Alexander the Great to Herod
Ezekiel 5:5, "Thus says the Lord GOD; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her." Part of our thesis in this study is that Israel is at the center of world history. This goes back to the Abrahamic covenant, that God called out a special people through whom He would bless all people. Even though they are out of the land today and in apostasy, and even though they have not accepted Jesus as their Messiah, this does not mean that God has forgotten them or that they are no longer God's chosen people. They are the theological center of history.
Alexander the Great died in 3232 BC and the empire is then divided among his four generals. This is pictured by the four-headed leopard in Daniel chapter five. Ptolemy gains control of Egypt and Israel. The second commander Seleucus gains control of Syria and Babylon. Cassander gets Macedonia and Greece, and Lysimachus gets Thrace and Asia Minor. The ones that are important to this study are Ptolemy and Seleucus. The Ptolemys and the Seleucids battle it out over the next 200 years as to who is going to control the land of Israel and who is going to have those people and those taxes at their disposal. From 323 up until about 200 BC the Ptolemys were in control of the land. Then they are defeated by the Seleucids who take over. For the purpose of this overview of the history of Israel all that we really need to be familiar with Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II, and in Syria the Seleucids.
Two critical events following the breakup of Alexander's empire that are crucial for what happens to Israel in the next couple of hundred years. The first is the process of Hellenization—a reference to the fact that they take on the forms of Greek culture. They begin to assimilate to Greek culture. As Ptolemy took over Egypt he sought to expand his kingdom northward. He entered Jerusalem in 320 BC and established his authority and control. He was impressed with the Jews' ability to organize and manage things—their administrative skills—and so he deported a large number of Jews to Alexandria in Egypt. He viewed them as a source of stability for his empire and he trained them to function within his bureaucracy. Eventually Jews took over about one fifth of the city of Alexandria and over the next couple of hundred years they basically lost their ability to read and understand Hebrew. They began to be influenced by Greek culture and Greek philosophy and they began to assimilate to the thinking of the gentiles. Under Ptolemy II the translation on the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, was authorized. This became the standard Bible used by many Jews up through the New Testament period and afterwards. Many of the quotes that we have in the New Testament from the Old Testament are based on the Septuagint, not the Massoretic text.
The second factor is the conflict that takes place between Rome and the Seleucids. The major event that takes place is that Rome is on the march from the west and heading east. They have been in a battle with the Carthaginians in North Africa. While this was going on Philip V of Macedon wants to secure his western boundary against the advancing Romans. He thinks that he can do this while the Romans are distracted with their war down in North Africa. The second Punic war ends in 202 and now that they are not distracted having defeated Hannibal and had destroyed Carthage they can turn their focus Macedon where they defeat Philip V. All of a sudden this puts a little fear into Antiochus III who is called Antiochus the Great, and he is the ruler at that time of the Seleucid empire. He has pushed his empire all the way to the Agaean Sea and now by around 220-200 Rome is dominating the Greek peninsula. He's afraid that they are going to come across the Agaean, across the Bosphorus, and invade into Turkey. He was right and he sought to secure his western boundary. He tried to liberate Greece from the Romans but the Romans destroyed him in a series of three major defeat. They imposed a peace treaty on him. It was draconian and overbearing, and it put a tremendous amount of financial pressure on the Seleucids to try to pay the taxes and the tributes to the Romans. That caused Antiochus III to turn his attention southward toward the land of Israel and the temple treasure.
As conditions for that treaty Antiochus III had to surrender all of his territory in Asia Minor, which was some of his wealthiest territory, all of his elephants (the reduction of his heavy tank brigades), the ships of his fleet and scuttle all of his ships. He had to agree that he would no longer recruit troops in Asia Minor, Greece, or the Agaean area. He has to basically destroy and gut his military and has to pay 52,000 talents a year, which is the equivalent of three or four billion dollars a year, in tribute to Rome. So this sets the stage for what is going to happen in the next century. They are going to look to the south and west and move into the land of Israel.
Antiochus III dies and there is a power struggle. His grandson Antiochus IV takes over and he is known as Antiochus Epiphanes. He is probably the most wicked ruler of all time, biblically speaking, because of all the world rulers that God could choose to be a picture of the evil and the cruelty of the Antichrist, Antiochus Epiphanes is the one who fits that bill. He is a type of the Antichrist. He is an incredibly smooth politician and he knows how to curry favor with the masses. One of the first things he does in order to unite everybody behind him in the empire is to start a big welfare program and begins to give away a lot of money and food to the masses. That, of course, buys their loyalty. He comes to power about 198 BC and from 171 to 164 he leads a reign of terror in the land of Israel. He sees the Jews as the source of tremendous money and so he increases taxes on the Jews to where it is just about destroys them. He strips the temple of its golden vessels and basically puts pressure on every Jew to where they have to give up their property and he takes that property which then increases his own wealth.
