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NT Sunday School Lessons: Between the Testaments

Posted by Jim F. on December 19, 2010

This is a sketch of the history between the fall of Israel and the New Testament. It may be helpful for understanding what is going on in the New Testament confrontations between Jesus and others and in understanding the tensions in Israelite society in Jesus’ day.

Jewish history between the Old and New Testaments

606 The fall of Nineveh, capital of Assyria. Babylon becomes the major power. Daniel and others are taken to Babylon from Israel.
604 Nebuchadnezzar is king of Babylon.
598 Judah’s king, Jehoiachin, and the prophet Ezekiel (with thousands of others) are carried captive into Babylon. Lehi leaves Jerusalem.
587 The fall of Jerusalem; the leaders of Judah are taken captive into Babylon. Some, including Jeremiah (who is a hostage) escape to Egypt. Mulek leaves Jerusalem.
562 The death of Nebuchadnezzar and the beginning of the decline of Babylon.
538 Babylon (in modern-day Iraq) falls to Cyrus, king of Persia (in modern-day Iran).
535 Zerubbabel and Jeshua lead approximately 50,000 Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.
533 The cornerstone of the temple is laid.
522 The Samaritans have been opposed to the temple construction because they have not been allowed to help rebuild it. Jews have been indifferent to its reconstruction. As a result, work on it has stopped. Haggai and Zechariah encourage the Jews to finish the temple; King Darius of Persia commands the Samaritan opposition to cease.
516 Zerubbabel’s temple is completed.
486 Esther, wife of the King of Persia (460?).
458 Ezra leads a second group of 1,496 back to Jerusalem.
445 Nehemiah (Artaxerxes’ cupbearer) arrives in Jerusalem.
433 Nehemiah returns to the service of Artaxerxes in Persia.
431 Nehemiah’s second mission to Jerusalem.
323 Alexander the Great’s kingdom breaks up at his death. One of his general’s Ptolemy takes over Egypt; another, Seleucus, rules Babylonia. The Ptolemies control Palestine.
198 Ptolemaic domination of Palestine ends with the defeat of the Ptolemies by the Seleucids at Caesarea Philippi.
c175 Jason purchases the high priesthood from the Seleucid king, Antiochus III, and replaces his brother Onias III, who was the rightful High Priest of the Jerusalem temple. Jason is a “Hellenizer,” one who wishes to make Greek culture the culture of Israel. The ruling classes adopt Greek as their language and they adopt Greek education, including building a gymnasium. The introduction of gymnasia is a major controversy in Israel. In Greek gymnasia young men exercised and practiced military sports in the nude, which was a scandal to Jews. For the Greeks, allowing the foreskin of the penis to be exposed—which, because of circumcision, was the case for all Jews—was as scandalous as nudity was to the Greeks because it suggests erotic arousal.
171 Antiochus replaces Jason with Menelaus (who has bought the office for a higher price than Jason paid). Menelaus is not a descendent of the priestly family of Zadok.
168 Jason joins with anti-Hellenist Jews to dethrone Menelaus. He wants to get his office back; they want to make sure that a descendent of Zadok is the High Priest. Antiochus interprets this as an attempt to overthrow his rule. He tears down the walls of Jerusalem and loots the temple. Jason and his followers flee to Leontopolis, in Egypt, where they establish an alternate temple.
167 Antiochus assumes that the Jews, like people in other places, will be willing to recognize Yahweh as the same as Zeus, the same god with a different name. He orders the worship of Zeus in the temple and, in an act of deliberate effrontery, sacrifices a pig on the altar.
167-64 The temple is a temple to Zeus. The reaction of the Jews is full-scale revolt, led by a priestly family, the Hasmoneans.
164 The revolutionaries win the right to practice Judaism and to resume temple worship.
152 Since no Zadokite priest is available to assume the office of High Priest, the Hasmonean family takes the office  of High Priest “until there should arise a faithful prophet” (1 Maccabees 14:41).
142 The Jews win full autonomy, the right to rule themselves within the Seleucid kingdom.

The two primary political groups in Jesus’s time (but there were also others, such as those at Qumran):

Pharisees: fundamentalist; anti-Hellenist (i.e., anti-Greek); believed that the temple had become corrupt and without a high priest with authority; their worship focused on reading and interpreting the Torah (the Law) and on careful obedience to it—that is more important than temple worship and sacrifice

Sadducees: “Zadokites,” the rulers of the temple; worship was primarily understood to be temple worship; Hellenist (cooperated with the Seleucids and then the Romans, both Greek-speaking; were willing to become Greeks culturally); supposedly ruling until they could be replaced by a descendant of Zadok; though they came to power through a revolt against the Seleucids over the corruption of the temple and the corruption of the priesthood, by Jesus’ time, they too were often involved in corruption

7 Responses to “NT Sunday School Lessons: Between the Testaments”

  1. Greg said

    Thanks for a great write up. I’ll b referring to this in the future.

  2. Kevin Barney said

    Thanks, Jim. I’m doing a lesson on the intertestamental period next Sunday, so this will be useful.

  3. kirkcaudle said

    167 is a date that is not talked about enough in LDS culture. I don’t think the significance of that date can be understated.

  4. BrianJ said

    Kirk: can you expand on that?

  5. kirkcaudle said

    I see many parallels between the events surrounding 167 BC and our current age and future.

    Around this time Judea was caught right on the border between the power struggles of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 BC), claimed to be a god among the people. Antiochus IV gained control of Judea and almost gained control of Egypt until Rome intervened. Rome intervened because they did not want any other Empire in the Mediterranean to rival their own power. It was to the advantage of the Romans for the power to stay balanced.

    As legend has it, Antiochus IV sacrificed a pig to the pagan gods inside of the Holy of Holies. This event is really what set the events in motion for the revolt by the Hasmoneans. This is also what seems to be referred to historically by the gospel writers when they speak of the “abomination of desolation.” The Gospel writers seemed to have seen this event as a prophecy of Daniel come true (Mark 13:4).

    Why do I think this is so significant for LDS people?

    Well, I will not pretend to have all the answers here. But I think there is a type and shadow of this when it comes to the second coming. I tend to think that the abomination of desolation that happened in 167 BC will reoccur in one form or another during the last days. In other words, temples being desecrated is a “sign of the times.” Now, just to be clear, I am not saying that pigs are going to be sacrificed in temples. However, I am saying that people will enter temples unworthily. As people enter the temple unworthily it detracts from the spirit. What makes the temple holy is the spirit that dwells there, not the building itself. I do not see any way to detach the abomination of desolation from temple desecration scripturally.

    But with that said, I think we need to know the history surrounding these events in order to understand what scripture is trying to tell us about future events. Scripture often speaks of the future through events of the past. Therefore, we would do well to study that past.

  6. […] What’s going on between the Old and New Testaments? […]

  7. Allen said

    167 BCE was certainly a crucial date in history, but too often do we get the sequence of events wrong. Victor Tcherikover argued persuasively that the revolt was not an answer to the persecutions, but that the latter ocurred because of the former. Antiochus instigated the persecutions once the Jews and their religious practices threatened the peace of his realm.

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