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Author Topic: Historical Introduction To The New Testament  (Read 2114 times)


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Historical Introduction To The New Testament
« on: August 12, 2012, 07:00:31 AM »

1. Alexander the Great and the Period of the Successors
Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE. After his death, there was a period of intense political infighting among the possible successors of Alexander, who neither named a successor before his death nor had a son who was a viable candidate for king. The period after Alexander's death is known as the Diadochan period (Greek diadochos = successor). Eventually Alexander's unified empire was broken into smaller Hellenistic kingdoms, two of which were the Seleucid kingdom—stretching from Asia Minor eastward—and the Ptolemaic kingdom, which was centered in Egypt. Judea was originally a part of the Ptolemaic kingdom, but was incorporated into the Seleucid kingdom c. 198 BCE under Antiochus III, after one of many wars between the two kingdoms, known as the Syrian Wars. Succeeding Antiochus III was Seleucus IV Eupator and after him comes Antiochus IV Epiphanes. About this time Rome was beginning to make its presence felt in the eastern Mediterranean.

]2. The Beginnings of the Rise of Rome as a World Power
Rome had taken control of Italy by the middle of the third century BCE. During the latter half of the third century BCE, Rome engaged in a conflict for supremacy with Carthage; the resulting wars were known as the Punic wars. (Punicus was the word that the Romans used for a Cathaginian.) In the First Punic War (264-41 BCE), Rome fought Carthage for control of Sicily and won. In the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE), Rome and Carthage fought again, and Hannibal invaded Italy, fighting the Romans on their own territory. The Romans eventually prevailed, and in 201 BCE, Carthage surrendered to Rome and was forced to cede Spain to Roman control. In 151-146 BCE, Rome fought with Carthage again, in the Third Punic War (149-46 BCE), and this time Rome devastated Carthage, eliminating it as a world power.
In the second century BCE, Rome also came into conflict with the Macedonian (or Antigonid) kingdom, which eventually led to its conquest by Rome. The Macedonian Kingdom had allied itself with Carthage during the First Punic War, thereby making enemies of the Romans. Between 215-206 BCE, Rome, allied with the Aetolian League, Sparta, and Pergamum, defeated Philip V, king of the Macedonian kingdom, and his ally, the Achaian League, forcing Philip to agree to peace on terms favorable to the Romans and its allies (First Macedonian War). The enemies of Philip V complained to Rome that Philip was infringing on their territory; the senate declared war, and Rome defeated Philip's forces (Second Macedonian War) (200-196 BCE). The decisive battle was at Cunoscephalae in Thessaly in 196 BCE. Philip was to pay indemnity and divest himself of all Greek territory; the Greeks were granted freedom but allied themselves with Rome, following Rome’s direction. After the Second Macedonian War, the Seleucid kingdom, ruled by Antiochus III, taking advantage of the confusion in Macedonia/Greece, sought to take control of parts of Asia Minor and Thrace that once belonged to the Macedonian kingdom. In 190 BCE, however, at the battle of Magnesia, the Romans defeated the Seleucid kingdom. This was a foreshadowing of a greater Roman presence in the eastern Mediterranean.

3. Judea from the Early Second Century BCE to 67 BCE
Judea as part of the Seleucid kingdom existed in an uneasy relationship with its overlord. A major source of tension was the issue of Hellenism, which was the state-supported culture of the Seleucid kingdom; the Seleucid rulers encouraged Hellenism among their subject peoples in hope of unifying them into a single culture, thereby lessening the possibility of dissension and revolt. There was a political faction of Jews in Judea that was in favor of the Hellenization of Jewish society, to whom 1 & 2 Maccabees refer in unfavorable terms (these men are called "men outside the law" or "the lawless men"). In 174 BCE Onias III, the High Priest, was deposed by Antiochus IV in favor of his brother Joshua, who went by the Hellenistic name of Jason. The High Priest functioned as the ruler and representative of the Jewish people. Joshua (Jason) offered Antiochus IV money and cooperation in the process of Hellenization, if he made him High Priest; Antiochus accepted the offer. Joshua (Jason) was High Priest for three years (174-171 BCE), during which time he built a gymnasion in Jerusalem, a cultural institution instrumental in the promotion of Hellenistic culture and established an ephebate, intended for Jewish adolescent males (ephebes). (The purpose of an ephebate, or ephebeia, was the education and military training of the male children of the ruling class.) It would seem that the goal of Joshua (Jason) was to convert Jerusalem into a Hellenistic city (polis) within the Seleucid kingdom.

