History Of The Holy Land-The Greek and Hasmonean Periods

September 10, 2012


When Alexander the Great marched through the Levant in 333 B.C., he kept to the coastline in order to destroy the Persian navy and so bypassed Jewish areas. All of the Persian Empire fell under Greek control. After the death of Alexander (323 B.C.), a Greek family known as the Ptolemies took control of Egypt. The Levant fell under the control of Ptolemies as well. The letters of Zenon, a business manager under Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.), reveal that there was active trade between the Levant and Egypt in various food staples and in slave girls (used as prostitutes). Meanwhile, the process of Hellenization moved forward, with many societal leaders embracing Greek culture and religion.

Ancient armies of the Seleucid Empire.
(image credit: ancient-battles.com)

Ptolemaic rule in the region continued until 200 B.C., when it fell under the rule of the Seleucids, the Greek rulers of Syria. The Seleucid who took the Levant from the Ptolemies was Antiochus III (223-187 B.C.). After losing Asia Minor to Rome in 189 B.C., however, Antiochus III found his kingdom in financial straits. His son, Seleucus IV (187-175 B.C.) failed in an attempt to plunder the riches of the Jewish temple, but Antiochus IV (175-164 B.C.) did so around 170 B.C. Antiochus IV is the best remembered Seleucid in Jewish history. Around 168 B.C. he destroyed much of Jerusalem, set up an altar to Zeus in the temple and forbade the observance of Judaism. The Jews, under Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, defeated the Seleucids in successive campaigns. Judas died in battle in 160 B.C., but his brother Jonathan took the lead until his death in approximately 142 B.C. He was in turn followed by a third brother, Simon (rulers in the Maccabean line are referred to as “Hasmoneans”).

Hasmonean Coins
(image credit: ancient-art.com)


By this time Judea had become all but independent (Simon became in effect both king and high priest, although the Hasmonean rulers typically presented themselves as high priests only). Simon was followed by his son John Hyrcanus (134-104 B.C.), who extended the domain of Judah. After the brief reign of Aristobulus I (104-103 B.C.), the next Hasmonean leader was Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.), who continued to expand Judah’s domain through military means. Enormous ideological divisions developed in Jewish society, however—primarily between the more conservative and religious groups, led by the Pharisees, and the more Hellenized and aristocratic groups, led by the Sadducees. Alexander Jannaeus’s widow, Salome Alexandra, ruled after him, and with her death in 67 B.C. her sons Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II fought for the throne.

(Next: The Roman and Byzantine Periods)


History Of The Holy Land-The Persian Period

August 30, 2012

Papyrus Legal Document from Wadi el-Daliyeh
(image credit: cnes.cla.umn.edu)


(article from the Archaeological Study Bible)

The Persian Period
The land was fairly desolate during the exile, with all but the poorest Jews scattered across the Near East from Egypt to Babylonia. Other peoples began to migrate into the land. Edomites, perhaps impelled by Arabs exerting pressure from the south, moved north. The Samaritans, a people of partly Israelite and partly pagan origin, soon emerged. In 539 B. C. Cyrus II of Persia conquered Babylon, and by 500 B.C. all of the Near East was in Persian hands. Jews began to return to the land, but the situation was discouraging and little progress was made until Ezra and Nehemiah arrived during the fifth century to rebuild Jerusalem and reestablish the temple.

Archaeologically, this has been a somewhat dark period, but there have been some important finds. For example, papyri from Samaria containing legal documents dating to approximately 375-335 B.C. have been discovered at Wadi el-Daliyeh in the central hill country of Israel. Numerous locations in the land have yielded evidence of Persian-era occupation levels, but, beyond the use of Persian royal names for dating purposes, little direct evidence of Persian influence has been found.

(Next:The Greek and Hasmonean Periods)

History Of The Holy Land-Israelite Culture

August 29, 2012

Four-Room House
Better known as an Israelite pillared building, this typical structure has been found around the country throughout the Iron Age (1200-600 BC).

Subdivided by pillars into smaller rooms, these houses were often built against the city wall, with the house’s back wall forming a portion of the city’s casemate wall.
(photo from BiblePlaces.com)

(article from the Archaeological Study Bible)

The Holy Land, at times variously named Canaan, Israel, the Levant or Palestine, has changed hands many times and has often been the center of conflict. The archaeology of Palestine is complex, in that it reflects all eras of the region’s long history.

