The Silent Years

Background to the Silent Years

With the silence of Malachi and the voice of John the Baptist there is a period of some 400 years. This period has sometimes been called the Silent Years. But that can be misleading because there was much going on during this time. The Silence was with God's inspired writers, not with God's work.

With the Edict of Cyrus granting the Jews permission to return there was a good number who remained in Babylon. Still others had fled to Egypt years earlier and so there was a scattering of the Jewish people. This is called the 'Diaspora', or dispersion. But among these scattered Jews there was a remnant who had not abandoned their hope of the Messiah.

Alexander the Great

The Persian Empire Fell to the conquest of Alexander the Great in 334-323 B.C. Alexander had a significant impact on the life and culture of the day. He was impressed with Greek culture and wanted to make one great nation of all the peoples in the world and Hellenise them. The Word Hellenism comes from a Greek word which to speak or make Greek. This was Alexander's mission. Leading a group of Greek and Macedonian mercenaries, he swept over Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and in 331 B.C. the Persian Empire. As he went throughout the land he would establish Greek city states bearing his name ' Alexandria ' and impose Greek government, language and culture on them.


Alexander died at the early age of thirty before he saw his dreams come true. But his empire was broken down into three major areas, each governed by one of his generals. Ptolemy reigned in Egypt, Selucid in Asia and Antigonid in Macedonia. It is under these men that Hellenism really began to flourish and have an impact in the Alexandrian Empire.

Palestine found itself in the centre of a struggle between Ptolemy and Selucid rulers for domination for almost a century. Palestine first came under the control of Ptolemy who also controlled Egypt. He was tolerant of Jewish religion and allowed the High Priest to hold sway over religious matters. However because Israel did not have a king the High Priest took more and more power until he was seen as the rulers in Israel. Greek culture was also making strong inroad in Palestine during this time.

The most important Hellenistic contribution the Ptolemies made to Egypt would have to be the city of Alexandria. Alexandria even overtook Athens as the centre of Greek intellectual thought. The most impressive buildings were the museum and the library which held over a half a million scrolls. This became the university centre for the best scholars and thinkers of the day. Greek philosophy was mixed with Jewish tradition to produce a strong Greek influence on Jewish thought which is strongly seen in the allegorical method of understanding scripture popular with such men as Philo of Alexandria.

The first five books of the Old Testament were translated into Greek during this time and later would be completed and called the Septuagint. This placed the Old Testament in the hands of the people who now spoke Greek which was made the language of the people by Alexander the Great. Jesus used the Septuagint when he quoted Scripture.


The same kindness which was shown to the Jews by the Ptolemies in Egypt was also extended to the Jews by the Seleucids of Syria. Seleucus Nicator granted to many Jews privileges of citizenship equal to those enjoyed by the rest of the empire. The capital of the Seleucids was Antioch in Syria. From here Antiochus III waged war against the Ptolemies and took Palestine in 198 B.C. This began the most difficult period in Jewish History.

In 175 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to the throne and imposed a radical Hellenism on the Jews in hopes of strengthening his empire against the encroaching Romans. The term Epiphanes means 'God is manifest', and stirred up the Jews against this self appointed Deity. There was great resistance against the advancement of Greek culture. Antiochus' final resolve was to eradicate Judaism, by making it a crime of death to observe the Sabbath, observe circumcision and by burning their holy Scriptures. Offering were to be made to the Greek God Zeus whose image had been erected in the temple and in a further action of desecration of the Holy place, pigs were sacrificed in the temple in Jerusalem. 167 B.C.

Maccabean Revolt

Maccabean Genealogy

The Maccabean Revolt erupted shortly after the desecration of the Temple and lasted for 24 years. 166-142 B.C. Led by Mattathias and his five sons, Judas (Maccabeus), Jonathan, Simon, John and Eleazar, a form of guerrilla warfare was successfully carried out against large Seleucid armies. This led to the recapture Jerusalem and dedication of the temple in 164 B.C. This resulted in Judah's independence which lasted until the Romans took over in 63 B.C. The victory is still celebrated today in the Festival of Lights or Hanukkah. These events are recorded in the first four chapters of the Apocryphal book 1 Maccabees.

During this period the Jews were split between the Hellenistic camp and the Maccabean camp. Civil war and fighting between the two parties ended with the death of Mattathias's son Simon. Finally under Simon there was political independence which led to the Hasmonean dynasty named after one of the Maccabee's ancestors.


The successors to the Maccabees are usually called the Hasmonean rulers after one of the Maccabee's ancestors. Prior to this period Jonathan Maccabeus appointed himself the High priest even though the was not from the priestly line of Zadok. This upset some of the orthodox Jews who broke away from nation and formed the monastic community of the Essenes in the Dead Sea area.

See Essenes


Under Simon's son John Hyrcanus, the orthodox Jews no longer supported the Maccabean revolt due to political compromise. Judah was not happy with just religious rule they wanted political control which was not supported by the orthodox Jews. This gave rise to the party of the Sadducees. They were made up of the rich and although their numbers were small held a great deal of political and religious power especially in the priesthood. They only accepted the Pentateuch and thus rejected the doctrine of the resurrection. Matthew 22:23-33; Acts 23:6-8 Both the Sadduceses and Pharisee are first mentioned by Josephus during this period.

See Jewish Leaders


The Pharisee's were the religious conservatives, who resisted the inroads of Hellenism into Judaism. They reinterpreted the law to make it possible for the Jew of the day to coexist with the Greeks. They lowered the standards of holiness and placed an emphasis on salvation by works, which is not found in the Law of God. Their views made them popular with the people.

See Jewish Leaders

Hasmonean rule ended in 63 B.C. when Pompey occupied Jerusalem and Judea was again under foreign control.


The Romans invaded Palestine in 63 B.C. under the Roman general Pompey. Jerusalem was captured after a three month siege, and all of the priests were slaughtered and the Most Holy Place desecrated. Rome appointed Herod the Great who was a Jewish convert himself. He ruled from 37 to 4 B.C.

He ruled well and was obedient to the Roman Empire. He was an aggressive builder and build an artificial harbour in Caesarea which amazes even modern engineers. He rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem which was not complete at the time of his death earning him the name Herod the Great.

However his greatness was also marred by a jealous insanity which caused him to be cruel and distrusting. Jesus is born into a time when the Jews were subject to Roman power but who were looking for a deliverer who had been promised. The problem was Jesus did not come to deliver them from the Romans but from their sins and so because of the blindness of their hearts caused by sin they did not recognise him when he came. John 1:1-14

You Might Also Like:

Timelines & Charts related image
Read More

Timelines & Charts

Bible timelines are a useful tool for understanding the historical context of the Bible and the chronological order of events and stories mentioned in the text. These timelines provide a visual representation of the events and figures described in the Bible, and they can help readers to better under...
Read More

Table of Events

The following is a list of various important rulers and events that occurred during their reign. All dates are BC, unless otherwise stated.Predynastic Period (c.5000-31000 BC) c.3400: The kingdom of the Red Land is established in the north, White Land in the south; they are ruled concurrently under ...
Read More

Building of the Tabernacle

History of Building the Tabernacle Diagram of Tabernacle God directed the people of Israel to construct a dwelling place for Himself in the midst of the people so they would know of his abiding presence and guidance. Moses was given the particulars on Mt. Sinai and construction began shortly after. ...
Read More