The tears of Jerusalem and the blood of her liberators stain the pages between Malachi and Matthew. If only there was more than a single page to stain… if only it wasn’t blank. Indeed, what if I told you that this so-called blank page separating the Old from the New Testament spans from the Hellenistic period under the Greeks to the pinnacle of the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus: four hundred years of absolute silence?
These so-called “silent years” have since become subject to theological interpretations along the lines of: God’s silence does not indicate his absence. Such analyses, while encouraging to modern audiences, reflect an unfortunate lack of historical knowledge. The silent years were by no means silent. Nor is the blank page truly blank.
The silent years were by no means silent. Nor is the blank page truly blank
Ancient accounts preserved in First and Second Maccabees, Flavius Josephus’ Antiquities and Wars, the apocalyptic Book of Daniel, Tacitus’ Histories, and the fragments of Diodorus are sufficient to construct a comprehensive timeline of this period. What they reveal to us is a chapter of Jewish history during which the nation of Israel was forged through the fires of unprecedented religious, political, and cultural tumult – tumult that set the stage for the dramatic clashes of subsequent centuries.
Indeed, the blank page is the capstone of the Old Testament and the foundation of the New Testament. It richly depicts the tenacious survival of God’s chosen people amidst attacks against their identity, their Temple, and their country. At no other time in history has the Jewish religion (and indeed monotheism as a whole) come closer to elimination than during these intertestamental years.
Are we truly to call these Judaea’s silent years? The evidence is strongly indicative to the contrary.
Yet, the page remains blank. And so, we as Christians have the propensity to flip past it, as though its importance is reserved to separating the respective halves of our Bible. The underlying assumption is that the Old Testament alone is sufficient to set the context for the New Testament – and, indeed, for the incarnation of Christ.
We do ourselves a historical, theological, and spiritual disservice when we read the New Testament in a contextual vacuum.
However, we do ourselves a historical, theological, and spiritual disservice when we read the New Testament in a contextual vacuum. Doing so is tantamount to suggesting that the unique time and place of Christ’s incarnation, life, ministry, and crucifixion are circumstantial trivialities.
It is a noble, but naïve, farce to assume that the New Testament arose from the ashes of Babylonian captivity. Historical disassociation is in no way conducive to a robust understanding of Scripture. As long as the blank page continues to be ill-defined as a period of God’s silence, rather than as a period resounding with both triumph and tribulation, the contextual significance of the New Testament will continue to be overlooked and neglected.
To combat this neglect, over the coming months, we’re going to explore of the main events that took place during this time, with the goal of shedding light on the alleged “blank page” of the Bible. The following is a rough timeline of the Intertestamental Period, the far-from-silent years of Judaea’s history. Care to join me as I delve into this rich history?
The Blank Page Chronicles:
- The Silent Years Between Testaments
- From Ezra to Alexander
- The Ptolemies in Judaea
- The Seleucids in Judaea
- Antiochus IV Epiphanes (174–163 BC)
- Maccabean Revolt (167-152 BC)
- Hasmonean Priesthood and Kingship (142-63 BC)
- Arrival of Rome: Pompey (63 BC)
- Herod the Great (39-4 BC)
(Articles will be linked to this timeline as they become available.)