Although the Israelites appear to have invaded Canaan around 1400 B.C., they left almost no archaeological footprint until about 1200 B.C. During Iron I (usually dated c. 1200-1000 B.C.) the nation of Israel began to take shape. Examples of what appears to be Israelite material culture, such as the “four room house” and “collar-rim” pottery, appear in the archaeology of this time. Hundreds of villages in central Canaan dated to this period may be regarded as Israelite. The Philistines first appeared in Canaan at this time as part of the migration of the “Sea Peoples,” and examples of their material culture (such as a distinctive bichrome pottery that is comparable to a type of Mycenaean Greek pottery) began to appear.

Inasmuch as the Biblical record indicates that Israel was in the land and contending with various other enemies long before the Philistines became a threat, the argument that the Philistines and Israelites emerged in Canaan at about the same time is erroneous. Indeed, the presence of “Israel” on the Merneptah Stele (c. 1210 B.C.) strongly suggests that Israel was well established in the land prior to 1200 B.C., the beginning of the Iron I Age.

During the Judges period the Israelites were held together by their common covenant with God, but constant pressure from outside enemies led them to seek protection in stronger political unity (1 Sa 8:19-20). Saul was Israel’s first king, but the nation reached its cultural and political apex under David and Solomon (tenth century B.C.), when Israel dominated the entire Levant. Important physical remains from the united monarchy have been excavated at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, where triple-gated city entryways and casement walls illustrate the fortification work described in 1Kings 9:15.

Israelite supremacy was weakened by the division of the kingdom between Rehoboam and Jeroboam I (1 Ki 12) and shattered by the raid of the Egyptian Shishak (1 Ki 14:25-26). Indeed, Shishak’s attack seems to have been little more than a slash-and-burn campaign aimed at reducing Israel’s power vis-a-vis Egypt. The fortunes of Samaria (the northern kingdom of Israel) vacillated during the next two centuries. Samaria was sometimes powerful, under kings such as Hazael of Damascus. Samaria finally succumbed to Assyria around 720 B.C., and Judah, a relatively minor state, hung on until it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586 B.C.

(Next: The Persian Period)

History Of The Holy Land-Pre-Israelite Culture

August 22, 2012

Chalcolithic Pottery Jar from Jericho, 3800-3350 B.C.
(image from BiblicalArtifacts.com)


(article from the Archaeological Study Bible)

The Holy Land, at times variously called Canaan, Israel, the Levant or Palestine, has changed hands many times and has often been the center of conflict. The archaeology of Palestine is complex, in that it reflects all eras of the region’s long history.

Prehistoric and Early Bronze Age

Canaan was inhabited from prehistoric times. The earliest Stone Age culture was discovered at Mount Carmel, and remains of a later Stone Age culture, called the Natufian, were unearthed at Jericho. Agriculture and the production of pottery began during the Neolithic period, which is divided into “pre-pottery” and “pottery” periods. During the late fifth and fourth millenniums B.C. a culture called “Ghassulian” emerged in the southern Jordan Valley. Along with a site in Beersheba, this marked the beginning of the Chalcolithic Age in the region. Ghassulian pottery is remarkably advanced and attests to the sophistication of these early people.

The beginning of the Early Bronze Age (3400-2000 B.C.) in the Levant corresponds with late predynastic and early dynastic Egypt, around 3400-3000 B.C. Important Early Bronze I sites include Megiddo, Jericho, Ai and Beth Shan, all in northern or central Palestine; a more advanced culture developed in the southern part of the region somewhat later. An important Early Bronze II site in the south is Arad. The Early Bronze Age saw the beginning of urban culture in the land, with more or less autonomous city-states developing around major walled cities.

Around 2650-2350 B.C. a breakdown of unspecified origin occured in urban culture, especially in the north. One suggested reason is that nomadic Amorites invaded the land and disrupted the culture. It is questionable, however, whether this change in culture can be attributed to an Amorite migration or invasion, and today many scholars reject this suggestion. Some believe that environmental problems were a more likely cause; Abraham is said to have gone down to Egypt because of famine (Gen. 12:10). The decline of Early Bronze culture in Canaan may be related to the end of the Old Kingdom in Egypt in the twenty-second century B.C., as “Asiatics” (Semitic peoples from Canaan and Syria) pushed their way into Egypt.

Middle Bronze and Late Bronze Ages

A new urban culture, contemporary with the beginning of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, arose at the start of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000-1550 B.C.) prominent cities included Tel Aphek, Byblos, Acco, Megiddo, Jericho, and Beth Shan. The art of pottery-making advanced significantly as potters learned to use the fast wheel to fashion fine vessels. The Egyptian Tale of Sinuhe provides a portrait if Canaanite life at this time. The Middle Bronze Age in Canaan also spans the Hyksos era of the Second Intermediate period in Egypt; some have argued for a Hyksos presence in Canaan, but this is unlikely.

