Part 4 – From Hezekiah to Herod


According to 2 Kings 17, after the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel at the end of the eighth century BC, they uprooted the Jewish population and took many of them to different parts of the Assyrian empire. At the same time the Assyrians brought a mixture of peoples from other countries they had conquered. The Jews never considered these people to be part of the nation of Israel. Because they were settled in the region whose capital city was Samaria, they are known in some ancient texts as Samaritans. The city of Samaria stood on a hill near Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.

Ezra chapter 4 says that the Samaritans opposed the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and its temple. The contemporary prophets Haggai and Zechariah do not mention this, and it may simply reflect conditions in the time of Nehemiah.

It is possible that the Samaritans built their own temple sometime during the fourth century BC, although no remains have been found. Some sources speak of its destruction in 128 BC. At the time of the New Testament, there was no temple on Mount Gerizim. Samaritans were looked down on by the Jews, and there was relatively little contact between the two peoples. The Samaritans have survived in small numbers in two areas of Israel until today. They keep many ancient customs and have preserved their own ancient text of the five books of Moses.

High places / Bamoth

King Josiah of Judah is well known for his sweeping religious reforms. He centralized the worship of the Lord in Jerusalem and destroyed all the places of worship in the areas surrounding Jerusalem where cults had been practiced. These cults combined elements of various religions. Such a combined religious form is called “syncretistic.”

In former times each village or town had its special cult place or Bamah, where the people held their sacrificial meals and other rituals. The Hebrew word “Bamah” is a generic term for a sanctuary or place of sacrifice. While it sometimes has positive connotations before the building of the Temple in 1 Kings 8, after that event, the editor of 1 Kings generally condemns such cult places as illegitimate: the Lord should be worshiped only in Jerusalem. Even if a king did many good works, he failed in the eyes of the Lord if he did not destroy the bamoth.

King Josiah ordered that the Temple be repaired. While this was being carried out, the workers found a scroll, which the text of 2 Kings calls “the book of the Law.” Most scholars agree that this scroll contained a great part of the book of Deuteronomy. Josiah published the scroll by having it read aloud to a large assembly of men of Judah and Israel. The scroll proclaimed that the Lord had chosen one place where he would reside and where he would receive sacrifice. Following this dramatic discovery, Josiah reformed the religion of Israel in accordance with the rules laid down in this book of the covenant.

After the fall of the Assyrian Empire, some time passed before the Babylonians were able to establish their authority in Syria, Phoenicia, and Canaan. The Egyptians took advantage of the situation and made attempts to reassert their own influence in those areas. In 609 BC the Egyptian King Nechoh came up from Egypt with a large army; he wanted to establish power bases north of Israel. He asked King Josiah of Judah for permission to pass through Judah and Israel, but Josiah refused and went out against him with his small army. It was a fatal mistake. The Judeans were defeated at Megiddo and Josiah himself died in the battle.

The prophet Jeremiah had supported King Josiah in his religious reform program and counseled him not to ally himself with Egypt against Babylon. Jeremiah tried to give similar advice to a later king, Zedekiah. This king did not appreciate his advice and had the prophet thrown in prison. Jeremiah viewed the pending Babylonian invasion as a punishment from God and spoke out strongly against resisting the Babylonians in any way.

Nevertheless, kings of Judah after Josiah did ally themselves with Egypt against the rising power of Babylon. This would lead to the downfall of Judah. In 597 BC the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah. In 587 Jerusalem was captured and the Temple destroyed. The Babylonians ruled over the land of Israel for less than sixty years, but it was a period of great importance in Israelite history, especially in the spiritual and intellectual development of the Jewish community that had been exiled to Babylon.


Babylon was a very large and beautiful city. Its main ziggurat or tower of Babel, the city wall, and the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, became legends. It was a city full of temples, devoted to the great gods of the Babylonians. Among these the most important were the sun god Shamash; the moon god Sin; Ishtar, the goddess of love and fertility, also known as “the queen of heaven”; Adad, the god of storms and rain and warfare; and Marduk, the national god, protector of the city and its king.

The Babylonian gods were represented by golden statues inlaid with diamonds. These were kept hidden away in the temples, where they were washed, fed, entertained, and generally cared for by the priests. Only once a year were they brought out of the temples where the common people could see them. They were driven on chariots from the temples down to the river.

The specially prepared route was called the Processional Way. It was a beautiful thoroughfare, reserved for gods only. Going to and from the river the procession passed through the magnificent Ishtar Gate. On the gate people could see images of the gods Adad and Marduk. Marduk was symbolized by a dragon, an animal with the head of a snake, the tail of a scorpion, the hind legs of a eagle, and the front legs of a lion. Adad, the weather god, is represented by a bull, symbol of vitality and unpredictability. On the walls were lions, the symbol of the goddess Ishtar.

In Isaiah chapter 40, which most scholars consider to have been written in a Babylonian context, we find the words of an unknown prophet, sometimes referred to as Second Isaiah :

“Prepare a road for the lord in the wilderness!

Clear the way for our God in the desert! . . .

Then the glory of the lord will be revealed,

and all people will see it.”

The God of Israel will travel on a specially prepared highway, and everyone will be able to watch. The highway also becomes a way back home for the exiles, across the desert from Babylon to Jerusalem. The Processional Way in Babylon may have provided the setting for this vision. But for the prophet the glory of God will not be revealed by showing off gold statues but rather in the liberation and return of the Jewish exiles.

Another prophet who lived among the Jewish captives in Babylon was Ezekiel. He delivered his prophecies in the early years of the captivity. In one prophecy he described an ideal temple that would be built one day to replace the one the Babylonians had destroyed. In a vision Ezekiel was brought to Jerusalem, where he watched as a man with a measuring rod measured the dimensions of the new temple.

Persian Empire

The Neo-Babylonian Empire did not last long. Babylon fell quite suddenly in the year 539, probably as the result of collaboration between some of the Babylonian elite with the Persian enemy. Cyrus, King of Persia, entered Babylon on October 30th of that year. He was seen by many as a liberator. In the book of Isaiah he is referred to as the one the Lord has anointed, God’s instrument for the liberation of the captives.

Cyrus worshipped Ahura Mazda as supreme God and his personal protector. This god is not mentioned in the Bible. On many statues and reliefs of Persian kings, above the head of the king is depicted a winged solar disk with a human head and the claws of a bird. Most scholars agree that this emblem represents Ahura Mazda.

After conquering the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Cyrus defeated Croesus, the King of Lydia in Asia Minor, and captured all the legendary treasures of the Lydian kingdom. When Cyrus died, his empire covered Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, the land of Israel, the area of present day Iran, and all of Asia Minor, with its prosperous Greek cities, like Ephesus and Miletus. Cyrus was buried in Pasargadae, in the land of his clan, the Achaemenids.

