Between the Testaments

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

A Class on Biblical History


Lesson # 3

THE JEWS UNDER GREEK RULE, FROM THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER  THE GREAT TO THE TIME JUDEA PASSED FROM THE RULE OF THE PTOLEMIES OF EGYPT TO THE RULE OF THE SELEUCIDS AT ANTIOCH

368 B. C. to 198 B. C.

This chapter covers a period of 125 years. We have briefly considered in the preceding chapter, first, the struggle between the petty Greek states and the Persians, until the consolidation of the Greek power under Phillip II, king of Macedonia, who was assassinated 336 B.C.; and second, the consummation of that struggle at the battle of Arbela, the overthrow of the Persian Empire, and the conquest of the world by Alexander the Great, who died at Babylon 323 B.C. We found Alexander to be the greatest of all military conquerors in the annals of time, whose greatness was largely attributable to one teacher, Aristotle, who had charge of his education from thirteen to sixteen years of age, and to one inspiring book, the greatest of all epics, Homer’s Iliad, which he carried with him in all his wars and explorations, putting it under his camp pillow every night.

What a lesson that is! The power of a great teacher and the power of a great book, as reproduced in a student’s life!

Our concern with this marvelous ancient history is limited to a single inquiry: How did the Greek conquest of the world affect the kingdom of God? We have considered so much of that inquiry as related to Alexander himself and the Jews. We are now to continue the inquiry on the relation of the Jews and Alexander’s successors. Here we are stopped from limiting our investigation to the comparatively few Jews occupying the small territory around Jerusalem, for that territory at this time, and ever since their return from exile, was very small. Later on in this inter-biblical period, we will see an expansion of territory equal to David’s kingdom.

The first thought of the lesson is that with Alexander there came into crystallized use a new term that will largely affect Jewish history for hundreds of years. In fact, it is very prominent during the New Testament period. This term was "Hellenism," or "Hellenistic," which was applied to the Jews of the dispersion, in contrast with the Hebrews living in the Holy Land. The Hellenistic were Grecianized in foreign lands, many of them so Grecianized that they could not even speak, either the Hebrew or the Aramaic language. The modification was not one of language only; the Greek cult influenced them in many ways. We find in Acts 6 and many places elsewhere, that it was a problem in the apostolic church. Some of the New Testament books are addressed exclusively to the Hellenists: James wrote to the twelve tribes of the dispersion in Asia Minor, and the letter to the Hebrews was to the same class. All the other letters of Paul concerned the Hellenists more than the Hebrews of Judea. The Jews of the dispersion constituted the overwhelming majority of the Jewish race. There had been many forced deportations of Jews by conquerors into foreign lands, few of whom ever returned to live in Palestine. Many colonies of Jews, by their own consent, were planted in various parts of the world by the rulers. Then their own restless migrations for the purposes of trade and commerce carried them everywhere. They all, however, regarded Jerusalem as their holy city, and their restored Temple as their center of unity. They paid their Temple tax, and thousands of them from every land went up to the great annual feasts.

At the famous Pentecost, (Acts 2), they were present from every nation under heaven, as that record says—Parthia, Proconsular Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Cyrene, Rome, Crete and Arabia. The Greek influence, mark you, was not limited to the Jews of the dispersion. The small Judea about Jerusalem was circled by Greek cities, multiplying points of contact with the home Jews. In Alexander’s time these environing Greek cities were Gaza, Joppa, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Samaria, Hyppus; east of the Jordan, Scythopolis and Gadara in Galilee; Alexandria and others in Egypt; and under Ptolemy Philadelphus, Ptolemais on the coast was added, and the famous Rabbah of the Ammonites became the Greek Philadelphia.

These Greek cities kept multiplying in the passing years, until Jerusalem was ring-fired by them, and there was no resisting the Greek culture. So powerful was it that it conquered Rome after Rome had conquered the Grecian Empire. Generally, under the Greek rule, as it had been generally under the Persian rule, the Jews enjoyed great privileges, both at home and abroad, under Alexander himself, under Ptolemies, and for a part of the time under the Seleucids at Antioch. Code-Syria, that is, from Lebanon to Egypt, was a Greek province, of which Judea was a part. We now come to

 

