Biblical People, Places and Time-Part 2

In the book “Seder Olam Rabbah” there is a chronology of years from creation, but they only counted the years of Persian kings mentioned in Scripture (only four) resulting in a loss of 210 to 250 years. So, when you look at the current year in Jewish calendars, there are many years not counted (Judaism of the First Century of the Christian Era; Encyclopedia Judaica; Artscroll “Bereshit”, p 357; Yom Kippur Machzor by Artscroll, p 336-337), so we are not sure how close we are to the year 6000 exactly. From the time of the Babylonians to the Romans we have provinces. The north was an Assyrian province and the south was Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman. Things will really change when Greek culture took over. You have the rise of the Hasmonean dynasty starting with the Maccabees, then the Herodian dynasty. This time period will include Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Cleopatra and Augustus (Octavian). There was a saying about King Herod that said “Herod became king like a fox, ruled like a lion and died like a dog.” When doing any research on this period, the works of Josephus, especially his book “The Wars of the Jews”, will give you some insight to what was going on leading up to the birth of Yeshua and what the political climate was. Artscroll has a book called “The History of the Jewish People: Second Temple Period” that goes into what was going on and is a good source. It was a real “soap opera” and you will begin to see why there was so much New Testament anti-Semitism. There are many references to “the Jews” in a negative light, and these comments were really aimed more at this demented mixture of royalty and leadership, intrigue, adultery, murder and political maneuvering than to the Jewish people as a whole. When you see “the Jews” in the New Testament it was in reference to the Jewish leadership. Nobody liked them. Herod had power struggles and anyone who challenged him, including his own family, somehow ended up dead in many cases. The death of Herod happened around Sukkot in Tishri in 4 BC. This gives us an idea when Yeshua was born. We believe that he was born on Tishri 15, the first day of Sukkot, and circumcised on the 22nd day of Tishri called Shemini Atzeret. In the book “Rosh Ha Shannah and the Messianic Kingdom to Come” by Joseph Good, there is a good chronology of what happened at his birth, the flight to Egypt and the death of Herod on p 77-80. Many have asked why the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem is not mentioned in history. Well, here are some reasons. Bethlehem was small and there weren’t that many children. Elders from every family were locked up in the Hippodrome in Jerusalem. When Herod died, they were to be killed because many would mourn their deaths, and people would think they were mourning for Herod. This was never done, but Herod was killing his own children. So, what happened in Bethlehem was a small affair compared to the other atrocities Herod was doing. When Yeshua was born, there is no record from the time of his birth to 12 years old, then from 12 years old to the time he was 30. But, we know what he was doing. He was being taught the Scriptures, went to the Synagogue and the festivals in Jerusalem. His daily life included learning a trade. The political atmosphere at this time was traumatic, changing and full intrigue, murder and turmoil. But what about the religious atmosphere. We know the story of the Maccabees and their battle against Greek assimilation. It was the Torah observant against the Hellenists. There were persecutions and after they Greeks are defeated, the Hasmoneans ruled. As time goes on, there will be emerging powers in the religious world. You need to keep your eye on the development of the Sadducees, Pharisees and the know the differences between the two. The Essenes will also be developing and we need to know and what they are. The majority of the people will follow the Pharisees. The Essenes (“healers”) are also referred to as the “Theraputae” by Philo. They were strict and they required things that went far and above the accepted “halakah” (how to walk in Torah), never went to the Temple and separated themselves in a community near the Dead Sea. The Pharisees said they went beyond the Torah. Interestingly enough, the Essenes used eschatological terms very similar to what you see in 1 Thes, 2 Thes, Revelation and other books. The Great Eschatological Age spanned the years from 200 BC to 100 AD, and the people had an expectation for the judgment of God to come. They studied the prophecies, heard from them and read them, especially Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. The Maccabean wars were seen as a part of the fulfillment of these prophecies. Writings of the time were “apocalyptic” in style and very similar to what you read in the book of Revelation, Daniel and Ezekiel, books that are considered as part of this apocalyptic deluge of writings. Dreams, visions, imagery and a futuristic code is needed to understand them. Because people are not familiar with these concepts, these books continue get misinterpreted. There is a TV preacher today that says he has read the book of Revelation and studied it in prison, and misinterprets it to the point that it is hard to listen to. Just reading the book and studying it won’t get you the understanding you need, unless you understand the idioms, phrases and concepts found in the Scriptures. As each king of Israel, Greece, Rome came and went, it was seen as a fulfillment of many of these prophecies. However, eschatology did not start in 200 BC, but it was building on current events at the time. I Enoch will go hand in hand with Isaiah and Revelation, using the same terminology. Apocalyptic writing pre-existed I Enoch, as seen as Dan 7, Ezek 1, Gen 49.11, Job 19.23-25.
