Easter typically falls on th first Sunday aftr the first full moon occuring on or aftwe the spring equinox. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which adheres to the Julian calendar, Easter falls on a Sunday between April 4th and May 8th each year.
Easter to be a Christian holiday, it is doubtful that they used it to mean a pagan holiday at Acts 12:4 – “To find Easter for ever.”
There are scriptures to honor Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. Easter is a time to celebrate being with family, the newness of spring, and the true meaning of the holiday – the resurrection of Jesus Christ. … “When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and th purple robe, Pilate said to them’ “Here is the man!
The story of the Last Supper is about a wonderful invitation from Jesus to receive his gift! This is a summary about the Last Supper story as told in Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
The Empty Tomb – John 20 and 21 > Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciples, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went onto the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial clothes that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had risen from the dead.) Jesus
Appears to Mary of Magdala – Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated were Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said,” and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teachers). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary of Magdala went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Jesus Appears to His Disciples: On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and , “Receive the Holy Spirit. Of you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Jesus Appears to Thomas: Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. When the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, he declared, “unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book,. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. 21 – Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish: Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. It happend this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the son of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got a boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but his disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord!” He wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus Reinstates Peter: When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Yes, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this is indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow!” Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one whi had learned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive unti. I return, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
Historical of Old Testament Record: As the historical record of the Old Testament comes to a close, the curtain falls on the early centuries of mankind’s existence. From Adam and Eve to Ezra and Nehemiah, God has revealed himself in the affairs of both individuals and nations. From the earliest days of the nature of God, and to prepare the world for the Savior who will transform man’s sinful condition and bring true life. God’s instrumentality in this plan has been the relatively obscure Hebrew nation of Israel. Some 650 years before it came into being, God promised the faithful patriarch Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation and have a land of their own – and that through them all the people of the earth would be blessed. When the 12 tribes of Israel were delivered out of Egyptian bondage and brought to Mount Sinai, the first promise was fulfilled. God covenants with the new nation of Israel that he would be their God and they in turn covenants that they would be his people. Among other symbols of the covenant was the law given through Moses. In its divine origin and theocratic nature it was like no other law given. Through that law, God elevated moral priests, sacrifices, offerings, Sabbaths, and holy festivals. This rebellion brought 40 years of wandering in the wilderness as punishment. But God in his mercy forgave his people and ,ed them to the promised land of Canaan. After the local inhabitants were substantially subdued over the period of the judges, the nation finally had its own land, and God’s second promise to Abraham was fulfilled. From that point on, it remined only for the nation of Israel to become a blessing to the whole world. In the 120- years-long monarchy of Saul, David, and Solomon it seemed that the nation’s rise to prominence and power was the beginning of the third fulfillment. But upon Solomon’s death the rebellion of the people once again brought disaster – this time civil war and a divided kingdom. For 325 years the people become more and more rebellious, turning away from their God, the Creator of the universe, to pagan gods and idols of man’s own making. Because sin always brings death, the people’s sins were a death knell to the nation itself. God used Israel’s territorial enemies his agents of judgment, and both segments of the kingdom were taken captive and carried away into exile. Throughout the period of spiritual and political decline, God had sent one messenger after another, crying out against the people’s sins and warning of impending punishment. And yet, without explanation, every message had ended with a note of hope and a