By Dr. B. H. Carroll
Late President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminar, Fort Worth, Texas
Edited by Dr. Ronald D. Lesley for Fundamental Baptist Institute
The Medo-Persian Empire established by Cyrus lasted about 200 years—to be exact, 207 years. But from the close of the Old Testament Judah was under the Persian rule about 100 years.
The first great event of the inter-biblical period under Medo-Persian rule ‘was the building of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim, and the establishment of a rival Jehovah worship. It was brought about in this wise: The last chapter of Nehemiah says this (pretty vigorous language, too,):
In these days also I saw that the Jews of the land had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab; and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people. And I contended with them, and crushed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons, or for yourselves. . . . And one of the sons of the high priest, Eliashib, was son-in-law to Sanballat, the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me.—NEHEMIAH 13:23-28.
That started the event that I am going to tell about. It ends the Old Testament, but it started the event. The woman that Eliashib had married was very beautiful, as famous in her day as Helen of Troy. Eliashib went to his father-in-law, Sanballat, and said, "I must give up either my priesthood or my wife, but I do not want to lose either." Sanballat says, "I will manage it for you. I will build you a temple here on Mount Gerizim, and you shall be the high priest of that temple." And he carried out his promise. That temple was built. They worshiped Jehovah, and they had for their Bible the Pentateuch only, though the text of the Samaritan Pentateuch does not agree literally with tie Hebrew Pentateuch, but nearly so. They admit, as historical value, the book of Joshua. Now, there was a Jehovah religion, with its temple, with its high priest, and with its Bible, within a few miles of Jerusalem. About 107 B.C., John Hyrcanus, one of the descendants of the Maccabees, and next to Judas Maccabeus one of the greatest of them, not only destroyed that temple, but also destroyed the city of Samaria, as he says: "So that a visitor could not even find where that city had stood"—but we will learn all about that later. I am just telling now what became of that rival temple. The destruction of the temple, however, did not stop the feud. It existed in New Testament times. In John 4 we find our Lord talking with a woman of Samaria, who insists that the worship of God ought to be upon Mount Gerizim. In the life of our Lord the Samaritans would always welcome the Jews passing through going north, but would not give any shelter to a Jew going south to worship at the temple. Because Christ was refused shelter in passing south, that son of thunder, John, wanted to call down fire from heaven on them. So that was a marvelous event as bearing on the subsequent history of the Jews. It came about in connection, as many things do, with a pretty woman.
The second great event of the inter-biblical period under Persian rule was the union of civil and religious powers in one person by the satrap of the district, making the high priest to be also the governor. The duty of the governor was to collect the tribute coming to the Persian Empire. In order to simplify matters the satrap of Syria made the Jewish high priest governor. The evil consequences, the far-reaching consequences of that act may be gathered, first, from a story in Josephus’ Antiquities book XI, chapter 7. He shows that when Eliashib, the high priest, died he left two eons, Johanan the elder and Joshua the younger. Both of these wanted to be high priest, because to be high priest was also to be governor. Johanan was the one entitled to it, but a very influential general of the Persian king, Bagoses, had promised the high priesthood to the younger, son whenever the vacancy occurred, whereupon, in a row in the temple itself, Joshua the younger son was killed. The Persian general came and started to enter the temple, and they stopped him. He said, "Will I defile your temple any more than the man you murdered here in the temple?" And he put this kind of a tax on them: Fifty shekels for every lamb that was offered in sacrifice. Of course, that was a great deal more than the price of the lamb—it was 200 or 300 per cent more, and as they offered thousands of lambs we can imagine only what that tax was. It was a window tax that Victor Hugo went wild over, France taxing light, that is, the poor people could not have windows in their houses because, for every window in the house they had to pay so much more tax. So to tax the very offerings of religion was a tremendous innovation. Sup-pose every time we gave a dollar to missions, the state should tax us three dollars. That would dry up the source of contribution pretty soon, wouldn’t it?
The first evil was in uniting the civil and the religious powers in one person. And the second evil was, that whenever we begin to unite church and state, the state may say, "I have the right to tax all contributions of the church." The third and greatest evil that arose was that the state, from this precedent, began to claim the right to appoint the high priest, claiming that the leader of religion must be appointed by the state.
The next great evil was that the office of high priest became a matter of barter and sale. The one who controlled the revenues, just so he satisfied the central government, could keep just as much as he pleased in his own pocket. For instance, if the Persian governor needed a revenue, say $100,000 a year, and this high priest were to tax them $300,000, he could send the state $100,000 and keep $200,000. Later on in the history this fearful precedent, established at this time, had evil effects more far reaching. In Christ’s time, there were two living high priests. Whoever was governor would claim the right to appoint the high priest. Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas, were both high priests. In order to illustrate the thought: What if the Tarrant County judge claimed the right to appoint all the pastors of the churches in the county? What if the governor claimed the right to appoint our superintendent of missions, or the president of our convention?
