TH6317 The Interpretation of the History of Israel

Hellenistic Period Histories


Plan to draft a section a week for March 21, 28, and April 4.


Honorable mention sources

Major themes

Introduction to the Hellenistic Period

From the perspective of Jewish history, the Hellenistic Period begins in 333 BCE with Alexander the Great and transitions to the Roman Period with Pompey in 63 BCE.

The Hellenistic Period begins with the conquests of Alexander the Great around 333 BCE. From the perspective of Jerusalem, we can say it endures until the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 63 BCE. Ancient Greeks called Greece “Hellas.” It was the Romans who called it Graeca, from which English gets Greece. We use “Hellenic” as the adjective for “Greek” in a specific sense. “Hellenistic” is a more general term for the language and culture derived from that part of the world. Think about how “Hispanic” can mean Spanish-speaking, even for someone whose family has never been in Spain. Alexander himself was from Macedonia, not exactly Greece.

After Alexander the empire split between his generals. From the perspective of Jerusalem, the Hellenistic Period can be divided into the Ptolemaic, Seleucid, and Hasmonean periods. The Ptolemies were the Greek kingdom based in Egypt (generally considered south). The Seleucids were the Greek kingdom based in Syria (generally considered north). The Ptolemies ruled Jerusalem until 198 BCE, then the Seleucids took over. The Seleucids ruled securely until 167 BCE, and then were challenged by the Maccabean Revolt. Then came bits of anarchy and sporadic rule before the Hasmoneans established rule in 152 BCE. Basically, the Hasmoneans are the family of Judah Maccabee. They were more or less independent rulers of Jerusalem until 63 BCE.

Introduction to Enoch and 1 Enoch


The literary genres of 1 Enoch are closer to the New Testament than the Old Testament

The Books of 1 Enoch in order of composition

Introduction to the Apocalypse literary genre and apocalyptic theology

For scholars “apocalypse” is a literary genre, not the end of the world. The most accepted definition has three major parts:

We can call a theology or a worldview “apocalyptic” if it is characteristic of the ideas typically presented in the literary genre. On a basic level, apocalyptic theology is based on a belief that the characteristics of the literary genre (angels, demons, places of judgment, day of judgment) are necessary and central for understanding God’s plan. It is possible to express apocalyptic theology without the genre (sectarian literature found at Qumran, much of Paul and part of the Gospels), and even possible to use the genre subversively.

The Animal Apocalypse

Allegorical Key to Animal Apocalypse

1 Enoch interprets Genesis 6:1-4 as the origin of evil (angelic rebellion in heaven, invasion of earth, rape, forbidden teachings)

Genesis 6:1-4

  1. When men began to multiply on earth and daughters were born to them,
  2. the sons of heaven [sons of God] saw how beautiful the daughters of man were, and so they took for their wives as many of them as they chose.
  3. Then the LORD said: “My spirit shall not remain in man forever, since he is but flesh. His days shall comprise one hundred and twenty years.”
  4. At that time the Nephilim appeared on earth (as well as later), after the sons of heaven had intercourse with the daughters of man, who bore them sons. They were the heroes of old, the men of renown.

The origin and explanation of evil (spatial axis)

The Animal Apocalypse interprets the recent past and present in ways that differ radically from Ezra-Nehemiah and other texts representing the perspective of the established authorities in Jerusalem.

The present

Hope for judgment and what that tells us about their understanding of history

Hope for restoration and what that tells us about their understanding of history

Check-in on course motifs in the Animal Apocalypse

What does the Animal Apocalypse tell us about the meaning of the history of Israel?

The Apocalypse of Weeks

The Apocalypse of Weeks is nice and short but has all the essential elements of an apocalypse. Identify examples of transcendent things on the spatial axis, transcendent things on the temporal axis, and the view of revelation (and the narrative framework too).

Look for a qualitative pattern of history. That is, picture a chart with time on the x axis and the overall quality of the world on the y axis. What does the chart look like? How would the same chart look for the Deuteronomistic view of history?

What are the defining moments in history? Look for election, pruning, and destruction.

