Address by the Rev. Dr. John A. Broadus, of Kentucky - Value of a Neglected Field of Study - Four Periods: the Persian, the Greek, the Maccabaean, and the Roman - Outlines and Characteristics of Each - Literature of the Jews - The Jewish Alexandrian Philosophy - Did the Jews Generally Expect a Messiah?
Christianity is an historical religion. Even the doctrinal and preceptive portions of the Bible are imbedded in history. Nothing can be understood unless it is studied historically. And this is strikingly true of Christianity. The inter-Biblical history is important for various reasons. It helps to understand the condition of the Jews in New Testament times - their political, social, and religious condition. It helps to understand the origin of Christianity. There are several erroneous views as to the origin of Christianity. Some have held that it is a mere creation of human thought. Tom Paine's vulgar notion, that the New Testament was a mere imposture, is now dead and buried. But occasionally some writer still tries to maintain that Christ is only a poetic ideal of a man and a teacher. Many hold that Christianity is a mere product of historical forces. This notion prevails among rationalistic Jews and rationalistic Christians. Devout people among us would usually call it an exclusively supernatural phenomenon. Now, it is the inter-Biblical history that must prepare us to judge among these different views.
And we shall probably find that each is really true in some sense. Christianity is supernatural in origin, but it is also in a just sense a product of historical forces - both world-historical and Jewish-historical; and Christianity does meet and surpass the human craving for an ideal man and teacher. The inter-Biblical history also explains the connection between the Old and New Testaments. It shows that the history of Israel is one - from Abraham to the Promised Seed of Abraham - all one grand history of Providence and one grand history of Redemption. [Among the ancient sources the general reader only needs to have the Old Testament Apocrypha and Josephus. The former collection is found in many old family Bibles, or can be had separately in Bagster's edition for less than a dollar. Ask for the copy that contains Fourth Maccabees. Of recent works on the subject it is enough to mention Fisher's "Beginnings of Christianity," and Redford's "Four Centuries of Silence" - neither of them costly, and both very readable.]
The inter-Biblical history must be divided into four periods, (1). The Persian period, which began in the Old Testament with Cyrus and the return from the captivity, extending up to B.C. 331. (2). The Greek period - B.C. 331-167. (3). The Maccabeean period - B.C. 167-63. (4). The Roman period - B.C. 63 to A.D. 70.
1. The Persians were friendly to the Jews because the latter were monotheists like themselves, and their rule of the Jews was kindly. To this period refers the beautiful historical romance called Tobit, found in the Old Testament Apocrypha. Whether written during this period or later, it is a picture of Jewish life in the East during the Persian time. It shows the wealth of the Jews in Mesopotamia; gives beautiful pictures of their domestic life, their pious almsgiving and care of the dead;
presents remarkable instances of answers to prayer; and shows the belief of the Jews as to angels and demons.
2. The Greek period begins with Alexander - often called the Macedonian madman, but really a scientific and sagncious statesman. He is represented by Josephus as going to Jerusalem, and, when met by the high-priest in solemn procession, as bowing before him and declaring that this very person had appeared to him when he began the invasion of Asia and invited him to come. The story has great verisimilitude. Alexander might easily have had such a vision, or he might readily have pretended to have had it for effect. Either would suit exactly his character and diplomatic conduct. Alexander's relation to Christianity is highly important. He united Asia and Europe. When Jesus said, "Go, disciple all nations," this audacious command was humanly possible of fulfilment because of what Alexander had done. Greek civilization had broken up the fixedness of Western Asiatic civilization; very much like what is happening in Hindostan and Japan at the present day. The Greek language was widely diffused by Alexander and his successors - a language unrivalled in exactness, flexibility, and adaptation to all uses. As employed by the Jews it received a Hebrew tinge which appears in the Septuagint and the New Testament, which adapts it better to the expression of Christian ideas than the Attic dialect itself would have been. Among the successors of Alexander the Jews were interested only in the Ptolemies of Egypt, and the Seleucid kings of Assyria with their capital at Antioch. Under the Ptolemies the Old Testament was translated into Greek a translation called Septuagint, from the Jewish story that it was made by seventy translators. This is the form in which the Old Testament has always been used among Greek
Christians to the present day, and it is highly valued by recent Old Testament scholarship. During this period appeared in Palestine a remarkable Jewish book called "The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach," and commonly known in the Old Testament Apocrypha as "Ecclesiasticus" (abbrev." Ecclus."). It was written between 198 and 167, and translated into Greek in Egypt. It is full of shrewd and suggestive sayings as to how a man may get on in life, and shows great enthusiasm for the history of Israel; but it contains no clear references to a future life, and nothing about the hope of a Messiah. This period ends with the great persecution of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes. The real design of this was not religious, but political. He wished to unify the numerous peoples in his dominion by inducing them to adopt his own religion, language, and customs - an attempt very much like that of Russia in Poland, or Austria in Hungary. When he began the persecution, he had recently been cruelly snubbed by a Roman consul, who met him in Egypt and turned back his conquering army from the approach to Alexandria.
