexander next pushed on through Syria and Palestine, taking all the main cities (in 332 Tyre stood a seven-month siege). He marched toward Egypt, assured of a warm reception, for that country had despised Persian control since the days when their cities and temples had been so ruthlessly destroyed. Gladly the Egyptians threw their gates open to Alexander as their liberator (332) and crowned him as Pharaoh. He, in turn, joined them in their worship of Egyptian deities. Egypt acclaimed him as a god and offered him worship as the true son of Amen-Ra. He founded Alexandria and then returned, in the spring of 331, through Syria to push on eastward.

Crossing the Euphrates and the Tigris, he met Darius and his army in October, 331, on the plain of Gaugamela in a battle more popularly known by the name of the neighboring town of Arbela. Here the Persian forces met a disastrous defeat, Darius himself fleeing to Ecbatana in Media. Then in rapid succession came the surrender of Babylon, Susa, and Persepolis. After burning Persepolis, Alexander started to Ecbatana in pursuit of Darius, early in 330, only to find that he had escaped to the east. Pursuing farther, Alexander found only the corpse of the great king, who had been slain by his own men.

He gave Darius a royal burial, and then proceeded with his expedition, going as far as the Jaxartes and Indus rivers during the next three years. In 326 he crossed the Indus and penetrated northern India as far as his men would follow him, then returned via the coast (325) to Susa, where celebrations were held at the founding of a new world monarchy (324) designed to fuse East and West through Greek civilization. To cement the union of Greek and Persian peoples, Alexander and some of his Macedonian officers took Persian wives. He founded many Greek cities over the vast empire. In 323 the king was in Babylon to supervise the organization of an Arabian expedition, and while there contracted a fever that proved fatal. He died June 13, 323 B.C., having reigned in Philip’s place for slightly less than 13 years.

While changing the face of the world in so short a time he had not tried to change the religion of his conquered peoples. Persian Zoroastrianism continued, and has lived on through the centuries. The Egyptians, the Jews, the Greeks, kept their religions. But the thinking of mankind in the whole Mediterranean world was affected by the spread of Hellenic (See NOTE) ideas and by Alexander’s concept of a world empire of united races and peoples with a common language, literature, and culture. The Hellenistic1 period, ushered in by Alexander, paved the way for the Greco-Roman civilization, in which Judaism was modified and Christianity developed into a worldwide faith.

NOTE: The adjective Hellenistic means “Greek,” referring to the history or culture of Greece. Hellenistic refers to the fusion of Hellenic and Oriental civilization initiated by Alexander. The Hellenistic period extended to the time of Roman supremacy.

III. Alexander’s Successors and the Dissolution of His Kingdom

Alexander’s Heirs Under Regents.—The administration of the Persian territory just conquered was not easy task. Alexander’s generals agreed to place on the throne Philip Arrhidaeus, the feeble-minded half brother of Alexander, as joint king with the infant Alexander, son of the Bactrian princess Roxana, born after his father’s death. Macedonian leaders (mostly Alexander’s generals) were appointed as governors throughout the empire. The conflicting interests of the generals, of Alexander’s widow Roxana, of his mother Olympias, and of partisans of Philip Arrhidaeus led to a decade of wars and intrigue.

Antigonus Makes Strongest Bid for Empire.—In the long and complex struggle for power among numerous contending “successors,” the issues tended to center in the attempt of Antigonus to gain and keep the power for himself. His chief opponents—Cassander in Macedonia, Ptolemy in Egypt, and Lysimachus in Thrace—formed an alliance proposed by Seleucus. After the struggle reached a stalemate in 312-311 B.C., the settlement of 311 left the principal territories of the empire in the hands of these five leaders (see The Principal Territories in Alexander’s Empire). The next decade was filled with confusion of all kinds. Cassander put to death the child-king Alexander and his mother Roxana. For the attempt of Antigonus to win the whole empire for himself and for his ensuing struggle against Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus, (see Alexander’s Empire Divided into Four Kingdoms.) This struggle came to a climax in 301 at the decisive battle at Ipsus in Phrygia, which the four allies won. Antigonus was slain and his territory divided.

The Fourthfold Division of the Empire.—Thus, in 301, the question of a united empire versus separate kingdoms was settled (see Alexander’s Empire Divided into Four Kingdoms). The strongest bid for unity had failed. In place of Alexander’s one empire there were four independent Macedonian kingdoms, plus minor fragments (chiefly in Asia Minor). Seleucus’ territory extended from Asia Minor nearly to the Indus, with capitals at Antioch on the Orontes, in Syria, and Seleucia on the Tigris, near the present city of Baghdad. Ptolemy of Egypt had regained gained the districts of Palestine and southern Syria. Lysimachus had not only Thrace but also a large portion of north western Asia Minor. Cassander held Macedonia and was busy trying to consolidate all of Greece. Demetrius’ scattered holdings could not be considered a fifth kingdom.

IV. The Hellenestic Kingdoms

It would be profitless to follow the rivalries, wars, and intrigues between these Hellenistic kingdoms and the family quarrels of their Macedonian ruling houses, whose complex intermarriages and changing alliances confuse the picture with similar names and petty details. A mere outline of the principal developments must suffice, to show how the four kingdoms became three and later fell one by one to Rome.

Lysimachus’ Kingdom Eliminated.—Not many years after the battle at Ipsus, in 301, Lysimachus gained control of two of the four divisions of the empire as they had been settled upon in 301—the western and the northern. But Lysimachus was defeated and killed in a war with Seleucus in 281, after which Ptolemy Ceraunus snatched the fruits of victory from the winner. In 280 he assassinated the victorious Seleucus, and seized Macedonia. Thus, although Seleucus briefly held the title to three of the four divisions, he actually never occupied Macedonia. His death left his son Antiochus I with what had been territories of Seleucus and Lysimachus. Macedonia was ruled by the house of Antigonus for more than a century, until it became a protectorate of Rome at the close of the third Macedonian war in 168 B.C., and finally a province of Rome in 146.

The Four Kingdoms Reduced to Three.—Thus within about 40 years after Alexander’s death, and 20 years after the division at Ipsus, his vast territory had passed through the hands of many claimants. Now, all the empire, except minor fragments, was under the control of three dynasties of Macedonian blood. The house of Ptolemy ruled Egypt; the house of Antigonus, replacing that of Cassander, had taken over Macedonia; the house of Seleucus held the east and the former territory of Lysimachus in the north (see Three Principal Kingdoms of Alexander’s Empire, and The Hellenistic Empires).

In 279 the invading Gauls, an eastern wave of the barbarians well known by that name in Roman history, entered Macedonia and Greece, whence they were driven out. Some of them overran large parts of Asia Minor. Harbored by local kings who wished to harass the rulers of the Seleucid line, they plundered the country for many years and extorted tribute. Finally after nearly half a century they were decisively defeated by the ruler of Pergamum, which later became the most important of the small states that grew out of fragments of Lysimachus’ empire. Henceforth these Gauls were confined to the region of Asia Minor that took its name, Galatia, from them. This later became the Roman province in which Paul founded various churches and to which he wrote the epistle to the Galatians.

Although these small states retained their separate existence, nearly all the territory of Alexander’s empire remained under the three strong Hellenistic kingdoms, Macedonia, Egypt, and the Seleucid empire (the last is often called Syria, because Antioch became its principal capital and its territory later shrank to Syria alone). These three kingdoms dominated the eastern Mediterranean until they were absorbed successively as provinces of the Roman Empire. Accordingly, many brief histories omit mention of the earlier fourfold division of Alexander’s empire and refer only to the final stage of three kingdoms.

