Between the prophecy of Malachi and the arrival of John the Baptist, a 400-year period of “silence” ensued. We typically refer to that period as a time of silence because Israel heard nothing from God or any of God’s prophets. But that’s not to say the Bible is silent about those 400 years.
I know I’m stepping into eschatology (end times) controversies, but Daniel 11 provides insight into what happened during that period of time between the Old and New Testaments.
However, this is not an exposition of Daniel 11, but a summary of world events which related to Israel. I’ll leave you to read Daniel’s prophecy for yourself and compare it with this timeline.
445 BC – Jerusalem rebuilding finished
The Jews’ Babylonian captivity had ended. Cyrus II of Persia had allowed them to return home. The temple had been rebuilt. Finally, under the leadership of Nehemiah, the rebuilding of Jerusalem was complete. Israel was small and struggling, but once again independent.
331 BC – The Medo-Persians conquered
The philosopher, Socrates, had a star pupil named, Plato. Plato had a star pupil named, Aristotle. Aristotle believed deeply in the ideal of unity. His star pupil, Alexander the Great, had his own ideas as to how to accomplish unity in the world. It started with global domination.
Alexander not only brought down the powerful Medo-Persian empire, but he also was very successful in spreading Greek culture (Hellenism) all across the Earth. His plan was to unify everyone under the same civil power as well as in every aspect of science and culture (i.e. language, philosophy, and so on).
327 BC – Alexander the Great died
When Alexander died while in Babylon, eight of his generals fought for control of the empire. In the end, Alexander’s kingdom was divided among two major groups: the Ptolemies and the Seleucids.
320 BC – Palestine annexed by Ptolemies
Israel sat between the Ptolemies to the South (Egypt) and the Seleucids to the North (Syria). It wasn’t long before Ptolemy I took control of the entire region of Palestine.
198 BC – Seleucids took over Palestine
Antiochus III of the Seleucids eventually wrangled Palestine away from his enemies to the South. With an even greater passion for Hellenism, Antiochus III imposed the culture on the Jews by force. This lead to the formation of orthodox groups in Israel like the Hasideans and later groups like the Pharisees. Their desire was to combat the influence of Hellenism and preserve Israel’s heritage and beliefs.
175 BC – Antiochus IV’s anti-Jewish program
Antiochus IV, or Antiochus Epiphanes (the manifest god) as he was known, was radically anti-Jewish. He made observing the Sabbath, performing circumcisions, and reading the holy scriptures capital crimes worthy of death. In 167 BC, he dropped the straw which broke the camel’s back by allowing a pig to be sacrificed in the Jerusalem temple. The people of Israel could not stand for it any longer.
164 BC – The Maccabean Revolt
Recent historians have suggested the Maccabean Revolt did not begin as a revolution against Antiochus but rather as a civil war between Hellenistic Jews and orthodox Jews. Regardless, Judas Maccabeus and others successfully won Israel’s sovereignty. The rededication of the temple following the war is still remembered by Jews today in their Hanukkah (“dedication”) observance.
63 BC – Roman domination
Palestine freedom was lost once again when Pompey of Rome conquered Jerusalem. Just 23 years later, Marc Antony and Rome’s first emperor, Octavius (later known as Caesar Augustus), appointed Herod the Great to be a vassal king over the Jews. Even though Herod rebuilt the temple and founded an impressive dynasty, he was a cruel and evil man.
Combine this brief historical account with the history contained within the pages of the Old Testament and perhaps you will have a greater understanding of the people, events, and stories of the gospels.