The third event of the inter-biblical period was the overthrow of the Medo-Persian Empire by Alexander the Great, consummated 330 B. C. The several periods of the struggle between the Greeks and the Persians were as follows:
Period the First: Before the Greeks were united into one government under Phillip II, king of Macedonia. This period extends from 500 B.C. to 336 B.C. The three Persian kings most concerned were Darius I, son of Hystaspis, Xerxes the Great, who married Esther; and Artaxerxes Mnemon, the last only coming within the period. Under Darius I, as I briefly discussed in the preceding chapters, came the defeat of the Persians 200,000 strong by the Athenians under Miltiades, 20,000 strong, at the battle of Marathon, right under the walls of Athens on the plain touching the sea.
Under Xerxes the Great, as I have already said, were gathered an army of 2,000,000 men for the invasion of Greece. There were 1,800,000 by measurement, not by counting. Ten thousand were made to stand in the smallest square possible, the space was marked off, and then, without any more counting, was filled 180 times. The great battles of this invasion were, first the defense of the pass at Thermopylae by Leonidas and his Spartans; second, the decisive defeat of the Persians in the great sea fight at Salamis by the Athenian general, Themistocles; third, the decisive defeat of the Persian land forces at Platea.
The battle of Marathon made such an impression on the young men of Athens that when a man said to Themistocles:
"Why is it you cannot sleep? You are restless all night long," he said, "The honors of Miltiades will not let me sleep." I have often quoted that to show the inspiring effect of a great action on the mind of young men; how an achievement by one will suggest and stimulate a like achievement by others. The Persian fleet was almost entirely destroyed.
Now, under Artexerxes Mnemon occurred a great battle east of the Euphrates River, at Cunaxa, against his brother Cyrus —Cyrus the younger. Cyrus rebelled against his brother, Artaxerxes Mnemon. He wanted to be king of Persia, and having found out how the Greeks could fight, he hired 11,000 Greeks for his army. In this great battle east of the Euphrates River, in the first charge, Cyrus was killed and all of his army defeated except the 11,000 Greeks. They swept away everybody that stood in front of them, but when the fight was over, there stood 10,000 Greeks with half a million men around them, but they would not surrender. They were asked to parley, and their generals, under a flag of truce, went to confer with the Persians and the Persians killed them. And that body of Greeks, now without officers, elected new officers, and the most masterly retreat in any history is the retreat of that body of 10,000 Greeks. We find the history of it in Xenophon’s Anabasis. That column of Greeks on their march from the Euphrates to the Black Sea, going over an entirely new country, and without ever breaking ranks or being whipped in a fight, they• got safely back home. It was a great enterprise. The effect of that battle was far greater than all the others I have mentioned. It left the impression on the Greek mind that the Persians were very vulnerable, and that the Greeks could whip them under any fair circumstances, and suggested the unity of• the Greek states with the view to the destruction of the Persian Empire.
Period the Second: The conquest of Alexander the Great from 336 B.C. to 323 B.C. This is a very short time. Phillip II, king of Macedonia, united the petty Greek states into one government with himself as the commander-in-chief, and made preparations to invade Persia, but was assassinated by an enemy in 336 B.C. His nineteen-year-old boy, Alexander, succeeded him, and he devoted about a year to continuing the preparations of his father, and that same year the last Persian king came to the throne, Darius III Codomannus. Here is a world-ruling empire; there is a nineteen-year-old boy. In the spring of 334 B. C., Alexander crossed the Hellespont. Soon after crossing the Hellespont he met the Persian army at the river Granicus. Indeed, he had to ford the river to get to them. But his men, when he plunged into the stream himself, forded the river and utterly routed the much larger Persian army on the other side. That was the spring of 334 B. C. He devoted a little over a year to conquering Asia Minor, and as he moved eastward he safeguarded the seaports on the Mediterranean. In 333 B., C., that is, the next year after he started, he met the great army of Darius in a pass in the mountains between Cilicia and Syria, at Issus. It was a pass between the mountains; the mountains went up on one side and the sea was on the other. Alexander, with an equal front, cared nothing how many deep the Persians were packed. The Persian army was almost annihilated, and the mother, wife, daughter, and camp equip-age of Darius were captured.
Instead of going right on to Babylon, he determined to make all the Mediterranean coast safe, so he turned aside to conquer the city of Tyre, and all the coast cities to Gaza. Then he turned to Jerusalem and received the submission of that city, which I will tell more about directly. Then he went to Egypt and conquered it, and built a city after his own name at the mouth of the Nile, and called it Alexander, and it has been a great city from that date to this.