Palestine, situated on the corridor between Egypt and the Seleucid empire, remained for many years a bone of contention between “the king of the south” and “the king of the north.” Hence the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucid kings (see Hellenistic Ruling Houses) are more important to Biblical studies than Macedonia. Palestine was under the Ptolemies until about 200 B.C., when it fell to Seleucid control.

Hellenistic Ruling Houses

Ptolemy II Philadelphus and Antiochus I and II.—Ptolemy II Philadelphus hoped to take Syria and make it, along with Palestine, a buffer state against aggression from the Seleucid empire. In 272 B.C. he forced Seleucus’ successor, Antiochus I (280–262/61), (See NOTE) to give him control of much of the coastal lands in Asia Minor and Syria. For another decade Ptolemy aided Greece in its unsuccessful effort against Macedonian rule; then he signed a peace treaty with Antigonus II of Macedonia.

NOTE: After the death of Seleucus I his successors continued numbering the years from his reign instead of renumbering the years of each separate reign. Events were recorded in years of an era that began with the reign of Seleucus I, that is, from the campaign during which he retook Babylon in 312 B.C. This Seleucid Era was in contemporary use during the period of the Seleucid kings, and down into early Christian times—even much later among the Jews. Such a continuous reckoning of years was a new departure in Asian chronology, greatly facilitating the accuracy of historical dating. Later the Greeks used the Olympiads and the Romans the A.U.C. (ab urbe condita, “from the founding of the city”), but these were employed only by historians, not in ordinary dating.

The year I of the Seleucid Era was, in the official Seleucid reckoning by the Macedonian calendar, a lunar year beginning in the autumn of 312 B.C. But in Babylonia it was reckoned by Babylonian lunar years, from the spring of 311. Jewish practice may have varied between spring and fall reckoning, if we may judge from 1 and 2 Maccabees. It is generally believed that 1 Maccabees, which gives numerous dates in this era, reckons from the spring, but there is difference of opinion as to whether this spring year ran six months earlier or later or later than the corresponding Macedonian year. For this reason authorities often differ by a year in dating Jewish and Seleucid events in this period. For convenience this article utilizes the dates of 1 Maccabees by reckoning year 1 as 312/11 B.C., without any dogmatic assumption of exactness in all cases.

V. Palestine Under Hellenistic Rule

Palestine Under the Ptolemies.—Soon after the death of Alexander, Ptolemy made Syria and Palestine tributary to Egypt. Antigonus subjugated these districts temporarily, and Palestine changed hands several times before 301. In this time of change and uncertainty many Jews left Palestine to settle in the new city of Alexandria, where the Jewish population eventually formed a large self-governing segment of that cosmopolitan capital, and became Hellenized to the extent of needing the Hebrew Scriptures translated into Greek.

After the Battle of Ipsus in 301, where Antigonus was slain, Syria fell to Seleucus; but Palestine, which Ptolemy had occupied, was left to Egypt, though Seleucus never gave up his claim to it. Judea learned to take advantage of the opportunity for intrigue with both sides. Under the Ptolemies the chief cities of Phoenicia and Palestine were considerably Hellenized, and new cities were established, with Greek forms of government. But Jerusalem remained the center of a Jewish state under the civil as well as the religious leadership of the high priest, who was the representative of the people in dealing with the king. There was also a council of elders derived, as some think, from the assembly of Nehemiah’s day. Thus the lives of the people were still regulated by Jewish laws and customs, although there began a gradual process of absorption of Hellenism from the use of the Greek language and the contacts with the officials and the Greek settlers in the cities. This, however, developed slowly, and reached a climax under Antiochus IV.

From the beginning there was a constant war of intrigue and diplomacy, as well as intermittent fighting, among the three houses of Seleucus, Ptolemy, and Antigonus. In this struggle Ptolemy II Philadelphus relied on Palestine as a buffer state against Seleucus, hence his liberal gifts to the Jews.

Being literary-minded, Ptolemy II, with his counselors, began to collect books from other nations for his great library in Alexandria. Men of letters were welcomed in the city. According to Josephus, the king, at the request of the chief librarian, asked the high priest Eleazar to send Palestinian scholars to make a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Thus the translation was begun that is now called the Septuagint. It is uncertain whether the version was made for an official presentation to the Alexandrian library or whether it was produced privately for the Alexandrian Jews. Only the Pentateuch was translated then, and other portions of the Old Testament canon were added later.

Josephus tells us that one of the Ptolemies made Joseph, a nephew of the high priest Onias I, tax collector for the whole area of Palestine, Coele-Syria, and Phoenicia, and showered favors upon him. Palestine was left largely to its own devices so long as the taxes were paid and the Egyptian authority recognized. Little is known of the details of this period, but it is evident that the Jews fared better than later, when the Seleucids took over the country. Yet there arose a party which was to give Palestine into the hands of the Seleucid house, little realizing what the future held for them.

In 221, the year in which Ptolemy III was succeeded by Ptolemy IV Philopator, Antiochus III (the Great) came into Palestine on his way against Egypt, but the venture was a failure. In 219 he took Seleucia on the Mediterranean. In 218 he succeeded in placing garrisons in various places in Palestine. In 217 Egypt met and defeated him in Raphia, south of Gaza. Tradition has it that Ptolemy IV visited Jerusalem, outraged the Jews by going into the holy of holies, and was smitten with superstitious terror. Egypt held Palestine for another decade or so. The invasions of Egyptian territory and the native uprisings within Egypt give clear evidence of the inefficiency of Ptolemy IV’s administration. His death came just about the time when Rome and Philip V of Macedonia were signing a treaty of peace, and when Antiochus, who had been strengthening himself in Asia, was returning to Antioch.

In 203 Ptolemy IV was succeeded by his son Ptolemy V Epiphanies, who was only four years old. Egypt sought the help of Rome, but Philip V of Macedonia and Antiochus made an alliance against Ptolemy, and the Seleucid forces penetrated Palestine for the third time. In a decisive battle in 201/200 near Panium, not far from Mt. Hermon, the Egyptian forces were defeated. The result was that Egypt permanently lost Palestine to the Seleucid empire.

Palestine Under the Seleucid Empire.—The Jews had changed masters, and it soon became clear that they did not profit thereby. The comparatively lenient policy of the Ptolemies was replaced by a closer supervision, a greater demand for taxes, interference in the appointment of the high priests, and later by religious persecution.

Antiochus III, who had come to the throne at a time when the Seleucid empire was weak, succeeded in extending its territory approximately to the original boundaries. Soon after he conquered Palestine he was confronted with the opposition of Rome, which was alarmed by his growing power and his alliance with Philip V of Macedonia. In 190 at Magnesia in Asia Minor, Antiochus was decisively defeated by Rome. He lost Asia Minor permanently and paid a large indemnity. One consequence of this was increased taxes extracted from Palestine. It is said that Antiochus’ successor, Seleucus IV Philopator, trying to raise money to pay the Romans, attempted to confiscate the Temple treasure, but that his envoy, Heliodorus, was frightened off by supernatural apparitions (2 Maccabees 3:6-39).

