Between the Testaments

The Intertestamental Period began at the close of the Old Testament canon and ended just prior to the New Testament canon.


Letís take a brief look at life "Between the Testaments" or as it is technically called: "The Intertestamental Period.

By understanding this period of time it will enable us to understand the world that Jesus came into. The time between the close of the Old Testament history and the beginning of the New Testament period has often been called "the four hundred silent years." It is only silent because God did not send any prophets during this time.

In the New Testament, there are a few examples of prophets: Jesus is called a prophet (Matthew 13:57, 21:11, Acts 3:20-22.) Judas, Silas and Agabus were called prophets (Acts 13:1, 15:32, 21:10.) And in the end time we have the two witnesses who will be called prophets (Revelation 11:10.)

Today, we could say that we also have had two thousand years of silence since Jesus and the New Testament prophets in which God has not sent any prophets. But why do we need a prophet when God has sent His only begotten Son (John 3:16.)

At the Close of the Old Testament

Letís pick up our story flow from the death of King Solomon, when his son Rheoboam became king of Israel. Rheoboam raised taxes which caused a split in the kingdom of Israel - the northern ten tribes broke away and became the kingdom of Israel led by Jereboam with itís capital at Samaria - the two southern tribes became known as the kingdom of Judah and itís capital remained at Jerusalem. Over time Godís prophets went to the northern kingdom and urged them to repent and if they didnít then God would judge them. They did not repent and the king of Assyria invaded and destroyed the northern kingdom in 722 BC. Prophets also went to the kingdom of Judah and urged them to repent and turn to God. They did not repent either and God sent king Nebuchadnezzar and he conquered them in 586 BC and carried them away into Babylonian captivity for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:12, 29:10.)

In 539 BC Babylon was conquered by Cyrus the Persian (2 Chronicles 36:22-23) who reigned from 559 - 530 BC.

This new king of Persia established a policy of returning exiles to their homelands and he issued a decree that the Jews be allowed to return to their land of Israel (Ezra 6:3-5.) He initially sent Sheshbazzar as governor to Jerusalem and a little later the leadership passed on to Zerubbabel. The king of Persia financed this project, and returned the gold and silver articles that Nebchadnezzar had taken from the Temple. About fifty thousand Jews returned to Israel at this time. They rebuilt the Temple, but only after a twenty year struggle, in which the work was halted for several years but was finally finished.

In 530 BC Cyrusí son Cambyses succeeded him and he reigned till 522 BC. During his reign he proceeded with a long-planned expedition against Egypt and Egypt finally fell in the battle at the capital city of Memphis and Cambyses laid claim to be the son of the sun-god Re.

In 522 BC Darius I, who was the son of Hystaspes, became ruler of the Persian Empire and he reigned till 486 BC. The work of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem began as a result of the edict of Cyrus and had come to a halt. After the decree was found in the royal archives Darius determined that it be honored and he supported the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem with funds from the royal treasury (Ezra 5:3, 6:7-8.)

In 515 BC the second Temple in Jerusalem was completed.

In 486 BC Xerxes I (Hebrew: Ahasuerus) began to reign and reigned until 465 BC. He was the son of Darius by Atossa, a daughter of Cyrus. He also was Estherís husband and he allowed the Jews to protect themselves against Hamanís attempt to eliminate the Jewish people. During his reign he attempted the conquest of Greece and in 480 BC he had a great naval victory at Salamis but after several battles the bitter struggle between the Persians and the Greeks was ended at Byzantium and the Persians went down in defeat. Xerxes lived fourteen more years and was then murdered.

In 464 BC Artaxerxes I began to rule Persia and ruled until 424 BC. In 458 BC Ezra the scribe requested permission of Artaxerxes to lead a new group of about two thousand Jewish men and their families back to Judea. After arriving in Jerusalem Ezra met opposition from their enemies and Artaxerxes ordered the Jews to stop their rebuilding until he made a further decree (Ezra 4:1-23.) In 445 BC in the court of Artaxerxes in Susa, Nehemiah was the royal cupbearer, and when the king learned of Nehemiahís distress, he gave him leave to return to Jerusalem to assist in repairing the broken walls of the city. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem with a small group and rebuilt the city.