THE DIVISION OF ALEXANDER’S EMPIRE

For many years after Alexander’s death there were stormy times in settling the succession. The various provinces were under the most famous of the Greek generals, who battled with each other for the supremacy. When all of Alexander’s children died the issue lay between Antigonus, the old general, on one side, and four other generals combined on the other side, namely: Ptolemy, Seleucus, Lysimachus, and Cassander. This issue was settled in the great battle of Ipsus, in Phrygia, 301 B. c. Antigonus was defeated and slain, and the four conquering generals divided the empire among themselves, that is, Lysimachus and Cassander getting the European part of the empire and the Bosporus, while Ptolemy retained Coele-Syria, which he had already held ever since the death of Alexander. This included Judea. The Ptolemies held Egypt for 300 years, succumbing to the Romans, 30 B. C. Seleucus got for his part all of Asia except Coele-Syria, and built for his capital the famous Antioch at the mouth of the Orontes. There the Seleucids reigned for 250 years, until they were broken up by the Romans, 80 B. c. This was the partition expressed in one verse by Daniel (8:8), where he says the one notable horn being broken off, thee arose four other horns.

Now, because Judea lay directly between Egypt and Antioch, occupying the most strategically position between Asia and Africa-.--if not the most strategical position in the world— it became a bone of contention between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, and thus connecting those monarchies with the kingdom of God. The Ptolemies held Egypt and Coele-Syria, as I have already said, before the original partition, and held it until 198 B. c. They had already been holding it for twenty-two years before the partition, and that partition merely confirmed the position of the Ptolemies. The Ptolemies held Coele-Syria until 198 B. c., which I will tell more particularly about a little later. Then Judea passed under the reign of the Seleucids at Antioch. That was brought about by a great battle near the head of the Jordan River, Paneas, in which the sixth Seleucid, Antiochus III, named the Great, overwhelmingly defeated the general of the fifth Ptolemy, surnamed Epiphanes, and attached Coele-Syria to his kingdom. From that date on the Seleucids held Coele-Syria and Judea until it was freed under the Maccabees—the most heroic part of the Jewish history, which we will consider later.

 

JUDEA UNDER THE PTOLEMIES

We are now to consider Judea under the Ptolemies, from 323 B. C. to 1~ B. c. The plan of administration was partly according to the Greek method, and partly accommodated to Jewish home rile. The high priest, assisted by a council, which afterward became the Sanhedrin, was the local governor, who collected all the taxes due the Ptolemies and remitted them to Egypt. Ptolemy Lagus, surnamed Soter, or Savior, held Judea and Coele-Syria when Alexander died, 323 B. C., and was confirmed in it after the battle of Ipsus, 301 B. c., as he had already been holding it over twenty years. Five Ptolemies have to do with this section, and I will cite only one great event in the reign of each one.

1. The first event touching the Jews was an act of treachery and inhumanity on Ptolemy’s part, which called forth the most sarcastic remarks from Josephus on the misfit of his name, Savior. According to Josephus, he came to Jerusalem on the Sabbath day under the pretense of offering sacrifice to Jehovah, and was received into the city. There installed, he disclosed the purpose of his expedition to be a slave hunt on a large scale. By unresisted violence there and elsewhere in Judea and in the whole of the province, he enslaved many thousands of the Jews, and transplanted them into Egypt.

Josephus quoted a reproach from a Greek historian that so great a city should allow itself to be captured, while so well fortified, on account of a silly superstition of nonresistance on the Sabbath day. The reproach was better justified on another occasion in the later times of the Maccabees, and still later when the Romans besieged Jerusalem. This injustice perpetrated by Ptolemy Soter occurred before the battle of Ipsus, while the war of the four generals against Antigonus was going on. After the partition following that battle, the rule of this first Ptolemy was, on the whole, favorable to the Jews, in both Egypt and Judea. There was no interference with their religion, and they enjoyed many special privileges in the city of Alexandria. The first Ptolemy reigned forty years, that is, from the death of Alexander, 323 B. C.

2. The second great event—and I count it one of the most memorable in the annals of time—(or rather a series of events) occurred in the reign of his successor, Ptolemy Philadelphus. The story as given by Josephus is somewhat too marvelous, though he publishes the original documents of correspondence passing between Ptolemy and the high priest at Jerusalem. This great event was the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek—that famous version known to all subsequent ages as the Septuagint. This was an event of worldwide importance. Greek had become the vernacular of the world. No other language has ever equaled it in expressing delicate shades of thought. The world had now the Hebrew Bible, the Greek Bible, and the Samaritan Bible. In later times there were other Greek versions, but the Septuagint has easily held first. place among the versions in subsequent ages. Christ and the apostles quoted the Greek text oftener than the Hebrew. The name is derived from the number of the translators, seventy (or strictly, 72). This version is an expression of the relation between Hel1enism and Hebraism.

