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Oxford Bible Atlas Contextualizes the stories and lands of the Bible through user-friendly maps and illustrations.

The Greeks

The Greeks

Athens: the Acropolis.

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www.bridgeman.co.uk (Bildarchiv Steffens)

There is very limited direct reference to Greece and Greeks in the Hebrew Bible, but there are allusions to events in the Hellenistic period, and of course the New Testament makes many references to Greece and Greeks, albeit in the context of the Roman Empire. Nor is there much, if any, clear evidence of the influence of Greek thought on the Hebrew Bible, though some of the ideas in Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) have been suggested as having affinities with Greek ideas.

There is a reference to ‘Greece’ (Javan) in Zechariah 9: 13 but it is not clear precisely to which entity reference is being made. Elsewhere ‘Javan’ sometimes seems to refer to the Ionian coastland of Asia Minor or the adjacent islands. Ezekiel 27: 13 associates Javan with Tubal and Meshech, regions in Asia Minor, as being involved in trade with Tyre. In Isaiah 66: 19 , mention of Javan follows a reference to Tubal and to Lud (Lydia). In a passage in the Book of Joel (Joel 3: 4–8 ), ‘Tyre, Sidon and all the regions of Philistia’ are upbraided for selling people from Judah and Jerusalem as slaves to the Greeks (Javan). In the Book of Daniel there are somewhat oblique allusions to the rise of Alexander, the subsequent division of his empire after his death, and the rivalry among his generals, in particular the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids in Syria. (See, for example, Daniel 10: 18–11: 9 .)

The spread of Hellenism and the vicissitudes of the Hellenistic Period must have made their impact on the Jews of Palestine, though direct references in the Bible itself are limited. They do, as already noted, help to explain the context from which it is now widely believed that the Book of Daniel emerged and sought to address. So a brief outline of some key events is not inappropriate here.

After Alexander had defeated Darius III at Issus in 332, he captured Damascus, laid siege to the island city of Tyre, and eventually took it after a seven‐month siege. He then pressed on south and took Gaza on the way to Egypt. On his return, he destroyed Samaria to avenge the murder of one of his officials. In a cave in the Wadi Daliyeh in the wilderness of Judah were found papyrus documents brought there by refugees from Samaria. The presence of a non‐Palestinian type of fortification, the round tower, at Samaria has given rise to the suggestion that, after it had been destroyed by Alexander, it was resettled by Macedonians. The rebuilding of Shechem in the late 4th century, after a long period when it was not occupied, raises the possibility that the Samaritans returned there and established it as their capital.

Alexander's death was followed by a period of confusion and warfare. Ultimately his empire was divided among his generals (see Dan. 8: 8, 22; 11: 4 ). Ptolemy I assumed the kingship of Egypt and initially took possession of Palestine and Phoenicia. But he lost these territories to Antigonus, ruler of Phrygia, who besieged and captured Tyre and left his son, Demetrius, in command at Gaza. Three years later, Ptolemy defeated Demetrius at Gaza and, according to a tradition preserved by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, Ptolemy then entered Jerusalem with his troops on the Sabbath day, when the inhabitants refused to fight. The exile of many Jews into Egypt by Ptolemy at this time is recorded in the Letter of Aristeas. Antigonus subsequently sought to invade Egypt, but was unsuccessful and many of his ships were wrecked in a storm at Raphia.

Seleucus, another of Alexander's generals, established his control over Babylonia by about 312–311, and so began the Seleucid era. After the defeat of Antigonus in the battle of Ipsus in Phrygia in c.301, Seleucus was given Coele‐Syria (Palestine). He took possession of the northern part of Syria, making Antioch his capital, but in fact Palestine was to remain under the control of the Ptolemies of Egypt until the reign of Antiochus III (the Great), after a series of wars between Ptolemies and Seleucids. (Daniel 11 reflects the troubled events of this period; the term ‘the king of the south’ refers to the various Ptolemaic rulers, and ‘the king of the north’ to the Seleucid kings.)

Antiochus was initially unsuccessful in his attempts to invade Palestine. However, when the child‐king Ptolemy V came to the throne in Egypt, Antiochus was presented with another opportunity, and this time he was successful in taking over Palestine from Egypt (Dan. 11: 15–16 ). In fear of Rome, Antiochus III married his daughter Cleopatra to Ptolemy at Raphia (Dan. 11: 17 ). An attempted foray into Greece was thwarted by Rome, and he was defeated at Magnesia ‘ad Sipylum’ (in Asia Minor) by the Roman general Scipio (Dan. 11: 18–19 ).

