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BRIEF HISTORICAL SUMMARY OF THE

INTERVAL BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS,

TAKEN CHIEFLY FROM JOSEPHUS AND THE BOOKS OF MACCABEES.


Ezra and Nehemiah left a settled form of government in Palestine, the centre of which was Jerusalem. Here was established a council of elders and priests, who formed an ecclesiastical court, interpreting the Law, and enforcing its observance. These were called the "Great Synagogue." They were to the new settlement after the Captivity what the "elders that overlived Joshua" (Josh. xxiv. 31) were to the Israelites who came out of Egypt.

It was the Jewish theory that the Law was given in a twofold form, viz. the written and the oral; the former consisting of brief official enactments, the latter of more copious details. With the former code, immutably formalised by God, they said the latter was orally taught to Moses on Mount Sinai by the same Divine Author as the authoritative interpretation thereof, with the command to commit the one to writing, but to transmit the other only by word of mouth. This oral law was repeated by Moses to Joshua, who handed it on to the elders who succeeded him, and they to the prophets, who, in their turn, passed it from one to another till it reached Jeremiah, who, through the medium of Baruch, conveyed it to Ezra, and he to the Great Synagogue, whom Nehemiah also supplied with a library of all the sacred books he could collect (2 Macc. ii. 13). This body of elders lasted about 150 years, when it expired in its last survivor, the High Priest Simon the Just (B.C. 291). They are said to have numbered 120. To them the Jews owe the 613 Precepts; and this oral tradition may be considered the groundwork of the Talmud. This " Great Synagogue " and its oral tradition are spoken of with no great favour by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, alluding to them in the words, " it was said by them of old time" (Matt. v. 27); and elsewhere in His allusions to " the traditions of the elders."

Ezra and Nehemiah also set up synagogues in country towns, as places of worship on the sabbath, and as schools of instruction and for theological discussion during the week. Attached to each was a body of "Rulers," who were both civil magistrates and ecclesiastical presbyters. During all this time Palestine was subject to Persia, and formed only part of a province under the Satrap of Syria, these elders administering the government with the high priest as their responsible head.

(B.C. 331.) According to Jewish tradition, related by Josephus (Antiq. xi. 8. 1. ff.), and repeated in the Talmud (Joma f. 69; ap. Otho Lex. Rabb.), in later Jewish writers, and in the Chronicles of Abulfeda, and supported in some of its main features by historical facts (such as the freedom of Palestine from tribute during the Sabbatical years, &c., Alexander the Great visited Jerusalem to punish the Jews for their refusal to transfer their allegiance to him, when summoned to do so during his siege of Tyre. After the reduction of Tyre and Gaza, he is said to have approached Jerusalem with hostile intent; but Jaddua the high priest, in conformity with a dream, awaited his approach, clad in his priestly robes of hyacinth and gold, and accompanied by a train of priests and citizens arrayed in white. Alexander, moved by the novel spectacle, did reverence to the high priest and kissed the sacred inscription on his mitre, alleging that he had seen in a dream that same venerable form, who had promised him success in his Eastern campaign. To this incident are said to be due the peculiar privileges accorded by Alexander to the Jews in Palestine, Babylonia, and Media, which they continued to enjoy under his successors, and which were afterwards confirmed and enlarged by the Romans. After subduing Egypt, and building Alexandria, he invited a number of Jews to settle there, granting them many privileges and immunities.

Alexander's conquests broke down the barriers separating one kingdom from another, and especially those between the Eastern and Western Empires; and paganism fell before the greater diffusion of light, while Greek literature and intelligence spread over the East, and the Greek language became almost universal. After the battle of Ipsus (B.C. 301) Palestine became the neutral territory between the rival empires of Syria and Egypt; and while from time to time the prey of each, its strategic importance enabled it to make favourable terms with whichever empire it acknowledged to be supreme. Internally it was able to resist the revolution which Greek supremacy effected. Ezra's constitution was fully developed, a powerful hierarchy had substituted the idea of a Church for that of a nation, and the Jew mixed with other people and lived in other lands without losing any of his allegiance to his own Deity or peculiar customs; and, as a whole, the Jewish nation had realised their mission as the teachers of religion to the world, and were ready to fulfil it. The opportunity and power to do so were furnished by Alexander's conquests. While they learnt independence from the example of Greece, and soon became divided into sects (analogous to the typical forms of Greek philosophy), this freedom of thought was modified, in their case, by the contemplative temper of the East. Alexandria and Cyrene henceforth exercised a greater influence on Judaism, in its relation to other nations, than did Jerusalem, since that city was the point of contact between Eastern and Western thought. (B.C. 320.) Ptolemy Soter's invasion of Judaea led to a further settlement of Jews at Alexandria (partly by captives, partly by colonists). Under his successor, Ptolemy Philadelphus (B.C. 285), learning was fostered, and an alliance was attempted between Jewish revelation and Greek philosophy, each reacting on the other. The most important result of this was the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (LXX.), which became known all over the world, and thus prepared the way 31 for the universal spread of Christianity. So Egypt disciplined and educated anew these appointed teachers of religion. It first impressed upon a nation the firm unity of a family, and then, in due time, re-connected a mature people with the world, from which it had been called out.