By 525 Cyrus’ son Cambyses had taken control of all of the Fertile Crescent and extended this enormous empire from Ethiopia up to the Indus River at the edge of present day India. The world had never seen such a large empire; it was much larger than the earlier empires of the Assyrians and Babylonians. The Persians would hold power for almost two hundred years.

For most of the year the Persian king resided in the city of Susa, where the story of Esther is set. In the summer months the king escaped the extreme heat of Susa and lived in the city of Ecbatana in the Zagros mountains, some 600 km northeast of Susa.

According to a later tradition, Esther and Mordechai were buried in Ecbatana. The site of the ancient city is today mostly covered by the modern city of Hamadan.

Ecbatana was the ancient capital of the Medes, a tribe related to the Persians. They had become a powerful nation during the last years of the Neo-Babylonian empire. The mother of Cyrus the Great was the daughter of one of the kings of Media. Cyrus had united the Persians and Medes into a powerful federation. The Medes and the Persians were originally migrating nomads. During the winter months they lived with their sheep and cattle in the lower regions, while in summertime they moved with their flocks up into the mountains.

The area around the city of Susa was inhabited by the Elamites. Elam had been a powerful nation in the second millennium BC. The culture of the Elamites resembled the cultures of Mesopotamia. The ziggurat near Susa, now being restored, bears witness to the ancient roots of the Elamites. Archeologists are still uncovering this ancient culture.

The Elamites were also united in the Persian federation and together with the Medes formed the backbone of the Persian power structure.

It was customary for Persian kings to erect huge statues of themselves as a symbol of their power and glory. The book of Daniel records that King Darius II required his subjects to worship such a statue. When Daniel refused, he was thrown into a pit where lions were kept.

Persian kings often kept a private zoo. The lion den couldhave been somewhere here, near the palace.

The Persians organized their empire into states, which they called satrapies. Each state had its own governor, or satrap. Judah was part of “the satrapy across the River [Euphrates].” From the books of Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and the later prophets we can conclude that there were Jewish communities in the various centers of the Persian Empire. Their conditions changed over time. The book of Daniel shows that Jewish nobility served at the court, and on one occasion a Jewish girl, Esther, became one of the wives of the king of kings. The stories of Daniel and Esther are not confirmed by sources outside the Bible. Nevertheless, we do know that it was the policy of eastern rulers that the nobility of the peoples of the empire should serve in the court of the king. It is quite possible, then, that Daniel did serve in the courts of the last Babylonian ruler and three Persian kings: Cyrus, Cambyses, and Darius.

Darius the Great built a new palace complex, Persepolis, in the heartland of Persia. There he gathered all the treasures that had been captured by Persian armies in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Phoenicia, and Asia Minor. The city of Persepolis was really the treasure chamber of the world of that time. Its luxury and beauty were legendary. When Alexander the Great captured Persepolis he needed a large number of mules and 3000 camels to carry off the treasures, which included four million kilograms of silver.

Persepolis was built for a very special purpose: the celebration of the New Year festival. Every year at the end of February, with the approach of spring, the King traveled from Susa to Persepolis. On the 21st of March in Persepolis he performed a number of rituals that symbolized the death of the deadly powers of winter and the victory of the powers of life. Astronomers would indicate with great precision at what time the king was to perform the rites of the new year. We find in the audience halls of the palace many reliefs which show a lion, representing spring, killing a bull, which represents winter.

On the occasion of the new year festival, all the subject nations of the Persian Empire would send to the great King gifts and other signs of their loyalty. On the walls of the audience hall are pictured peoples of different cultures and races, from the Indians near the Indus River to the Ethiopians in Africa. Each nation can be recognized by its hairstyle and clothing. The Medes with their short robes are always in the forefront, as their nobility served together with the Persian nobles as the core of the King’s civil servants.

Not far from Persepolis we find the rock tombs of four Persian Kings, believed to be the tombs of Darius I, Darius II the Great, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes. The Persians did not bury their dead, but exposed the bodies of the dead on the rocks, where the flesh was eaten by birds. The remaining bones were gathered and placed in rock tombs.

Xerxes, who is called Ahashverosh in the Hebrew Bible, reigned from 485-465 BC. He was the king who married Esther. Xerxes is known in history as the Persian King who waged war with the Greek city-states and sacked the famous Acropolis in Athens. He was finally defeated by the Greeks.

Ezra and Nehemiah

About a year after Cyrus’ victory over the Babylonians, he had decreed that the Jewish exiles could return to their land and rebuild their Temple. They were allowed to take with them the sacred objects that had been removed from Jerusalem by the Babylonians. However, the rebuilding of the Temple was delayed. Two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, strongly exhorted the people and their leaders to finish the job of building, but it had only been completed in about the year 515 by Zerubbabel. He had brought back a larger group from exile about five years before. The rebuilt Temple was small and not very impressive.

Significant events in the next stage of Israel’s history center around the activities of two men, Ezra and Nehemiah. They were active in the last half of the Fifth Century BC, although the exact chronological relationship between the two of them is uncertain. Ezra received permission from the Persian king to administer the Law of God and to train the Jews in that Law. Ezra led a third, smaller group of exiles back to the land.

Ezra undertook wide-ranging social reform, which included the condemnation of mixed marriages between Jewish men and non-Jewish women. The basis for Ezra’s reform was the Pentateuch or Law of Moses. Ezra is generally credited with extensive work on the text of the Law, especially the book of Deuteronomy. He may also have written the books of Chronicles.

The walls of Jerusalem had been heavily damaged or destroyed by the Babylonians. For close to 150 years they lay in disrepair. Nehemiah, a personal servant of the Persian king—who was probably Artaxerxes I—received permission to rebuild the walls. The book of Nehemiah describes how the walls were rebuilt in only fifty-two days in the face of considerable opposition from non-Jewish neighbors. Because of the speed and the opposition, the walls were not very solid or impressive.The course of the wall is given in some detail by Nehemiah, and several of its parts have been uncovered.

The scriptures call Ezra a priest and a scribe. While the title “scribe” later came to describe a person who was an authority in the scriptures, at first it simply indicated a person who copied texts, a kind of secretary to important people.


Societies need to keep records. Writing systems were first developed more than 5000 years ago by the Sumerians. They used a pointed reed to make impressions on soft clay tablets. This is called cuneiform script. Sometimes the same script was chiseled into stone surfaces.

The Egyptians designed a different system of writing, called hieroglyphics. It was based on small pictures representing objects, groups of sounds, and individual sounds. There were several hundred such hieroglyphic signs, and it would have been difficult to learn them all. This meant that only a few specially educated priests were able to write or read.