The successor of Seleucus IV was Antiochus IV Epiphanes, notorious as the persecutor of the Jews. His efforts to conquer Egypt were blocked by Rome; his unsuccessful struggles with the Jews helped to weaken his empire within. From his time on there was a gradual decline, and a century later his kingdom was absorbed by the Roman Empire. Since Rome held an increasingly dominant position in the East in the time of Antiochus III and IV, it is necessary to turn attention to this new Western power before proceeding with the period of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

VI. The Rise of Rome to Dominance

The Early Growth of Rome.—Rome, originally composed of several independent tribes living on a cluster of seven hills, became a city-state ruled by elective kings, with a senate or council of elders and an assembly representing the people. By about 500 B.C. the king was replaced by two consuls elected annually. During the 5th century the laws were codified. One important step in the rise of the common people was the appointment of tribunes of the people, officers who enjoyed personal inviolability and who had the power of veto over the magistrates in defense of the common people. During the time of Alexander’s conquests to the east and the division of his empire among his successors, Rome was occupied with internal political struggles and with territorial expansion in Italy.

Soon after the conquest of Italy was complete Rome became involved in a protracted struggle with Carthage, a Phoenician colony on the North African coast that now loomed as Rome’s most dangerous rival. Rome had formed alliances with districts all along the coast of Africa as far west as Spain and held a good portion of Sicily, where the war with Carthage (known as the First Punic War) began. It took Rome 23 years (264–241) to bring Carthage to her knees. The victor imposed a heavy indemnity and took Sicily, which became the first Roman province.

Soon after the peace treaty Carthage aroused Rome’s jealousy and alarm by gaining a strong foothold in Spain. This led to the Second Punic War (218–201), as a result of which Carthage gave up Spain and most of her navy, paid heavy tribute, and promised not to make war without Rome’s permission.

Roman Intervention in Macedonia.—By 200 B.C., with Carthage, her only genuine rival, no longer a menace, Rome had become mistress of the western Mediterranean. The acquisition of foreign provinces gave her the beginnings of a genuine empire. Rome did not at first seek new territories in the East. But she was the strongest power in the Mediterranean; and in her efforts to protect herself, her trade, and her allies, she was drawn into one local issue after another until eventually she became acknowledged conqueror of the whole Mediterranean world.

In the step-by-step acquisition of the remains of Alexander’s empire, Rome’s first involvement was with Macedonia during the Second Punic War. Philip V of Macedonia attempted to assist Carthage, but Rome prevented this and formed alliances with certain Greek states and with Pergamum against Philip. This First Macedonian War (215–205) was followed by the Second Macedonian War (200–196). Rome defeated Macedonia at Cynoscephalae (197), and declared all Greece free. By breaking the power of Macedonia, Rome had merely weakened the rival of the Seleucid kingdom, and henceforth had to reckon with Antiochus III (the Great).

Rome and Antiochus the Great.—While Rome and Philip were occupied in warfare, and Egypt was torn by native uprisings, Antiochus the Great invaded Syria and Palestine. With the battle at Panium, 201/200, Egypt had forever lost control of Palestine. It soon came completely under the rule of the house of Seleucus, and the fortunes of the Jews took a turn for the worse.

As soon as Antiochus had made peace with Egypt he invaded Greece, but was defeated at Thermopylae by the Romans and forced to flee back to Asia Minor. At Magnesia, near Smyrna, in 190, he was decisively defeated by the Romans. By the subsequent peace treaty the Seleucid kingdom had to pay a large indemnity, and to give up all its holdings west and north of the Taurus range. Rome did not keep this conquered territory, but gave it to her allies, principally Pergamum and Rhodes.

Rome Ends the Macedonian Kingdom.—Perseus, son of Philip V, was regarded as an enemy of Rome. Envoys sent to Macedonia kept returning with growing concern. Finally the murder of the king of Pergamum, while traveling in Greece, was made the occasion for a Third Macedonian War (171–168), in which, at the Battle of Pydna (168), Rome completely crushed Macedonia. She did not annex the territory, however, but divided it into four separate republics which she placed under her protection. Thus ended the ruling house of the Antigonids. The kingdom of Macedonia, one of the three surviving kingdoms of Alexander’s former domain, was no more.

Rome and Antiochus IV Epiphanes.—After his defeat by Rome, Antiochus the Great sent his son Antiochus (later called Epiphanes) there as a hostage. Eventually, however, Antiochus Epiphanes took the throne (175) of the Seleucid empire. While Rome was busy with the Third Macedonian War (which ended the Macedonian kingdom in 168), she had to meet another attempt of the Seleucid house to gain control of the Near East. Antiochus Epiphanes marched against Egypt. He was about to take the country when the envoy of the victorious Romans arrived with an ultimatum requiring Antiochus to leave Egypt, then an ally under the protection of Rome. Antiochus, who well understood Roman military power, withdrew.

Thus by 168 B.C. Rome had conquered one of the three surviving Hellenistic kingdoms, assumed protection of the second, and repulsed the third by the mere word of an envoy, although she did not annex any of their territory until some years later. The frustrated Antiochus returned from Egypt and turned his attention to the Jews.

VII. Antiochus Epiphanes and the Jews

While in Greece Antiochus Epiphanes had become acquainted with Hellenic culture and was enamored of Greek sports, theatricals, and pageantry. When he came to power he was filled with dreams of uniting all the peoples of his empire by the common bond of Hellenistic culture. He made the mistake of trying to force what had until then been a natural and gradual development.

Gradual Hellenization of the Jews.—It has been mentioned that the Jews who settled in Alexandria, soon after it was founded, became Hellenized during the period of Ptolemaic rule over Palestine. There were Jews in the principal cities of the empire, and even in Palestine many cities became centers of Greek culture of a sort. Those who dealt closely with officials had to use the Greek language, and many among the upper classes in Judea, including the leading priests, adopted Hellenistic dress and customs. The younger minority felt that the old faith and morals were out of date, but the mass of the people were inclined to distrust the new ways. In opposition there grew up a conservative party that stood for the strict observance of Judaism according to the Torah. These conservatives came to be known as the Hasidim (Chasidim or Assideans), or pious ones. The cleavage between these two parties of Jews, the Hasidim and the Hellenists, became a major controversy after the Seleucids took over. Onias III, a high priest early in the Seleucid period, was conspicuously pious, and a contender for traditional Judaism against the Hellenizing trend.

Onias’ brother Jason, a Hellenizer, bribed Antiochus to make him high priest in Onias’ place, and then set out to make Jerusalem a Greek city. But in a few years Antiochus sold the high priesthood to a higher bidder, this time to Menelaus, who was not even of the priestly tribe, but a Benjamite, and therefore not in favor with the people. Strife between the supporters of the different factions in Jerusalem gave Antiochus an opportunity to intervene. Josephus tells how the Hellenizers went to Epiphanes informing him of their wish to adopt the Hellenistic mode of living that he was fostering, and requesting permission to build a gymnasium in Jerusalem. This was particularly offensive to the conservatives, because in the gymnasium the athletes exercised in the nude, as did the Greeks. Soon the officials of the Temple were more interested in the public games than in the ministrations of their holy office. Greek names became popular. For example, Eliakim was changed to Alcimus, Joshua to Jason.

Hellenization Enforced by Antiochus.—It was on his return from a campaign against Egypt that Antiochus Epiphanes entered Jerusalem, where he was warmly welcomed by the liberals. According to 1 Maccabees this was in 170/69 B.C., but there is difference of opinion as to the dating of his Egyptian campaigns, and even as to the method used in 1 Maccabees of reckoning the Seleucid Era. It was at some time between 170 and 168 that Antiochus visited Jerusalem, and to show his appreciation of the Hellenizing leaders there, he put to death many of the conservatives and a few who wished to return to Egyptian sovereignty. He was even permitted to take many of the Temple treasures.