3. The Maccabsean period introduces to us the most charming historical narrative among the Old Testament Apocrypha, namely, First Maccabees. It is very curious to compare with this beautiful Hebrew work the rewriting of it by Josephus into an elaborate Greek style. Here also we meet Judas Maccabseus, one of the chief heroes of Hebrew history - a man of splendid military talents and noble piety. The conflict between the handful of Jews and the great Syrian-Greek kingdom seems insignificant in its numbers and the narrowness of its field; but it was really a conflict between the true and false religion, and the destinies of the world were in an important sense involved therein. The Jews were helped by many circumstances: especially by a disputed succession
which arose after the death of Antiochus Epiphanes, and made their support important to the rival claimants. After thirty years of struggle their independence was established under John Hyrcanus. His rule as high-priest is looked back to by all Jews as a glorious period. But there were seeds of decay which we may now discern even in that glorious time. The government was despotic, and supported by mercenaries. A people who cannot do their own fighting will not long maintain national greatness. There were fierce conflicts of unscrupulous parties, afterward called Pharisees and Sadducees, and which were much more thoroughly political parties than religious sects, the tendencies being combined. This period ends with the coming of Pompey to Jerusalem to settle the succession between two descendants of John Hyrcanus.
4. In the Roman period we find the Jews touched by the Roman civil wars. Crassus came to Jerusalem and robbed the Temple, it being so rich and he being greatly in want of money. Julius Csesar was in sore trouble at Alexandria, and helped by the Jewish forces. Afterward Cassius, Antony, and Octavius all came more or less into relation with the Jews. Here arose another great historical figure, namely, Herod. The conflicts between rival claimants made it possible that this Idumean should render himself important, and finally induce the Roman Senate to declare him king of the Jews. Herod was a man of prodigious talents, who managed Antony and the Senate, escaped the wiles of Cleopatra, won over Octavius, pleased the Greeks, and got on somehow with the Jews. In his domestic relations he was much sinning and much sinned against; and his trouble with the beautiful Mariamne, his wife, was augmented by the intrigues of her mother - an aggravated case of
mother-in-law. [Read Josephus' account of Herod in the Antiquities, Book 15 to Book 17, chapter 8.]
In conclusion, notice two related subjects. First, the Jewish Alexandrian philosophy. When the keen and powerful minds of the Jews gained the leisure which wealth gives, some of them took great interest in Greek literature, including philosophy, attaching themselves to one or another of the great Greek schools. Here belongs the so-called "Wisdom of Solomon," which must be carefully distinguished from the book previously mentioned - the "Wisdom of the Son of Sirach." That was written in Palestine; while the "Wisdom of Solomon" is an Alexandrian book, which combines Greek philosophy, especially that of Plato, with Jewish ideas, and is written in an overwrought but really beautiful style. This is found among the Old Testament Apocrypha, and the first nine chapters are especially admirable. When speaking of the great Philo, the last and most important of these philosophical writers, we should mention the so-called "Fourth Maccabees" - a sort of sermon in which the writer glorifies Stoic philosophy, and at the same time the Old Testament, by showing how the law of Moses may enable a man to carry out the great Stoic saying that reason must be lord of the passions. It is a very curious and interesting little book.
The other topic is, the Jewish expectations concerning the Messiah at the time He came. The best book on the subject is Drummond on "The Messianic Idea among the Jews" - London, 1877. The ancient sources are several Jewish writings of uncertain date, and most of them interpolated long after the Christian era. The genuine and clearly pre-Christian statements concerning the Messiah are merely a repetition or explanation of those in the Prophets. Some statements in the so-called
"Book of Enoch" would seem a real advance toward the views of the New Testament; but those portions of "Enoch" are almost certainly post-Christian. A large proportion, and probably the great majority, of the Jews at this time cherished no Messianic expectations whatever, as was the case, for example, with Josephus, who pretended that the Messianic prophecies were fulfilled in Vespasian. Those who did cherish Messianic expectations had unclear and shifting conceptions; and the great characteristics of the actual teachings and life of Jesus Christ are utterly wanting in these Jewish writings - namely, spirituality, self-renunciation, Messiah's suffering and atoning death, and His resurrection and future spiritual reign.
[From T. J. Shanks, editor, A College of Colleges, (A Collection of Lectures), 1887, pp. 67-73. This book was provided by Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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