Around the middle of the second millennium BC, a vital step forward in writing came from Canaan. A separate sign or letter was designed for each consonantal sound. This was the first alphabet. This great invention was gradually adapted by many different cultures as the writing system for their respective languages.

Writing materials

Two main materials were used for written documents, paper and parchment.

Paper was prepared from the papyrus plant, which was harvested in the Nile Delta in Egypt. The raw material was taken from the tall plants, which may grow to more than ten meters. The green outer rind was peeled off with a knife, and the inner pith was sliced into thin strips which were rolled with a rolling pin against a flat surface. The rolled strips were cut to the required length. The sheet of papyrus was made by arranging parallel strips in a kind of lattice-work, with horizontal and vertical layers which were pressed together. The sheet that was formed was covered on both sides with felt and then dried in a press.

Papyrus fragments, some including Old Testament biblical texts, were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, from the ancient library of the Qumran community in the Judean Desert. Hundreds of papyrus fragments from copies of the New Testament have also survived. Some of them can be dated as early as the second century AD. The word “Bible” derives from the name of the Phoenician port city of Byblos, which was famous for the export of papyrus.

Parchment was made from animal skin specially prepared by removing the hair and stretching the skin thin. It was then smoothed with lime, making it very pliable and durable.

Parchment scrolls were stronger and longer lasting than papyrus. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide firsthand evidence of the ancient scribal technique of preparing and writing on parchment. Most of the scrolls found at Qumran were of parchment, including the complete Scroll of Isaiah, dating from the first century BC.


A scroll was a long strip made by sewing together sheets of papyrus or parchment. An unrolled scroll was often about 10 meters (33 feet) in length. This strip was then rolled up from one end or from both ends to form one or two cylinders. The ends of the scroll were often attached to sticks, making it easier to roll up.

Normally, scribes wrote only on one side of the scroll, although Ezekiel 2:10 describes a roll written on both front and back, with words of “lamentation, mourning, and woe.”

The codex, or bound book with individual pages, only came into use in the 1st century BC and into common use only a century or two later. Thus, all references to books in the Old Testament, in the deuterocanon, and probably in the New Testament are to scrolls and not to bound books.

If a letter or document was to be sent somewhere, it was tied shut and then sealed. The seal was made of melted wax or of clay. Into the soft wax or clay the sender made an impression with a signet ring or a special device for marking a seal. When the clay or wax hardened, the scroll was carried by a messenger. The seal had to be broken before the document could be read.

Writing implements

For writing on a scroll one normally used a pen made from a reed. Its end was split to form a nib to enable it to hold more ink. The end of the pen was dipped in water and then rubbed on a block of dried ink. This made a small amount of liquid ink on the end of the pen. With this the scribe wrote a few letters before repeating the process.

Ezekiel chapter 9 mentions a special writing case for carrying several pens and a cake of dried ink.

Small amounts of non-permanent text could be written on a flat tablet, normally made of wood. This was coated on one side with a thin layer of wax. A pointed stick or stylus was used to make marks and letters in the wax layer. The wax could be smoothed out and used again.

While most Old Testament references are figurative, some passages may refer to tablets made of clay, metal, or stone. Words were scratched onto these with a hard, pointed object.


For several centuries the Persians had been engaged in occasional warfare with the Greeks. While each side sometimes managed to advance into the territory of the other, much of this warfare took place in Asia Minor, a large, fertile area that stood between the two warring nations.

Between 334 and 323 BC Alexander, the king of Macedon in northern Greece, launched a series of daring campaigns into all corners of the Persian Empire. He defeated the Persian armies repeatedly and gained control over their entire Empire.

When Alexander entered Persepolis, he allowed his soldiers to plunder the houses of the rich people who lived there. This was in retaliation for the earlier Persian sacking of the Acropolis in Athens, and it was the first time in the long campaign that Alexander allowed such plundering. It was generally his aim to win the popular support of the Persian peoples and be recognized as a legitimate ruler, and not just a foreign conqueror. During Alexander’s stay in Persepolis, fire broke out and destroyed the magnificent private palace of the Persian kings. Historians still debate whether the fire was the result of a deliberate action or a mere accident.

Among Alexander’s conquests was the kingdom of Judah. After his death in 323 his empire was divided among his four top generals. The kingdom of Judah at first came under the control of the Ptolemies in Egypt. At the beginning of the third century BC the Seleucid armies from Syria defeated the Ptolemies at Paneion in northern Israel and took control of Judah. The eleventh chapter of the book of Daniel describes many of the events surrounding this period.

Alexander’s conquest was not only military but also cultural. His soldiers founded cities in the areas they conquered. These cities had the effect of spreading Alexander’s beloved Greek culture to the far reaches of his empire. This played an important role in the process known as Hellenism, from the name for Greece, Hellas. One of the most significant consequences of the spread of Hellenistic culture was the replacement of Aramaic by Koine Greek as the language of trade and international communication. Koine Greek is the language in which the New Testament would be written.

Hellenistic institutions

The New Testament several times mentions cities of the Decapolis. These were Hellenistic cities.

Gerasa was one of the cities of the Decapolis. These were ten Roman cities that shared a Hellenistic culture. Most of them were to the east of the Jordan River; two were farther north in Syria, and one was in Israel to the west of the Jordan. In the gospels it is said that Jesus visited Decapolis cities.

Certain institutions were characteristic of a Hellenistic city, or polis. As in Judaism, education was given highest priority in Hellenistic culture. The place for formal education was in the gymnasium.Here teachers taught the young men a variety of subjects ranging from language and literature to law and music. The students also participated naked in sports such as wrestling and athletics.

Scattered around the city one would find temples dedicated to various Greek gods and goddesses. The city of Gerasa had this temple to the goddess Artemis.

In the hippodrome the citizens of the Hellenistic city watched horse races or chariot races.

The theater was a popular Hellenistic institution that was introduced into Palestine only in the Roman period. Some theaters were quite large. This one in the Decapolis city of Scythopolis could seat about 7000 people. A number of New Testament words reflect the vocabulary of the theater. One of these is the word “hypócritēs,” often transliterated as “hypocrite.” It was one of the words for an actor on the stage.

Older Canaanite or Israelite towns normally showed little evidence of city planning. They simply conformed to the topography and expanded as people added one house to another. Hellenistic cities, on the other hand, were often laid out systematically, especially in the Roman period. The main street was called the cardo. It could be lined with columns on both sides and was the location of administrative buildings and shops, which were often decorated with elaborate mosaic floors. Carts drawn by animals left ruts in the paving stones of the street.

Near the center of the city there was normally an open space, called the agora. Here the market was set up for buying and selling or bartering agricultural produce, clothing, and other manufactured goods. Public meetings of the citizens could also be held in the agora, and teachers sometimes used the covered area around its outer edge, called a stoa, as a place to instruct their students.