During the reign of Antiochus III (223–187), the Jews in Palestine were treated favourably. He remitted certain taxes and made contributions to the costs of sacrifices. But his reign, and that of his successors, was a time of feuding over the rights to the collection of taxes and over the high priesthood. Onias II, the high priest, had refused to pay taxes, 20 talents of silver, to Ptolemy V. Tax‐collecting rights for the whole of Palestine were given to a certain Joseph, of the family of Tobias. When Palestine came under the control of Antiochus III, the tax‐collecting rights remained with the Tobiad family, which became powerful and wealthy, and there was bitter rivalry between the house of Onias and the house of Tobias. Antiochus III was succeeded by Seleucus IV, whose chief minister, Heliodorus, went to Jerusalem to seize the Temple treasury (Dan. 11: 20 ). Onias III went to Seleucus to secure assistance in quieting riots in Jerusalem, but Seleucus was murdered by Heliodorus, and Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) became king in 175 (Dan. 11: 21 ). In the absence of Onias, his brother Jason bribed Antiochus to grant him the high priesthood. As his name suggests, he was a Hellenist, in favour of accommodating the Jewish faith to Greek religion and culture. But after three years a larger bribe was offered to Antiochus by Menelaus, who was not of a priestly family, but who now became high priest. He was an even more avid Hellenist, who encouraged his own brother to steal vessels from the Temple and who secured the murder of Onias at the sanctuary of Daphne, near Antioch.

In his first campaign in Egypt Antiochus won some significant victories, and it was while returning in triumph that he stopped in Jerusalem in 169 in order to raid the Temple treasury. In the following year he again campaigned in Egypt, but in a suburb of Alexandria he was ordered from Egypt by a Roman official. On his way home, humiliated, he again intervened in affairs in Jerusalem, to put down a rebellion which may have been sparked by rumours that he had died in Egypt. In 167 he sent his general, Apollonius, to maintain order in Jerusalem. This led to the creation of a fortress (the Akra), and the imposition of heavy taxation. Subsequently a decree was issued which virtually proscribed the practice of Judaism. The Temple was desecrated, an altar to Zeus was constructed, and a pig was sacrificed. This was the ‘desolating sacrilege’ (often known more archaically as the ‘abomination of desolation’) in December 167 (1 Macc. 1: 54 ).

This led to the outbreak of the Maccabean revolt under Mattathias and his sons. (See chapter on ‘Judah, Yehud, and Judea’ .) The detailed story is recounted in 1 Maccabees. As a result of the victories of Mattathias's son, Judas, the Temple was rededicated three years later in December 165, and, according to 1 Maccabees 4: 54 , on the very same day on which it had been profaned. Another of Mattathias's sons, Simon, became independent ruler, and the high priesthood was vested in him and his descendants. (His brother Jonathan had earlier been made high priest by the Seleucid Demetrius II.) Judas and his successors are known as ‘the Hasmoneans’ after an ancestor named Hasmon.

The Greeks

The Dead Sea: the barren landscape of the western shore. Salt deposits are clearly visible. (See on ‘The Rift Valley’.)

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Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

In its account of the early days of the Maccabean revolt, 1 Maccabees 2: 42 records that Mattathias and his followers were joined by a company of Hasidim. This was a group, which emerged or became prominent at this time, of faithful Jews who were opposed to Hellenization. It is possible that both the Pharisees and the Essenes emerged from among the number of the Hasidim. It was during the period of Hasmonean rule that a person known as the ‘Teacher of Righteousness’ may have led a group of people, probably Essenes, into the Judean desert and established the community at Qumran—on the north‐west shore of the Dead Sea—which is associated with the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’. Simon's son, John Hyrcanus (135–104) was succeeded in turn by his son, Aristobulus I (104–103), who may have been the first of the Hasmoneans to assume the title ‘king’. Another view is that Alexander Jannaeus (103–76) was the first to take the title ‘king’. Hasmonean rule ultimately came to an end when Jerusalem was conquered by Rome in 63 BCE.

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