promise of restoration. Exile would end within 70 years, and the temple would of rebuilt. Even beyond that were prophecies of a Messiah who would come and establish an everlasting kingdom of peace and joy. Faithful as always, God fulfilled his promise when he brought his people back into their land, exactly as he had foretold – 70 years later, God’s deportation. And when the temple was rebuilt, some 20 years later, God’s Word was once again proved true. But when foreign dominance and local opposition continued over the next century, disillusionment and cynicism set in – and with it, renewed spiritual rebellion. Despite the message of Malachi that the day of the Lord was coming, and despite the temporary spiritual revival under Ezra and Nehemiah, the Old Testament record does not end on a note of great optimism or confidence. The people of Israel continue even now in their willful violation of God’s laws; the nation is still at the mercy of the Persian Empire; and, as far as the Jews can tell, there is no sign that any super-king is about to establish the ideal kingdom which they have come to expect. Never mind that every other promise that God has made in over 40 centuries has been faithfully fulfilled. Where is this great Messiah of which the prophets have spoken? Has God finally gone too far in an effort to hold his people’s attention? Is this a promise that is too difficult for even the God of heaven to fulfill? Although comfortable retrospect might chide the Jews for their lack of faith, it is easy to understand their true discouragement. Others in later centuries – Jew and non-Jew alike – whose primary focus is on a physical rather than a spiritual kingdom, or the coming of the end when they mistakenly expect it, will suffer the same disillusionment. And saddest of all, when the Messiah finally comes, he will be so unlike the Jews’ preconceived image of him that most of them will not even recognize him. How long will It be before the Messiah comes? How long must the Jews – indeed the whole world – wait for this glorious day of promise? If Daniel has given a clue in his vision of seventy “seven,” the Messiah’s coming will not be before some 400 years from now. Indeed this is approximately the same period during which the historical record of Scripture will lie silent. But why would there be such a historical interlude? Certainly one can only speculate, but it is simple to dramatize the most important event in history of mankind. Perhaps there is something to be said for disassociating the Messiah from any exclusive ties to this small Hebrew nation so that his kingdom may be seen as truly universal. Perhaps the political situation in a later time be more conducive to the Messiah’s mission. Or perhaps the delay is to insure any possibility that fulfillment of relatively recent prophecies is merely contrived by wishful believers. Whatever God’s reason, it is clear that the nation of Israel will have to wait further for the promised Messiah and for the day when, through their race, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.
Writings of the Apocrypha: The historical record of the Old Testament, as presently divided is composed of 39 separate writings. In the presentation thus far, the contents of these various writings have been integrated into one continuous narrative – arranged, to the degree possible, in the chronological order of occurrence. The events span the period from creation to approximately 425 B.C. Not until approximately 5 B.C. will any further events be recorded in any scriptural writings. These accounts will be contained in the New Testament, which is itself a collection of 27 different writings. Over the next four to six centuries, many other historical and religious documents pertaining to the Jews will be written. Therefore it cannot be said that there are no historical record of the Jews arising out of this period. When it is said that the historical record of Scripture lies silent during this time, emphasis is being placed on the word Scripture. The so – called apocryphal or “hidden” writings of this period are not accepted as Scripture by all believers. Jumping several centuries ahead, the inclusion of these writings will begin with the Greek version of the Old Testament – the Septuagint – which will be widely used in the first century. The Apocrypha will then be adopted as part of the Latin Vulgate, edited by Jerome in about A.D. 400. In more modern times, all English versions of the Bible from A.D. 1382 down to and including the original King James Version of A.D. 1611 will contain the apocryphal writings. In the early Greek and Latin versions, the apocryphal writings are interpreted with the other Old Testament writings. In this German Bible of 1534, Luther will collect them into unified supplement and present them at the end of the Old Testament. The Catholic English version retains the more scattered format even until now, but most Protestant versions will drop the Apocrypha altogether, beginning about A.D 1629. In the view of those who reject their inclusion in scripture canon, the apocryphal writings do not meet the test of having originated from divine inspiration. The Apocrypha are never included in the Hebrew Old Testament, and the Jews do not accept these writings as part of their approved Scripture. In fact, Hebrew manuscripts of most of the apocryphal writings are not even to be found. It is perhaps significant that several of the writings reflect notions of mysticism and