Home » Apocrypha Stuff » The Build up to the Maccabean Revolt Part I: Post Exillic, Persian Era, and Alexander the Great

The Build up to the Maccabean Revolt Part I: Post Exillic, Persian Era, and Alexander the Great

The Post Exilic Period (537-432) Ezra-Nehemiah; Haggai; Zechariah; Malachi

Around 537 BC Cyrus gave an edict which allowed the exiled to start to return home, which they so in seemly groups for over the next few decades (cf. Ezra 1.2-4)[1].  When the exiles returned, the land of Judah was a small one, with a population of about 50,000 but these men and women had come from all over and made up quite a diverse group[2].  The first return around 538 BC brought about the starting of the temple rebuilding; this first group of exiles was lead by Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, and the High Priest Joshua[3].

The identity Sheshbazzar is somewhat problematic.  It maybe that Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel are one in the same, or that Sheshbazzar was to be associated with Shenazzar of 1 Chronicles 3.18[4].  Rabbinic Sources, have even associated him with Daniel[5].  It has also been suggested that Sheshbazzar died early on into the return, with Zerubbabel then taking his place as the leader[6].  Yet another suggestion is that Cyrus had appointed Sheshbazzar merely to return back the holy vessel to the temple[7].   In any case, it would seem that Sheshbazzar started the work upon the temple, and for some reason Zerubbabel finished it, hence both got the credit[8].

Haggai’s and Zechariah’s ministry was around this time, of 520 BC, Haggai in the summer and Zechariah in the late fall, both their messages were concerned with the completion of the temple, which was completed in 515 BC[9].

The second return was lead by Ezra around 58 years later, 458 BC and he brought about great reforms to the people.[10] Third return 444 BC during the 20th year of Artaxerxes and he brought about the completion of the walls around Jerusalem.[11] Of Interest in this era of Ezra-Nehemiah is that we begin to see some of the tension of the Jews and Samaritans which would gone on even into the NT times[12].  Malachi appears on the scene after the temple had been built (again 515 BC), and seems to be during the time of Ezra-Nehemiah (458-445 BC) and speaks to the same issues which Ezra wanted to reform[13].

Two Interesting Legends 1 Esdras 3.1-5.6; 2 Maccabees 1.19-36

One tale concerning Zerubbabel tells of how he gets permission to lead one group of exiles back to their homeland.  This tale is found in I Esdras, but also in Josephus (“Ant.” xi. 3, §§ 5-9)[14].  It is one which has its counterparts in other Middle Eastern, but one which the author of 1 Esdras has taken to shape into his own story, given both a moral lesson (God’s Truth is the ultimate power) and a “pseudo-historical” look at how Foreign Kings looked upon the Jews with favor[15].  The Basic Story concern’s Zerubbabel as being a body guard of Darius, and along with several other body guards they make a challenge for the most powerful thing in the world.  Zerubbabel gets the King’s attention and thus receives a reward, which is namely permission to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple.

Another tale found in 2 Maccabees tells of how Nehemiah restores the sacred Fire to temple.  The main purpose of the story is to show how the Sacred Fire of the temple was preserved during the exile and how Judah’s fire was also a part of that same line of sacredness[16].   The story in essence, by showing this line, shows that the fire on the altar of the Second Temple is as legitimate as Solomon’s, and thus in essence a reason why the rededication of the temple out to be celebrated as well.[17].The story tells how Nehemiah sends forth Priest to find the lost sacred fire of the altar, and after finding it how, he has the remainder poured out on stones to be hidden.  Afterwards we are given the tale of how this fire had been hidden away in the first place by Jeremiah, who not only hid the fire, but also the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, and the Altar of Incense where they are hidden until God chooses to reveal them again.

The Coming of Alexander (333-175) 1 Maccabees 1.1-7

Between Malachi and Alexander (432 to 411 BC) there is little known concerning Judea, we do know that Johanan was High Priest at this time, in 408 he was succeeded by his son Jedaiah[18].  We also know that life under the Persians wasn’t really all that hard, with cases like Esther being outside the norm[19].  As long as the Jews accepted Persia (and her laws) as their Supreme ruler, they were allowed to continue their life as they wish[20].  Although Esther seems to be a rarity and not the norm, there is another even recorded by Jospehus, where we find that Johanan the High priest, in his anger to killed his brother, Jeshua  who had tried to acquire the High Priest title, due in part with the help of a Persian general (perhaps governor) named Bagoas, Joshua’s fellow kinsmen didn’t appreciate his allowance of Bagoas to enter the temple, in the end Bagoas forced a tribute tax upon the Jews for every sacrifice made in the temple for a period of seven years[21].   In essence this helps to highlight the power of the Persian Empire, as well as the High priest position importance[22].

