Intertestamental History

Between Two Testaments (2)

9) A great upheaval occurred in Israel during the Intertestamental Period, the time between when the final book of the Hebrew Bible was written (ca. 450 BC) and the birth of Christ (ca. 6–4 BC). After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, Greek-speaking kings known as the Seleucids took control of Palestine until 64 BC.[1]

The priestly line of Zadok remained in control from David’s reign (ca. 1005–965 BC) until the rule of Antiochus IV.[2] Antiochus, who called himself “manifest [as a god]” (Epiphanes) usurped the Seleucid throne in 175 BC and ruled until 164 BC. Due to his tyrannical unpredictability, his detractors called himEpimanes,” which means “utterly mad.”[3]

A year after taking the throne, Antiochus IV sold the office of high priest to the highest bidder with a pro-Greek orientation,[4] first to the high priest’s brother and then to men with no relation to the office.[5] These included Menelaus, whom a Jewish historical book called “a cruel tyrant” (2 Maccabees 4:7–25).

After insurrectionists deposed Menelaus, Antiochus besieged Jerusalem and looted the temple (2 Macc 5:11–22). The king then forbade the observance of the Mosaic law, including circumcision and keeping the Sabbath. As a final insult, he desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig to Zeus on the altar (2 Macc 6).

Refusing to participate in a pagan sacrifice, a warrior named Matthias and his five sons led the Maccabean Rebellion. This lasted seven years (167–160 BC), culminating in a declaration of peace from the king which Roman ambassadors confirmed (2 Macc 11:27–35).

The Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah) commemorates the re-consecration of the temple and its altar during this period (1 Macc 4:28–60; b. Shabbat 21b).[6] However, Antiochus IV eventually crushed the revolt, and Menelaus returned as high priest.[7]

After years of military engagement and negotiations with Rome, Simon Maccabee established the independent Hasmonean Dynasty in 142 BC. Only two years later, he added the office of the high priest to his civil rule. Thus, the high priesthood accrued unprecedented power, becoming a highly-politicized office with both religious and civil authority.[8]

During this period, major parties and sects developed within Judaism.[9] Citizens concerned by the concentration of power asked the Roman general Pompey for help in 63 BC. He took control, imposed Roman tribute, and took many people as slaves.[10]

After a brief revival of the Hasmonean Dynasty (40 BC),[11] Herod the Great (37–4BC) put an end to decades of civil warfare with the aid of Rome.[12] He aligned himself with the aristocratic Jewish party called the Sadducees.[13] The Sadducees remained in control of the temple in Jerusalem until the Roman army destroyed it in 70 AD.[14]

Meanwhile, the Essene community condemned the Sadducees’ corruption and claimed that only their sect in Qumran upheld biblical tradition (1QH4).[15]

During this era the family of Annas attained prominence. Annas received his appointment as high priest in 6 AD, then his son-in-law Caiaphas (18–36 AD) began ruling three years after a Roman official deposed him. Overall, five of Annas’ sons held the office of high priest.[16]

In contrast to the Sadducees, the Pharisees created a lay movement which believed they could identify members of God’s covenant people by their adherence to the Mishnah. This commentary on the Pentateuch formed a hedge around the Mosaic law (m. Avot 1:1),[17] in violation of Deut 2:32 and Deut 4:1–2.

For example, the Mishnah contains twenty four chapters dedicated to Sabbath regulations alone (m. Shabbat).

An easy example to remember consists of the Jewish prohibition upon eating a cheeseburger, which derives from the command, “You shall not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk (Exod 23:19).

Although the Pharisees did not descend from priestly lineage, the members of this sect strictly maintained this tradition of laws regarding purity, tithing, and the Sabbath which was originally intended for those serving in the temple.[18]

The Pharisees took great care to separate from the impure “people of the land” who failed to avoid contaminating themselves.[19] They sought to practice Judaism in every area of life while remaining in their communities. Thus, they did not form an exclusive community, as the Essenes did in Qumran.[20] However, like the Essenes, they believed the messiah would come to usher in the kingdom of God only when every Israelite fully obeyed all of the law of Moses.[21]

Consequently, Jesus’s teachings and behavior enraged them. They believed his refusal to adhere to the Sabbath observances in the Mishnah prevented the messiah from coming to rescue them from Rome’s domination.[22]

During this intertestamental era, which is also called the Second Temple period, the study of prophecies concerning the end times flourished. Religious Jews asserted that God already reigned as King.

Nevertheless, after centuries of foreign domination, they yearned for the coming of the messiah, the Lord’s anointed one who would save God’s people.[23] They saw themselves as the persecuted elect, and ached for their vindication, when the Lord would judge the kingdoms of this world and reestablish paradise on earth.[24]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Why did the Maccabees rebel? What scandals engulfed the office of the high priest? How would you characterize the Sadducees? Why did rabbis write the Mishnah? What were the Pharisees trying to accomplish? Why did Jesus infuriate them?






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[1] John Whitehorne, “Seleucus (Person),” ABD 5:1076–7, 1076.

[2] George W. Ramsey, “Zadok (Person),” ABD 6:1034–6, 1036.

[3]Polybius, Histories (trans. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh; London. New York: MacMillan, 1889), 26.1, 352,

[4] John Whitehorne, “Antiochus (Person),” ABD 1:269–72, 270.

[5] Uriel Rappaport, “Maccabean Revolt,” ABD 4:433–9, 434.

[6] James C. VanderKam, “Dedication, Feast of,” ABD 2:123–5, 123.

[7] Rappaport, “Maccabean Revolt,” 436.

[8]Uriel Rappaport, “Simon (Person),” ABD 2:28–29, 29.

[9]Joshua Schwartz, “Lessons from Inter-Communal Conflict During the Second Temple Period,” Jewish Political Studies Review 12, no. 3–4 (9 January 2000): 39–52, 40–1,

[10] Rajak, “Hasmonean Dynasty,” ABD 3:67, 76.

[11] L. I. Levine, “Herod the Great,” ABD 3:161–9, 161.

[12] Rajak, “Hasmonean Dynasty,” ABD 3:67, 76.

[13] H. W. Basser, “Priests and Priesthood, Jewish,” DNTB 824–7, 825–6.

[14]Gary G. Porton, “Sadducees.,” ABD 5:894–5, 894.

[15] Lawrence H. Schiffman, “Zadokite Fragments (Damascus Document),” ABD 6:1037–8, 1037,

[16] Bruce Chilton, “Caiaphas (Person),” ABD 1:803–6, 804.

[17] Stephen Westerholm, “Pharisees,” DJG 609–14, 609.

[18] Anthony J. Saldarini, “Pharisees.” ABD 5:289–303, 300.

[19] Anthony J. Saldarini, “Pharisees.” ABD 5:289–303, 300.

[20]Roland Deines, “The Pharisees Between ‘Judaisms’ and ‘Common Judaism’,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism, Vol. 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism (ed. D. A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien, and Mark A. Seifrid; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 443–504, 498.

[21]Philip S. Alexander, “Torah and Salvation in Tannaitic Literature,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism, Vol. 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism (ed. D. A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien, and Mark A. Seifrid; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 35–51, 35–6.

[22] Marinus De Jonge, “Messiah,” ABD 783–8, 783.

[23] Burge, John, 71–2.

[24] Dennis C. Duling “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven: OT, Early Judaism, and Hellenistic Usage,” ABD 4:49–56, 51.