The same patronage was extended to the Jews, throughout his reign, by Ptolemy Euergetes, who conformed to the Mosaic rites by sacrificing at Jerusalem, and conferred privileges on the high priest which rendered him an almost independent tributary prince.

Thus there were two great centres of Judaism growing up contemporaneously, each exercising a distinctive influence, viz. the gradually-decaying Jerusalem, the capital of the Hebrew proper, —the home of the Pharisee,—whose ritual was that of Moses, and whose sacred and only literature was the Hebrew Scriptures and commentaries thereon; and Alexandria, the capital of the Hellenist, or alien Jew, who mingled Greek culture and independence with Jewish autonomy and Oriental contemplation and allegory. The latter infused a new spirit into Judaism, which became divided into two great parties, known, in Gospel times, as "Pharisees" and "Saddu-cees;" the former representing the extreme phase of Hebraism, and the latter the corresponding ultra-development of Hellenism.

A third element was introduced by the followers of Antiochus Epiphanes, who brought in a mixture of Greek and Roman paganism, and sought to break down the pure morality of Hebraism by the introduction of heathen licence. His father, Antiochus the Great, had alternately won and lost the Syrian provinces, in a succession of conflicts (from B.C. 223 to 198) with the Ptolemies. He was eventually successful, in combination with Philip III. of Macedon. He was hailed by the Jews as their deliverer from subjection to Egypt, and confirmed the privileges they had previously enjoyed under Alexander and his successors.

Under Antiochus Epiphanes (B.C. 173), the Hel-lenizing party were in the majority at Jerusalem, and the high-priesthood was obtained by purchase from Antiochus, who made use of his money and a victorious army to buy over the unscrupulous, and to massacre the faithful, until he established heathenism in the Holy City, proscribed the use of the Mosaic ritual, and promulgated those infamous "Decrees" which led to the revival of the ancient patriotism under the Maccabees. He erected the statue of Jupiter on the altar of burnt-offering, committed all books of Scripture to the flames, and prohibited the worship of God.

During these struggles, the high priests played a conspicuous, but not a very honourable part, too often being the creatures of the civil power, which, for the time, was in the ascendant.

Succession of High Priests. Those of the first century were of no political importance. Their names are Eliashib, Joiada, Jonathan or Johanan, and Jaddua (whose brother Manasseh married a Samaritan wife, for which he was banished from Jerusalem, and set up a spurious form of Jewish ritual in a temple built under his direction on Mount Gerizim. See John iv. 201. According to Josephus, it was this Jaddua who met Alexander the Great at Mizpeh. Onias I., son of Jaddua, succeeded his father about the time of the death of Alexander the Great. He was succeeded by Simon I. (said by Josephus to have been named "the Just," though this title is applied by others to Simon II.), who was the last teacher of the "Great Synagogue," and closes the list of the righteous in Ecclesias-ticus (ch. 50). He was followed by his brothers

Eleazar and Manasseh, in succession; after whom came Onias II., son of Simon I. (B.C. 240), whose avarice, and consequent refusal to pay the tribute, paved the way for the subsequent rupture with Egypt, which was temporarily averted by Joseph, who farmed the tribute from Ptolemy. He was succeeded by his son, Simon II. (supposed by some to be the "Simon the Just"), who was followed by Onias III. (B.C. 198), by whose prayers the intended spoliation of the Temple by Antiochus is said to have been averted. He was treacherously supplanted by his brother Jason (B.C. 175), who bought the office from Antiochus Epiphanes. But that monarch shortly after sold the office a second time to Menelaus (Onias IV.), Jason's brother, by whom the rightful high priest (Onias III.) was murdered, for which crime Menelaus was executed by command of Antiochus. These internal dissensions were the cause of a secession of the most faithful Jews under the lawful high priest (Onias V., son of Onias IV.), to Alexandria, where he sought to give to the Hellenistic Jews a unity which was no longer possible in Judaea; and the Mosaic ritual and polity were, for a time, transferred to the colony at Leontopolis (called Onias, after its founder), and its temple. The site of this temple is supposed to be (Joseph. Antiq. xiv. 8) Tel-el-Yahood, or Tel-el-Yahoodeezeh, twelve miles N.E. of Helio-polis, between Cairo and Zagazig.