demonology apparently traceable to Persian influences during the Jewish dispersion and arguably inconsistent with either Jewish or later Christian beliefs. Despite their current lack of credibility among a large segment of believers, these disputed writings are generally moral in nature and do give insight into some of the history, customs, and religious developments of the Jews during this intertestamental period. The following 14 writings, briefly summarized at this point, comprise the so-called Apocrypha. Although most of them emerged from 300 B.C. to A.D. 100, several refer back to earlier times and assume various specific historical contexts. First Esdras, the Greek name Ezra, is a historical record from the end of the exile until the completion of the temple. It is a compilation which virtually duplicates portions of Ezra, Nahemiah, and the Chronicles. One additional story purports to explain Zerubbabel argued successfully against two other guards of King Darius that women and truth are stronger than kings and wine. Second Esdras is of Latin origin in the first three centuries A.D. and purports to record a series of apocalyptic visions about the future of the world. In that regard it is similar to the apocalyptic visions of the leading prophets, particularly those of Daniel. A major portion many of the writing addresses many of the hard issues confronted in the book of Job: how can God permit the suffering of his people? Why should God choose nations more wicked than Israel itself to punish Israel? Why live righteously when the wicked seem to be more prosperous? How long will it be before the righteous finally get their reward? How will the wicked be punished? And, just as in Job,although some answers are provided, the basic response is that there are simply many things which man cannot yet know. The Book of Tobit is a piece of religious fiction about a pious Jew named Tobit and his son Tobias. The story itself is primarily about Tobias’ journey from Nineveh to a city called Ecbatana to retrieve money which his father has deposited there. On his journey Tobias meets and marries a distant cousin, Sarah, who has lost seven husbands, each on the night of the wedding, before the marriage was consummated. A central figure in the story introduces elements of Persian mysticism and feminism. This figure purports to be an archangel by the name of Raphael who is disguised as Tobias’ guide. Apart from the story line, the moral message is a promotion of unselfishness and charity, particularly as seen in the life of Tobit and in the principles which he instilled in his son. The Book of Judith is another piece of religious fiction, about a beautiful Jewish woman named Judith who saves her city, and indeed the entire nation of Israel, by deceiving an Assyrian general and cutting off his head. The general, whose name is Holofernes, is supposedly under the command of Nebuchadnezzar, king over the Assyrian in Nineveh. That obvious historical miscue only further confirms the fictional nature of the tale and draws attention more clearly to the author’s apparent purpose in writing it. That purpose seems to be the promotion of strict observance of the Jewish law, particularly the ceremonial and dietary laws. The story may well be a product of the Jewish Pharisees, who will be further described in following narrative. The Additions to the Book of Esther are supplements to the canonical account of Easter. Those supplements are found scattered throughout the Greek translations of the book of Esther. Because there are no direct references in Esther to God or the Jewish religion, it may well be that the translators decided to add the various supplements in order to bolster the book’s religious impact. Among the additions are a dream by Mordecai about the events recorded in Esther; the purported contents of King Artaxerxes’ edict authorizing the massacre of the Jews; a supposed account of Esther’s prayer to God before approaching the king unsummoned; the purported contents of the letter which Mordecai demonstrated how his dream had been fulfilled in all the prior events. The Wisdom of Solomon is a poem similar to Ecclesiastes and is characteristic of the literature in the wisdom movement of Solomon. Therefore, although it is written apparently as late as 50-40 B.C., it sometimes bears Solomon’s name. The poem speaks beautifully of God’s omniscience, the nature of death, the security of the upright, the destruction of the wicked, As all wisdom literature, it eloquently exalts the value of wisdom. And, reminiscent of the prophets, the writer launches a vicious assault against idolatry and pagan perversion. The writing concludes with a review of God’s dealings with Israel and his perpetual care for his people, even in the times of their unfaithfulness. Ecclesiasticus is the longest book of the Apocrypha and is most similar in contents and style to the book of Proverbs. It was originally written in Hebrew about 180 B.C. in the city of Jerusalem, and then translated into Greek some 50 years later in the city of Alexandria. The last section of the book contains a review of all great men in Jewish history, ending with Simon the high priest, who died in 199 B.C. A prologue indicates that the author is a man by the name of Jeshua and that he has derived his thoughts from many years of studying the law, the prophets, and other Old Testament wisdom literature. It is not surprising that Ecclesiasticus, also known as the Wisdom of Sirach (after Jeshua’s