Then, to give the next date, in 331 B.C., he crossed the Euphrates River, and gave the final blow to the power of the Persians in the great battle of Arbela. That is a little east of where ancient Nineveh stood, and in that great battle the Persian power was ground to fine dust. Darius fled, but was soon assassinated. Alexander then turned south, and in 330 B. C. he made his triumphal entrance into Babylon. But that did not satisfy him. He marched out still into the Far East, conquering and exploring, and building cities in Afghanistan and Bokhara, crossed the great river, Indus, and conquered the Punjab section of India, and would have gone on to the other ocean but his old veterans said they did not want to go any further. So he turned around, and in 324 B. C. he re-entered Babylon to make it the capital of his empire—and the next year he died from taking too big a drink of ardent spirits. There was an immense cup called Hercules, and because somebody said that no man could drink all that was in that vessel at one time, he, believing himself a demigod, drank it all. He never recovered. That was in 323 B.C. When he died he was just thirty-two years old, and no man known to history had such a career— no Caesar, no Hannibal, no Bonaparte—a boy conquered the world in about six years, including much of the country that England now holds in India.
I have given a brief account of his history, and now we come to the important part about him—his touch with the Jews living in Jerusalem during the inter-biblical period. I will follow the account here given by Josephus. While Alexander was besieging Tyre he wrote a letter to the high priest and governor at Jerusalem, demanding that he send auxiliary troops and supplies. Jaddua replied, "I have taken the oath of allegiance to Darius. I cannot do it." Alexander said nothing, but kept it in his mind. The Samaritans sent the supplies. As soon as he had conquered Gaza he determined to look in on that Jerusalem that would refuse him. When Jaddua heard that Alexander was approaching, he formed a great procession of the priesthood and himself in full regalia, according to the Aaronic custom, marching at the head of it and holding the sacred Scriptures, without a sword or spear, coming simply with the Word of God.
The conquer, of the world and the high priest met. Alexander’s generals expected him to order them all to instant execution. Instead he leaped down from his horse, approached and saluted the high priest with great respect, walked with him back into the city, and paid for the sacrifices to be offered according to the Jewish law, and then turned to the high priest and said, "Ask me what you. will."
The high priest said, "Our people plant no crops the seventh
year; exempt us from tribute on the sabbatic year."
He said, "Granted."
"Our people want to enjoy our own religion in our own way."
"Our brethren of the dispersion in Babylon and Media, where you are going, want to enjoy their religion in their own
"Can we enter your army on a footing of equality?"
"Granted, and I will transport a number of you to Egypt where I am going, and when I build a city there I will give you a separate section of the city to be known as the Jewish quarter."
[Subsequent histories of certain cities tell us of the Jewish
quarter. Tacitus, Paul, and the Roman poets tell us about it.1
"In your own quarter of the city you may elect your own
magistrates, and have your religion as you wish it."
Parmenio, the leading general of Alexander, was astounded, and in explanation Alexander said:
"While I was in Macedon, before I started on this expedition, and was studying in my mind about this movement, one night I slept, and in my dream I saw this very man in this very dress he is wearing now, come to me and say, ‘Hesitate not; cross the Hellespont; the Persians will fall before you.’"
And it is a remarkable fact that in Babylon and in every part of the country that he swayed he gave many privileges tothe Jews.
Daniel represents the transition of empire from Persian to Grecian as follows: In Daniel 2:32 he makes the body and thighs of brass of that luminous image seen by Nebuchadnezzar represent Greece, and in 7:6 the vision of the leopard with four wings, he makes Greece. And in 8:5 (we find all Grecian history for centuries forecast in Daniel), he says,
And as I was considering, behold a he-goat came from the west over the face of the whole earth and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had the two horns, which I saw standing before the river, and ran upon him in the fury of his power. And I saw him come close unto the ram and he was moved with anger against him, and break his two hems; and there was no power in the ram to stand before him; but be cast him down to the ground, and trampled upon him; and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand.
We will come to the four horns later, but just now I give the
account that relates to the breaking of the one horn, the notable
And the he-goat magnified himself exceedingly, and when he was strong the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four notable horns toward the four winds of heaven.
1. How long lasted the Medo-Persian Empire established by Cyrus?
2. From the close of the Old Testament how long was Judah under the Persian rule?
3. What the first great event of the inter-biblical period under Persian Nile, and how was it brought about?
4. When and by whom was this temple destroyed, and did the destruction of the temple end the feud?
5.What and when the second great event in the inter-biblical period under Persian rule, how was it brought about, what its far-reaching developments, and what its evil?
6. What the third great event of the inter-biblical period, and how and when brought about?
7. What the first period of the struggle between the Greeks and the Persians and who the Persian kings most concerned?
8. What the author's experience in learning Greek history?
9. What the relative sizes of the Grecian and Persian armies in this struggle, and what the great battles of the invasion of Xerxes?
10. Describe the battle of Cunaxa and the results.
11. What the second period of the struggle between the Greeks and the Persians?
12. Describe the various conquests of Alexander the Great, and his death.
13. What the relation between Alexander and the Jews, how illustrated and what Alexander’s own explanation of it?
14. how does Daniel represent the transition of empires from the Persians to the Grecians