In order to understand the difference between what the prophets of the Hebrew Bible proclaimed, and what came to be the views of apocalyptic Jews, I need to sketch a set of historical events that the people of Israel had to live through. Without this kind of historical knowledge, you simply will not understand ancient Judaism at the time of Jesus. That is to say, you really have to know what happened among ancient Jews in order to make sense of what their theological beliefs were, since these beliefs were molded by and informed by nothing so much as the historical context out of which they emerged.
And so here is a very brief sketch of the history of Judea over the four hundred years from approximately 540 BCE, when the Persians were in control, up to 63 BCE, when the Romans came in and took over. I’ve taken the sketch from my textbook, The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction.
The Later History of Judea
In the Persian period (starting in the late 6th century BCE), the land of Judah came be a province called Judea. This will be its name in the time of the New Testament. So too, as we have seen, inhabitants of this land, and descendants of former inhabitants who maintained their ancestral religious and cultural traditions, were called Judeans, or Jews.
The Persian empire was to last for about two hundred years. In the mid- to late-fourth century, Greece, to the west, rose to prominence, especially under the leadership of Alexander of Macedonia, otherwise known to history as Alexander the Great. We will learn more about Alexander in chapter 9, as, somewhat ironically, his conquests proved to be more important for early Christianity than they were for the Hebrew Bible. Here suffice it to say that Alexander and his armies went on a massive campaign to the east, conquering Egypt and the Levant, and eventually the entire Persian empire, by 330 CE. Eventually they got as far east as the eastern edge of modern day India, before turning back.
Alexander was himself, culturally, Greek (although he was himself from Macedonia). He actually had the great Greek philosopher Aristotle (disciple of Plato, disciple of Socrates) as his private tutor when he was young – he considered Greek culture to be superior to all others. One of his goals was not simply to establish a worldwide empire, but also to
This is key historical information. You can’t understand ancient Judaism without it. I hope you can join the blog and learn more! Click here for membership options