In the year 168 BC the Seleucid king Antiochus IV made an official effort to suppress certain Jewish practices, as he had done with other local religions in his kingdom. The Jews rebelled under the leadership of one of the priestly families, the Hasmoneans, who came from the city of Modi’in in the foothills. This Maccabean revolt, as it is called, is described in the deuterocanonical books of the Maccabees, and in part in Daniel chapter eleven. The rebellion succeeded, and for about one hundred years the Jews were sovereign in the land. The second century BC saw the rise of several sectarian movements in Judaism, including the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes.

Near the end of the second century the Jews expanded their territory, conquering Samaria and later Idumea (formerly known as Edom), where the inhabitants were forced to convert to Judaism. King Herod the Great was descended from these converted Idumeans.

Jewish rule in the land continued until 63 BC, when the Romans established themselves in the region. Judea was added to the Roman province of Syria, bringing to an end a century of Jewish sovereignty.

Good News Study Bible

Introduction to the Prophetic Books

The second division ofthe Hebrew Bible, following the Law, is called the Prophets. It is divided into two groups of books, “The Former Prophets” and “The Latter Prophets”. The Former Prophets consist of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings; while Ruth and 1 and 2 Chronicles are in the third division, called “The Writings”. The Latter Prophets, which are covered in this article, comprise the three books Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, known as the “major” prophets, and “The Twelve Prophets”, that is, the books from Hosea to Malachi, known as the “minor” prophets. The titles “major” and “minor” indicate length, not importance. In the Septuagint and in most English translations, including the Good News Bible, the books of Lamentations and Daniel are commonly associated with the prophetic books, but are of a different character and are not treated here. In the Hebrew Bible these two books are placed among the Writings.

What is a Prophet?

Archaeological evidence as well as biblical references (2 Kgs 10.19) show that in the ancient world prophets had an important role to play in many cultures. Our concern here, however, is with the Old Testament prophets.

Today, when people speak of a prophet, they generally mean someone who can foretell the future. However, while biblical prophets often made predictions, this was not the most important aspect of their work.

The word “prophet” comes from a Greek word for someone who speaks on behalf of a god, interpreting his will to human beings.

Various terms are used in the Old Testament to describe prophets, including “man of God” (1 Kgs 17.18, 24), sometimes translated in the Good News Bible as “holy man”, (2 Kgs 4.9); “prophet” (1 Kgs 13.1); “inspired man” (Hos 9.7); and “seer” (1 Sam 9.9-11). The word “seer” suggests a person who can see or discern what others cannot; but, as the last reference shows, in course of time the term prophet came to be preferred. Borrowed apparently from an Akkadian word meaning “calling”, it is uncertain whether the Hebrew word for prophet (nabi) is passive (meaning “one who is called by someone”) or active (meaning “one who calls for someone”). For further information on what a biblical prophet did we must look at the texts themselves, beginning with Moses (see Deut34.10-12).

The Prophet’s Role

In two passages from Exodus (4.14-16; 7.1-12), Moses is pictured as standing in the place of God, with his brother Aaron acting as his prophet. Moses provides the words, and Aaron speaks them. In these passages, a prophet is someone who speaks to others for God. Many Old Testament passages (1 Sam 3; Is 6; Jer 1.3-9; Ezek 2-3; Amos 7.14-15) speak of prophets receiving a special call from God. The prophets were convinced that their words were not their own but were a revelation from God (1 Sam 3.19-21; 1 Kgs 22.19; Jer 1.9, 12; Amos 1.3; 3.7). In early times, prophets often had “ecstatic” experiences (1 Sam 10.10, 13) which were attributed to the power of God’s Spirit (Num 11.24-29; 1 Sam 19.19-24). Later prophets also asserted that they were filled with, or under the power of, God’s spirit (Ezek 2.2, 11.5; Mic 3.8).

Prophecy in Early Israel

Major Old Testament figures who are called prophets include Abraham, Moses, Miriam, Deborah, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, and Elisha. Less well-known prophets include Micaiah son of Imlah, Gad, Ahijah from Shiloh, Shemaiah, and Huldah. Deuteronomy regards Moses as Israel’s greatest prophet, and indeed traces the beginnings of the prophetic movement to him (18.15; 34.10-12). After him in importance is Samuel Jer 15.1), the last judge of Israel. Samuel stands at the transition between the loosely organized tribal structure that served Israel for some two centuries after the people entered Canaan, to the beginning of the monarchy under Saul (about 1030-1010 BC). It was Samuel who, commanded by God, anointed Saul as Israel’s first king. He therefore initiated the monarchy, but at the same time warned the people of its grave dangers (1 Sam 8.11-18). When God rejected Saul (1 Sam 15.10-34), Samuel anointed David as Saul’s successor (1 Sam 16.1-13).

From then on, the prophets were closely associated with the monarchy, both as advisers to the kings and often as severe critics of their policies. It was the prophet Nathan who assured David that his dynasty would last for ever (2 Sam 7.11-17; 1 Chr 17.11-15), who condemned him for his adultery with Bathsheba and for the murder of her husband Uriah (2 Sam 12.1-15), and who used his influence to ensure that Solomon succeeded David as king (1 Kgs 1.11-40). When it was apparent that the kingdom would divide, the prophet Ahijah of Shiloh anointed the first ruler of the northern kingdom, Israel (1 Kgs 11.26-39); an unknown prophet from Judah rebuked the same king for erecting gold bull calves as idols at Bethel (1 Kgs 12.32―13.32).

Indeed, long sections in the Books of Kings indicate a great flowering of prophecy in the northern kingdom in the ninth century BC, beginning with the reign of King Ahab (874-853 BC). Most notable here were Elijah (1 Kgs 17-19; 21) and his successor Elisha (2 Kgs 2-9; 13.14-21), who opposed the worship of Baal and Asherah, together with the prophets who claimed to speak for these pagan deities. Again, these accounts show prophets not only opposing idolatry, but directly working for the overthrow of a dynasty believed to be too evil to reform; acting in affairs of state to defend powerless citizens against abuse by the king; and at times even intervening in the politics of surrounding nations.

There were many more prophets, whose names are unknown, who belonged to prophetic groups or associations, called “the sons of the prophets” (2 Kgs 2.3, 5). As early as the days of Samuel, prophetic groups had banded together (1 Sam 10.5-13), and a number of statements indicate that Elijah and Elisha approved of and supported such groups (2 Kgs 2.3-18; 4.1, 38; 5.22; 6.1). At other times, however, prophets such as Micaiah son of Imlah opposed, at great personal cost, large groups of prophets who served the king, and who also claimed to speak in God’s name (1 Kgs 22.1-29; 2 Chr 18.2-27). Since the story represents Micaiah as telling the truth, and some 400 other prophets as telling a lie, group membership in itself could not guarantee truth.

