Period between the Old and New Testaments

Intertestamental Period

The period between the Old and New Testaments in the Bible is also known as the Intertestamental period, where various historical developments and influences set the stage for the events described in the New Testament. It is by understanding this background that the Bible reader can more clearly understand the nature of events and the Christ’s work in the New Testament. The Intertestamental period ranged more or less from the Greek Period under the rule of Alexander the Great to the reign of Herod the Great and the rulership of his sons. It is roughly equivalent to the Second Temple period, ranging from 516 B.C. To 170 A.D. (Jones, n.d.). These events can be examined for clearer information about the events and background social paradigms of the New Testament.

The first significant event, from the viewpoint of the Jews, during the Greek Period was the Greek conquest of the Persian Empire including Judea in 334 B.C. (Satterfield, n.d.). This is important in terms of understanding the world of the New Testament, since the Greek culture is the one that dominated the area during the time, even though the Romans ruled the world of the time. Alexander was a believer in the superiority of Greek culture, but also was not averse to the integration of other cultures. Alexander’s ideal was that the world should be seen as a single city, with all people being inhabitants of such a city, all under the rule of the Greek culture and ideal (Satterfield, n.d.). Because of this adherence to the Greek ideal, Hellenism was aggressively promoted by both Alexander and his successors. Under this paradigm, the Greek city was ruled by its citizens. The market place was at the center of the city, where goods were sold and ideas promoted by both philosophers and religious missionaries.

This setup was important for the coming of Christ, where first John the Baptist and then Jesus could promote their ideas publicly in the marketplace. Other features of the Greek city included theaters and gymnasiums, where social gatherings took place around plays and sports events. Temples also formed an important part of the Greek city, since there was no division between civic and religious life, and it was considered a civic duty to worship the city’s deities. As such, Alexander and his successors used the Greek city as instrument for the spread of Hellenism in the world they conquered.

According to Jones (n.d.), the Greek language was important in terms of the New Testament and the spread of the Gospel after Christ’s life. Even when the Roman Empire took over the rule of the world, Greek remained the world language. The official business of the Roman Empire was conducted in Latin, but several centuries saw Greek being used as the common language. Therefore, the two centuries preceding the birth of Christ included the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The New Testament was originally written in Greek, and ultimately it also meant that the Gospel could be spread throughout the world without much difficulty in terms of the language barrier. Some even go as far as claiming that Christ delivered his teachings in both Greek and Aramaic to reach a wider audience without difficulty. Indeed, Battle (n.d.) notes that, while most Jews developed Aramaic as their national language, most of them also learned to speak Greek during the Hellenization of the region. When Christ was alive, most Jews could speak Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek, as well as a bit of Latin.

What Hellenization meant for Jerusalem was that it also experienced some Hellenization during the Greek period. In 198 B.C., Palestine, including Judea, was conquered by Antiochus III, a Seleucid king. This meant the acceleration of the process of Hellenization in Jerusalem. The outcome of this was that Jerusalem was transformed form a temple-state to a Greek city-state under the Sanhedrin, its governing council. A gymnasium was also established in the city. These new developments, in turn, resulted in a clear division among the Jews; the rich aristocracy, who favored Hellenism, and those who opposed it in favor of the Law of Moses.

The Maccabean Revolt occurred when Antiochus Epiphanes forbade Jewish rituals in the temple of Jerusalem and placed an altar to Zeus in the temple instead. The revolt was focused on a Hasidim, a group devoted to the Law of Moses. The leader of the rebels was Judas Maccabaeus, for whom the revolt was named. After a war that lasted several years, Jerusalem was free from Seleucid control and the temple rededicated. The yearly celebration of this rededication was known as the Feast of Dedication in the New Testament, and has become Hanukkah today.

Ultimately, the Jews won their independence in 128 B.C. Judea became an independent state ruled by the Hasmoanean family, of whom the leader became the high priest. Interestingly, however, the Hasmonean high priests became increasingly Hellenistic. This was opposed by the spiritual descendants of the Hasidim, who became known as the Pharisees. The aristocratic Zadokites became the Sadducees, who were opposed to the Pharisees. The former group were mainly composed of wealthy priests and the Jewish aristocracy. Hence, Christ proved himself opposed to the narrow-spirited orthodoxy of the overly religious Pharisees on the one hand and on the other, he was also opposed to the Sadducees and their concern with accumulating worldly wealth. The Sadducees maintain control of the temple until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D., and the High Priest was always a Sadducee.

Indeed, the Intertestamental period saw the division of the Jewish faith into four sects, two of which were the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the other two were the Zealots and Essenes. Although the first two groups play the most prominent role in the Gospels, all four groups were significantly influencial in these narratives.

Another group that significantly influenced the teachings of Christ is the Samaritans. Battle (n.d.) notes that there was a rift between the inhabitants of Judah and Samaria throughout the Persian period. The conflict began under Zerubbabel and continued under Ezra and Nehemiah. The Samaritans built their own temple to Yahweh on Mt. Gerizim in the fourth century.

The Hasmonean rule came to an end when the Romans conquered Judea in 63 B.C. The Jews had to pay an annual tribute or tax to the Roman governor. This type of rulership created great unhappiness among the Jews, but little was done in response to their opposition.

