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Understanding Bible History Pt 5: The Greek Empire

“As I was observing [this], behold, a male goat (Greece) was coming from the west [rushing] across the face of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous and remarkable horn (Alexander the Great) between his eyes.” (Daniel 8: 5 Amplified Bible)

We are now in the timeline of what is called the 400 Years between the Old and New Testaments as prophesied by Daniel which outlined the continuation of world empires (Daniel 2:31-35).

The Medo-Persia was conquered by the Greek Empire, led by Alexander the Great. He conquered the whole Persian Empire and nearly the entire known world in a matter of years including the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. At its greatest extent, the Greek empire included the modern territories of Iran, Turkey, parts of Central Asia, Pakistan, Thrace and Macedonia, much of the Black Sea coastal regions, Afghanistan, Iraq, northern Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and all significant population centres of ancient Egypt as far west as Libya. The only historical event connecting Alexander the Great with the Jews is his visit to Jerusalem, which is recorded by Jewish historian Josephus. According to Josephus, Alexander arrived in Jerusalem with evil intent and was stopped on his tracks by the Jewish High Priest Jabbus (Jaddua in Nehemiah 12:11,22) dressed in priestly white garments. Jabbus had a dream prior to Alexander’s visit in which he was instructed by God to adorn themselves and the city and meet Alexander with a procession. It was also documented in the Talmud, Oral Law, supposedly given "orally" by Moses and passed on to the religious leaders and sages. The rabbinic literature, contains the teachings of tradition, history, law, sayings, ideas and stories that relates to virtually all areas of Jewish life taught by Jewish scholars (rabbis). It was finally written (Talmud) during the Roman Empire, many years after Jesus’ death, due to persecution by Hadrian the rabbis feared that they will lose their traditions and would not be able to keep a central seat of rabbinic power. I will elaborate further with additional details in Part 7, which covers the Rise of Rabbinic Judaism.

After Alexander’s death his empire was split among his four generals (Daniel 8:8; 11:4). The kingdom of Cassander (Macedonia, most of Greece, and parts of Thrace). The kingdom of Lysimachus (Lydia, Ionia, Phrygia, and other parts of present-day Turkey). The kingdom of Ptolemaic (Egypt and adjoining North Africa). The kingdom of Seleucus, later the Seleucid Empire (the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia and parts of India). Levant refers to states in the region immediately bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea: Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. These two generals, Seleucus and Ptolemy became bitter enemies. History records a longstanding controversy between the two dynasties, Syria to the north of Palestine, and Egypt on the south. They fought back and forth using Judea as the battlefield for a long period of time.

First fulfilment of the abomination of desolation

The eighth king in the dynasty of the Seleucids was a man named Antiochus Epiphanes, who reigned from 175 to 164 BC. His capital city was Antioch and was named for him. Antioch appears in the New Testament as the place where believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). As a ruler he was best known for his encouragement of Greek culture and institutions. His attempts to suppress Judaism brought on the Wars of the Maccabees. Antiochus Epiphanes, added the title Epiphanes ("the manifest" or "the illustrious") to his name; but the Jews referred to him as Antiochus Epimames (“The Madman”) when it became apparent that his policies were violently anti-Jewish. He struggled with Egypt as did his predecessors before him and, in the course of his warfare, he conquered Jerusalem.

He led his army into Egypt, but this time the Egyptians had sent for help from the Romans. The Roman Senate sent a general named Popilius, who led a legion against Antiochus. They arrived in Roman galleys which are referred to here as "ships of Kittim." Popilius insisted that Antiochus return to his own land, keep the peace, and acknowledge the authority of Rome. Antiochus asked for time to consider these terms, but Popilius drew a circle around him with his sword and told him to decide before he stepped out of that circle. So, Antiochus gave in and agreed to keep the peace, but returned to Jerusalem to take out his spite on the Jews. Instead of keeping peace, he did what is recorded below.

“Out of one of them came forth a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land. It grew great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host of the stars it cast down to the ground, and trampled upon them. It magnified itself, even up to the Prince of the host; and the continual burnt offering was taken a way from him, and the place of his sanctuary was overthrown. And the host was given over to it together with the continual burnt offering through transgression; and truth was cast down to the g round, and the horn acted and prospered. Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to the one that spoke, "For how long is the vision concerning the continual burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot?" And he said to him, "For two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state." (Daniel 8:9-14 RSV)

"Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate." (Daniel 11:31 RSV)

He defied the high priests and entered into the sacred temple. That is described here by the phrase, "It [the little horn] magnified itself, even to the Prince of the host [the high priest]."He actually erected a pagan altar in the temple at Jerusalem and offered upon it a sow in sacrifice, an unclean animal. He took the broth of the sow and sprinkled it throughout the sanctuary, thus defiling the whole sanctuary. Then, as a final insult, he erected a statue of Jupiter in the holy place Zeus (the Abomination of Desolation). This is not the same little horn as in Daniel 7 and 9, and Revelation 13.

A successful Jewish revolt under a priestly family, Judas Maccabaeus and his sons, rose in revolt and led the people of Israel to retake Jerusalem, resulting in the purification of the Temple and “restored to its rightful state”(164 BC) and also gained their freedom from Syrian domination in 142 BC. This began the Hasmonean (Maccabean) dynasty, which appropriated the powers both of king and of high priest.

The Seleucid empire began losing control over large territories. An inexorable decline followed the first defeat of the Seleucids by the Romans in 190 BC.

Hasmonean (Maccabean) Dynasty

Hasmonean Dynasty, also spelled Hasmonaean, dynasty of ancient Judaea, descendants of the Maccabee (q.v.) family. The name derived (according to Josephus, in The Antiquities of the Jews) from the name of their ancestor Hasmoneus (Hasmon), or Asamonaios. In 143 (or 142) BC Simon Maccabeus, son of Mattathias (and brother of Judas Maccabeus), succeeded his brother Jonathan as leader of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid dynasty. He soon became independent of the Seleucids as high priest, ruler, and ethnarch of Judaea; the offices were hereditary, and Simon thus became the first of the Hasmonean dynasty. He was succeeded by his son John Hyrcanus I, Aristobulus I, Alexander Jannaeus and his widow Salome Alexandra, Aristobulus II, John Hyrcanus II, and the last Hasmonean, Antigonus, who was deposed and executed by the Romans under Mark Antony.

The origin of the Hasmonean dynasty is recorded in the books 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees (, covering the period from 175 to 134 BC during which time the Hasmonean dynasty became semi-independent from the Seleucid empire but had not yet expanded far outside of Judea. The books of 1 and 2 Maccabees are early Jewish writings detailing the history of the Jews in the first century BC. Both books are part of the canon of Scripture in the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic, and Russian Orthodox churches, but they are not recognized as canon by Protestants and Jews.

The other primary source for the Hasmonean dynasty is the first book of The Wars of the Jews by the Jewish historian Josephus, (37–c. 100 CE). Josephus' account is the only primary source covering the history of the Hasmonean dynasty during the period of its expansion and independence between 110 to 63 BC.

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