After twelve years, Nehemiah returned to Susa to report to the king Artzxerxes and while he was gone from Jeruslam problems began to develop (Nehemiah 13.) Nehemiah then made a second trip to Jerusalem and he accomplished a second reformation of the religious and civil life and a spiritual awakening followed. But the people still struggled with disobedience. At this point, both the Book of Nehemiah and the history or canon of the Old Testament came to a close.

The "Sopherim"

In Nehemiah 8:1-8 we find Ezra the scribe, on the Feast of Trumpets which is the first day of the seventh month, standing on a wood platform reading from the Book of the Law of Moses. In verses 7-8 we see a list of men who "helped the people understand the Law." This was the beginning of the Sopherim, the scribes or school men or the teachers of the Law. Later these men were formed into a body known as the men of the Great Synagogue, which later became the Sanhedrin which was the supreme council and tribunal of the Jews. These were the guardians of Judaism and the Temple and the ancestors of the Pharisees.

The Hellenistic Period

In 338 BC Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander (later "the Great") won a decisive victory over Athens and with that victory the Persian threat was removed.

In 336 BC Philip of Macedon was murdered, Darius III became king of Persia and also the twenty-year old Alexander ascended the throne in Macedonia. Alexander had a commission from his father to make war upon Persia. In 333 BC Darius was defeated in the battle of Issus and two years later Alexander defeated Arbela which was at the center of the Persian Empire. With the death of Darius III the period of ancient Persiaís greatness, which lasted from about 550 B.C to 330 BC, came to an end.

Alexander was a Greek, educated by Aristotle and believed totally in the Greek "way of life." Alexander was an apostle of Hellenism and he crusaded with missionary zeal.

In 334-323 BC Alexander the Great set out to conquer the East.

In 331 BC Alexander the Great conquered the capitals of the Pesian Empire including Babylon, Persepolis, Susa and Ecbatana.

In 331 BC Alexander conquered Palestine and Syria.

In 323 BC Alexander was thirty-three years of age and planned a sea voyage around Arabia, but he died of a fever before the voyage was completed.

Result of the Greek Conquests

When the Greeks conquered a people they didnít just extract taxes and goods, they thought it was in their own interests to impress and force their culture upon the conquered people. This included the Greek language being required to be learned and spoken and Greek philosophy taught which stressed the greatness of man. Greek culture appeared in the land of Palestine including chariot races, public theaters, gymnasiums, foot races and public bath houses.

There was tension in Israel as a result of the Greek lifestyle. The Jews now had to deal with the Greek lifestyle and not just a foreign power. Now there were other problems, the "sopherim" were establishing a theocracy, a society where God was at the head. They were able to do this under the Persians but now the Greeks were pushing their lifestyle. What developed here was a division between the "sopherim" (the scribes and schoolmen) into two parties, the house of Onias and the house of Tobias.

The house of Onias were the people who were faithful to the Law of Moses. This party consisted of those who wanted to adhere to the principles of scripture. One leader was Simon the Just, the High Priest, who stood for three principles: the Torah, the Temple and a pious lifestyle. The Torah stood for delighting in the Law of the Lord, because they wanted to adhere to the Law of Moses. The Temple was where the Law was fulfilled and the sacrifices were done. The pious lifestyle was to be practiced because they did not want to accept the pagan ways of their captors. The house of Tobias were the people who were secularists. They were swayed from scripture and wanted to assimilate and adopt the views, philosophies and lifestyle of the Greeks. They were the modernists who wanted to shed the old Jewish customs. They became the Hellenists.

The reasons why the Greeks liked the Hellenists was because they were more amiable, agreeable, friendly, sociable, favorable to the foreign powers. The Greek governors found that they could get along better with them and would grant them favors. The Hellenists made progress in the politics of the day.

The Hasidim

The Hasidim, or the pious ones, were an ancient Jewish sect that developed between 300 BC and 175 BC. They were the most rigid adherents of Judaism in contradistinction to those Jews who were beginning to be affected by Hellenistic influences. Their ritual strictness has caused some to see them as forerunners of the Pharisees.

