History Prior to Jesus - Greeks, Seleucids and Romans

332 - 223 BC

Greeks - Seleucids - Romans
Hellenization & Maccabean Revolt
Introduction - Primitive Christianity
The Initial "Jesus" Movement
Christianity in Conflict
Outreach to the Gentiles
Conversion of the Apostle Paul
Jerusalem Council
James, brother of Jesus
The beginning of persecution
The destruction of the Temple
Post-Apostolic writings
New Testament Canon, Part 1
New Testament Canon, Part 2

Alexander the Great
In 332 BC Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Empire and basically took control of the territory from the west of India to cover Egypt and Asia Minor. This territory obviously included Palestine (a region which included Syria, Galilee and Judea).

The Jewish historian Josephus (cir. 37-100 AD) includes an interesting section on Alexander the Great and his arrival in Judea (Antiquities XI.8.4-5; This story is discounted by many historians as exaggerated, yet is likely to have some credibility even though it is not repeated in any other historical source). What follows comes from this source:

Results of Hellenization
"Palestine" in the Ancient World
I have been challenged by several readers regarding my use of the term "Palestine." Here is a quote found on another web site:
It is clear, then, that the Bible never uses the term Palestine to refer to the Holy Land as a whole, and that Bible maps that refer to Palestine in the Old or New Testament are, at best, inaccurate, and, at worst, are a conscious denial of the biblical name of Israel.
"Palestine" is not a biblical term, but was a Greek term used by Aristotle, Plutarch, Herodotus, and Philo to refer to the region that included Judea. See my response to this criticism, Palestine in Ancient History.

The Septuagint and the Apocrypha
Many Protestants are not familiar with The Apocrypha, a collection of documents, mainly written during the three centuries prior to the time of Jesus. These documents are a good historical source for the period of Jewish History after the end of what we call the Old Testament period including the violent revolt against the growing Hellenization of the Seleucid Empire - The Maccabean Revolt.
Is the Apocrypha Inspired?.

The High Priest, Jaddua received news that the Macedonian general had conquered other regions and was coming through Judea. Jaddua committed himself to prayer and in a dream had been encouraged by God to have his priests dressed in white linens and actually go out to meet Alexander in formation.

...for Alexander, when he saw the multitude at a distance, in white garments, while the priests stood clothed with fine linen, and the high priest in purple and scarlet clothing, with his mitre on his head...he approached by himself, and adored that name, and first saluted the high priest. The Jews also did all together, with one voice, salute Alexander, and encompass him about; whereupon the kings of Syria and the rest were surprised at what Alexander had done, and supposed him disordered in his mind.

Alexander had been given a dream and saw this man in white linens with a mitre hat, the priest of a god. This god had urged Alexander to come to Asia and conquer which he had done. Alexander was taken to the Temple and allowed to make a sacrifice to the God of the Jews. He was shown the book of Daniel in which it was proclaimed that a Greek would defeat the Persians. He also asked what he could do for them and was asked for several concessions including that they be allowed to manage themselves and continue their system of worship. Alexander granted all they asked for.

While the details of this story might not be completely accurate, somehow the Jews were granted self-rule and allowed to keep their religious system intact. The Jews were happy to see Alexander the Great because he delivered them from the Persians and granted them self-rule. Most scholars think Alexander was keenly interested to see many of the things Aristotle had written about (he had served as Alexander's tutor). Aristotle had written about the Dead Sea. It is quite believable that Alexander would want to see this amazing natural phenomenon.

Greek Culture - Hellenization
Alexander was a well-educated man. He grew up reading Homer and was tutored by Aristotle. As he conquered land he wanted to spread his culture, thus he encouraged (and sometimes forced) Greeks to move into newly created cities in the conquered lands. "Greek" (pronounced "hel-lān") was slowly accepted as the official language. But this change was also the adaptation of Greek culture: literature, philosophy, government, etc. So the acceptance of "Greek" culture is now described as "Hellenized."

Alexander established the new city Alexandria in northern Egypt as his prime example for a "Greek" city. Alexandria quickly became a great city with museums and what became a famous library, one of the largest cities in the world. Egypt was critical for the production of grain - this grain would be shipped throughout the empire. It also had the largest population of Jews outside Palestine. Sometime between 250-230 BC a Greek translation of the Old Testament was started in Alexandria by some of the best educated Jewish scholars. This translation, now known as the Septuagint (LXX) gets it's name from a legend that the translation was done by a group of 70 Jewish scholars. The LXX version is important in Christian history because it is the version of the OT quoted by the NT writers AND it includes The Apocrypha, a group of writings not found in the Hebrew OT, but now included in the official canon of scripture for the Catholic, Orthodox and Ethiopian Churches (semi-canonical for Anglicans).

Ptolemaic Kingdom
After Alexander died at the age of 33 with no secure heir to his empire, his sons were murdered. Through a series of power struggles Ptolemy, one of Alexander's generals took control of Egypt. The Egyptians accepted his rule and lineage as the successors to the pharaohs. The Ptolemy family ruled Egypt for 300 years. For most of this period Judea became a client-state to Egypt and was basically left alone.

Seleucid Empire
Seleucus, who had also served as a commander in Alexander's forces established power in Babylon in 312 BC. This date is used as the beginning of the Seleucid Empire whose capital was Antioch in Syria, thus part of Palestine. [This is another reason why we refer to "Palestine." You cannot call the region "Judea" or "Israel" at this point because the Seleucid Empire rules in Syria.]

In 223 BC Antiochus III the Great came to power. One of the greatest Seleucid kings, Antiochus III, took advantage of Ptolemy IV's death and expanded the empire, but then found himself fighting against a new foe, the Roman Empire. He failed in this battle, was forced to retreat, give up land to Roman allies and pay a large sum of money to Rome for his mistake. Over the 100 years of Seleucid power the influence of Hellenization in this region of the world had been fairly aggressive and welcomed by most people. In Judea the Hellenization had been widely accepted as well, but not by everyone.

Al Baker, CH101

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