In 168, some think in order to save face after his humiliation by the Romans in Egypt, Epiphanes marched into Palestine, and entering Jerusalem by treachery, plundered the Temple, stopped the morning and evening sacrificial offering, erected an idolatrous altar before the Temple for the sacrifice of swine, burned some of the buildings, and destroyed portions of the city wall. He built a fortress south of the Temple area in the old City of David and placed a garrison there. He ordered the Jews to cease their worship of Jehovah and offer worship instead to the Olympian Zeus and Dionysus, to cease circumcision, to disregard the Sabbath, to use the pig as both an article of diet and a victim of sacrifice, and to destroy the Torah. Josephus adds (Antiquities xii. 5. 5 [257–264]) that when the Samaritans saw the disgrace of Jerusalem they went to Epiphanes, disavowing any relationship to the Jews and asking to be permitted to call their sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim the Temple of Jupiter Hellenius. This was granted, and they were officially freed from any connection with the Jews. See on Daniel 11:14.

The Maccabees Revolt.—Finding that the faithful chose death rather than resistance on the Sabbath day, the troops of Antiochus martyred many. Not only the Hasidim, but the rank and file of the people stood against this religious persecution. But very soon the opposition took a new form at the town of Modein, 18 miles (29 km.) north west of Jerusalem, about midway to Joppa. When Mattathias, a man of the priestly lineage, was commanded as leader of his district to initiate the service ordered by the king, he refused. He and his five sons slew another Jew who offered the idolatrous sacrifice, and the Syrian guard as well. Then, leaving their town, they fled to the wilderness, where they were joined by hundreds of loyal Jews who determined to be true to their faith. They used armed resistance on any day of the week. Thus a war between the Jewish nationalists and the Seleucid house was begun that ended only when the Jews achieved a measure of independence.

Judas Maccabaeus Restores the Temple Worship.—On the death of Mattathias (167/66) the leadership fell to his son Judas, who took the surname Maccabaeus. Thus this family of patriots, originally the house of Hashmon (the Hasmonaeans), became known as the Maccabees. A Syrian army sent out to quell Judas was defeated in two encounters, of which the second took place near Beth-horon. Antiochus Epiphanes, called east because of a Parthian uprising, commissioned Lysias to act for him in his absence, and to continue the war against Judas. In the first encounter at Emmaus (166/65), Judas Maccabaeus repulsed the enemy. Then Lysias tried to come at Jerusalem from the south. Judas was victorious again at Beth-sur (165), a few miles south west of Jerusalem. By the terms of peace arranged with Lysias, both Jewish factions were permitted to live in Jerusalem; Menelaus remained as high priest; the Temple was to be restored to the worship of God. All emblems of pagan worship were obliterated, and new burnt offering altar was erected. On the 25th of Chisleu (165), Judas had the Temple rededicated, and that day has ever since been memorialized by the feast known today as Hanukkah (feast of lights), referred to in the New Testament as the Feast of the Dedication (John 10:22). See on Daniel 11:14.

Josephus says that the restoration of the Temple “took place on the same day on which, three years before, their holy service had been transformed into an impure and profane form of worship. For the Temple, after being made desolate by Antiochus, had remained so for three years” (Antiquities xii. 7. 6 [320]). This he connects with “the prophecy of Daniel,” without identifying it. But Daniel’s prophecy fits a Roman oppressor, not a Macedonian, and, further, it speaks of 2300 days (see Daniel 8:9-14). Those who try to make the text say that 2300 “evenings and mornings” mean 1,150 literal days cannot make the interval equal either exactly 3 1/2 years or 3 years.

Therefore, for several reasons, Daniel cannot refer to the trouble wrought by Antiochus Epiphanes, but to some other far-reaching event that seems to have eluded the search of many a student from the time of Christ on. (For a study of this question see on Daniel 8; 9.)

Antiochus Epiphanes found so much trouble in the east that he never returned to Antioch. Foiled in the attempt to loot the treasures in a temple of Nanai in Elymaïs, he escaped—unlike his father. Later he fell ill and died in Media (164/63). On his deathbed he appointed one of his associates, Philip by name, as regent for his young son, Antiochus V Eupator. When Philip returned to Antioch to contend with Lysias for the regency, he found that Lysias and the boy king had gone back to Palestine to quell factional uprisings. This time Lysias was engaged in defeating the forces of Judas at Bethzacharia, but just as he placed Jerusalem under siege he learned that Philip was already at Antioch claiming the regency. In the face of this threat Lysias hastily arranged terms of peace with Judas, whereby Menelaus the high priest was taken from office, brought to Antioch, and there put to death. Alcimus, who, though a descendant of Aaron, was not of the high priestly line, was appointed high priest in Menelaus’ place, but he was deposed by the people when it became known that he opposed Judas. The high priesthood thus suffered from the union of political with religious authority in one person.

There ensued conflict between Lysias and Philip for control of the boy king, revolts in the eastern provinces, and the arrival from Rome of Demetrius, son and rightful heir of Seleucus IV, who had 12 years before been cheated out of his throne by Antiochus IV. Warmly welcomed in Syria, Demetrius instigated the assassination of the boy king Antiochus V, thus depriving Lysias of his power, and as a result Demetrius I Soter gained the throne in 162/61.

Jews Seek Alliance With Rome.—Judas Maccabaeus sought to strengthen the Hasmonaean cause by securing the friendship of Rome. Probably in 161 he obtained a treaty intimating friendship without assuring assistance in case of internal warfare. On the request of the Jewish Hellenizers, Demetrius sent a force to garrison Jerusalem, and to confirm in the high priesthood Alcimus, leader of the Hellenistic party who had appealed to him for help. But the Hasmonaean bands still roamed the country, and won a victory over Nicanor at Adasa, near Beth-horon (162/61). Demetrius then sent a force large enough to crush the revolt. At Elasa, some ten miles north of Jerusalem, in 161, Judas Maccabaeus was killed. His brothers, with refugees from his army, fled to the desert. Both the Hasidim and the Hellenizers were tolerated under the Seleucid control. Alcimus died the following year, and the office of high priest may have been vacant for several years, probably because of factional strife.

Jonathan in Michmash.—The Seleucid forces again returned in an attempt to destroy the Hasmonaean guerrillas. They fortified various cities, but found it more expedient to make peace with the new Maccabean leader, Jonathan, brother of Judas. Jonathan was given Michmash for the official residence of the Hasmonaeans, where they could live independent of the Hellenistic forces in Jerusalem. Here he spent some years strengthening his hold on the conservatives among his people, and eventually dominated all Judea outside Jerusalem.

VIII. The Maccabean Struggle for Independence

Jonathan Gains Control of Judea.—The reign of Demetrius I did not last long. In a few years the upheavals in the Seleucid empire gave Jonathan an opportunity to strengthen the position of the Hasmonaean house and of Judea. Alexander Balas, a weakling sponsored by Attalus of Pergamum as the supposed son of Antiochus Epiphanes, was recognized by Rome and backed by Ptolemy VI Philometor of Egypt as claimant to the Seleucid throne against Demetrius I. In 153/52 he was established in Ptolemais, a port south of Tyre. Both rivals, seeking advantage through a buffer state in Palestine, offered inducements to Jonathan. Demetrius returned Jonathan’s hostages, abandoned the garrisons in Judea, and finally offered complete freedom to the Hasmonaeans. Not to be outdone, Alexander Balas, by making Jonathan high priest in 153, won his support. Soon Alexander Balas with his allies defeated and killed Demetrius. Jonathan, the new high priest, went to Ptolemais to the wedding of the new king to Ptolemy’s daughter, Cleopatra Thea (grand-daughter of the first Cleopatra, but not one of the seven queens of Egypt who bore that name). On this occasion Jonathan was made general and governor in Palestine. Thus the Maccabean, or Hasmonaean, house came into control of the Jewish nation in 151/50.