What do the authors hope for the future, and what does that tell us about them?

Check-in on course motifs in the Apocalypse of Weeks

What does the Apocalypse of Weeks tell us about the meaning of the history of Israel?

The conflict between Apocalyptic and Deuteronomistic Theologies of History: Daniel 9

First a little background on the book of Daniel. It is possible that chapter 9 is older, but other chapters are easy to date and we are quite certain the book did not take a final form before the 160s BCE. We will spend more time of the Maccabean Revolt next week. For now, know that it was a time of intense conflict, both internal within Judaism and externally. There were more than two sides, and they all felt persecuted.

Identify the theology of history presumed in Daniel’s prayer.

Identify the theology of history given by the angel.

The conflict between Deuteronomistic and Apocalyptic Theologies of History: Jubilees

First a little background on the book of Jubilees. It was written in the 150s BCE, in the wake of the Maccabean revolt. The book presents itself as further instruction that Moses received on Mount Sinai. After having received the written Torah, an angel dicatated to Moses from the Heavenly Tablets. Most of the book of Jubilees can be thought of as a rewriting of Genesis up through Exodus 24. It is an excellent example of the 4-7 assumptions of early interpretation as applied to Genesis. It makes only brief “predictions” of history after Sinai, and those appear in chapters 1 and 23.

Identify the theology of history presumed in Jubilees 1

Identify the theology of history presumed in Jubilees 23

Further reading on Jubilees

Todd R. Hanneken, The Subversion of the Apocalypses in the Book of Jubilees. Early Judaism and Its Literature 34. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012.

Ben Sira’s list of great men

The edition I’m using labels this section, “Praise of Israel’s Great Ancestors,” but women are conspicuously excluded. It is always interesting when someone tries to balance brief and comprehensive. It really shows what he values and chooses to emphasize or omit. I hope it will also be helpful to reinforce the brief history of Israel as seen from yet another perspective. In particular, pay attention to some of the major figures and events we have been tracking across multiple retellings:

Consider the passage on ancestors remembered but not by name (44:8-15) in light of Buster’s treatment of commemoration.

1 Maccabees as ongoing history of Israel

The Maccabean Revolt was complex and told from very different perspectives. Along with perennial issues of power and soverignty, it grew out of conflicting ideas about how to balance Jewish identity with citizenship in larger Greek-speaking society.

Major figures

Jewish responses to Hellenstic culture

The Maccabean Revolt

1 Maccabees as retelling of the history of Israel

Interpretation of history to justify violence

Interpretation of history to justify a non-Davidic dynasty

Interpretation of history to justify change in high-priesthood

The Theology of History of 1 Maccabees

Contrasts between 1 and 2 Maccabees

The Theology of History of 2 Maccabees

Fundamentally Deuteronomic

The most significant development over Deuteronomy is that 2 Maccabees uses the principle of “vicarious suffering,” the idea that collective sin can be resolved by the suffering of a few, especially if those few are exceptionally rightous and suffer to an exceptional degree. This principle had already appeared in second Isaiah, but is fairly rare, and is fundamental to the Christian understanding of the suffering of Jesus.

The self-conception of the author of 2 Maccabees

Scholars often use indirect evidence to study the work and self-conception of ancient historians, but sometimes we get their own perspective on the matter. Such is the case with the author of 2 Maccabees, who offers a preface in the first person describing his work in relationship to a longer work by Jason of Cyrene. Please read carefully 2 Maccabees 2:19-32. In some instances toward the end, the translation in the NABRE is unfortunate. It assumes a modern understanding of history contrary to what the Greek text actually says and tells us about the ancient understanding of history. In the following the strikethrough indicates words in the NABRE that I have replaced with the underlined text that follows.

28 leaving the responsibility for exact details to the historian record keeper, and confining our efforts to presenting only a summary outline.
30 To enter into questions and examine them from all sides and to be busy about details is the task of the historian one who lays the foundation for the story; 31 but the one who is making an adaptation following author should be allowed to aim at brevity of expression and to forgo complete treatment of the matter.