Prophets were clearly to be rejected if they urged the people to follow other gods, advocated magical practices, or made predictions that failed to come true (Deut 13; 18.9-15). How to discern the truth when two prophets uttered contradictory messages in God’s name remained a problem throughout the Old Testament period. The test of time was hardly sufficient in itself when those who heard the prophetic message might have to wait a lifetime for its fulfilment Jer 28).

The Canonical Prophets

In the mid-eighth century BC, shortly after Homer was producing the Iliad and the Odyssey in Greece, a new development took place in Israelite prophecy. This development coincided with the rise of the Assyrian Empire, which soon came to dominate the entire region. For the first time the prophets’ messages were preserved in books. To distinguish these Latter Prophets (see beginning of this article) from those who had left no writings behind, these prophets are also sometimes called “the writing prophets”, “the classical prophets”, or “the canonical prophets”. Some suggest that what distinguishes these prophets from earlier ones is that they no longer speak only about the fortunes of specific kings and other individuals, but about the nations of Israel and Judah as a whole. When they do address individuals, whether kings, royal officials, priests, other prophets, or ordinary people, they do so with a heightened sense that God is at work in the international movements of the day. Like the earlier prophets, they may have disapproved of a dynasty and announced its overthrow, but they took no active part in political action against it, pointing out, on occasion, that the making of rulers was God’s business (Hos 1.4; 7.3-7). Yet it became the task of some prophets to announce the destruction of one or both kingdoms.

The prophets set before the leaders and citizens one central reality: God had chosen the people for himself and entered into a covenant with them. He had loved them, protected them, and instructed them in his will. With these privileges came responsibilities: to honour God who had chosen them, and to show consideration for those around them. Whatever specific matters the prophets addressed―worship, social justice, truth in word and action, or idolatry and corruption―the central issue was always one of trust in God, and the earnest attempt to do his will as expressed in the covenant made with Moses on Mount Sinai.

Types of Literature in the Prophetic Books

The prophetic books contain a wide variety of literary types. Among these are visions (for example, Amos 7.1); messages of both judgement and salvation addressed to God’s people; messages of judgement on foreign nations Jer 46-51; Ezek 25-32); passages that take the form of a court trial or lawsuit (Mic 6.1-5); funeral laments (Amos 5.2), hymns (Is 12) and songs (Is 5.1-3); records of God’s call to prophets (Is 6; Jer 1; Ezek 1-3); and stories of symbolic actions Jer 13.1-14; Ezek 5.1-4).

The principle by which the messages within these books are grouped is not always apparent. Sometimes the grouping is by common subject matter, as in the messages of judgement against foreign nations; sometimes it is chronological, where messages concerning the same historical circumstances are placed together (Is 7-9). In other cases, messages spoken at widely separated times are placed together, so that, for example, a message of judgement is followed by a message of salvation addressed to the same audience (Mic 3-4). It is reasonable to suppose that the messages would have been given at different times and in different situations. When the people were in rebellion against God, the prophet spoke to them about God’s coming judgement. When they turned away from their wrongdoing, the prophet offered words of hope and comfort.

Historical Background

The contents of the prophetic books should be studied with careful attention to their historical contexts. The Introductions to the various prophetic books in this Study Bible outline, as far as possible, the circumstances which gave rise to each of these writings. The opening verse of a biblical book will often provide clues to its context. In its most complete form, this opening gives the prophet’s name, affirms that the messages in the book come from God, states to whom they are addressed, and supplies a historical context (Is 1.1; Hos 1.1). Six of the books of the minor prophets, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Malachi, give little more than the prophet’s name, so that the historical setting is uncertain, or must be determined in other ways. Even when a historical setting is suggested by the heading, it is often helpful, when reading particular sections of a book, to be able to establish more precisely the time and conditions the prophet is addressing. As a general guide, however, the prophets’ messages can be seen in the context of three successive empires that dominated the Near East from the eighth to the fourth centuries BC: Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia.

The Assyrian Period

Four of the prophets lived in the eighth century, during the Assyrian period. The two earliest, Amos and Hosea, addressed the northern kingdom, Israel; the other two, Isaiah of Jerusalem and Micah of Moresheth, were called to prophesy in the southern kingdom, Judah.

The Babylonian Period

Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah belong to the seventh century BC. Nahum’s book attacks Assyria’s capital, Nineveh, which fell in 612 BC, signalling the end of the Assyrian period. Habakkuk puzzles over the justice of a God who permits the ruthless warfare of the Babylonians to go unpunished, and so marks the beginning of the Babylonian period. Zephaniah protests against the injustices within Judah, probably before King Josiah’s reforms of about 621 BC. Jeremiah also belongs to the Babylonian period, prophesying from the end of the seventh century into the early sixth century, and therefore witnessing the destruction of Jerusalem and the defeat of Judah in 586 BC. Obadiah, during the same period, protests against the nation of Edom, which encouraged and aided the Babylonians in their destruction of Jerusalem.

Also belonging to the sixth century is the prophet Ezekiel, who directed his messages to the exiles in Babylonia. Chapters 40-55 of Isaiah are also addressed to exiles in Babylonia, shortly before Cyrus the Great issued his decree allowing them to return home in 538 BC; chapters 56-66 are directed to the returned exiles near the time of the rebuilding of the second temple in 515 BC.

The Persian Period

Haggai and Zechariah date from the Persian period. In 520 BC they began their successful mission of encouraging the people of Judah to rebuild the Temple. Malachi is generally held to be from the mid-fifth century, just before the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah. There is much uncertainty about the setting of Zech 9-14, though many suggest the fifth century. Interpreters also disagree over the dating of Jonah and Joel.

The end of the period of the prophets is contemporary with the “golden age” of Greek civilization (500-400 BC). After this, for about 400 years before the birth of Jesus, the voice of prophecy was silent in Israel.

V.H. Matthews and J.C. Moyer, The Old Testament, Text and Context,215-218. (Copyright 1997 by Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)


A number of factors contributed to significant changes in Jewish culture during the Persian period. First, the Jews of Palestine enjoyed a period of nearly two hundred years of relative peace under the rule of the Persians. This allowed them to rebuild their destroyed cities and reestablish economic stability within their province. Agricultural lands were cultivated again and business activity resumed after being dormant during the Babylonian exile.

Second, a greater emphasis on urbanization also began in the Persian period. Jerusalem, with its walls rebuilt (Neh 2-4), and the temple once again functioning as a center of religious activity (Ezra 6: 13-15), provided a focal point for life and a model of urbanism for the other cities and towns of Judah. The strength of Persian authority throughout the empire also assured a continuous stream of foreign businessmen into Palestine and the creation of a more cosmopolitan culture. A greater acceptance of the outside world made the transition to Hellenistic domination easier for many Jews.