father) should begin with the words, “All wisdom comes from the Lord and remains with him forever.” Likr the book of proverbs, Ecclesiasticus finds wisdom in the fear of the Lord and also in self-control, particularly of the tongue. Charity and humility are encouraged, and there are warnings against improper desires and excessive use of wine. The brevity of life and punishment of the wicked are seen as motivations for proper living. Wicked women and woeful wives are bitterly denounced, as are adulterous husbands. Unlike any of the wisdom literature found in the canonical Scriptures, Ecclesiasticus includes such mundane advice as proper dining etiquette and basic health habits. There is praise for various occupations, from physicians to ordinary tradesmen, of whom it said, “They support the fabric of the world” and “Their prayer is in the practice of their trade.” In all, Ecclesiasticus covers a broad scope of wise sayings reflective of the wisdom literature already presented. The Book of Baruch, support to have been written by Jeremiah’s scribe, purportedly accompanied a donation of money to support the worship in the temple in 582 B.C. However, the fact that temple was in ruins at that time casts doubt upon the historical accuracy of the writing. It appears that the writing actually emerges near the end of the first century at a time when Jerusalem and the reconstructed temple are once again threatened. In the writing is ! Confession of national sin, a plea for mercy, a call for wisdom, and words of encouragement to a nation under opposition. These are following by “The Letter of Jeremiah,” purportedly from the great weeping prophet to the captives in Babylon, warning them against involvement in idolatry. The supposed letter is one of the most insightful and scathing attacks against idolatry ever written. The Story of Susanna is a short about a virtuous woman named Susanna who is falsely accused of infidelity by two evil Jewish elders when the spurns their lustful advances. As she is being led away for execution, following a trial in which her accusers have perjured themselves, Daniel – presumably the Daniel of the Old Testament – urges that the two elders be questioned outside each other’s presence. That move results in conflicting testimony which confirms Susanna’s innocence. The story may well be simply a hypothetical case used to bring about reform of a rule of evidence in capital cases. While under law it takes two witnesses to establish guilt, it remains possible for the two to conspire to bring about the death of an innocent person. The new rule of procedure would help to expose any such conspiracy and provide the death penalty for the conspirators instead. The Song of the Three Children is a writing of the period 170-150 B.C. which is meant for integration with the book of Daniel (at 3:23). It purports to record the miracle which saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they were in the fiery furnace, along with a prayer by Azariah (Abednego), which is really a confession of Israel’s sin and a plea for the nations salvation. There is also a song of praise to the God who has delivered the three men from the fires of death. The Prayer of Manasses is a brief but excellent example of a pious penitent prayer, perhaps Pharisaic in origin. The First Book of Maccabees contains the history of the Jewish people in Judah in a period from 175-132 B.C. It details much of the history which will appear in summary form in later narrative. The principal kings of the period – the Seleucids in Syria and Ptolemies in Egypt – are seen in a seesaw struggle, with the Jews caught in the middle. Reference is made to a later Roman power, but during this period there is no direct Roman rule affecting Judes. The historical account begins primarily with the Seleucid king, Antiochus Epiphanes, who brings great persecution against the Jews and their religion. Militant reaction comes from those Jews who would rather die than see the law die than see the suppressed. Those Jews are led in battle after battle over several decades by a man named Mattathias and three sons. The first son to take over his father’s leadership is named Judas, but is called Maccabeus. It is this man after whom the historical record is named. Judas Maccabeus is followed by two brothers Jonathan and Simon, and later by Simon’s son John Hyrcanus. The military exploits of the Jews against Syrian, Greeks, Egyptians, and Edomites, as well as a number of more local enemies, are reminiscent of the wars of King David. But the almost-constant fighting finally brings Judea and the Jews a brief period of peace in the midst of centuries of conflict. Jonathan and Simon are appointed as both high priests and governors, which indicates an evolution in the traditional roles of Jewish leadership. The First Book of Maccabees is the most important and trustworthy history of the Jews during its time. The Second Book of Maccabees presumes to cover the period from 175-160 B.C. but is less historical than patriotic. The book professes to be a readable summary of a much-detailed, five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene. Mo@t notable in the book are the graphic accounts of violent atrocities which Antiochus Epiphanes allegedly brought against the Jews. From these writings and the historical records of other nations over the next four centuries, something of the Jews’ continued development, as both a nation and a dispersed people, can be pieced together.