Jonathan Gains Foothold in Samaria.—When the youthful Demetrius Nicator, son of Demetrius I, the real scion of the Seleucid house, entered northern Syria to depose Alexander Balas, Jonathan stood for Balas against the governor of Coele-Syria, who espoused the cause of Demetrius. In this fighting Jonathan took Joppa, Ashdod, and Ashkelon. But Ptolemy now repudiated Alexander Balas and gave Cleopatra to Demetrius, whom he installed as Demetrius II in 146. In the ensuing war both Balas and Ptolemy were killed. Demetrius II was unable to rule with a strong hand. In spite of complaints to the king from the garrison in Jerusalem and from the liberal Jews, Jonathan appeased the young Demetrius with costly gifts, and so was victorious. He was confirmed as high priest and was given control of several important districts in Samaria.

In 145 B.C., Tryphon, a military leader from Apamea, marched against Antioch, forced Demetrius back to the coastal cities, and enthroned the infant son of Balas and Cleopatra Thea as Antiochus VI. Jonathan, thinking that this turn of affairs offered further opportunity for the advancement of a Jewish state, made alliance with Antiochus VI through Tryphon. About this time he sent a new envoy to the Senate at Rome in the hope of furthering the overtures made by Judas. Tryphon, making a pretense of friendliness, treacherously seized Jonathan and slew him, probably in 143/42; but, needing more men, Tryphon did not follow up this assassination. Returning to Antioch, he dethroned the child Antiochus VI and made himself dictator, but Demetrius II still held the coastal provinces.

Simon—High Priest, General, Prince.—Jonathan’s brother Simon at once took charge of the Hasmonaeans at Jerusalem. In retaliation for the murder of his brother, Simon threw his support to Demetrius II. In return the Jewish state was practically made free, all arrears in tribute being remitted and future tribute abolished. The Seleucid garrison in Jerusalem was starved into submission, and the Jews considered that the last hindrance to their independence had been removed, in 143/42. At the time of the feasts of the sixth month in 141 the people in formal assembly conferred the high priesthood on the house of Hashmon, and Simon received the title “High Priest and General and Ethnarch (Ruler of the People) of God.” The Jewish state was now politically independent, and it began to expand further with the conquest of Joppa and Gazara (Gezer).

Palestine in the Maccabean Period

Palestine in the Maccabean period

In 141/40 Demetrius II went to fight the Parthians, and soon was taken prisoner. Realizing what a valuable hostage he would make, the Parthians showed him every courtesy and gave him a daughter of the Parthian king. In 139/38 his brother Antiochus Sidetes entered Syria, hoping to drive out Tryphon and restore the kingdom to the house of Seleucus. Cleopatra Thea, learning of her husband’s marriage to a Parthian princess, gave her hand and her assistance to his brother, Antiochus. Tryphon then murdered the child Antiochus VI, but within a few weeks was taken and forced to kill himself. Thus Antiochus VII Sidetes gained the throne. A strong king, he determined that Palestine should be brought under control. His first attempt failed, however, and for three years Judea had some semblance of peace. Then in 135, at a feast in Jerusalem, Simon met his death through the treachery of a son-in-law. Simon’s son, John Hyrcanus, kept the assassin from assuming control and was installed in his father’s place as high priest.

IX. From Priest State to Kingdom

Antiochus VII, Last Strong Seleucid King.—Soon after John Hyrcanus took over, Antiochus VII, invaded Palestine in force, overran the country, and laid siege to Jerusalem. After more than a year Hyrcanus was forced to seek terms. Antiochus accepted tribute and hostages and imposed an indemnity, yet did not further deprive the Jews of their freedom, possibly out of respect for Rome. A little later Antiochus VII, the last strong Seleucid king, was killed (in 129) while campaigning against the Parthians in an effort to re-establish Seleucid rule in the east. Babylonia was thenceforth lost to Parthia, and the Seleucid empire never recovered its former strength.

During this campaign the Parthians freed Demetrius II and sent him back to Syria, hoping to stop the Seleucid advance. Demetrius II, whose reign was interrupted for ten years by his brother’s rule while he was a prisoner in Parthia, now resumed control, on Antiochus’ death (129). However, he was opposed by his former wife Cleopatra and by an Egyptian-sponsored pretender. After several years of intermittent civil war, Demetrius II was murdered, in 126/25. Later (115–113) Antiochus VIII (Grypus), Cleopatra Thea’s son by Demetrius II, and Antiochus IX (Cyzicenus), her son by Antiochus VII, fought for supremacy. From then on there was strife between the factions of various successive and rival kings, until Rome took over in 64. This gave the Jewish state its opportunity for growth.

John Hyrcanus Incorporates Samaria and Idumaea.—While Rome was standing by, watching the houses of Seleucus and Ptolemy destroy themselves, John Hyrcanus again became an independent prince and expanded his territory in Palestine. He destroyed the city of Samaria and the temple on Mt. Gerizim. An Arab people from Transjordan called Nabataeans, who gained considerable power during the Seleucid decline, had dispossessed the Edomites, many of whom settled in the Negeb, or southern Palestine. John Hyrcanus next moved against these Edomites, now called Idumaeans, and forced them either to leave the country or to be circumcised and become Jews (Josephus Antiquities xiii. 9. 1 [254–258]). Thus the Hasmonaeans, at first champions of freedom against religious persecution, ended by forcing religion on others. This effort to weld together the houses of Esau and Jacob, a plan that had failed in the past, was destined to bring much suffering and sorrow in later years when the Idumaean Herods ruled over the Jews. See The Hasmonaeans and the Herods.

John Hyrcanus found little opposition from without, but much within his own nation. For some time the Hasidim—the strict party of the “pious”—had become alienated from the increasingly worldly Hasmonaean priest-rulers. Hyrcanus belonged to the Pharisees, as the principal representatives of the older Hasidim came to be called. But, according to tradition, the Pharisees offended him, with the result that he became a member of the Sadducees (the successors of the older moderate Hellenists) and so conducted himself as to win the antagonism of the populace.

The Hasmonaean Kingdom.—On the death of John Hyrcanus (Hyrcanus I) in 105/04, his wife was to succeed him as civil ruler and his son Aristobulus (I) as high priest, says Josephus. But Aristobulus starved his mother to death, imprisoned three of his brethren, and took to himself the joint title of ruler and high priest. His brother Antigonus assisted him in the government until he fell into disfavor and was assassinated. In his one brief year of rule Aristobulus warred against the Ituraeans, a heathen people to the north. Taking Galilee, he forced the inhabitants, like the Idumaeans, to be circumcised and become Jews. At Aristobulus’ death (103) Alexandra (Salome), his widow, opened the door of the prison to his brother Alexander Jannaeus. She gave him her hand in marriage, and made him ruler and high priest. Alexander, if not Aristobulus before him, added the title of king. He slew his other captive brother and appeased the Pharisees by giving them important offices in the government. He then planned on the seizure of outlying districts to bring the kingdom of Israel back to about the area it had occupied in the days of David. Alexander’s first move, against Ptolemais on the coast, west of Galilee, embroiled the Jews in a struggle between Ptolemy VIII Lathyrus and his mother, Cleopatra III of Egypt. Alexander Jannaeus was defeated, not only at Ptolemais, but at Gaza and other Judean towns. Nevertheless he remained master of occupied territories.

Alexander Jannaeus was greatly detested by the Jews, both in Jerusalem and in the army. Once when he, as high priest, went to the altar to offer sacrifice, the people pelted him with citrons. Enraged at this, he had more than 6,000 slain. Later, a civil war broke out, in which the Jews for a time allied themselves with a Seleucid prince against their own king, who persecuted the Pharisees with barbarity.

