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Discover the Book - Nov. 16, 2008

  • 2008 Nov 16

Setting the Stage for the Messiah


The Period between the Testaments



443 (C.) Nehemiah and Ezra read the Scriptures to the Jews; the first roots of the Vidrash begin to sprout; the Sopherim (scribes) flourish.

436 (C.) Malachi begins to prophesy.

429 Death of Pericles. The Acropolis is finished. Plato is born.

342 Epicurius teaches his philosophy.

336 Darius III Codomannus becomes king of Persia. Alexander the Great becomes king of Greece.

332 Alexander destroys Tyre.

331 Alexander seizes Babylon.

327 Alexander invades India.

323 Alexander claims to be the son of Zeus.

        Alexander dies.

        Alexander's empire divided among his four chief generals.

300 Rome becomes a major world power in the western Mediterranean. Seleucus I adds Syria to his realm.

285 Ptolemy II Philadelphia becomes king of Egypt. Between 285 and 130 the Septuagint translated.

 274 Hinduism codified in India.

214 Construction of Great Wall of China begins.

168 The Romans interfere in Antiochus's war with Egypt and prevent his capturing Alexandria. Antiochus pollutes the Temple in Jerusalem and suspends the sacrifices of the Jews.

166 Matthias leads the Jews in revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes.

165 The Jerusalem Temple repaired and cleansed.

164 Antiochus Epiphanes dies.

133 Rome begins to expand her empire eastward.

130 The Pharisees begin to emerge as a sect.

64 Pompey captures Jerusalem,- leaves the Maccabean high priest Hyrcanus in power with Antipater as civil adviser.

60 The first Triumvirate at Rome (Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey).

59 Julius Caesar becomes proconsul. Pompey marries Julia, daughter of Caesar.

58 Caesar conquers Gaul.

54 Caesar invades Britain.

49 Caesar crosses the Rubicon.

44 Caesar assassinated.

42 Caesar deified; temple to him erected in the Forum where his murder had taken place. Battle of Philippi fought.

40 Herod appointed king.

37 Herod captures Jerusalem.

27 Octavian assumes the title of Augustus.

20 Herod begins to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple.

4 The birth of Jesus.


14 Augustus dies. Tiberius becomes Roman emperor.

26 Jesus begins to teach,- He characterizes rabbinic teaching (the Mishna) as "vain tradition.” Pilate becomes procurator of Judea.

30 Jesus crucified and raised from the dead. The Christian church is born at Pentecost.


I.       Literature - During these unhappy years of oppression and internal strife, the Jewish people produced a sizable body of literature that both recorded and addressed their era. Three of the more significant works are the Septuagint, the Apocrypha and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A.                 Septuagint - Jewish legend says that 72 scholars, under the sponsorship of Ptolemy Phfladelphus (c. 250 B.C.), were brought together on the island of Pharos, near Alexandriai where they produced a Greek translation of the OT in 72 days. From this tradition the Latin word for 70, "Septuagint," became the name attached to the translation. The Roman numeral for 70, LKX, is used as an abbreviation for it.

1.                  Behind the legend lies the probability that at least the Torah (the five books of Moses) was translated into Greek c. 250 B.c. for the use of the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria. The rest of the OT and some noncanonical books were also included in the LXX before the dawning of the Christian era, though it is difficult to be certain when.

2.                  The Septuagint quickly became the Bible of the Jews outside Palestine who, like the Alexandfians, no longer spoke Hebrew. It would be difficult to overestimate its influence. It made the Scriptures available both to the Jews who no longer spoke their ancestral language and to the entire Greek speaking world. It later became the Bible of the early church. Also, its widespread popularity and use contributed to the retention of the Apocrypha by some branches of Christendom.

B.                 Apocrypha - Derived from a Greek word that means "hidden," Apocrypha has acquired the meaning "false," but in a technical sense it describes a specific body of writings. This collection consists of a variety of books and additions to canonical books that, with the exception of 2 Esdras ( A.D. 90), were written during the intertestamental period. Their recognition as authoritative in Roman and Eastern Christianity is the result of a complex historical process.

1.                  The canon of the OT accepted by Protestants today was very likely established by the dawn of the second century A.D., though after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70. The precise scope of the OT was discussed among the Jews until the Council of Jamnia (c. 90). This Hebrew canon was not accepted by the early church, which used the Septuagint. In spite of disagreements among some of the church fathers as to which books were canonical and which were not, the Apocryphal books continued in common use by most Christians until the Reformation. During this period most Protestants decided to follow the original Hebrew canon while Rome, at the Council of Trent (I 546) and more recently at the First Vatican Council (I 869-70), affirmed the larger "Alexandrian" canon that includes the Apocrypha.