The third major factor influencing the formation of Jewish culture during the period of Persian rule was the elimination of the civil office of the king of Judah. One direct result of this policy was the enhancement of the position of the high priest in Jerusalem. He became the titular religious and civic head of the Jewish community, bowing only to the authority of the Persian king and his governor. The high priest’s position was confirmed by the Persian government (Ezra 7:11-26) and further solidified by his control of the sacrificial cult in Jerusalem.

According to tradition, the office was to be held by a member of the Zadokite priestly family (Ezra 7:1-6). The connection that this family had to temple worship during the preexilic period provided legitimacy for the position of high priest. It also reassured the people that, at least in matters of religion, nothing had changed. The power wielded by this office led to a gradual process of increasing secularization of the high priesthood. In the later period of Hasmonean rule (165-63 BCE), the office of high priest and the privilege of choosing who would hold that post were transformed into coveted political prizes.

A fourth important development during the Persian period was the initiation of the canonization process. Canonization was related to the growth in importance of the priestly community. Among the concerns of the priesthood was that the oral as well as written traditions of the people of Israel be compiled. After the traumatic experience of the exile, the priests wanted to ensure that sacrifice and other cultic acts were performed regularly and correctly. They hoped to gain God’s continued good will by a strict conformity to the law. This required that the law be written down and canonized into an authoritative document, the Torah, which could be consulted to prevent future mistakes or misunderstandings of what was expected of the people.

Once this was done, the entire body of traditional writings was edited again into what eventually became the “Hebrew canon” of scriptures. This compilation and editing process, which took several centuries to complete, also sparked in­creased study of the text and the development of a group known as scribes or rabbis (teachers). They became authorities on the law and its interpretation and were consulted on these matters by the religious community.

A final development that can be ascribed to the Persian period is the separa­tion between the Jews of Judah and the Samaritans. This break has its roots in political conflicts and religious differences between the Persian provinces of Yehud (Judah) and Samaria. The returning exiles excluded the Samaritans from participa­tion in the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple (Ezra 4:1-3). Later, Nehemiah also stood up to Samaritan pressure, raised by their governor Sanballat, against the rebuilding of the city’s walls. Nehemiah literally threw their representatives out of the temple precincts (Neh 13:4-9). With the Jews denying them participation in the cult in Jerusalem and calling them unfit because of their mixed cultural heritage, it is no wonder that the Samaritans rejected Jerusalem as the true temple site and place of God’s presence. Instead they declared Mount Gerizim near Shechem as their place of worship. In 325 BCE the Samaritans took advantage of Alexander’s political good will to construct an alternative temple there (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 11.346-347).


The Books of Haggai and Zechariah (chs. 1-8)

In the second year of the reign of the Persian king Darius (518 BCE) the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (chapters 1-8 only) begin to provoke the people to rebuild the temple in Jerusa­lem. Haggai uses a negative approach, pointing to crop failures, and other natural disasters as evidence of Yahweh’s displeasure at the delinquency of the people in completing this task (Hag 1:9-11). In doing this, he followed a pattern set by previous prophets who also proclaimed that famine, war, and natural disaster were signs of God’s wrath (compare Hos 2:8-9 and Amos 4:6-11).

Zechariah describes a series of eight “night visions,” each with the pattern: vision, question, answer. He employs a hopeful tone, in which Yahweh promises a return to prosperity and a restoration of comfort for Zion when the temple is rebuilt (Zech 1:16-17). Full restoration of the nation’s fortunes and of the covenantal relationship with Yahweh are promised, as God once again dwells in the midst of the chosen people in the “holy land” (Zech 2:12 [2:16 in Hebrew]; this is the only reference in the Hebrew canon to Judah as the “holy land”).

Zechariah’s Image of the Branch

8Now listen, Joshua, high priest, you and your colleagues who sit before you! . . . I am going to bring my servant the Branch. 9For on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven facets, I will engrave its inscription, says the lord of hosts, and I will remove the guilt of the land in a single day (Zech 3:8-9).

12. . . Here is a man whose name is Branch; for he shall branch out in his place, and he shall build the temple ofthe lord. 13It is he that shall build the temple of the lord; he shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. There shall be a priest by his throne, with peaceful understanding between the two of them (Zech 6:12-13).

Both prophets pressure the leadership in Jerusalem to move forward with the construction of the temple. Haggai calls on Zerubbabel, the Persian-appointed governor and possibly a grandson of the last king, Jehoiachin, to take on the mantle of Davidic kingship. The prophet uses the title “the signet ring” for Zerubbabel, indicating the legitimacy of the governor’s Davidic origins and his right to exercise the power of the office, which included using the signet ring to stamp and certify official documents (Hag 2:23). Haggai encourages him to trust in Yahweh’s support and aid the people in their work.

Perhaps because Haggai’s efforts bore no fruit, Zechariah directs his efforts toward influencing the high priest Joshua. In his fourth vision, Zechariah describes Joshua “standing before the angel of the lord, and the satan (God’s prosecuting attorney) standing at his right hand to accuse him” (Zech 3:1). Joshua’s priestly robes are filthy, a representation of the sins of the people and the priesthood. Yahweh orders that Joshua be given a new, clean set of clothes and a fresh turban (Zech 3:3-5). This is followed by the reassurance that obedience to the covenant will ensure Joshua’s place as high priest and the priestly community’s role in administering the temple and the courts (Zech 3:6-7).

At this point, Zechariah uses the image of the “Branch” as a messianic figure who will restore the temple and the nation under Yahweh’s guidance (Zech 3:8). This figure could be compared to “the branch of the lord” in Isa 4:2 and 11: 1 as an ideal Davidic ruler. He will usher in an era of restoration and justice which will also include the return of Yahweh to Zion (Zech 8:2-3) and an ingathering of people from all nations “to seek the lord of hosts” (Zech 8:21).

Zerubbabel, fearing possible political repercussions from the Persian govern­ment, did not accept the royal messianic titles assigned by Haggai and Zechariah. This would explain the change of referent in Zechariah’s second use of “the Branch” in 6:9-15. It appears that this passage, once referring to Zerubbabel, has been changed and that the title was bestowed on Joshua (Zech 6:11).

Despite the urging of these prophets, Zerubbabel did not continue the rebuild­ing of the temple in Jerusalem until additional funds and a political confirmation were received from Darius’ court. Opposition from the “people of the land” (per­sons who had not been taken into exile) and from the Samaritan leaders had complicated the political situation (Ezra 4:1-6: 5:1-17). Once these impediments had been resolved through bureaucratic and diplomatic means, Darius gave the order and construction resumed. The temple was completed in 515 BCE (Ezra 6). This temple, while in no way as grand as the one envisioned in Ezek 40-48, allowed the resumption of priestly offices and animal sacrifices. It also provided a religious focal point for the returned community in Judah.