The history of the version is on this wise: The Greeks the world over were noted for literature, arts, philosophy, rhetoric, oratory, and architecture. And this Ptolemy Philadelphus had gathered at Alexandria the world’s greatest library and museum. Alexandria became the world’s greatest city of learning. It was proposed to place in this famous library the Greek version of the Hebrew sacred books. But as the Jews jealously guarded the manuscripts of their sacred Scriptures, an expedient to gain their confidence was suggested, to wit: That Ptolemy, out of his own revenues, redeem from bondage, not only the great multitude of Jews enslaved by his father, Ptolemy Soter, but all Jewish slaves in Egypt, whether brought into bondage before or since that time, including their children, to the number of more than 100,000. He paid cash to the owners of the slaves and redeemed all of them. What a contrast with the Pharaoh ruling Egypt in Moses’ time!

Second, that he donate many precious utensils and priceless jewels for the Temple furniture. Third, that he make a large cash contribution for the purchase of sacrifices at Jerusalem. Fourth, that he send an honorable embassy announcing his generosities, and carrying a written petition from the king addressed to the high priest, and all the translators to be his honored guests in Alexandria while they were translating, and then to be dismissed with great honors and precious gifts to each of the scholars.

 

It is evident from the records that’ only a version of the Pentateuch was originally contemplated, but once undertaken it finally included all the sacred books, and other Jewish literature besides. The translation began 250 B. C., and all the Pentateuch was translated in a few days, but it was not completed in all its parts until seventy-five or 100 years later. The latter part is very much inferior to the first work done, and it, moreover, included Jewish literature never considered by the Jews as a part of their sacred books. The Ptolemies were after books for their library, whether profane or sacred. Josephus makes a very clear distinction between the sacred Jewish books and other Jewish literature.

If only half the details given by Josephus be true—if we allow much for exaggeration—there is nothing in human history to compare with it. The story of Jerome’s Vulgate and King James Version are tame beside it. Ptolemy Philadelphus stands immortalized as a manumitter of slaves, and as a promoter of learning, and is entitled to more enduring fame than any Greek whatsoever.

But this great enterprise did not work altogether for good, because it was through the Septuagint, followed by the Vulgate, that Romanists got their apocryphal additions to the Old Testament, of which I gave an account in a preceding chapter, and it was from the Septuagint that the Greek Catholic Church got the same apocryphal additions. The Reformation restored the sanctity of the Hebrew Scriptures as the Jews themselves held it. Yet to the Greeks are we indebted for that beginning of translation which today gives to every nation our Bible in its own tongue. The story of the versions is one of the most thrilling in the annals of time.

One of the most pleasing parts of the story of Josephus is the account of the impression made on the mind of the great king by his reading of the Pentateuch in Greek. He was profoundly stirred by the sublime and divine majesty of that holy law. How incomparably superior to his Homer, Xenophon, Herodotus, Thucydides, Demosthenes, Socrates, Plato, Zeno, Aristotle, and Epicurus. So ever to great and dispassionate minds do God’s holy words appear. If Socrates, without gospel light, was a seeker after God, according to Acts 17:26-27, surely Ptolemy Philadelphus, who walked in the light when he saw it, was nigh the kingdom of God, and we may at least indulge the hope that through God’s grace in Christ, both of these illustrious heathen may appear in the heavenly kingdom.

3. The third great event, or series of events, of Jewish history under the rule of Egypt occurred in the reign of the third Ptolemy, surnamed Euergetes, 247 B. C. to 222 B. C. The Jewish high priest, Onias II, as Josephus says, was a man of "very little soul," obstinate as a mule, and a contemptible miser who flatly refused to send any tribute to Ptolemy. In vain Ptolemy threatened; in vain the people protested that they would lose their nation and their holy city. This bull-headed priest said, "I don’t care; let it bring ruin." He was not going to pay out any money to Ptolemy—and it was not his money, either. This brought on a crisis in Jewish affairs. His nephew, Joseph, a son of Tobias, was allowed to save the situation by an expedient that was a bad precedent, and entailed many disasters. This young Joseph went to Egypt, gained the favor of the king, and modestly had himself appointed assessor and collector of the king’s revenue in the whole province of Coele-Syria, which included Judea, at a high fixed rental. Backed by an adequate corps of Egyptian troops he returned, and by violent and oppressive methods farmed the revenue for twenty-two years. He would go to a place and select the names of the wealthiest citizens and confiscate their property until he got revenue from that place. In this way he combined in himself absolute power, both civil and ecclesiastical. Ptolemy got his revenue all right from these abundant confiscations, and Joseph in the meantime feathered well his own nest.

