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Second Temple Judaism: A Brief Historical Outline
Part Two

Bruce N. Fisk

Bruce N. Fisk, Associate Professor of New Testament, Westmont College

(Back to Part One. Forward to Part Three)

My thanks to Professor Bruce Fisk of Westmont College for his permission

to post this outline. Tim

2. From the Death of Alexander the Great to the Decree of Antiochus IV

2.1. The Division of Alexander's Empire

323 Alexander dies in Babylon at age 32.

  • 7 years of power struggle led to 4 dominant generals:


 Babylon and North Syria


West, i.e. Macedonia


South Syria and Egypt


Thrace and West Asia

  • Battles, alliances and coalitions section and re-section the empire.

2.2. The Ptolemaic Dynasty [323-198 BCE]

  • The Ptolemies ran an efficient and tightly controled economy, with political seat in Alexandria.
  • Under its control, Palestine is taxed by local Egyptian officials.
  • Among Jews, the high priest becomes the most influential figure.

323-285 Ptolemy I Soter rules first as satrap of Egypt and then as king (Dan.11:5).

285-247 Ptolemy II Philadelphus

  • See Letter of Aristeas (OTP 2), a legendary account of the origins of the LXX, set in the reign of Ptolemy II.

280 Two powerful families emerge to control the middle east:

  • 1. Ptolemies: Egypt, Palestine, Phoenicia
  • 2. Seleucids: Asia Minor, Syria, Mesopotamia
    • Seleucus was originally one of Ptolemy's admirals.
    • Palestine and Phoenicia include important sea ports, and become regions where the two sides frequently clash, and where borders are frequently redrawn.

252 Berenice, daughter of Ptolemy II, marries Antiochus II, to seal a political alliance, but she and her son are murdered by Laodice, other wife of Antiochus (Dan.11:6)

247-221Ptolemy III Euergetes I

246 Ptolemy invades Syria to avenge the death of his sister Berenice and her son (Dan.11:7-8).

240 Peace settlement.

221-203Ptolemy IV Philopator

See the legends recorded in 3 Maccabees (generally dated to 1st c.BCE).

203-181Ptolemy V Epiphanes becomes king at age 5.

198 His forces lose the battle of Panion to the Seleucids.

  • Control of Palestine transfers to the Seleucids.

2.3. The Seleucidic Dynasty [198-167 BCE]

305-281 Seleucus I Nicator

281-261 Antiochus I Soter

261-247 Antiochus II Theos

252 Ant. marries Berenice, daughter of Ptolemy II, to seal a political alliance. Laodice, his first wife, has her assassinated (Dan.11:6).

247-226 Seleucus II Callinicus (son of Laodice)

226-223 Seleucus III Soter Ceraunos

223-187 Antiochus III the Great

219-217 Antiochus attempts to acquire Phoenicia and Palestine, but is defeated by Ptolemy IV at Raphia, near Gaza (Dan.11:10-12; cf. 3 Macc.1:1-5).

198 Antiochus defeats Ptolemy's general Scopas at the battle of Panion. Phoenicia and Palestine (Dan.11:13-17) come under Seleucid control.

  • He is supported by Simon II, son of Onias and Zadokite priest from about

219-196 (cf. Sirach 50:1-21).

190 Antiochus is defeated by the Romans at Magnesia.

  • He loses control of Asia Minor (Dan.11:18-19) and must pay heavily.
  • The Romans take his son (later, Antiochus IV) hostage, and force him to pay tribute, including 15,000 talents (1 talent = 75 lbs.).

187 Antiochus dies while attempting to loot a temple of Bel (to raise money to pay off Rome).

187-175 Seleucus IV sends his son Demetrius to Rome in exchange for his younger brother, Antiochus (IV).

  • See 2 Maccabees 3:1-4:6 on the attempt under Seleucus IV to appropriate funds from the temple treasury.

175-163 Antiochus IV Epiphanes [Theos Epiphanes = God (i.e. Zeus) manifest]

175 Antiochus IV Epiphanes seizes power from Seleucus IV, his brother.

  • Here begins the first systematic persecution of the Jews.
  • Two political parties emerge in Judea:

1. House of Tobiah - tend to be pro-Ptolemies
2. House of Onias - tend to be pro-Seleucids [Onias (Gk) = Honi / Johanan (Heb) = John]

  • Antiochus installs Jason, brother of Onias III, who accelerated Hellenization in Palestine.
  • See 2 Macc.4:7-22 on Jason's attempt to make Jerusalem a Greek polis.
  • From now on, and even with the Romans, the office of high priest becomes a political appointment.
  • Antiochus installs Menelaus, one who had no qualifications to be high priest. He is rejected by the people for his non-priestly lineage.
  • Menelaus retains power by force (see 2 Macc.4:32-50).

170/169Antiochus attacks Egypt but fails to conquer Alexandria.

  • On return, plunders the temple treasury (Daniel11:28; 1 Maccabees 1:20-23).

168 Antiochus attacks Egypt again but is challenged and humiliated there by Roman envoys who enforce a treaty between Egypt and Rome.

  • As he returns home he finds rebellion in Jerusalem; both Jason and Menelaus had been opposed by the masses (2 Macc.5:1-7).
  • His troops attack, seize the city, establish control and reinstall Menelaus (Dan.11:29-30; 2 Macc.5:11-21).
  • After he leaves, a second rebellion breaks out in Jerusalem.
  • Antiochus sends Appollonius to supress it and to establish a garrison in the city (1 Macc.1:34-40; 2 Macc.5:24-26).

167 Antiochus issues a decree abolishing Jewish religion.

  • He sets up pagan altars on which pigs are sacrificed.
  • He outlaws:
    • owning/copying scriptures
    • sacrifices to Jehovah
    • circumcision
    • Sabbath and festival observance
  • He tortures those who practise Judaism or refuse to participate in pagan rituals.
  • In December, he defiles the temple by offering a sacrifice to Zeus (1 Macc. 1:41-63; 2 Macc. 6:2-6, 9-11; Dan. 11:31).
  • Read the grisly account in Josephus' Antiquities 12.246-256 (chap.5, sections 3-4 of Whiston's translation).

(Back to Part One. Forward to Part Three)

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