From Hezekiah to Herod

Session One: Assyrian invasion, siege warfare, Samaritans, bamoth

Read the script up to page 3, Babylon.

Do the following:

  1. Consult: Outline Chart of Bible History in GNB Study Bible.
  2. Study:  2 Kings 17-19 in the GNB Study Bible.

a. Give a short outline of the history of the Northern Kingdom and the Kingdom of Judah between 725 and 587 bc (1 page).

b. Read the section, “Introduction to the Prophetic Books” in GNB Study Bible.

c. Situate the following prophets in their historical context: Amos, Nahum, Haggai, Jeremiah.

d. Translate the following from NRSV or Hebrew: Joel 2:7-9; Nahum 2:1-7.

Session Two: Babylon, Persian empire, Ezra and Nehemian, writing

Readings:        Script from page 3, Babylon, up to page 7, Greeks.

Matthews, V.H. and Moyer, J.C., The Old Testament, Text and Context, pages 215-218.

Do the following:

  1. Give a summary of the history of the Ancient Near East between 539 and 334 bc. Explain the historical importance of the year 539 (1 page).
  2. Read and summarize Nehemiah 3 (GNB Study Bible).

Session Three: Greeks, Hellenistic instutions, Maccabees

Readings:        Script from page 7, Greeks, to the end.

1 Maccabees 1 (NRSV).

Do the following:

  1. What does this chapter tells us about Alexander the Great?
  2. What information is given about the causes of the Maccabean wars?
  3. Explain the term “Hellenism.”
  4. How did Hellenism affect life in Israel?

Appendix: Texts

Joel 2:7-9

7 Like warriors they charge,

like soldiers they scale the wall.

Each keeps to its own course,

they do not swerve from their paths.

8 They do not jostle one another,

each keeps to its own track;

they burst through the weapons

and are not halted.

9 They leap upon the city,

they run upon the walls;

they climb up into the houses,

they enter through the windows like a thief.

7 כְּגִבֹּורִים יְרֻצוּן כְּאַנְשֵׁי מִלְחָמָה יַעֲלוּ חֹומָה וְאִישׁ בִּדְרָכָיו יֵֽלֵכוּן וְלֹא יְעַבְּטוּן אֹרְחֹותָֽם׃ 8 וְאִישׁ אָחִיו לֹא יִדְחָקוּן גֶּבֶר בִּמְסִלָּתֹו יֵֽלֵכוּן וּבְעַד הַשֶּׁלַח יִפֹּלוּ לֹא יִבְצָֽעוּ׃ 9 בָּעִיר יָשֹׁקּוּ בַּֽחֹומָה יְרֻצוּן בַּבָּתִּים יַעֲלוּ בְּעַד הַחַלֹּונִים יָבֹאוּ כַּגַּנָּֽב׃

Nahum 2:1-7

1 A shatterer has come up against you.

Guard the ramparts;

watch the road;

gird your loins;

collect all your strength.

2 (For the Lord is restoring the majesty of Jacob,

as well as the majesty of Israel,

though ravagers have ravaged them

and ruined their branches.)

3 The shields of his warriors are red;

his soldiers are clothed in crimson.

The metal on the chariots flashes

on the day when he musters them;

the chargers prance.

4 The chariots race madly through the streets,

they rush to and fro through the squares;

their appearance is like torches,

they dart like lightning.

5 He calls his officers;

they stumble as they come forward;

they hasten to the wall,

and the mantelet is set up.

6 The river gates are opened,

the palace trembles.

7 It is decreed that the city be exiled,

its slave women led away,

moaning like doves

and beating their breasts.

2 עָלָה מֵפִיץ עַל־פָּנַיִךְ נָצֹור מְצֻרָה צַפֵּה־דֶרֶךְ חַזֵּק מָתְנַיִם אַמֵּץ כֹּחַ מְאֹֽד׃ 3 כִּי שָׁב יְהוָה אֶת־גְּאֹון יַעֲקֹב כִּגְאֹון יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי בְקָקוּם בֹּֽקְקִים וּזְמֹרֵיהֶם שִׁחֵֽתוּ׃ 4 מָגֵן גִּבֹּרֵיהוּ מְאָדָּם אַנְשֵׁי־חַיִל מְתֻלָּעִים בְּאֵשׁ־פְּלָדֹות הָרֶכֶב בְּיֹום הֲכִינֹו וְהַבְּרֹשִׁים הָרְעָֽלוּ׃ 5 בַּֽחוּצֹות יִתְהֹולְלוּ הָרֶכֶב יִֽשְׁתַּקְשְׁקוּן בָּרְחֹבֹות מַרְאֵיהֶן כַּלַּפִּידִם כַּבְּרָקִים יְרֹוצֵֽצוּ׃ 6 יִזְכֹּר אַדִּירָיו יִכָּשְׁלוּ *בַהֲלִכֹותָם (בַּהֲלִֽיכָתָם) יְמַֽהֲרוּ חֹֽומָתָהּ וְהֻכַן הַסֹּכֵֽךְ׃ 7 שַׁעֲרֵי הַנְּהָרֹות נִפְתָּחוּ וְהַֽהֵיכָל נָמֹֽוג׃ 8 וְהֻצַּב גֻּלְּתָה הֹֽעֲלָתָה וְאַמְהֹתֶיהָ מְנַֽהֲגֹות כְּקֹול יֹונִים מְתֹפְפֹת עַל־לִבְבֵהֶֽן׃

Nehemiah 3

1 This is how the city wall was rebuilt. The High Priest Eliashib and his fellow priests rebuilt the Sheep Gate, dedicated it, and put the gates in place. They dedicated the wall as far as the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel.

2 The men of Jericho built the next section.

Zaccur son of Imri built the next section.

3 The clan of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They put the beams and the gates in place, and put in the bolts and bars for locking the gate.

4 Meremoth, the son of Uriah and grandson of Hakkoz, built the next section.

Meshullam, the son of Berechiah and grandson of Meshezabel, built the next section.

Zadok son of Baana built the next section.

5 The men of Tekoa built the next section, but the leading men of the town refused to do the manual labor assigned them by the supervisors.

6 Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah rebuilt Jeshanah Gate. They put the beams and the gates in place, and put in the bolts and bars for locking the gate.

7 Melatiah from Gibeon, Jadon from Meronoth, and the men of Gibeon and Mizpah built the next section, as far as the residence of the governor of West-of-Euphrates.