In this period the prophecies of Daniel (viii. 20-25) were fulfilled. The one horn of the "he goat" was Alexander the Great, and the "four horns " which sprang up when it was broken were his four generals, among whom his kingdom was divided (Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus); and the "little horn" (yii. 8) was Antiochus Epiphanes, by whom the daily sacrifice was taken away for 2,300 days, and whose conquest of Egypt was stopped by ambassadors from Home (the Fourth Empire) landing at Alexandria (xi. 31, 32), and requiring him to withdraw from that country.

The determination of Antiochus to stamp out Judaism produced a recoil. It culminated in the attempt of Antiochus to force the Jews publicly to eat the flesh of swine sacrificed on God's altar to the honour of Jupiter. One aged scribe refused, and was followed by a mother and her seven sons, who all suffered martyrdom with the extremities of torture. This was followed by Mat-tathias, a priest of the Asmonasan family, who killed both a renegade Jew, when about to offer idolatrous sacrifice, and the royal officer who presided. Aided by his five sons, he rallied the faithful round him, threw down the heathen altars, fled to the mountains and raised the standard of liberty, on which were inscribed M.K.B.I., the initials of their Hebrew war-cry, Mi-KamoJca Bdelim, Ihovah, " Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods?" (Exod. xv. 11), from which the insurgents got the name of Maccabees, whence the eldest son and successor of Mattathias is known in history as Judas Mac-cabseus. Under him they were victorious. Antiochus, stricken by God, died of a loathsome disease. The Maccabees recovered Jerusalem, purified the Temple, and restored its worship, holding for eight days (in December, B.C. 165) the first "Feast of Dedication," which continued to be annually observed to our Lord's time (John x. 22).

Maccabean Period.

The Maccabaean family continued to hold the main sway over the people, who retained their local customs, but were obliged to make terms with the Eomans, under whose protection they retained considerable freedom. Although the Israelites were scattered over many countries, 32 Jerusalem was still their religious and political centre, and in its Temple alone were sacrifices offered, and to it flowed the poll-tax of half a shekel from Jews all over the world. The Roman Government acknowledged and confirmed their independent local administration, as a peculiar "imperium in imperio," by the following decrees:--

(B.C. 47.) Julius Caesar (for services in Alexandrine war) gave to Hyrcanus and his heirs all rights accorded to the high priest by law or courtesy; all doubtful questions to be referred to him personally. ALSO, the privilege of being Patroni of all Jews that were aggrieved: hence all Jews throughout the world had a direct appeal to Caesar through the high priest, whose ambassadors had everywhere a free passage. ALSO, exemption from all tribute every seventh year, "because they neither sow nor reap." ALSO, peculiar liberty to "meet and assemble together, and comport themselves according to the custom of their fathers, and their own laws."

(B.C. 44.) On the death of Caesar and Hyrcanus, all the edicts of the former, whether recorded in the Treasury or not, were confirmed by the Senate, in the Consulate of Dolabella and Antony. Thus the Jews, wherever they lived, were exempt from taxation at certain times, free from military service, allowed to maintain their peculiar customs, and looked to their high priest in Jerusalem as their ecclesiastical and civil superior in all that related to religious or ceremonial observances. But, for maintenance of order and general political government, a Roman official, supported by military organization, presided over all Syria. This official at first was one allied to both interests, and to whom was delegated the nomination to the high priesthood, viz. Herod the Great (B.C, 37), an Idumaean by birth, but descended from a Philistine slave. With the aid of Roman troops he deposed the last Asmonsaean prince, Antigonus, married his niece Mariamne (granddaughter of Hyrcanus the high priest), and became a nominal sovereign, subject to Rome. A heathen at heart, a savage in character, a brute in passions, and a fawning slave to the Imperial Court, he made use of his position to betray his country to the Romans by fostering immorality, cultivating alien customs, sapping religious faith, encouraging mutual distrust, corrupting the priesthood, and massacring the nobles. He rebuilt the Temple on the most gorgeous scale, intending it to be the proud monument of his dynasty, but really it was the whitened sepulchre that concealed the foul impurity of his family and the loathsome corruption in which he had buried his people. This loss of temporal status drove the Jewish spirit to an inward self-exaltation and spiritual pride, with a senile fondness for dwelling on the glories of the past. They turned to minute interpretation of, and refinements on the Law, to exaggerated expectations of fulfilment of prophecy, and literal attention to even trivial acts of worship. Pharisees, Scribes, Lawyers, were more in esteem than Priests and Levites, and the teaching was oral and disputatious, rather than dogmatic and authoritative. Hence arose the two great rival schools of Gospel times, the Pharisees and Sadducees (see p. 34).

The literature of this period is confined to the Books of Apocrypha, the merit of which is unequal. Highest in rank are the two treatises "Wisdom" and "Ecclesiasticus," which possess high literary and moral excellence. Next are "Baruch," "Song of the Three Children," "Prayer of Manasses;" then the historical books; and last, the Babylonian stories, which shew the decline of faith and increase of superstition among those Jews who remained in Babylon.

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