The nearest thing to the Hasidim today would be the orthodox Jews praying at the western wall in Jerusalem. They wear the dark black clothes and have long beards and curls.

The Hasidim and the Hellenists were like church and state. The Hasidim, the pious ones, were not interested in politics. They were the teachers of the Law. The Hellenists, had some limited political power and were willing to bend to the Greek culture. They also had control of the Temple.

The Hasidim remained loyal to the Law and became known as the Pharisees. The Hellenists became known as the Sadducees.

The Sanhedrin

In the days of Jesus and the apostle Paul, the Sanhedrin, was the supreme council and tribunal of the Jews during postexilic times headed by a High Priest and having religious, civil, and criminal jurisdiction.

We see that two parties had developed within the Sanhedrin. In Acts 23:1-8 we see that Paul was before the council and he perceived that one part was Sadducees and the other part was Pharisees. In Verse 8 we see that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection, angels, spirits and the afterlife, but the Sadducees didnít.

The Sadducees were the modernists and they were politically motivated. Their attitude was the "here and now." They had a type of religion, they believed in the Torah, the five books of Moses, but they did not put much stock in the prophets.

What we find in the New Testament is that the Pharisees had become quite corrupt. In Matthew 23 Jesus gave the Pharisees a scathing condemnation saying the following at least eight times: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites."

Now, Back to History

When Alexander died, he left no heirs and no logical successor. By 315 BC four notable generals appeared: Antigonus, who ruled the country from the Mediterranean to central Asia; Cassander, who ruled Macedonia; Ptolemy Lagi, who ruled Egypt and southern Syria; and Lysimachus, who ruled Thrace. At this point in time, Palestine was under Ptolemaic rule and for the most part, the Jews were permitted to live in peace and in accord with their religious traditions.

In 311 BC Seleucus conquered Babylonia which was the beginning of the Seleucid dynasty.

In 301 BC Lysimachus, Seleucus and Cassander with their forces met and overcame the forces of the empire conscious Antigonus at Ipsus, in Phygia in which Antigonus died on the battlefield.

In 283 BC Ptolemy Lagi was succeeded by his son, Ptolemy Philadelphus.

In 281 BC Seleucus was murdered and his son Antiochus I succeeded him.

In 275 BC Ptolemy invaded Syria and was driven back by the Seleucid forces.

In 261 BC Antiochus II succeeded his father to the Syrian throne and war began again.

In 252 BC Ptolemyís daughter, Berenice was betrothed to Antiochus II which united the two rival houses by marriage.

In 246 BC Antiochus died and was succeeded by his son Seleucus II.

In 245 BC Ptolemy II died and was succeeded by Ptolemy III.

In 221 BC Ptolemy III died and was succeeded by Ptolemy IV Philopater, one of the worst of the Ptolmaic house.

In 226 BC Seleucus II was succeeded by Seleucus III, who died from poison. He then was succeeded by his younger brother Antiochus III, the Great.

In 223 BC Antiochus III was only eighteen years old when he came to the throne of Syria.

In 198 BC Antiochus III defeats Egypt, gains control of Palestine. He was murdered in 187 BC near Susa, Iran.

Antiochus Epiphanes

In 215 BC Antiochus was born and was the son of Antiochus III.

In 202 BC Rome defeated Carthage at Zama and also declared war on Antiochus III and defeated him. He had to pay enormous indemnity and his younger son, Antiochus Epiphanes, was taken to Rome as a hostage for the payment of the indemnity. His twelve years in Rome gave him a deep respect for the Roman way of doing things.

On his release, he ousted a usurper to take over Syria. He conquered Egypt except Alexandria (169) and ruled Egypt as regent for his nephew Ptolemy VI. The Roman defeat of his Macedonian allies neutralized his victories in Cyprus and Egypt (168), and he was forced to leave both, though he kept southern Syria. He took Jerusalem (167) and enforced its Hellenization.

As Antiochus was in route to Egypt and crossing through Israel, he became aware of the riches in the Temple in Jerusalem. He sacked the Temple and took the Temple treasures and melted down the utensils and used it for money to pay his troops and to provide for his war effort.