8 Uzziel son of Harhaiah, a goldsmith, built the next section.

Hananiah, a maker of perfumes, built the next section, as far as Broad Wall.

9 Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of half of the Jerusalem District, built the next section.

10 Jedaiah son of Harumaph built the next section, which was near his own house.

Hattush son of Hashabneiah built the next section.

11 Malchijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath Moab built both the next section and the Tower of the Ovens.

12 Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of the other half of the Jerusalem District, built the next section. (His daughters helped with the work.)

13 Hanun and the inhabitants of the city of Zanoah rebuilt the Valley Gate. They put the gates in place, put in the bolts and the bars for locking the gate, and repaired the wall for fifteen hundred feet, as far as the Rubbish Gate.

14 Malchijah son of Rechab, ruler of the Beth Haccherem District, rebuilt the Rubbish Gate. He put the gates in place, and put in the bolts and the bars for locking the gate.

15 Shallum son of Colhozeh, ruler of the Mizpah District, rebuilt the Fountain Gate. He covered the gateway, put the gates in place, and put in the bolts and the bars. At the Pool of Shelah he built the wall next to the royal garden, as far as the stairs leading down from David’s City.

16 Nehemiah son of Azbuk, ruler of half of the Bethzur District, built the next section, as far as David’s tomb, the pool, and the barracks.

Levites Who Worked on the Wall

17 The following Levites rebuilt the next several sections of the wall:

Rehum son of Bani built the next section;

Hashabiah, ruler of half of the Keilah District, built the next section on behalf of his district;

18 Bavvai son of Henadad, ruler of the other half of the Keilah District, built the next section;

19 Ezer son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, built the next section in front of the armory, as far as the place where the wall turns;

20 Baruch son of Zabbai built the next section, as far as the entrance to the house of the High Priest Eliashib;

21 Meremoth, the son of Uriah and grandson of Hakkoz, built the next section, up to the far end of Eliashib’s house.

Priests Who Worked on the Wall

22 The following priests rebuilt the next several sections of the wall:

Priests from the area around Jerusalem built the next section;

23 Benjamin and Hasshub built the next section, which was in front of their houses;

Azariah, the son of Maaseiah and grandson of Ananiah, built the next section, which was in front of his house;

24 Binnui son of Henadad built the next section, from Azariah’s house to the corner of the wall;

25-26 Palal son of Uzai built the next section, beginning at the corner of the wall and the tower of the upper palace near the court of the guard;

Pedaiah son of Parosh built the next section, to a point on the east near the Water Gate and the tower guarding the Temple. (This was near that part of the city called Ophel, where the Temple workers lived.)

Other Builders

27 The men of Tekoa built the next section, their second one, from a point opposite the large tower guarding the Temple as far as the wall near Ophel.

28 A group of priests built the next section, going north from the Horse Gate, each one building in front of his own house.

29 Zadok son of Immer built the next section, which was in front of his house.

Shemaiah son of Shecaniah, keeper of the East Gate, built the next section.

30 Hananiah son of Shelemiah and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, built the next section, their second one.

Meshullam son of Berechiah built the next section, which was in front of his house.

31 Malchijah, a goldsmith, built the next section, as far as the building used by the Temple workers and the merchants, which was by the Miphkad Gate to the Temple, near the room on top of the northeast corner of the wall.

32 The goldsmiths and the merchants built the last section, from the room at the corner as far as the Sheep Gate.

1 Maccabees 1

Alexander the Great

1 After Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated a King Darius of the Persians and the Medes, he succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.) 2 He fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth. 3 He advanced to the ends of the earth, and plundered many nations. When the earth became quiet before him, he was exalted, and his heart was lifted up. 4 He gathered a very strong army and ruled over countries, nations, and princes, and they became tributary to him.

5 After this he fell sick and perceived that he was dying. 6 So he summoned his most honored officers, who had been brought up with him from youth, and divided his kingdom among them while he was still alive. 7 And after Alexander had reigned twelve years, he died.

8 Then his officers began to rule, each in his own place. 9 They all put on crowns after his death, and so did their descendants after them for many years; and they caused many evils on the earth.

Antiochus Epiphanes and Renegade Jews

10 From them came forth a sinful root, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus; he had been a hostage in Rome. He began to reign in the one hundred thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. b

11 In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.” 12 This proposal pleased them, 13 and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. 14 So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, 15 and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.

Antiochus in Egypt

16 When Antiochus saw that his kingdom was established, he determined to become king of the land of Egypt, in order that he might reign over both kingdoms. 17 So he invaded Egypt with a strong force, with chariots and elephants and cavalry and with a large fleet. 18 He engaged King Ptolemy of Egypt in battle, and Ptolemy turned and fled before him, and many were wounded and fell. 19 They captured the fortified cities in the land of Egypt, and he plundered the land of Egypt.

Persecution of the Jews

20 After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred forty-third year. c He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. 21 He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. 22 He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. 23 He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures that he found. 24 Taking them all, he went into his own land.

He shed much blood,

and spoke with great arrogance.

25 Israel mourned deeply in every community,

26 rulers and elders groaned,

young women and young men became faint,

the beauty of the women faded.

27 Every bridegroom took up the lament;

she who sat in the bridal chamber was mourning.

28 Even the land trembled for its inhabitants,

and all the house of Jacob was clothed with shame.

The Occupation of Jerusalem

29 Two years later the king sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute, and he came to Jerusalem with a large force. 30 Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. 31 He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. 32 They took captive the women and children, and seized the livestock. 33 Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. 34 They stationed there a sinful people, men who were renegades. These strengthened their position; 35 they stored up arms and food, and collecting the spoils of Jerusalem they stored them there, and became a great menace,

36 for the citadel d became an ambush against the sanctuary,

an evil adversary of Israel at all times.

37 On every side of the sanctuary they shed innocent blood;

they even defiled the sanctuary.

38 Because of them the residents of Jerusalem fled;

she became a dwelling of strangers;

she became strange to her offspring,

and her children forsook her.

39 Her sanctuary became desolate like a desert;

her feasts were turned into mourning,

her sabbaths into a reproach,

her honor into contempt.

40 Her dishonor now grew as great as her glory;

her exaltation was turned into mourning.

Installation of Gentile Cults

41 Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, 42 and that all should give up their particular customs. 43 All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. 44 And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, 45 to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, 46 to defile the sanctuary and the priests, 47 to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, 48 and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, 49 so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. 50 He added, e “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”

51 In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. He appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the towns of Judah to offer sacrifice, town by town. 52 Many of the people, everyone who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; 53 they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had.

54 Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year, f they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, 55 and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. 56 The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. 57 Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. 58 They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. 59 On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. 60 According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, 61 and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks.

62 But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. 63 They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. 64 Very great wrath came upon Israel.