2.                  The Apocryphal books have retained their place primarily through the weight of ecclesiastical authority, without which they would not commend themselves as canonical literature. There is no clear evidence that Jesus or the apostles ever quoted any Apocryphal works as Scripture (but see note on Jude 14). The Jewish community that produced them repudiated them, and the historical surveys in the apostolic sermons recorded in Acts completely ignore the period they cover. Even the sober, historical account of I Maccabees is tarnished by numerous errors and anachronisms.

3.                  There is nothing of theological value in the Apocryphal books that cannot be duplicated in canonical Scripture, and they contain much that runs counter to its teachings. Nonetheless, this body of literature does provide a valuable source of information for the study of the intertestamental period.

C.                 Dead Sea Scrolls - In the spring of 1947 an Arab shepherd chanced upon a cave in the hills overlooking the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea that contained what has been called "the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times." The documents and fragments of documents found in those caves, dubbed the "Dead Sea Scrolls," included OT books, a few books of the Apocrypha, apocalyptic works, pseudepigrapha (books that purport to be the work of ancient heroes of the faith), and a few of the books peculiar to the sect that produced them.

1.                  Approximately a third of the documents are Biblical, with Psalms, Deuteronomy and Isaiah-the books quoted most often in the NT-occurring most frequently. One of the most remarkable finds was a complete 24-foot-long scroll of Isaiah.

2.                  The Scrolls have made a significant contribution to the quest for a form of the OT texts most accurately reflecting the original manuscripts; they provide copies 1,000 years closer to the originals than were previously known. The understanding of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic and knowledge of the development of Judaism between the Testaments have been increased significantly. Of great importance to readers of the Bible is the demonstration of the care with which OT texts were copied, thus providing objective evidence for the general reliability of those texts.

II.                 Social Developments - The Judaism of Jesus' day is, to a large extent, the result of changes that came about in response to the pressures of the intertestamental period.

A.                 Diaspora. The Diaspora (dispersion) of Israel begun in the exile accelerated during these years unit a writer of the day could say that Jews filled "every land and sea." Jews outside Palestine, cut off from the temple, concentrated their religious life in the study of @e Torah and the life of the synagogue (see below). The missionaries of the early church began their Gentile ministries among the Diaspora, using their Greek translation of the OT.

B.                 Sadducees. In Palestine, the Greek world made its greatest impact through the party of the Sadducees. Made up of aristocrats, it became the temple party. Because of their position, the Sadducees had a vested interest in the status quo. Relatively few in number, they wielded disproportionate political power and controlled the high priesthood. They rejected all religious writings except the Torah, as well as any doctrine (such as the resurrection) not found in those five books.

C.                 Synagogue. During the exile, Israel was cut off from the temple, divested of nationhood and surrounded by pagan religious practices. Her faith was threatened with extinction. Under these circumstances, the exiles turned their religious focus from what they had lost to what they retained the Torah and the belief that they were God's people. They concentrated on the law rather than nationhood, on personal piety rather than sacramental rectitude, and on prayer as an acceptable replacement for the sacrifices denied to them. When they returned from the exile, they brought with them this new form of religious expression, as well as the synagogue (its center), and Judaism became a faith that could be practiced wherever the Torah could be carried. The emphases on personal piety and a relationship with God, which characterized synagogue worship, not only helped preserve Judaism but also prepared the way for the Christian gospel.

D.                 Pharisees. As the party of the synagogue, the Pharisees strove to reinterpret the law. They built a "hedge" around it to enable Jews to live righteously before God in a world that had changed drastically since the days of Moses. Although they were comparatively few in number, the Pharisees enjoyed the support of the people and influenced popular opinion if not national policy. They were the only party to survive the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 and were the spiritual progenitors of modern Judaism.


Essenes - An almost forgotten Jewish sect until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Essenes were a small, separatist group that grew out of the conflicts of the Maccabean age. Like the Pharisees, they stressed strict legal observance, but they considered the temple priesthood corrupt and rejected much of the temple ritual and sacrificial system. Mentioned by several ancient writers, the precise nature of the Essenes is still not certain, though it is generally agreed that the Qumran community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls was an Essene group. Because they were convinced that they were the true remnant, these Qumran Essenes had separated themselves from Judaism at large and devoted themselves to personal purity and preparation for the final war between the "Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness." They practiced an apocalyptic faith, looking back to the contributions of their "Teacher of Righteousness" and forward to the coming of two, and possibly three, Messiahs. The destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, however, seems to have delivered a death blow to their apocalyptic expectations. Attempts have been made to equate aspects of the beliefs of the Qumran community with the origins of Christianity. Some have seen a prototype of Jesus in their "Teacher of Righteousness," and both John the Baptist and Jesus have been assigned membership in the sect. There is, however, only a superficial, speculative base for these conjectures.



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