Influences on a Dispersed People – It is easy to think that after the exile all the Jews in Babylonia return to Palestine. That is by no means the case. Many Jews choose not to return and are still living in Babylonia, Egypt, and other areas as well. Those who have been assimilated into other cultures have been influenced in a number of ways, including their religious beliefs and practices. With the Hebrew language rapidly giving way to Aramaic and other languages, there is waning interest in reading the Torah, as the Law of Moses has comes to be known. Thus the law’s influence itself has diminished. That fact, combined with local eating habits, has led many Jews to ignore the strict dietary rules imposed on them by the law. Of course local religious beliefs have a profound effect, as already seen when the Jews intermarried with those involved in idolatry and various pagan practices. Also of significant impact are the Persian beliefs in astrology and the occult. As a result, when many Jews read their Scriptures in this postexilic period, they attach special meanings to any passage dealing with demons and angels, or light and darkness. The Torah is gradually being mystified in the eyes of many. A good example is found in the apocryphal book of Tobit, in which Persian Zoroastrianism and pagan demons are promoted. One of the most disastrous influences of Persian origin is the belief that God is an aloof, impersonal god. It does not take long for any Jew, or non-Jew for that matter, who accepts this notion to have difficulty with Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be called Immanuel – that is , God with us. Witth these and other cultural threats becoming increasingly apparent, the more orthodox Jews take steps to combat the pagan influences. And yet, ironically, the steps they are not particularly in the direction of the very law they are trying to preserve. They too are victims of their strange environment. Under the law, the temple is to be the center of their of their sacrificial form of worship, and priests have the responsibility of teaching the law to each generation. Yet during the exile, and even after its end in areas other than Palestine, there is no temple, and sacrificing is often politically impossible. Substituting as best they can, the faithful begin to empathize prayer and the inward sacrifice of the heart. The temple is replaced by an institution known as the synagogue, where the people gather for singing, prayer, and discussion of God’s laws. Ezekiel’s house in Tel Abib of Babylonia may have been a prototype, and Ezra’s assembly for the reading of the law may have given impetus to the synagogue movement even in the shadow of the reconstructed temple. And the further away from Jerusalem one might go at this time, the more synagogues he would find. The synagogues themselves foster changes in the Jewish religion. First to be noticed is the declining role of the priest, and his replacement by those known as rabbis. This rabbis are men whose superior knowledge of the law has set them in position of great respect as the teachers in the synagogues. The fact that they gain such respect, oddly enough, leads to a second, and most significant, link in the evolution of Judaism. That link is the rise of sectarianism. The synagogues lend themselves readily to both special-interest groups and different schools of thought which no longer under the direct influence of the priestly line of authority. Another extension of the rabbinical movement is the development of the many written interpretations of the rabbis and the often greater importance attached to these writings than to those of the Torah itself. The first collections of these writings, known as the Midrash, is closely linked to the Torah. However, later collection will begin to incorporate oral traditions without such direct ties. One final important development at this time is the beginning of so called remnant theology. With paganism and secularism bringing about a compromised theology, the more orthodox are beginning to think the unthinkable. Perhaps there are Jews who are “erring Jews” – which, when interested, really means they are not true Jews at all! Of course this radical idea hardly touches ground before the next logical question is asked: who then is the faithful remnant? Predictably enough, each of the sects believes that its own special teachings and understandings of the law qualify them – and perhaps only them. The irony of all that there are those in Palestine who also take up the faithful – remnant cry. They in turn condemn even the more orthodox Jews in Babylonia for not returning to the land of promise and, presumably, for abandoning temple worship in favor of these unauthorized synagogues! As all these changes are starting to have their impact on Judaism, the Persian Empire is slowly crumbling around the Jews in Palestine and those who are dispersed. From the time of Artaxerxes’ death, in 424 B.C., the Persian throne is both shaky and bloodstained. Over the following century, intrigue, assassinations, and coup after coup will take place in Susa. The final fall of the empire will come in 330 B.C. at the hands of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Under Persian dominance they have had both relative peace and official cooperation – even encouragement. In the years to come they will not always be so blessed.