After three years, in 171 BCE, a rival to Joshua (Jason) named Menelaus made a better offer to Antiochus IV; as a result, Joshua (Jason) was deposed as High Priest and was replaced by Menelaus, who arranged to have Onias III murdered. In 170 BCE, on the false rumor that Antiochus IV was dead, Joshua (Jason) and his followers attacked Jerusalem, and forced his rival, Menelaus, to take refuge in the citadel in Jerusalem. Antiochus IV used this incident as a pretense to intervene militarily in the affairs of Judea. At the time he was involved in a successful campaign against the Ptolemaic kingdom to the south of Judea (Sixth Syrian War); on his return to Syria in 169 BCE, he invaded Jerusalem, slaughtered many Jews who opposed him, and plundered the Temple. He was aided in all this by Menelaus and his supporters.

In 168 BCE, Antiochus IV resumed his campaign against the Ptolemaic kingdom in order to consolidate his previous gains, but this time, before he could carry out his intentions, the Roman general Popilius Laeneas sent an ultimatum to Antiochus IV ordering him to withdraw from Egypt or else be considered an enemy of Rome (the Ptolemaic kingdom had become an ally of Rome). Antiochus IV withdrew unwillingly; instead of attacking Egypt, he ordered that Jerusalem become a Hellenistic city and that Judaism become an outlawed religion and way of life. (Exactly why Antiochus IV began a religious persecution against the Jews is not clear and is a matter of debate.) Those Jews who would not cooperate would be killed and their wives and children sold into slavery. The Jews were forbidden to circumcise their children, observe the Sabbath, in short, to do anything that would mark them off as Jews. A pagan altar was placed upon the altar in the Temple and animals—including pigs—were sacrificed to the Olympic Zeus. Probably, the rationale given for this action was that the God of the Hebrew Bible should be identified with Zeus, the head of the Greek pantheon; in other words, the Jews were not abandoning their ancestral God but simply recognizing that God's universality. The worship of the other Greek gods was also introduced in Jerusalem and other parts of Judea; pagan altars were built and Jews were encourage to participate in sacrifices at these altars. As indicated, there were Jews who welcomed the policy of forced Hellenization and cooperated with Antiochus IV; but there were also those who opposed the policy and refused to abandon the Law, the conformity to which made the Jews distinctive as a people. This led to a Jewish civil war between those who supported the measures taken by Antiochus IV and those who opposed them.

In a town called Modein, near Jerusalem, an officer of the king required that the people of the town sacrifice at a pagan altar. A man named Matthatias, a priest who had five sons, was present, and when a Jew went forward to offer the sacrifice, Matthatias killed him and the officer of the king, and fled to the mountains with his family and some supporters. This began the Maccabean revolt in 167 BCE. Matthatias died later that year, and was succeeded by his son Judas, who was nicknamed "Maccabee," probably meaning "hammer"; his family was known by the name Hasmon, from which the adjective Hasmonean has its origin. Judas rallied to himself many Jews who in 1 Maccabees are called collectively the Chasidim ("the pious ones") and together they won battle after battle against the Seleucid armies until Judas established himself and his followers as the de facto ruling force in Jerusalem and Judea. Judas set out to reverse the effects of the policy of forced Hellenization, and in 165 BCE purified and rededicated the Temple. This event became the reason and basis of a new, post-biblical festival called Chanukkah ('Dedication'). There were many Jews, however, who opposed Judas and rejected his anti-Hellenistic, isolationist policies. Judas met his end on the battlefield in 160 BCE.

The period of time from Judas' victory until the conquest of Judea by the Roman general Pompey saw the expansion of the Jewish state through conquest under the leadership of the Hasmoneans (the Maccabeans) and their descendants, though they continued to fight with the Seleucids and with pro-Seleucid Jews who opposed them. There were also Jews who were equally as anti-Hellenistic as the Hasmoneans but who withdrew their support from them, most notably the group that became known as the Essenes, who identify themselves as "the community" (ychd) in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Judas founded a dynasty that lasted several generations. A series of Hasmonean rulers emerged during this period, brothers or Hasmonean descendants: Judas (165-60 BCE); Jonathan (160-142 BCE); Simon (142-134 BCE); John Hyrcanus (son of Simon 134-104 BCE); Aristobolus (son of John Hyrcanus 104-103 BCE); Alexander Jannaeus (son of John Hyrcanus 103-76 BCE). As time went on, the Hasmoneans assumed for themselves both the high priesthood and kingship.