Antiochus realized that the strength of the Jewish people was in their religion. He sought to destroy Judaism. He wanted to Hellenize them but the Jewish people resisted so he sought to destroy them by means of: suspending Temple rituals by not allowing them to offer sacrifices. He set out to destroy all of the Torahs, the scriptural texts. He made a law not to be able to study the Torah. He made it a law forbidding the Jews to keep the Sabbath and he forced them to work on the Sabbath. He outlawed Kosher food and circumcism.

Antiochus went into the Temple of God in Jerusalem and went into the Holy of Holies and he made an altar to Zeus and he offered pigs on the altar. Daniel the prophet refers to this as the abomination of desolation (Daniel 11:31.)

This horrible situation existed among the Jewish people in the land of Judea and there were those who were waiting for a time to revolt. There was bitter discontent. The Jews were looking for the opportunity to throw off the yoke of Atiochus Epiphanes.

Mattathias and the Maccabean Revolt

The Maccabean Revolt began under the leadership of the Jewish priest Mattathias, a Hasmonean from the priesthood of Zadok, after Antiochus sought to stamp out Judaism by forbidding all Jewish practices and desecrating the temple in 167 BC

As Antiochus Epiphanes sought to destroy Judaism, he would send his captains into the various districts and assemble all of the people in the town square. The captains would have an altar there and would force the Jewish leaders to sacrifice pigs on the altar.

One afternoon, the aged Mattathias was brought forth and commanded to slay a pig and offer it to God. The captain gave Mattathias his sword to slay the pig. Mattathias slayed the captain instead. He lifted the sword high and said: "All those who are for God, follow me." The Jews overcame the soldiers who were with the captain and this was the formation of a band of revolutionaries. They went up and hid in the hills. As the news spread, more and more Jews joined their ranks. This army would do raiding parties at night and hide out during the day. This army consisted of the more liberal minded Hellenist Jews who themselves couldnít stomach what was going on.

The religious Jews who were the teachers of the Law were not interested in politics. All they wanted to do was to be Jews and worship God, but they joined in support by endorsing the army saying "this situation is intolerable."

Mattathiasí army began attacking small Syrian forces. Antiochus Epiphanes and the bulk of his forces were not in Israel at this time, they were in Egypt fighting Ptolemy.

The revolt picked up steam and the Jewish armies took more and more cities and finally they came to Jerusalem and retook it and the Temple.

Mattathias died in 166 BC, and his famous son Judah became the leader. He was known as Judah Maccabee. Maccabee was not his name, it means "hammer" - he was the leader who struck blows on the Syrians.

After Judas Maccabaeus recaptured Jerusalem, he cleansed the Temple, the pagan altar was destroyed and he reconsecrated the Temple.

Hanukkah In Judaism, the holiday Hanakkuk, celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in 164 BC, after its desecration three years earlier by Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

The lighting of the menorah recalls the story that a one-day supply of oil burned miraculously in the Temple for eight days until new oil could be obtained. Sometimes called the Feast of Dedication or Feast of Lights, it is celebrated for eight days in December, during which the ceremonial candles are lit and children play games and receive gifts. Originally a minor holiday, it has become more lavishly celebrated as a result of its proximity to Christmas.

It is important to note that Jesus kept Hanukkah. The apostle John records: " Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. {23} And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon's porch" (John 10:22-23 NKJV.) Hanukkah is not commanded to be kept in the Bible as Godís seven annual Sabbaths are, as recorded in Leviticus 23. It would be more like our (U.S.A.) national holiday, the fourth of July.

Some Final Dates and Details

After Judas's death, the war continued intermittently under his brothers Jonathan and Simon. The Maccabees formed the Hasmonean dynasty.

After the reconsecration of the Temple, Antiochus then turned to defending his empire against the Parthians in the east, regained Armenia, and went on to the Arabian coast before dying in Persis in 164 BC.

By 164 BC Syria saw that they would not get their way in Israel and therefore gave religious freedom to the Jewish people.