Around 333 BC, Alexander had conquered most of Asian minor and by 334 BC had even gained Egypt into his territory[23].  Persia had by this time declined in its one great power, due in part to losses to Greek prior to their major lost to Alexander, first in 491 BC at Marathon and then Salamis which is near Athens  in 480 BC[24].  Moreover the rule of Achemenias was one filled with conspiracy and dishonesty “at every level[25].”  Alexander Gained Judah without much of a notice, it seems it was merely gotten on his way to Egypt.  For the most part Greek Literature is silent on this matter, Josephus does however include a rather interesting passage concerning Alexander’s visit[26].  After Alexander had captured Gaza, we are told by Josephus that he went to Jerusalem where he was received, by the High Priest Jaddua and the people without much a fight[27].

Moreover Josephus records that “And when the Book of Daniel was showed him wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended. And as he was then glad, he dismissed the multitude for the present; but the next day he called them to him, and bid them ask what favors they pleased of him; whereupon the high priest desired that they might enjoy the laws of their forefathers, and might pay no tribute on the seventh year. He granted all they desired[28].”  For the most part in combination with this legend, and what archeologists have found, it appears that the Jewish people were left to continue their religion in relatively peace and freedom[29].

Alexander brought him with the Hellenistic Period, and this above all had great effect upon this area of the world and events within Judea.[30] Alexander had a policy of making creek cities with Greek cultures in the regions which he conquered, helped to spread Hellenism[31].  Hellenism in the end would force the Jewish people to ask the question of if they could be faithful to Yahweh while at the same time Hellenistic, and while some thought so, most did not, with Hellenism become a major factor in the Maccabean revolts[32].

While Judea and the Jewish people seemed to have simply accepted Alexander, the Samaritans seem to be a different case, [33].  The origin of the Samaritan group seems to be around 722 BC, with the fall of the northern capital and the mixing of people groups, the rules established by Ezra and Nehemiah also kept any sort of community between these two groups[34].  It seems to be around this time that the Samaritan sect seems to have gained its ground[35].  It’s around this point that it would seem that the Samaritan sect, had recognized only the Pentateuch as having authority, prior the second century BC, the Samaritans even had built their own temple atop Mount Gerizim[36].

The Samaritans at first seemed to have welcome Alexander and the Greeks, only to have them later revolt, to which caused Samaria to be rebuilt in a Greek manner[37].   Of course this is all merely a prelude to the events which were to come.


[1] Gordon McConville, “Biblical History,” in New Bible Commentary, ed. G. J. Wenham et al., 21st century ed. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994),  34.

[2] Addison G. Wright, Roland E. Murphy, and Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “A History of Israel,” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1990),  1237-8.

[3] Leon J. Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, rev. David O’Brien (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1986), 334-5.

[4] Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests : A History of Old Testament Israel, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 504.

[5] David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996, c1992), 5:1208.

[6] Merrill, 505.

[7] Freedman, 5:1208.

[8] Ibid., 6:1085.

[9] R. K. Harrison, Old Testament Times (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 280.

[10] Wood, 336-7.

[11] Ibid., 338-340.

[12] Harrison, 286.

[13] Willem A. VanGemeren, Interpreting the Prophetic Word: An Introduction to the Prophetic Literature of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 202-3.

[14] Jewishencyclopedia.com

[15] Bruce M Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1957), 16.

[16] Daniel R. Schwartz, Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature: 2 Maccabees (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 133-4.

[17] Schwartz, 527, 134

[18] Harrison, 288.

[19] Werner Keller, The Bible as History, 2nd Revised Edition (New York: Bantam, 1983), 336.

[20] Hubert Inman Hester, The Heart of Hebrew History : A Study of the Old Testament, Rev. ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1962), 316.

[21] Walter C. Kaiser, A History of Israel : From the Bronze Age Through the Jewish Wars (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 446.

[22] Kaiser, 446.

[23] Harrison, 293.

[24] Keller, 338.

[25] Kaiser, 449.

[26] Harrison, 288, and Wood, 353.

[27] Keller, 341.

[28] from Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved. §52 [11.52]

[29] Keller, 340.

[30] Harrison, 294.

[31] Wood, 353.

[32] Hester, 321.

[33] Keller, 340.

[34] Kaiser, 453.

[35] McConville, 35.

[36] Kaiser, 453.

[37] Wright, Murphy, Fitzmyer, 1239.

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1 Comment

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