Despite his many defeats, Alexander Jannaeus acquired territory east of the Jordan and on the formerly Philistine coast, thus extending the borders of the country to approximately where they had stood in the height of the early Hebrew monarchy.

X. Decline of the Hasmonaean Power

Finally, in 76/75 Alexander Jannaeus died. His widow, Alexandra (Salome), possibly on his advice, sided with the Pharisees and so established herself as reigning queen. The Pharisees had suffered so much under the cruel rule of Jannaeus that they were willing to have a woman reign if only they could come back into power. Keeping the civil authority in her own hands, Alexandra (see The Hasmonaeans and the Herods) entrusted the high priesthood to her son Hyrcanus II. But her son Aristobulus II sided with the Sadducees. Strife between the liberal Sadducees and the conservative Pharisees flared up again. Hyrcanus II permitted a persecution of the Sadducees that drove them to other parts of Palestine and left them determined to raise up a rebellion against him.

On Alexandra’s death in 67 the entire authority of the kingdom, both civil and religious, went to Hyrnacus II, but the contest between Hyrnacus and his brother Aristobulus resulted in the intervention of Rome and the end of Hasmonaean rule in 63 B.C. Before the closing chapter of Jewish independence is concluded, it will be necessary to go back to pick up the thread of Roman history that leads to Pompey’s conquest of the East.

XI. Rome to the End of the Republic

In Section VI the sketch of the development of Rome ended with the year 168 B.C. By that time Rome had put an end to the first of the Hellenistic monarchies and had turned back the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes from the conquest of Egypt, but had annexed no territory. At first Rome used her power in the East in attempts to preserve the peace. In her efforts to avoid unprofitable or unnecessary wars, Rome repeatedly sent commissions to the East to investigate appeals, claims, and counterclaims, and of course to win whatever advantage she could. She sought to build up the smaller states, like Pergamum, which won leadership in Asia Minor through alliance with Rome; when the Seleucid empire threatened to become too powerful she encouraged divisive elements, such as the Jews; she made allies of Egypt against Syria, of the Greeks against Macedonia, and the like. But when Rome became alarmed, she fought ruthlessly. Eventually a series of wars led to territorial expansion that overtaxed her republican constitution and ended in despotism.

The Third Punic War (149-146 B.C.).—By 150 Rome was alarmed by the reviving prosperity of once-prostrate Carthage. Although some Roman leaders had realized that Carthaginian competition was not a threat, there was a party that constantly stirred up the fearful memories of Hannibal, and demanded the complete obliteration of the rival city. Carthage, provoked by adjoining Numidia, an ally of Rome, broke her promise not to wage war without Rome’s consent. Rome’s vengeance was the Third Punic War. After a three-year siege Carthage was utterly destroyed in 146.

The Fourth Macedonian War (149–148) and Corinth.—While besieging Carthage, Rome was met with an uprising in Macedonia, and trouble with the Achaean League of cities in southern Greece. In 146, the year of the destruction of Carthage, Rome annexed Macedonia as a province, broke up the Achaean League, and completely destroyed Corinth, taking off to Italy her art treasures. The administration of Greece was then assigned to the Roman governor of Macedonia.

Rome Acquires Pergamum.—In 133 the last king of Pergamum bequeathed to Rome his territory, which embraced a considerable portion of Asia Minor. From then on annexation continued until Rome took over Syria, and finally Egypt, by 30 B.C. But parallel to this growth of empire was an internal revolution that took place in Roman government and society in the century from 133 to 30 B.C.

Rome’s Century of Revolution.—During the century witnessing the decline of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid houses, Rome to only expanded territorially but also shifted from a republic to a one-man rule. As Rome grew from a city-state 20 miles square to a nation and then an empire, the popular assembly of citizens meeting at Rome to vote became virtually a local machine. The Senate, which had started as an advisory body to the magistrates, gradually became supreme. But it was sadly unfitted to rule an empire. Civic loyalty gave way to grasping for individual aggrandizement.

Contact with other nations had brought tremendous changes. Commerce with, and tribute from, foreign lands had made Rome most wealthy and created new standards of living. Slaves, captured in the wars, soon replaced native farm labor, and as a result unemployment grew. Association with the provincials, particularly with Greece and the East, had introduced great changes in religion, politics, philosophy, art, and literature. New social vices crept in, bringing increased crime, bribery, and intrigue. The same sort of disintegration that had wrecked the house of Israel in the days of the divided kingdom contributed to the decline and collapse of the Roman Republic and the rise of absolutism.

Attempts at Reform.—Italy had been a land of small farms. When the farmers were called to long extended wars their lands were absorbed into large estates devoted to grazing. Tiberius Gracchus, as tribune in 133, attempted to have the state allot public lands to the unemployed. This met such violent opposition on the part of the estate holders that it cost Tiberius his life. In 123 his brother, Gaius Gracchus, became a tribune. He secured the sale of public grain to the poor at half price, and encouraged the landless to settle in the provinces. But his reforms resulted in his death also. Both of the Gracchi tried to have citizenship extended to all in Italy.

A few years later the assembly asserted its power by choosing Gaius Marius, a man of humble origin, as commander against Numidia. Marius’ innovation of recruiting paid troops led to the later professional army. He was successful in Numidia and later against two invading Germanic tribes, the Cimbri and Teutones. Marius continued, as consul, to impress upon the army its real superiority over the Senate. Then long-standing discontent occasioned by Rome’s reluctance to grant citizenship to all the allied peoples in Italy brought on civil war (the Social War), which finally ended with the extension of citizenship to all Italians.

Political Rule by Military Leaders.—The sequel of the war with the Italian allies was a ruthless civil war between a successful general, Sulla, champion of the aristocratic Senatorial party, and Marius, leader of the people’s party. Sulla gained political victory and dictatorship through the power of the soldiery. However, he retired after putting through his legislative program strengthening the power of the Senate.

After Sulla’s death in 78, one of his own officers, Pompey, distinguished himself both at home and abroad. Elected consul with Crassus for the year 70, Pompey instituted some excellent reforms, but he made clear that any final decision in matters of state lay, not with the Senate or the assembly—as was theoretically the case—but with the leader of the military.

Rome Takes Syria and Palestine.—In 67 the popular party made Pompey commander of the forces Rome sent to the East to rid the sea of the Cilician pirates, a task he accomplished in three months. The next year he was authorized to wage war with the recalcitrant kings of Pontus and Armenia. Victorious, he pushed on to the Caspian and subjected Asia Minor to the will of Rome. In 64 Pompey campaigned in Syria, ended the Seleucid monarchy, and turned southward into Palestine. He took Jerusalem and broke the power of the Hasmonaeans. By 63 Syria and Judea were added to the Roman territory.

Caesar and the First Triumvirate.—In 60 Pompey, together with Julius Caesar and Crassus, a financial colossus of great influence, formed an unofficial alliance to dominate the Senate. This was known as the First Triumvirate. Caesar, a nephew of Marius by marriage and a partisan of the popular party, had once been deprived of his property by Sulla, and fled from Rome until Sulla’s death. In 60, after a year as governor of farther Spain, he was elected consul for 59. The triumvirate worked together to control legislation and to realize their separate ambitions in provincial commands—Caesar in Gaul, Pompey in Spain, and Crassus in Syria and the East. Crassus was killed in his campaign against Parthia in 53. Pompey was elected sole consul for the year 52.