Prophecy was on everyone’s mind for over 300 years among the Jewish people. That is the back-round to all this. Conflicts rise between the Pharisees and the Sadducees and whole towns would be on one side or another. Now, let’s look at Rome.
Rome was founded about the time of Hezekiah by the Etruscans. It was a village for about 200 years and then around 350 BC it branched out and fought wars for about 100 years. The Italian peninsula will be under the control of the Romans and they would protect you for a tribute. This takes us up to the Hasmonean period and the Greeks. We have already discussed how Greek culture was spread by Alexander eastward to Persia. In 323 he dies, and his kingdom is divided between his four generals. Ptolemy took Egypt to the south, Seleucus took Syria, Babylon and the north. Cassander took Macedon to the west and Lysimacus took Asia Minor east to Persia. The Carthaginians were before Rome and controlled the Mediterranean, North Africa and west Egypt. The Greeks controlled Asia Minor to Egypt. About the time that the Hasmoneans fight the Greeks, Rome takes Carthage after three wars called the Punic Wars. This is where we hear of Hannibal and the elephants crossing the Alps into Italy. Rome is a republic and after Carthage loses, it is rebuilt by Rome and becomes a province. Rome controls the Mediterranean Sea now and comes against Greece. Greece controlled Sicily, Corsica, Crete and Cyprus and loses them. Persia, also called Parthia, enters into the picture and were very powerful. The Romans, Greeks and Carthaginians are western. The Parthians are eastern, and Rome will never conquer them. One of the major battlegrounds is Judea. During the early part of the Herodian reign, the Parthians play a major political role. About 75 BC, three major characters begin to emerge from Rome. Rome has had a major upset with a slave named Spartacus. He was a Greek slave and he leads a revolt and nearly wins. He is defeated by a Roman named Crassus. 6000 slaves are captured and crucified along the Appian Way. Pirates have become a threat in the Mediterranean, so Rome sends Pompey against them and defeats them in three months. He is sent into the old, Greek domain and obtains them for Rome. This will include the Seleucid empire in Syria, including Damascus. Also, he obtains Alexandria, Egypt, the greatest port in the world by 63 BC. The Jewish population at this time were in Babylon, Alexandria, Judea and Asia Minor. Pompey conquers Jerusalem, goes into the Temple and the Holy of Holies. From this point, Judea will be under Rome, and Rome needs Judea and Syria because it is a buffer against the Parthians. Rome has an army of the east and the west. They will have different uniforms. The movies are wrong when you see them wear armor in Judea because that was the uniform they wore in the west. The army of the east wore chainmail, not armor, because of the heat. 300 years later there was a split between the western and the eastern empire. Rome will be the main city in the west, and Constantinople in the east. Later, this becomes the western “church” and the eastern “church.” What happens in 63 BC has now extended into the Christian Church today. Because of Parthia, the Romans need two things. A strong army and a strong ruler who can keep the peace. We have discussed Crassus and Pompey, but now we have the third character named Julius Caesar. They form a triumvirate, but Caesar eventually destroys Crassus and Pompey leaving himself. He initiates Roman wars, conquers Italy and ends the republic. Meanwhile, the Hasmoneans in Judea have been fighting themselves and the situation there was deteriorating. This will bring in a man named Antipater. He was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. They have moved up to southwestern Judea into the Shephelah Valley, near Mareshah and Lachish. Antipater is a skilled politician and works the Romans to his advantage. He has a son named Herod. Now, Roman rulers were skilled also, and they were looking for skilled people to rule over the Judeans and not put up with anything. They needed stability in Judea and Syria and the rule of the Hasmoneans was not providing it. So Antipater works his way into the courts in Rome, and gets a kingship established for his son Herod. Herod becomes king and becomes a builder. He builds the third largest seaport in Caesarea, which will help Rome control commerce and warfare on the sea. Julius Caesar is assassinated, and a war follows. Marc Antony allies himself with Octavian (Augustus) and defeats the traitors. Then he allies himself with Cleopatra and tries to overthrow Octavian. They face off at a place called Actium and Octavian wins, and this results in the death of Antony and Cleopatra. Octavian changes his name to Augustus with the title of Caesar. Now the empire is established and we are about at the time Yeshua is born. In Part 3, we will begin to get into more detail on what we have been discussing and talk about the major kingdoms, provinces and peoples of the first century and how all of it developed to influence what was going on in the Gospels and Epistles.

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Prophecy/Eschatology, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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