Hellenism and the Jews: Even before the fall of the Persian forces under Darius III at the great Battle of Arbela, Alexander sweeps through Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. It is during this time that he finally and completely destroys the city of Tyre, ending any doubt as to whether Ezekiel’s prophecy would be fulfilled. He also estimates a new city on the Nile to take its place. That city, appropriately named Alexandria, will become a significant center of Greek influence. And because a large number of Jews will eventually be citizens of Alexandria, the Greek Hellenistic culture will have a profound effect on both the Jewish people and their religion for centuries to come. Therefore, by 332 B.C. Jews in both Egypt and Palestine are feeling the effects of still another foreign dominance. Apparently Alexander permits the Jews in Palestine a measure of self-rule, and generally views them with favor. In later centuries, Alexander’s military victories will become legendary. After crushing the Persians, Alexander pushes on as far as the Ganges River in India, thus linking together for the first time the cultures of both East and West. For a God who works through history, this may well be a providential step in the divine plan, because along with Alexander’s military dominance goes the Hellenistic culture, and along with the culture goes the koine Greek language. Its universality in future years will be of the Messiah’s coming. When Alexander dies, in 323 B.C., there is a classic power struggle and land grab among his generals. In brief, the Ptolemies take control over Egypt and the Seleucids end up with Syria. It does not take long to realize who is caught in the middle – the Jews in Palestine. Ptolemy I captures Jerusalem and takes a number of Jews to colonize Alexandria. He gives them full citizenship and encourages Jewish scholarship. Here for the first time many Jewish intellectuals come under the influence of Greek philosophy with its logic and abstract concepts. The effects will soon be seen. In addition, Alexandria becomes the source of several of the apocryphal writings. Perhaps the reign of Ptolemy II, who commissions a Greek translation of the Old Testament for the great library at Alexandria. Over the next 300 years this Greek version, known the Septuagint, will virtually replace the use of the Hebrew manuscripts. While the Ptolemies and their Hellenism are proving to be many ways advantageous to the Jews, the Seleucids have an altogether different view of how Hellenism ought to be used. And unfortunately they manage to take Palestine away from Ptolemies, at least from time to time. Throughout the second century B.C. there is a tug-of-war over Palestine which gives the Seleucids on – again control over the Jews there. In 190 B.C. the Seleucid king, Antiochus III, is defeated by an emerging world power – Rome. Rome has victory in 201 B.C. over the famed General Hannibal. Now it has greedy eyes on Greece. In order to concentrate entirely on Greece itself, Rome makes a pact with Antiochus IV and permits continued rule over Syria and Palestine. This Seleucid ruler, whose name is Epiphanes, is one of the cruelest men ever to hold public office. His idea of extending Greek influence and paying the heavy tribute he owes the Roman emperor is not exactly the friendliest gesture to a conquered nation. He begins by selling the office of high priest, then builds a gymnasium for naked athletes, confiscates property, loots the temple, and haughtily sacrifices a pig on a pagan alter he has erected there. The pig may have been the last straw for a group of Jews called cabeans, under the leadership of Mattathias. They begin a running guerilla warfare which lasts from 163 to 163 B.C. Ephiphanes’ response is to massacre 1000 Jewish soldiers in his army who refuse to fight on the Sabbath. With the help of pious Hasidim sect, the Maccabeans finally achieve a Jewish dynasty under John Hyrcanus in 135 B.C. Of course they exercise a fairly tenuous self-rule under the watchful eye of Rome, but for the next three – quarters of a century at least it will be a refreshing break in the action for a beleaguered nation of Jews. As they savor the temporary return to power which they have achieved, and reflect on some 50 years of brutal persecution, the Jews surely must be thinking more and more about their national destiny. At this point they have come a long way from the early days of restoration and its hope of a politically strong kingdom. If there were ever any doubts what kind of Messiah is needed, they are agone now. It is clear that what Israel needs now is a strong political and military leader – perhaps someone like Alexander the Great. After all, it is only a matter of time before the Romans are free to turn their attention to Palestine. And when they do, even the brave Maccabeans will be mo match for the Roman legions. Without doubt, the Jews’ only hope is the coming of the conquering king they have been promised, and what better time then now? It may be this very thinking which, just over a century from now, will be a significant factor in how the Jews of that day react to an unassuming man of peace who claimed to be king.