In 49, when Caesar was required by the Senate to leave his legions and stand for consular election as a private citizen, he refused, and crossed the Rubicon River into Italy proper with his troops. Pompey and most of the Senate fled to Greece. At Pharsalus, in Thessaly, Pompey was defeated in 48. Caesar used the constitutional machinery as a tool. For example, he was voted a dictator for life. In fact, the republic was dead, and Caesar was the master of the Roman world. He made some useful reforms, including the introduction of the 365 1/4 day calendar that we use, with only slight correction, today. But he was suspected of wanting to make himself king and was therefore assassinated in 44 B.C.

Octavian the Heir of Caesar.—At the death of Julius Caesar it was hoped that Mark Antony, then consul, could reorganize the government along the old lines of democracy. But immediately Octavius, or Octavian (later the Emperor Augustus), then an 18-year-old lad, the grandnephew of Caesar and adopted heir, appeared in Rome to secure his heritage. After a year of wrangling with Antony, a new triumvirate was formed (in 43) consisting of Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus. Following the defeat of Cassius and Brutus, the leading conspirators, both of whom finally committed suicide, Octavian and Antony divided the empire. Octavian took Italy and the West. Antony, taking Egypt, Syria, and the East, forgot his administrative duties in his intoxication with Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt, who was perhaps more skilled in the arts of intrigue than her great-great aunt Cleopatra Thea of a century before. With Cleopatra, who had charmed Caesar, Antony dreamed of a divine kingship. In 32 Octavian declared war on Antony, and in 31 won a great naval victory off Actium, on the western coast of Greece. Antony and Cleopatra fled to Egypt, leaving their land forces to capitulate. Thereupon Antony’s subordinates and the allied and subject princes of the East submitted to Octavian, who went into winter quarters before going on to Egypt in 30. Finally both Antony and Cleopatra ended their lives in suicide. Thus in 30 B.C. Egypt, the last of the great Hellenistic monarchies into which Alexander’s domain was divided, became a Roman province.

Octavian Becomes the Emperor Augustus.—Octavian, now undisputed master of the Roman world, took care to avoid the title of king, so obnoxious to the Romans. Preserving the external form of republican government, he ruled by holding the offices or the powers of various magistracies simultaneously. The Senate also voted him the title of Augustus (“Majestic”), and he was known as the princeps (“first” or “chief” citizen); his rule was regarded as a “principate” rather than a monarchy (on the attitude of the eastern provinces). Indeed, his successors for a long time preserved this legal fiction of the principate, although historians are right in saying that the republic was dead and that Augustus was the first Roman emperor. He was a monarch in fact if not in name, and the title imperator (“commander” of the armies), which was the source of his imperial power, came in later times to mean “emperor” in a monarchical sense. Augustus was a wise and moderate ruler who brought peace and prosperity to his vast empire. It was during a census decreed by him that the New Testament era was ushered in at Bethlehem.

XII. The End of Hasmonaean Independence

The Origin of the Herods.—The fall of the Jewish priest-kingdom to Rome has been mentioned, but not described. The end of Hasmonaean rule was linked closely with the rise of the Herod family, of Idumaean ancestry, that is, of the Edomites who were compelled by the Maccabean John Hyrcanus to accept the Jewish faith; see The Hasmonaeans and the Herods).

This close connection of Edomite and Jew gave to an Edomite named Antipater (or Antipas) opportunity to take a civil post in the Jewish kingdom, and he became governor of Idumaean for the Jews. His son, also named Antipater, seems later to have held the same position. When civil war broke out between the Maccabean brothers, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, the younger Antipater supported Hyrcanus and brought with him the alliance of Aretas III, king of the Nabataeans, an Arabian people of Transjordan and the old Edomite territory. Aretas attacked and defeated Aristobulus, who took refuge in the citadel in Jerusalem.

The Coming of Pompey.—It was at this point that the Romans entered the war. Pompey remained in the East after overthrowing the kings of Pontus and Armenia in 66 B.C. In 65 the general whom Pompey sent into Syria was waited upon by emissaries from both Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. Probably for the very practical reason that Aristobulus was safely ensconced in Jerusalem, the Romans sided with him against Hyrcanus.

Proceeding south, the Roman army forced Aretas to raise his siege of Jerusalem and withdraw. But the arrogant conduct of Aristobulus caused Pompey to distrust him and to make him a prisoner. The Roman army took possession of the city with the treacherous aid of adherents of Hyrcanus, although Aristobulus’ soldiers continued to hold the Temple hill for three months longer. The Romans succeeded in breaking through the walls in the summer or autumn of 63 B.C. In the ensuing capture of the Temple site some 12,000 Jews were slain. Pompey and his offices entered the holy of holies and gazed in astonishment at a sacred shrine that had no visual representation of the God who was worshiped there (see Josephus War i. 7. 6 [152]).

Pompey ended the Maccabean kingdom and took considerable territory away from Judea. He permitted Hyrcanus to continue as high priest and to rule with the title of ethnarch (“ruler of the people”), probably under the supervision of the Roman governor of Syria. Antipater was made his prime minister. Aristobulus and his sons were sent to Rome as prisoners. They escaped, however, and three separate times rose up in revolt against the Romans. Each time they were disastrously defeated. In exasperation, Gabinius, the Roman proconsul of Syria, divided Judea into five districts, each governed by a council of elders. Under this arrangement Hyrcanus retained less and less administrative responsibility, while Antipater took more and more authority, becoming virtually the ruler. In 54 B.C. Crassus, the triumvir, the successor of Gabinius as proconsul of Syria, on the pretext of requiring money for a Parthian campaign, plundered the Temple treasure, with the result that the Jews revolted in 53. In 48, when Pompey was slain in Egypt, after his defeat by Julius Caesar at the Battle of Pharsalus, Antipater changed sides and became a vigorous and efficient partisan of Julius Caesar. In return, Caesar granted favors to the Jews. Hyrcanus was accorded full authority, in 47, with the titles of ethnarch and high priest, which titles were made hereditary to the Jews. Nevertheless, Antipater was still the man actually in power, and made this clear to the Jews, to the great disgust of the nobility. Antipater appointed his son Phasael governor of Jerusalem and its environs, and a younger son, Herod, later Herod the Great, governor of Galilee.

After Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44, Cassius, one of the conspirators against Caesar, secured the Roman command in the East, and to him Antipater and Herod gave wholehearted support. In return, Cassius made Herod governor of Coele-Syria. Shortly thereafter Antipater was poisoned in Jerusalem.

In 42 B.C., after the defeat of Brutus and Cassius, Antony assumed control of Roman interests in the East. Having been previously a friend of Antipater, Antony refused the pleas of the pleas of the Jews to remove the Herodian house and retained Herod and his brother as ethnarchs of Palestine. Hyrcanus was allowed to remain, but only as a high priest. Herod strengthened his position with the Jews by betrothing himself to Mariamne, a granddaughter of Hyrcanus II (see The Hasmonaeans and the Herods).

Herod as King.—The next year the Parthians invaded Syria, and Antigonus, a son of Aristobulus, raised the banner of revolt and gained the help of a force of Parthians. Phasael was made prisoner and eventually killed himself, while Herod fled and finally reached Rome. There, Herod won the favor of Antony and Octavian, who were at that time in alliance, and the Roman Senate, in 40 B.C., unanimously voted Herod the kingship of Judea.

Although Herod had the help of Roman arms, it took him three years to gain possession of his throne. The Jews who opposed him made their last stand in Jerusalem. It required almost three months to take the upper city and the Temple site. The subsequent slaughter was frightful, for both the Romans and the Jews of Herod’s party were enraged at the stubborn resistance offered them. Antigonus, the last Maccabean to function as king, was scourged ignominiously, and, at Herod’s earnest plea, put to death. Herod was now (37 B.C.) “master of a city in ruins and king of a nation that hated him.”

