Q: I know that there was a long time between the writings of the Old and New Testament. What happened during that time?
Answer: Many think of the Bible as a single book with a continuous history. It is important to know that there were many writers over hundreds of years producing the books that make up the Bible. Judaism maintains that God spoke during the age of prophetic inspiration, from the time of Moses to about 400 B.C. The Old Testament comes to a close following the return of the Jews from Babylonian exile.
The Book of Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament and presents a prophetic oracle that warns the Jewish people of their shortcomings and tells them they need to put the Lord first in their hearts. Chapter 3 of Malachi tells of the arrival of a messenger. “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” The Book of Malachi and the Book of Daniel are important to the understanding of the Jewish suffering and the arrival of a Messiah.
The 400-year period between the Old Testament and New Testament is called the Intertestamental Period about which we know a great deal from extra-biblical sources. This period was violent, with many upheavals that affected religious beliefs. The Greeks were shedding polytheism, and the beliefs of the Jewish people were challenged and reform was needed. These events prepared the way for major changes in political power, language and religion such as the coming of the Messiah as recorded in the New Testament.
Instrumental in the changes that moved political power from the East to the Greco-Roman world were King Philip II and his son Alexander.
At the age of 19, Alexander became King of Macedonia; and, by the time he was 21, he had taken over Greece. He died in 323 B.C. in Babylon, present-day Iraq, having conquered the entire Mediterranean world.
At Alexander’s death, the region experienced many upheavals that affected the Jewish people and called for a solution. Alexander’s kingdom was divided, Ptolemy took over present-day Egypt, and the Jewish people came under his control. In the second century B.C., this regime was defeated by the Seleucids, in modern Syria, and the Jewish people came under their rule.
In 168 B.C., the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes began a campaign to Hellenize the Jewish people. This precipitated a rebellion by the priest Mattathias, known as the Maccabean Revolt. When Antiochus died in 164 B.C., the Jews regained religious freedom. The struggle for freedom continued, and in 142 B.C. the Seleucid King Demetrius II gave the Jewish people their religious and political liberty.
The Jewish people were free for 79 years until Jerusalem was claimed as a Roman colony. Rome appointed a Jewish King, Herod. The history of the Jewish people during the Intertestamental Period was one of defeat and oppression, and was a challenge to their faith. They came to the realization that their only hope was that God would intervene and send a Messiah. The Jews were anticipating a Messiah who would restore the Kingdom of David and usher in an age of peace and prosperity. Jesus did not fulfill their messianic expectation. Today, Orthodox Jews still look for the coming of the Messiah, but Conservative and Reformed Jews seem to have opted for the coming of a “Messianic Age.”
For Christianity, the time was ripe for the fulfillment of Old Testament promises of a Messiah. Alexander had Hellenized the known world making Greek the universal language, and the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, making the Old Testament more available to the Jews and Christians. Rome had establish peace in the Mediterranean region so that travel was possible. These changes would provide the means by which the message of Christ could be communicated throughout the world. As a suggestion to readers, the religious and political history of this period is worth researching.
Earl Crow taught religion and philosophy at High Point University. He has pastored churches and still performs weddings, preaches and offers seminars. He majored in religion at Duke University and attended the Duke Divinity School and has studied at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and received his Ph.D. from the University of Manchester, England. His column is published Saturdays in the Journal If you have questions about religion or faith, email Earl Crow at firstname.lastname@example.org.