There was a decline in the quality of material culture (especially pottery) in Canaan at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550-1200 B.C.), and there appears to have been a great deal of destruction during Late Bronze I (c. 1550-1400 B.C.). Egyptian rulers. Especially Thutmose III (c. 1479-1425 B.C.), made forays into Canaan to keep the city-states there subservient to Egyptian demands, and Egyptian influence is evident at a number of sites (e,g., Megiddo). Many scholars, on the basis of destruction levels for various Late Bronze II sites, have argued that the Israelite invasion under Joshua occurred around 1250 B.C., but this argument has largely collapsed since in fact no cities, with the possible exception of Hazor, have destruction levels that fit this interpretation.

(Next: Israelite Culture)

Biblical Archaeological Periods

August 6, 2012

Archaeological Periods

• 8300/4500 B.C. – Neolithic
• 4500/3200 B.C. – Chalcolithic
• 3200/2200 B.C. – Early Bronze Age
• 2200/1550 B.C. – Middle Bronze Age
•1550/1200 B.C. – Late Bronze Age
• 1200/1000 B.C. – Iron Age I
• 1000/586 B.C. – Iron Age II
• 586/539 B.C. – Babylonian/Exilic Period
• 539/332 B.C. – Persian Period
• 332/141 B.C. – Hellenistic Period
• 141/37 B.C. – Hasmonean Period
• 37 B.C./133 A.D. – Roman Period
• 324/638 A.D. – Byzantine Period
• 638/1516 A.D. – Arab Period
• 1099/1291 A.D. – Crusader Period
• 1517/1917 A.D. – Ottoman Period
• 1917/1948 A.D. – British Mandate
• 1948 A.D./present – Modern Israel

(prepared by Duane A. Garrett)

About This Bible

July 7, 2012


The Bible is not a book of abstract religious teaching. If it were, understanding its historical context would be of relatively minor importance, although even then questions about the circumstances of its composition could not be ignored. Furthermore, the Bible did not arise out of a single cultural and historical environment; it certainly is not the product of revelations given to a single man, as the Koran claims to be. If it were, understanding its historical background would be far simpler.

As it is, the writing of the Bible took place over a period of more than 1,000 years. Although most if not all the writers of Scripture were Israelite or Jewish, those authors lived in a wide variety of circumstances. The cultural backdrop to the Biblical stories includes Egypt of the pharaohs, Mesopotamia, Canaanite culture, Israel across the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, the royal court of Persia, the expansive Hellenistic civilization, and the Roman Empire. The languages of the Bible are Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, but there are traces as well of the influence of Egyptian, Ugaritic, Akkadian, Sumerian, Persian and Latin. Portions of the Bible were composed in Israel, Egypt, Babylon, Asia Minor (Turkey), Greece, and Rome. The writers of Scripture were sages, kings, farmers, exiles, governors, fishermen, and traveling preachers.

The literature of the Bible is itself of a wide variety, and a given genre is likely to have much in common with the literature of its day. Narratives that tell the story of God’s people in simple yet absorbing tales run through the Bible in books as diverse as Genesis, Judges, Ruth, Esther, and Acts. Legislative texts that have parallels in the law codes of Mesopotamia emerge in books such as Numbers and Deuteronomy. Hymns and devotional songs appear in the Psalms, and when set in comparison to the hymns and religious poems of Egypt, Ugarit and Mesopotamia, they display both striking similarities and telling dissimilarities to their counterparts. The Bible even contains love poetry (Song of Songs), and this, too, is both like and unlike contemporary Egyptian love poetry. Like the Egyptians and Mesopotamians, the people of Israel composed many proverbs.

Of course, differences can be as significant as similarities, and not every type of literature in the Bible has strong parallels outside its pages. The proclamations of the Hebrew prophets have limited parallels in ancient Mesopotamia, and it is difficult to find anything else that compares with the four Gospels of the New Testament. On the other hand, the apocalyptic visions of Revelation can be compared to the apocalyptic texts of “Second Temple” Judaism, just as the letters of Paul may be evaluated over against other epistolary literature of the Greco-Roman period. In short, the Bible is an amazingly diverse collection of texts, none of which originated in a vacuum.

The NIV Archaeological Study Bible focuses on the historical, literary, and cultural context of the Bible. This context includes the history of peoples and places populating its pages, daily life in various periods and under widely diverse circumstances during Biblical times, and ancient texts that illuminate the Bible and the archaeology of the Biblical world. In addition, the articles in this Bible devote particular attention to challenges archaeologists and Biblical scholars face on the critical issue of the trustworthiness of Scripture. But why is there a need for a tool that focuses on historical context? Several answers apply:

1. Context is crucial to interpretation. Imagine reading the words of a political or religious debate without the benefit of any knowledge of the circumstances, customs, or beliefs of those involved in the discussion/dispute. The reader would either be bewildered or would run the risk of grossly misinterpreting the issues and positions people were taking. It is foolish, even arrogant, to think that we can rightly understand the Biblical writers without knowing anything of their environment.