Judaism Under Roman Rules: In 63 B.C. the inevitable happens. Under General Pompey the Romans invade Palestine and capture Jerusalem. But a measure of self-rule remains while Pompey and his former ally, Julius Caesar, turn against each other in a power struggle. Pompey is defeated in 48 B.C. In the next year Caesar appoints Antipater as procurator over Judea, as Palestine is now known, and is himself assassinated in 44 B.C. After Caesar’s friend Antony appoints Antipator’s son Herod as tetrach of Galilee, the Hasmoneans briefly revolt and force Herod to his fortress at Masada, near the Dead Sea. When Herod manages to get to Rome, Antony names him king of Judea and proceeds to resubdue the province so that Herod can establish his rule. Between 37 B.C. and 30 B.C. political intrigue and more wars will bringto the Egyptian stage the lazr and more famous of all the Ptolemies – Cleopatra. As a Greek ruler she poses the last real threat to Roman dominance. Her marriage to Antony is legendary, along with their battle of Actium in 31 B.C., where bothlose their lives to Caesar’s nephew and adopted son, Octavian. Judea is not greatly affected by these Roman fights, and Harod retains his control of Judea ubder Octavian. In 27 B.C. the Roman Senate gives Octavian the title of Augustus, and it is this Augustus Caesar who gets credit for founding the Roman Empire with its Pax Roman Peace. For the next two centuries the civilized world will enjoy unprecedented peace, prosperity, and, for the most part, good civil government under Roman rule. It causes one to think again of a God who is working through history to look back and see what an ideal time this is for the divine events about to happen in Judea, and later throughout the whole empire. Meanwhile, Herod carries Jewish favor by restoring the temple in Jerusalem, which had been virtually destroyed by King Epiphanes. Despite this, when he dies a number of prominent Jews are to be killed so that there will be a time of national mourning! In the meantime he is so obsessed with the security of his throne that he virtually eliminated any possible contenders. He has his favorite wife executed, and “playfully” drowns his young brother-in-law, Aristobulus. It is no wonder, then, that news ofvthe birth of a Jewish “king” will not be received with enthusiasm. Herod will not be the only one to greet any such news with distress. Ironically, many of the Jews themselves will have serious doubts. To understand their doubts, it is necessary to understand who the Jews are religiously at this point in history. The sectarianism which began after the exile has increased and solidified at this time. The secta are as much political and cultural as they are religious. The Pharisees have become mastersof the oral traditions which have come down from the rabbis over the past four centuries. They are enamored with interpretations and legalistic hypotheticals which do not necessarily have to be answered with reference to the Torah. Although they probably would not acknowledge it, apparently for the Pharisees tradition is on a par with the law itself. That fact takes on added significance when it is coupled with the belief that one earns merit with God by scrupulously observing every technicality of law and tradition. And yet the Pharisees have broad support among the common people, particularly because they hold to a belief in life after death which some of the other sects now deny. With this popular support many Pharisees have been chosen for high government positions, including the Sanhedrin, which is the highest tribunal of the Jews. The second major sect is kmown ascthe Sadducees. They are closely associated with the Greek intellectual movement arising earlier out of the Alexandrian community, and have adopted the Epicurean belief that the soul dies with the body. They do not believe in a resurrection. Somewhat curiously, the Sadducees reject oral tradition and accept only the written law, but they readily apply their Hellenistic logic to their understanding of the Torah. Many more sects also have come into being, including the radical pious ones, called Essences, the openly rebellious Zealots, the politically active Herodians, and the Samaritans, whose hybrid religion continues from centuries past. Found throughout several of the traces of Persian mysticism, Greek humanism, patriotic Judaism, and time-honored ritualistic traditions. In their religious beliefs and practices, the Jews have come a long way from Mount Sinai.