Hasmonaean geneology


Herods geneology

XIII. The Reign of Herod the Great

From the point of view of politics and culture Herod was rightly called “great.” He succeeded in maintaining a balance of allegiance in the shifting current of a difficult political stream; on the one hand he strengthened his kingdom and protected its prosperity, while on the other he retained the friendship and cooperation of Caesar Augustus. But along with his sounder qualities he was possessed of a growing jealousy and suspiciousness of nature that caused him to murder his closest relatives and best friends.

Herod and the Sanhedrin.—Almost immediately upon gaining the throne, Herod executed 45 nobles who had led in the revolt of Antigonus. Many of these men were members of the Sanhedrin, and their loss necessitated its reorganization. The new council thus organized was dominated by the Pharisees. However, many of these Pharisees were opposed to Herod and had even refused to take an oath of allegiance to him; consequently he did not allow them to exert a significant influence on politics. Accordingly, the Sanhedrin became chiefly a place for theological discussion.

Herod and the Hasmonaeans.—Herod insulted the remnant of the Hasmonaean (Maccabean) family by appointing as obscure Babylonian (or Egyptian) Jew as high priest. Because Herod suspected the Hasmonaeans of plotting against him, he eventually put to death old Hyrcanus II; his daughter Alexandra, Herod’s mother-in-law; Hyrcanus’ grandson, Herod’s own brother-in-law, the well-favored Aristobulus III; and finally Mariamne, Aristobulus’ sister and Herod’s own wife. Except for his sons by Mariamne, this marked the end of the Hasmonaean house, which for almost 150 years had been foremost in Jewish affairs.

Hellenization.—Like Alexander the Great, Herod’s patron, Augustus, was determined to unify the Roman world through the diffusion of Greek culture. Herod was quick to follow his example, and attempted to do for Palestine what Augustus was doing on a larger scale for the empire. A tide of heathenism swept over Jerusalem. Greek races and games were the order of the day, the religion and trappings of paganism flourished within sight of the Temple, and shrines to pagan gods were erected at various places throughout the country. When in reaction some of the Pharisees plotted against Herod, he retaliated vigorously and destroyed many of them.

Herod the Builder.—At strategic places throughout his dominions Herod built fortresses to keep the turbulent Jews in check; in fact, his own beautiful palace in Jerusalem was virtually a fortification. He spent years and thousands of talents in building the city of Caesarea and in providing for it an artificial but effective harbor. His building activities also took him outside Palestine. He presented market places, gymnasiums, and temples to communities as far away as Greece, Rhodes, and Syria.

Herod’s greatest project was the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple of Zerubbabel, beautiful though it had been, was now almost 500 years old and badly in need of repair. Herod determined to satisfy his own artistic pride, and at the same time to win the friendship of the Jews, by giving them a magnificent place of worship. Eighteen months were devoted to rebuilding the sanctuary proper, and eight years were spent on the surrounding platforms, walls, courts, and porches. After the work had been brought to this point, and the buildings were in full use, much still remained to be done; in fact, the details of the Temple were not completed until after A.D. 62, only a few years before it was destroyed by the Romans.

Herod’s Last Days.—Aristobulus and Alexander, Herod’s sons by his Hasmonaean wife Mariamne, had been educated at Rome, and were tall, handsome men, proud of their Hasmonaean blood. When they returned to Jerusalem they became the objects of plots by Herod’s sister Salome (See NOTE) and his son Antipater. As a result the suspicion of Herod was aroused against these two sons, and he finally brought about their execution in 7 B.C. At the same time some three hundred Jews accused of sympathizing with them were stoned to death. Antipater continued to scheme, until, only five days before his own death, Herod ordered this son executed also.

NOTE: This Salome (no relation to the Hasmonaean Alexandra, mother of Hyrcanus II), was the grandmother of Herodias, and thus the great-grandmother of the Salome whose dancing won her the head of John the Baptist from Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great and the ruler of Galilee before whom Jesus was tried.

As Herod approached the end of his life he could pride himself on many substantial achievements. He was leaving monuments of great artistic beauty; commerce and manufacturing in Palestine were in sound condition. But Herod was not loved by his people; they hated him for his heavy taxation, his paganizing activities, and his unbounded cruelties. When he fell ill and it was declared that he could not recover, wild rejoicing broke out in Jerusalem, and a mob tore down the golden eagle—hated emblem of their Roman overlords—that Herod had placed over the entrance to the Temple. When he did recover, however, Herod wreaked his vengeance upon many of these disappointed celebrants.

Sensing that his last days were upon him, the old king ordered his sister Salome to imprison in the hippodrome all the leaders of the Jews and to kill them as soon as he himself was dead, in order that the nation might be in mourning when his time came. Although she did carry out the order of imprisonment, Salome later released the men.

One of the last acts of Herod the Great was the malicious killing of the infants of Bethlehem in the vain endeavor to destroy the Messiah, the newborn Jesus, of whom he had heard from the wise men of the East (Matthew 2:1-18). Joseph and Mary escaped with the infant to Egypt, where they remained until Herod died early in 4 B.C.


Apocrypha, Old Testament. A collection of Jewish writings inferior to the Old Testament in spiritual and literary value. They introduce doctrinal concepts based on Jewish tradition rather than on the inspired record of the Old Testament.

The Cambridge Ancient History. Edited by J. B. Bury and others. 12 vols. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1926–39 (vols. 1 and 2, rev. ed. 1970–75). Perhaps the most exhaustive ancient history available. In three of the volumes, VII: The Hellenistic Monarchies and the Rise of Rome (1928); VIII: Rome and the Mediterranean 218-133 B.C. (1930); IX: The Roman Republic 133-14 B.C. (1934), numerous chapters by different authorities deal with the events covered in this article. The treatment is fair to the original sources, and different schools of thought are taken into account where there is variation of opinion.

Finkelstein, Louis, ed. The Jews. 4th ed. New York: Schocken Books, 1970–71. 3 vols. Vol. 1 covers their history; vol. 2, their religion and culture; vol. 3, their role in civilization. Written by various scholars.

Ghirshman, Roman. Iran. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1954, 1978. A history from the earliest times to the Islamic conquest.

Josephus, Flavious. Works.

Olmstead, A. T. History of Palestine and Syria to the Macedonian Conquest. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1931. 664 pp. Reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1965. A history of the eastern littoral of the Mediterranean from the beginning of history to the time of the restoration from the Babylonian captivity, and the development of the various sects in Judaism. Critical in approach, it gives only one school of thought on various controverted points.

_______. History of the Persian Empire. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1948. 576 pp. and 70 plates. Completed after the author’s death, but expressing his views. Careful in historic detail, but dogmatic on controversial points.

Schürer, Emil. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. Translated by John Macpherson, Sophia Taylor, and Peter Christie. 5 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, n.d. Old (completed in 1897) but scholarly and authoritative. Its Division I (2 vols.) comprises the political history of Palestine, 175 B.C. to A.D. 135; Division II (3 vols.) deals with the internal condition of Palestine and the Jewish people in the time of Jesus Christ, discussing also Jewish Hellenistic literature and works in Greek, including the OT Apocrypha. For modern editions of parts of this work, see the next two entries.

_______. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus. Ed. Nahum N. Glatzer. New York: Schocken Books, 1961, a 1-vol., abridgement, revised, of Division I of the original work, i.e., the political history, 175 B.C.—A.D. 135.

_______. The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus. New York: Schocken Books, 1972, A 1-vol., unabridged reprint of vol. 3 of Division II.