2. As described above, the Biblical world is complex and spans a great deal of history. The ancient world is simply too extensive and too diverse for us to expect a few passing comments on “background” to give us a meaningful awareness of the cultures that the Biblical writers inhabited.

3. A study of the context of the Bible is an encouragement to faith. Many modern Christians shun the study of the ancient world for fear that scholars will make them aware of troubling facts that will serve only to undermine their faith in the Bible. In reality, a careful study of the world of the Bible enhances our confidence in its historical accuracy and in its distinctiveness as the Word of God. Set against the astonishing variety of cultures that made up the Biblical world, the unity of the message of the Bible is remarkable. The writers of Scripture spoke in diverse times and places, but they were inspired by one changeless Spirit. And, of course, the only way to answer those who claim that historical facts undermine Biblical credibility is to take a firsthand look at those very facts.

4. Awareness of the context of the Bible is an antidote to the dangerous dismissal of history that we see too often in both the church and the academy. In our day the postmodern outlook all but rejects history and context. Under the influence of this movement readers simply refuse to hear the writers of Scripture on their own terms and instead assert that it is up to each reader to make whatever he or she will of the ancient texts. Many reject outright the suggestion that we are obligated to attempt to understand the objective of a passage’s original writer. The author’s intended meaning is thus rendered irrelevant to the modern reader, who feels free to interpret a text in any manner whatsoever. Such an approach makes a mockery of Biblical authority. Further, many well-intentioned Christian readers, although not fully committed to a postmodern way of thinking, tend to interpret the Bible strictly in terms of their own experiences and standards, without ever considering what a prophet or apostle was saying to the people of his own day. An awareness of the beliefs, conflicts, history and habits of the people of Biblical times forces us to confront questions like, “What did Paul actually mean when he wrote these words to the Corinthian church?”

5. Awareness of the world of the Bible instills within us a deeper appreciation for the writers of Scripture and a deeper love for the Bible itself. It is difficult for us to genuinely love someone we do not really know, and we cannot enter into the experiences and prespective of Biblical people without first relating to their world. By looking at the tools with which they worked, the struggles they faced, the literature they knew and the customs under which they lived, we acquire a profound admiration for their faith and wisdom.

The Pharisees

July 1, 2012


(Article from ‘Archaeological Study Bible’)

The Pharisees were an influential political and religious sect during the Second Temple period. During this time of increasing foreign influence, they promoted the faithful observance of Jewish law at both a national and an individual level. The exact meaning of the term Pharisee remains uncertain. The noun derives from the Hebrew verb meaning “to separate” or “to distinguish.” The title appears to have been applied originally in a negative sense when the Pharisees were expelled from membership in the Sanhedrin under John Hyrcanus (135—104 B.C.), though it was later understood in a positive sense either as “those who separated themselves” from all sources of ritual uncleanness (see Mk 7:1-23; Gal 2:12-13) or “those who interpreted the law precisely” (see Ac 22:3; 26:5).

The Pharisees believed that God was the sovereign Creator, who expressed His will to humanity through Scripture. Moreover, He granted humanity the gifts of responsible moral choice and reason in order to apply the Scriptures to this life in preparation for the resurrection, judgment, and the life to come (Ac 23:6-8). Members of this sect carefully observed the Mosaic Law, systematically interpreting and adapting it to the conditions of their own time in order to maintain a sense of purity among the populace (Mt 23:2-3). This system of interpretation and way of life were transmitted by generations of teachers and became know variously as the oral law, the tradition of the elders (Mk 7:3-5; Gal 1:14), the works of the law (Ro 3:20-28; Gal 2:16-3:10) or simply the Halakhah (from a Hebrew word meaning “walk”; Halakhah is traditional Jewish teaching that governs behavior and religious practice).

The Pharisees saw themselves as the heirs of a vast body of interpretative tradition that enabled them to function as reliable guides for the Jewish people during a tumultuous era (Ro 2:17-20). Although some Pharisees came to believe in Jesus as the Christ (Ac 15:5; Php 3:4-11), the majority justified their opposition to Him on the grounds that Jesus ostensibly taught on His own authority (Mt 7:29; Jn 3:1-3; 8:13), as well as on the basis of His interpretations of various issues that were of vital concern to them.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees on the grounds that, for all their commendable observance of rules and traditions, they were fundamentally unrepentant, neither knowing God nor loving people (Mt 23).

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