The army of Jews consisted of the Hellenists and the religious Jews. When Syria gave them religious freedom, the Hellenists wanted to continue fighting but the religious Jews said that that was enough fighting and they put down their arms. The religious Jews wanted to return to a peaceful lifestyle where they could study the Torah.

In 160-142 BC Jonathan ruled as High Priest.

In 146 BC Scipio Africanus destroyed Carthage and Rome controled western Mediterranean.

In 142-135 BC Simon was High Priest.

134-104 BC John Hyrcanus, son of Simon, was High Priest and King.

102-76 BC Alexander Jannaeus.

75-67 BC Salome Alexandra ruler; Hyrcanus II was High Priest.

66-63 BC Aristobulus II. Dynastic battle with Hyrcanus lI.

63 BC Pompey invaded Palestine. Roman rule began.

63-40 BC Hyrcanus 11 ruled, subject to Rome. Antipater exercised increasing power.

40-37 BC Parthians conquerd Jerusalem and establish Aristobulus II as High Priest and King.

37-4 BC Herod the Great, son of Antipater, ruled as king and was subject to Rome.

31 BC Battle of Actium. Octavian emerged as ruler of the Roman world.

In Conclusion: The intertest-amental period, between the Testaments, was approximately 430 years and is called the "silent years," but as we have seen a lot happened during this time period preceding the time that Jesus came on the scene.

Hopefully this article has given us a better understanding of what happened "between the Testaments."

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Note: Most of this article is based upon notes taken from an audio taped Bible Study Course from the Institute of Jewish - Christian Studies. The lectures were presented by Jeffery L. Seif. You can contact him at P.O. Box 12268 - Dallas, TX 75225.

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You can learn more information on this topic from the following book: "Between the Testaments" by: Charles F. Pfeiffer - publisher: Baker Book House (Note: You can purchase this book from: )


Persian Period

Date BC

612 Nineveh destroyed by Medes and Babylonians.

587 Jerusalem destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

559 Cyrus inherits kingdom of Anshan, tributary to the Medes.

549 Cyrus of Anshan conquers Astyages, the Mede.

539 Babylon falls to Cyrus. End of Neo-Babylonian Empire.

530-522 Cambyses succeeds Cyrus. Conquest of Egypt.

522-486 Darius I ruler of the Persian Empire.

515 Completion of Second Temple in Jerusalem.

486-465 Xerxes I attempts the conquest of Greece. Time of Esther.

480 Greek naval victory at Salamis. Xerxes flees.

464-424 Artaxerxes I rules Persia. Age of Nehemiah.

The Hellenistic Period

334-323 Alexander the Great conquers the East.

330 Macedonian conquest of Palestine.

311 Seleucus conquers Babylon. Beginning of the Seleucid dynasty.

223-187 Antiochus (III) the Great, Seleucid ruler of Syria.

202 Rome defeats Carthage at Zama.

198 Antiochus III defeats Egypt, gains control of Palestine.

175-163 Antiochus (IV) Epiphanes rules Syria-Palestine. Proscribes Judaism. Persecution of the orthodox Jews.

168 Battle of Pydna. Romans defeat the Macedonians.

167 Mattathias and his sons rebel against the Syrians. Beginning of the Maccabean Revolt.

166-160 Leadership of Judas Maccabaeus.

160-142 Jonathan, High Priest.

146 Scipio Africanus destroys Carthage. Rome controls western Mediterranean.

142-135 Simon, High Priest.

134-104 John Hyrcanus, son of Simon, High Priest and King.

103 Aristobulus.

102-76 Alexander Jannaeus.

75-67 Salome Alexandra ruler; Hyrcanus II High Priest.

66-63 Aristobulus II. Dynastic battle with Hyrcanus lI.

63 Pompey invades Palestine. Roman rule begins.

63-40 Hyrcanus 11 rules, subject to Rome. Antipater exercises in creasing power.

40-37 Parthians conquer Jerusalem. Establish Aristobulus 11 as High Priest and King.

37-4 Herod the Great, son of Antipater, rules as king, subject to Rome.

31 Battle of Actium. Octavian emerges as ruler of the Roman world.