On top of all of that in 167 he desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. This is the type of the Abomination of Desolation and a picture of what the Antichrist is going to do in the middle of the Tribulation. He dedicates the temple to Olympian Zeus. Back when Antiochus III was in power Antiochus IV was a boy being raised in Rome, and when there were various struggles for the throne he is on his way back. He spent some time in Athens and was impressed with the Greek gods and so he dedicates this temple to Zeus. He went into the temple and destroyed the Scriptures that were there in the temple and he took a sow (female pig) and sacrificed it in the holy of holies. This is the picture of what the Antichrist is going to do to desecrate the Tribulation temple.
Furthermore, he sent Apollonius's key tax collector with 22,000 men to attack Jerusalem on the Sabbath. He killed most of the male population. He took the women and children of Jerusalem and enslaved them. He tore down the walls and established a garrison for his troops in Jerusalem. He suspended all temple ritual, ordered all copies of the Scripture to be burned. Anyone who was caught with any copies of the Scripture was to be executed. He prohibited the observance of any holy days and feast days in Israel, including the Sabbath. He abolished all the dietary laws, and any woman who was caught having her male baby circumcised was to be executed. He went into the temple and desecrated it.
This sets the stage for what is known as the Hasmonaean revolt. It began about 166 BC. The Hasmonaean period is from 164 to 63, and in 166 Antiochus IV orders that every village has to sacrifice a pig (knowing that it is an unclean animal) on the altar in each village. He sent out his representatives to go into every village. They came to one village named Modin, located about 17 miles to the west of Jerusalem, and they didn't expect a lot of resistance because the local priest was elderly and did not seem to have a lot of strength. His name was Matathias. They wanted him to sacrifice a pig on the altar. He might have been old but he was tough, and he refused to sacrifice the pig so they tried to get another villager to do it. That was too much for Matathias so he executed the apostate Jew who was going to sacrifice the pig and then he killed the Syrian officer that Antiochus had sent there, and he and his sons led a revolt against Antiochus.
So now we are looking at the Hasmonaean period from 164 to 63 BC. Matathias died in 165. He is not able to carry the revolt on so it is carried on by his five sons. Judas is nicknamed by his opponents "The Hammer" because he was such a tough military leader, and the word for that in Aramaic was Maccabee. He has a brother Jonathan and another brother Simon, and then two other brothers, Eliezer and John. Eliezer and John never lead the nation but after Matathias dies his son takes over the leadership. This family is in the priestly family from the house of Hasmon. That is why they are called Hasmonaeans. And because of Judas the Hammer, Maccabee, they are also called Maccabaeans, so we see them referred to by both of those names. After Matathias dies Judas becomes the leader, and by 164 he gains control of the temple. He purifies the temple and reinstates the daily offerings. He rededicates the temple in an eight-day celebration that begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month which is like our December, and it is exactly three years to the day after Antiochus had desecrated the temple. This celebration is the basis for our modern feast of Hannukah, it celebrates that purification. Judas becomes the high priest in Israel and the defector ruler of the land even though they are still technically under the control of Antiochus Epiphanes. He entered into a treaty with Rome, hoping that Rome would come to their rescue, but he died in battle soon after in 160 BC.
The struggle between the Maccabees and the Seleucids continued. Jonathan takes over as the next ruler and rules from 160 to 143, approximately 17 years. He is eventually betrayed by the Syrians. They invite him to what looks like peace talks and he is betrayed and killed as a hostage in 143. His brother Simon takes over at that point and is in power from 143 to 135. This is when they finally make a break from Seleucid control. So it is from his reign that many people mark the beginning of the Hasmonaean kingdom because this is a time when they have more independence from the Seleucids. But there still a few times when the Seleucids will come in and try to exert their power over the Jews. Simon is recognized as the legitimate high priest in 140 BC, and this means he is not only the political leader but also the religious leader of the Jews. In 134 Simon is assassinated by the Seleucids. It is a time of tremendous political turmoil and Simon is succeeded by his son, John Hyrcanus, who is going to rule from 135 to 104. He succeeded his father as the high priest and ruler of the people and during his time the Seleucids again asserted their power over Judea. They invaded and tore down the walls of Jerusalem but they were able to reassert their power and continue t be separate from the Seleucids.
It was also during this time that a rift occurred between him and the Pharisees. This post-exilic period after the mid-fifth century, around 450-460, it is thought by some that the Pharisees have their roots in those who attended the scribal school of Ezra. There is a lot of debate as to where the Pharisees came from. The Pharisees were the conservatives as opposed to the Sadducees who were liberal (in our modern framework). They believed in the traditions of Moses and were concerned about applying all of the law literally and precisely, whereas the Sadducees didn't believe in the supernatural, in resurrection, or in miracles. They were the religious liberals of their day. So these are two of the religious groups who come up during this time and during the next 100 years there was the rise of another group called the Essenes. They were monastic and went out into the desert to separate themselves from what they considered to be the impurities of where the religious system had gone. It is thought that those who lived out in the desert near Qumran, where they found the Dead Sea scrolls, were part of the Essene community.
