Prompt 1: List the names of Jewish leaders who were important to the Intertestamental Period of Jewish history; also give their distinctive contributions to Jewish history. How did these individuals use their contributions to prepare for the coming of the Messiah and the founding of the church? Which contributions continue to have an impact on the church today? What modern or recent movements are similar to these?
Life for the Jews was unsettled at best throughout the Persian, Grecian and Ptolemaic Periods (539-198). It was during this time that the Septuagint was commissioned and groundwork was laid for a Jewish revolt against the Hellenistic movement.
The Syrian period (198-167) was dominated by a divided nation of Jews.
- The Oniad family under High Priest Onias III supported the Ptolemies of Egypt.
- The house of Tobias supported Syria and struggled for control against the Oniads.
- In a traitorous move, Jason, the brother of Onias III instituted Hellenistic customs so Antiochus IV would appoint him high priest.
- The high priesthood was then sold to an even greater “ally” of Antiochus, Menelaus, creating a precedent for ascension that could only defeat the values of Judaism.
In a declaration of outrage against Syria and the so-called Jewish leaders a revolt began in an effort to take back control from Syria.
- Matthias, an elderly priest, rallied a band of Jews together and effectively ended Syria’s rule over Palestine through military action.
- Upon Matthias’ death his son, Judas Maccabaeus, assumed military leadership and dominated the battlefield gaining religious freedom from Syrian control. This ushered in the Maccabean period of rule and his victory is still celebrated each year at Hanukkah.
- After Judas was killed his brother Jonathan took the reigns and decided to accept the position of high priest despite it not being rightfully his.
- Upon Jonathan’s capture and execution his brother Simon led the people militarily and politically, gaining victory and national autonomy from taxation to the Syrian’s.
Following Simon, leadership remained in the Hasmonean/Maccabean family, but “the term Hasmonean” is often used to show that they had “different agendas from their forefathers” the Maccabees (Lea 2003, 19).
- Hyrcanus, Simon’s son, became the military leader and ruled virtually as a Jewish King. During his leadership three leadership groups were established that served as precursors to the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes.
- The final Jewish Intertestamental leader was Hyrcanus II who named himself King. In his time he allowed Antipater, the father of Herod the Great, to rise in power and allowed a Jewish civil war to escalate to the point where Rome was able to come in and assume control, ushering in the New Testament.
The Intertestamental period was marked by violence and war, creating a legacy that continues to this day throughout the world of waging “holy war”. It can also be argued that church leadership today face similar issues to those of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes as ministry becomes compartmentalized and isolated by departments within churches. Finally, it would be wise for Christians today to take a lesson from history and strengthen our convictions as the government takes strides to restrict our religious freedoms.
Prompt 3: List and define some of the major sources used to reconstruct the history of the Intertestamental Period. Which of these sources do you consider the most important, and why? Why is the study of these sources important to a proper understanding of the New Testament? How do these sources help us understand NT thought and topics?
What actually took place between the Old and New Testament? Without the gift of special revelation, the biblical scholar must look to other reliable sources to answer this question. While there are many sources to study a few rise to the top.
- The Old and New Testament must be viewed highly in the Intertestamental Period study. They provide the bookends for how the Jewish people were living during that time.
- The Septuagint is another critical source as it provides a window into the theology of the Jews during that time as they transcribed the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek.
- Another source that cannot be overlooked are the Dead Sea Scrolls. Discovered in 1947, “new perspectives” were gained as to how “to interpret previously available information” (Scott 1995, 20).
- The writings of Flavius Josephus are also valuable in studying the Intertestamental Period. Josephus was a quick study who rapidly rose to the top of Jewish faith and fought the Romans until his capture and betrayal of loyalties as he aided the Roman conquest. His writings are invaluable in the understanding of the Jewish struggle against the Romans, which is critical to understanding the New Testament setting.
- Another Intertestamental writer, Philo Judaeus, was classically trained in Greek studies but “remained a deeply committed Jew” (Scott 1995, 39). He is best known for his allegorical approach to studying scripture and is the “highest form of Hellenistic Judaism and of an intellectual Diaspora Jew” from the time (Scott 1995, 39).
It is the opinion of this student that the writings of Josephus and Judaeus are primary to a study of the Intertestamental period because they provide a look into the life and experiences of the Jewish people. Through a developed understanding of their lives and the surrounding history, we develop a clearer understanding of the historical records.
The value of studying these texts lies in the study of the New Testament itself. Christ and the Apostles are living and ministering in a world shaped specifically by the history found in the Intertestamental Period. Without an understanding of this it is possible to miss statements made as a reaction to the state of the Jewish faith or miss the significance when the Apostles teach against Hellenism on their missionary journeys.
Lea, Thomas D, and Black, David Alan. 2003. The New Testament: Its Background and Message. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.
Scott, J. Julius Jr. 1995. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids,