Judea from 400 BC to 100 ADby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
Describe the political situation in Judea from 400 BC to 100 AD. What effect did Greek philosophy, Hellenism and Roman policies have on religious freedom?
The political situation in Judah during 400 B.C. to 100 A.D. was tremulous and a tinderbox ready to combust into a spark which brought the Gospel around the world. Religious freedom went from almost none at all, to almost total, to somewhere in between. War was frequent through the entire time. Judah fought against Greece, the Syrians, the Romans, and often each other. Through all this the Jews fought to keep their identity and not be assimilated into the mass culture.
In 334 B.C. Alexander the Great conquered the Near East. With the conquering he brought Hellenism to Judah. Greek philosophy differs from Jewish philosophy in many ways. Greek philosophy accepts no revelation as ultimate, has a sense of reason, and appreciates the holiness of beauty. Jewish philosophy has reliance on an omnipotent God, is willing to recognize finite limitations, and appreciated the beauty of holiness. (Sacher, p. 100)
Antiochus IV was ruler of Syria. He wanted to further Hellenism. Some of the priestly family in Jerusalem helped him because they wanted to become high priest. During that time there were two different kinds of Jews in Judah; the Jews who accepted Hellenism and practiced that philosophy and the Jews who resisted.
When it was mistakenly reported that Antiochus IV had been killed in Egypt, Jerusalem revolted against Hellenism and purified the Temple. When Antiochus found out about that he took what little was left in the Temple and began a persecution of those who would not convert to Hellenism. Systematically going from village to village the forces of Antiochus arrived at the village of Modin. When the local priest, Mattathias, was called upon to sacrifice to Zeus on the alter, he refused, but someone else did. Mattathias killed the priest who sacrificed to Zeus and the Judean resistance against the Syrian empire started.
After a long, hard war the Maccabees, the line of priests, won. They became the ruling power of Judah. Their reign was one of the few times in Judean history where the ruler was not of a kingly line and had mostly freedom of religion.
Simon, the ruler with the most ability in the Hasmonæan line, was ruler during the reconstruction period. He combined the office of high priest with civil and military leadership, but he refrained from calling himself king. He negotiated a treaty with Rome, coined the first Jewish coins, and was assassinated. His son, John Hyrcanus, gave the Edomites the choice of either leaving Judah or converting. Aristobulus, the son of John Hyrcanus, continued in his father’s ways and crowned himself king. While this was happening a group of Jews opposed the policy of the rulers and the straying from the original ideology. This group was called the Pharisees. Often mistaken as the “bad guys” when the Bible is read, they were, in fact, the “good guys.” They interpreted the law and kept Judaism going. Their opposites, the Sadducees, supported the “royal policy of imperialism.” Under the next ruler, Alexander Jannæus, rule was shaky. After departing from the traditional ritual at the Festival of Tabernacles and being pelted with citrons, part of the traditional celebration, he persecuted and killed many of the Pharisees. After he died his wife, Alexandria, succeeded to the throne. She reversed his policy, favoring the Pharisees. Under her rule there was a brief moment of peace. After her death her two sons, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus, fought over the throne. The land was torn into war.
While this was happening Rome became powerful. Pompey, one of the generals of Rome, was called upon to decide which son would rule. Pompey chose Aristobulus. The Pharisees called upon Pompey to outlaw the kingship altogether and to take control of the country. He acted swiftly and after a long battle for the Temple, which Aristobulus held for three months, he took over the country.
Supplanting the Hasmonæan line was the house of Herod. The House of Herod was founded by Antipater, an Idumæan. Herod was placed in charge of Judah by Rome after going to Rome asking for assistance for defense against Egypt. Opposition arose in Judah against the Romans, but they were no match for the Romans. Even though Herod helped restore the temple (around 20 BC) he was disliked by the Jewish people who referred to him as “the Idumæan slave.” (Sacher p. 115) He killed all who were against him, including his own family. In his rage of jeolous suspision, he had all the male children under the age of two years old slaughtered in the village of Bethleham.
Around this time Jesus was born. The Jews however, were looking for a warrior to liberate them from Roman oppression, and rejected their messiah by crucificion. The Prince of Peace had taught to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s , and to God what is God’s. A Jewish sect, who became known as Christians, taught and died for the belief in a resurected Christ. The earthquake that occured at Christ's crucifiction and the famine and plague that followed, added to the trauma of the political temperature. Under local Roman sanction, Christians began to be persecuted by their fellow Jews. Religious toleration in the rest of the Roman world was at its peak. With the ability of safe travel, excellent transportation, and common language it is little wonder that Galatians 4:4 says, "when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son," It was indeed possible for His disciples to carry the gospel as Jesus commanded when he said, "ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
The Great War with Rome was from A.D. 66 to approximately A.D. 74. The rebellion against Rome was provoked by Florus, who went into the Temple Treasury and stole some money. Masada, a fortress built by Herod, was secured by the rebels. Many battles took place including the War of Galilee, which was lost. By the end of A.D. 67 all of Northern Judah was yet again under Roman control. In the winter of A.D. 67-68 a civil war broke out in Jerusalem. This climaxed in Roman troops destroying Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70. Although Titus had ordered the temple to be spared, soldiers torched it and then left no stone upon another, as Jesus had prophisied (Matthew 24:2), with their search for the gold that had been drawn between the stones during the fire.
With the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple both Judaism and Christianity were displaced. Judaism was displaced because the Temple was the center of the faith and without it there was no place to make sacrifices. The Church had been located in Jerusalem. With the destruction of Jerusalem it was scattered.
Hellenism and Pax Romana paved the way for the Gospel to go out through official channels, and in a common language. If Hellenism had not come to Judah then there would have been no common language. If Judah had not fought back against Hellenism there would have been no Jewish religion or roots for the Christian faith, and therefore there would not be a Christian faith. Pax Romana was used by God so there would be roads, so it could be spread when soldiers went from place to place. God uses even the things that at the time seem like calamity, and even after the fact seen as catastrophe, to do His will.
Schurer,Emil. The History of the Jewish People In the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.-A.D.135.) Edinburgh: T. &T. Clark LTD Edinburgh, 1885, 1973
Sachar, Abram Leon. A History of the Jews. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1930, 1964
Werblowsky, R.J. Zwi. The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion. Israel: Adama
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