John Hyracnus has a split with the Pharisees and so the Sadducees who were made up of the wealthy priestly aristocracy side with Hyrcanus, and as a result there is more and more of a division between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. He has a son by the name of Aristobulus and when he dies in 104 Aristobulus comes into power for one year. He was exceptionally cruel. Hyrcanus had intended fro him to share power with his mother but instead he imprisoned all of his brothers except one whom he had soon assassinated. He dies in 103 and his brother Alexander Jannaeus I comes to power from 103 to 76 BC. Alexander Jannaeus marries Salome Alexandra and when he dies she takes over from 76 to 67 BC, and then her son John Hyrcanus II becomes the ruler from 67 to 63 when the Romans take over.
Aristobulus is still a player. He has a granddaughter name Mariamne. She is the first Mariamne that Herod marries and there is a second Mariamne that Herod marries. Herod had as many as ten wives, two of them with the same name. Mariamne marries Herod the Great and that gives him a claim to Hasmonaean family rites. Another son of Aristobulus, Antigonus, will attempt a revolt against Herod for which he is killed. So this is where we see the transition from the Hasmonaeans to the Herodians at the time that Rome takes over operational control of the land of Israel. The Roman general Pompey has invaded across Turkey and Syria, and has now established Roman control over Jerusalem. But when the Romans took the city they did not destroy it, they did not destroy the temple, and they did not take any of the temple treasures. He establishes Hyrcanus as the high priest and he takes Aristobulus captive to Rome, and this ends Jewish independence. Then we get introduced to the Herodians.
The Romans made Antipater the Idumaean the commissioner for Judea in 47 BC. Soon after that he makes his son Herod the Great the governor over Galilee and he makes Herod's brother governor over Jerusalem, but he gets killed. In 43 BC Herod marries the teenage Mariamne. Herod was a brilliant builder and the Herodians were tremendous architects. He is going to rebuild the temple and make it magnificent. He was one of the cruelest rulers of all time. He murdered many of the members of his family. On his death bead he ordered the execution of Antipater and in Scripture he is known as the king who ordered the death of the babies at the time Jesus was born. When the Magi came from the east looking for the one who was born King of the Jews it just struck his paranoid nerve. The Magi came from the east which was the territory of the Parthians and some of the Hasmonaeans had attempted to ally themselves with the Parthians a couple of times to overthrow him, so when these Parthian king-makers, the Magi, came looking for the King of the Jews and it wasn't him then he was extremely worried and concerned about what was actually going on. As soon as he could identify where Christ was born in Bethlehem he ordered that all the infants under the age of two years be killed.
Herod's son Archelaus ruled over Judea and over Idumaea which is the area of Edom on the south eastern side across the Jordan, down by the Gulf of Akbar. He ruled from 4 BC to AD 6, approximately 9 years. He was extremely cruel, so cruel the Romans couldn't stand him and took him out of power. Archelaus was the ruler Joseph had to avoid when he was coming back from Egypt to Nazareth. His brother Antipas was called a Tetrarch, which means a ruler of a quarter—the rulership was divided among four sons. He ruled from 4 BC to AD 39 over Galilee and Perea, the area across the Jordan from Galilee and south from there. He is the one who beheaded John the Baptist. Antipas was the one who was in power during the entire time of Christ's adult life. The third son, Philip the Tetrarch, was given the north-eastern area across the Jordan and north east of the Sea of Galilee. Another son was given a more distant part of Syria. So this is the breakup of Herod the Great's rule.
Now Antipas is the one who executes John the Baptist. After he died he was succeeded by Herod Agrippa I who was in power from AD 37 to 44. He is the grandson of Herod the Great and his Hasmonaean wife, Mariamne. He is followed by his son Herod Agrippa II who was in power from AD 50 until AD 100. That takes us up past the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. He spent most of his time in Rome. He stayed there until 53 AD. He came back to the land of Israel and he added to the renovations of the temple. When the Jewish revolt broke out against the Romans he sided with the Romans and high-tailed it out of there and went to Roman, while the Romans under Vespasian and Titus came into the holy land and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. They sold off many of the people as slaves who were taken back to Rome to build the Coliseum. When the temple was being destroyed it caught fire which melted the gold that went down into the cracks and crevices between the stones and so they had to move all the stones and tear down all the walls, fulfilling Jesus' prophecy that no stone would remain upon another because of the judgment of God. The fighting was extremely intense and this was the beginning of the end.