By 76 BCE under Alexander Jannaeus, the borders of the Jewish state were expanded mostly through conquest to include all of Palestine. The Jewish people during this period made the Hasmoneans both a ruling dynasty as well as High Priests, although some Jews did not approve of a priestly family assuming the kingship. A woman, Salome Alexandra, the wife of Alexander Jannaeus, succeeded her husband in 76 BCE, and ruled in alliance with the Pharisees, who made their appearance some time in the second-century BCE. Her son Hyrcanus II served as High Priest during this period.
4. Pompey and the End of Jewish IndependenceJewish and Roman histories begin to intersect in the early part of the first century BCE, so that one cannot discuss Jewish history of this period without discussing Roman history (the reverse is not as true, of course). When Salome died in 67 BCE, there arose a conflict between Hyrcanus II and his brother Aristobolus II over who would succeed their mother as both High Priest and king; these two brothers were leaders of de facto poltical parties within the Jewish state. Aristobolus II declared war on Hyrcanus II, and in a decisive battle many of the soldiers supporting Hyrcanus II deserted to Aristobolus II. Hyrcanus II agreed that his brother Aristobolus II would be High Priest and king. But the matter did not end there. Antipater, an Idumean who was appointed governor of Idumea by Alexander Jannaeus, the father of the two brothers, took up the cause of Hyrcanus II and with the military support of the Nabatean king Aretas—who had lost much territory to the Jews—marched to Jerusalem, laid siege to the city and demanded that Hyrcanus II be reinstated as High Priest and be appointed king.

Meanwhile, the Roman general Pompey (Gaius Pompeius Magnus) by the authority of the Roman senate had gone to Asia Minor in order to put down a rebellion by Mithridates VI Eupator, the king of Pontus. Pompey defeated Mithridates in 66 BCE in what is called the Third Mithridatic War (74-63 BCE). While in Asia Minor, Pompey heard of the dispute going on in Jerusalem between Hyrcanus II and Aristobolus II from one of his generals, Scaurus, who had been sent to Syria. Scaurus began to travel to Judea to sort out and capitalize politically on this internal crisis of the Jews. Hearing that the Roman general was on his way to Judea, both Aristobolus II and Hyrcanus II sent emissaries to him in order to gain his support for their respective causes; this was the beginning of the end of the Hasmonean dynasty. Scaurus temporarily decided in favor of Aristobolus II and ordered Aretas to withdraw, which he did. In the meantime, Pompey conquered Syria, and Syria was made into a Roman province with a proconsul; this was the end of the Seleucid kingdom.

In 63 BCE, Pompey met with Aristobolus II and Hyrcanus II in Damascus to hear their respective cases for being appointed High Priest and king of the Jewish state. (A third delegation of Jews requested that the monarchy be abolished, but Pompey did not take its request too seriously.) Pompey asked both brothers to stay in Damascus and to wait on his decision. Aristobolus II, however, left Damascus without Pompey's permission, so that Pompey justifiably suspected Aristobolus II to be disloyal to him and the Romans in general. So with some of his troops Pompey pursued Aristobolus II (and those with him), who eventually surrendered near Jericho. In the meantime, the people of Jerusalem shut the gates of the city against Gabinius, who was sent to Jerusalem by Pompey to get money that Aristobolus II had promised (i.e. a bribe) and to take possession of the city. Having taken Aristobolus II as a prisoner, Pompey then marched on the city, and the gates were opened to him by the followers of Hyrcanus II. The supporters of Aristobolus II were forced to take refuge in the Temple. Pompey besieged the Temple, and within three months broke through the walls and allegedly killed about 12,000 Jews. (This is according to Josephus, who tends to exaggerate when it comes to numbers.) Afterwards the borders of the former Jewish state were greatly reduced; what remained was the regions of Judea, Idumea, Perea and Galilee. Pompey installed Hyrcanus II as High Priest, but did not give him the title of king; he took Aristobolus II and many other Jewish prisoners of war to Rome where they were resettled. A few years later Hyrcanus II was stripped of all political power, and Gabinius, now proconsul of Syria, divided what territory remained of the Hasmonean state into five regions, under his immediate control, each with its own captial city. This was the end of an independent Jewish state.

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Source: http://www.abu.nb.ca/courses/ntintro/history1.htm
« Last Edit: August 12, 2012, 07:03:45 AM by admin »