NT Sunday School Lessons: Between the Testaments

MsThis 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 “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.

Responses should be made at Feast upon the Word.