4. The fourth notable event under the Ptolemies was the alienation of the Jews from the Egyptian rule. There had been a smouldering fire against Egypt on account of the methods of Joseph, the son of Tobiah, in collecting revenue. Such methods will always bring revolt, if not revolution, and this prepared the way in the hearts of many Jews for swapping masters. An opportunity was presented in the bitter war being waged between the sixth Seleucid, Antiochus III, surnamed the Great, who reigned 223 B. c. to 187 B. c. and the Ptolemies. In the great battle between them, fought at Raphia, near Gaza, 217 B. c., Antiochus was defeated. Ptolemy, resenting the favors shown by some of the Jews to Antiochus, now thoroughly alienated the whole Jewish nation by two acts:

1. He went up to Jerusalem and outraged their religious feelings by thrusting himself into the most holy place of the Temple, from which he fled, as Josephus says, in superstitious terror as if he had seen some awful apparition.

2. On his return to Egypt he aggravated the general Jewish resentment by cruelty and oppression of the Jews there—quite an unusual thing for a Ptolemy to do. That is, all the ground gained in the Jewish favor under Ptolemy Philadelphus was now lost.

5. The fifth and last series of events of the period of this section was the damage done the Jews by Scopas, the general of the fifth Ptolemy, surnamed Epiphanes. With fire and sword and confiscation he swept the land. But in the decisive battle of Paneas, near the head of the Jordan, 198 B. C., Antiochus overwhelmingly defeated Scopas, and marched to Jerusalem, received him with open arms. And so Judea was lost to Egypt and passed under the rule of the Seleucids at Antioch.

 

QUESTIONS

 

1. What teacher and what book most shaped the character of Alexander the Great?

2. What concern have we with all this ancient Greek history?

3. What the extent of Judea at this time?

4. Where the overwhelming majority of the Jews?

5 What new tam came in with Alexander, and what the explanation of it.

6. Give some New Testament traces of it.

7. What cause had brought about the dispersion?

8. What their relation to Jerusalem?

9. Explain ho, Judea itself was somewhat Hellenized.

10. What the extent of the province of Coele-Syria?

11. Under what Greek general was it when Alexander died, and how long did his successors hold it?

12. Tell about the division of Alexander’s Empire, the battle that decided it, and when and where fought.

13. How does Daniel in one verse foretell this partition?

14. Name the four Greek generals and the part of the empire each received.

15. With which two only are we concerned, and why?

16. How long did the Ptolemies hold Egypt, and to whom did its control pass?

17. How long did the Seleucids hold Antioch, and to whom did its control pass?

18. What the name of the first Ptolemy, and how long did he reign?

19. What great event of his reign touched Judea, and was it before or after the battle of Ipsus?

20. What unjust reproach was cast upon the Jews and Jerusalem by a Greek historian concerning this event?

21. What the second great event under the Ptolemies, and what the remarkable story as told by Josephus?

22. When did this work of translation commence, to what extent was it originally limited, and bow enlarged, and when completed?

23. What the effect on Ptolemy’s mind in reading the Pentateuch in Greek?

24. What place in history do these events give Ptolemy?

25. What the importance of this version?

26. Why were apocryphal books included?

27. What the subsequent evil of this inclusion?

28. What third great event under the Ptolemies, and what its evil consequences?

29. What notable event under the fourth Ptolemy, and how brought about?

30. What the events under the fifth Ptolemy, and where and when was the decisive battle fought which transferred Judea to the rule of the

Seleucids?

QUESTIONS

1. Tell the stay of the fate of the great library at Alexandria.

2. Cite some corrupt doctrines taught in the apocryphal books, and yet fostered by Romanists.

3. How does Josephus distinguish between the sacred books and other Jewish literature? Quote the passage.

4. How does Josephus make out the twenty-two sacred books so as to include the whole Old Testament, and how do other Jews make them twenty-four?

5. What other translations of the Old Testament into Greek besides the Septuagint?

6. Origen bad in parallel column six texts called the Hexapla: What were the six texts?

 

 
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

Table of Contents | Next