Herod the Great became king of Judea in 39 B.C., as approved by the roman Senate (Jones, n.d.). Herod’s reign was the result of the good impression he made on Octavian and Anthony in Rome (Battle, n.d.). The persuaded the Senate to appoint Herod as the “king of the Jews.” It was under the rule of Herod the Great that Christ was born. Because Herod regarded the birth of the “King of kings” as a threat to the stability of his kingdom, he ordered the murder of all male Jewish children under the age of 2. This is probably the most well-known event related to Herod and the birth of Christ. It also shows that Herod was somewhat unreasonable in his paranoia and suspicions. It is said that, during his lifetime, he murdered most of his friends and family (Battle, n.d.). When Mary and Joseph learned about the reign of Herod’s son, they moved to Nazareth.

Because he had to fight for his position, Herod was concerned with strengthening his position on the throne. He therefore married Mariamne, a Hasmonean princess, and granddaughter of both Hyrcanus II and Aristobolus II. Furthermore, as part of his political strategy, Herod swore allegiance to whomever he felt could strengthen his reign. As such, he supported Anthony throughout his war against Octavian. When Octavian proved victorious, Herod promised the same allegiance to the victor. Upon his victory, Octavian began his reign as the first emperor of Rome as Caesar Augustus. He outlived Herod the Great by ten years.

While Jesus was born during Augustus’ rule, his adult years, ministry, and death were spent under the reign of his successor, Tiberius.

Herod began his reign by using sound political strategy. He accepted to depend on Rome as a strategy for the welfare of the nation and of Judaism. By accepting both Roman rule and Judaism as part of his political strategy, Herod created a great sense of stability in the kingdom. He established law and order by not hesitating to kill anyone he regarded as threat to his kingdom. This was his method for establishing law and order in the kingdom. His second strategy was to reduce the power of the Sanhedrin by recreating them to become a type of privy council composed of friends, family, and those who were allied with himself in their thinking. He also made attemtps to be fair and impartial to non-Jewish citizens within his kingdom. Finally, his fiscal policies and building projects created both security and prosperity in Judea.

Herod also uses his prowess at construction as a strategy in terms of building foreign policy. He donated many buildings and temples to other rulers and territories. Within his own kingdom, he also built several cities, of which the most notable is Caesarea, also known as the “capital on the sea.” He rebuilt Samaria and renamed it Sabaste, in honor of Augustus. He also built many gymnasiums, baths, parts, and streets throughout his area of rulership (Battle, n.d.) The fortresses he built include the Herodium, Macherus, and the Masada on the western shore of the Dead Sea.

In Jerusalem, Herod built a place for himself in the northwest corner of the Upper City. This included three towers, which he named after Phasael, Mariamne, and his friend Hippicus. The base of the largest tower is called the Tower of David, and still exists today.

Herod also rebuilt and enlarged the Maccabean fortress north of the temple; he renamed it Antonia to honor Mark Anthony. It is probable that Christ’s trial under Pilate took place in Herod’s palace rather than in the Antonia (Battle, n.d.).

As part of his civic improvement program in Jerusalem, Herod built a theater in the Upper City and a stadium in the Tyropoeon Valley. He also built several additional protective walls around and in the region of Jerusalem.

Today, one of Herod’s greatest building achievements is considered to be the new temple with its courts and buildings. The work began in 19 B.C. and, according to the Gospel of John, took 46 years to complete. This project was then Herod’s one major effort to win the loyalty of the subversive Jews. It did not succeed, since the Jews still mistrusted the king even though they did love the temple. Herod even went as far as training Jewish priests in construction to provide them with the opportunity to build the temple themselves, according to Jewish religious requirements. The new temple was twice as big as the old one. It was also built around the old temple before being dismantled and removed. The temple was admired by all and the pride of the Jews, according to the Gospels (Battle, n.d.). Herod also built the temple mount, doubled the area of the temple esplanade, and also constructed porticos, walls, gates, and stairways. The royal portico was a great basilica to the south of the temple area.

Herod’s hostility, suspicion, and cruelty grew worse with age. At his death, he had lost both the confidence and favor of Rome. Although Herod’s slaying of young children during the birth of Christ, this act was simply among many other atrocities he committed as a result of his jealousy and suspicion. When he became ill shortly after the birth of Christ, it is reported that Herod imprisoned the major Jewish leaders. His order was reportedly that these leaders should be executed at his death, so that the Jewish people would mourn rather than rejoice that Herod had finally died. Although this order was never carried out, Herod remained jealous and cruel up to the time of his death. He continued to execute his sons and heirs and rewrite his will. According to Battle (n.d.), he wrote his final will only five days before he died. Nonetheless, the fact remains that he remains known as “Herod the Great.” This greatness is the result not only of his long reign, but especially as a result of his political prowess and his abilities as a constructionist (Knobelt, 2005).

When Herod died, his kingdom was divided among three of his sons. Judea Idumaea, and Samaria went to Archelaus. The northeastern districts were given to Philip, while the northwestern district of Galilee and the southeastern Perea went to Antipas (Carson, 2006).

When Archelaus proved to be an incompetent ruler, he was banished to Vienna. His region became a Roman province and was governed by a Procurator. When Christ was tried, Pontius Pilate was the curator of the province. While Philip was at least adequate as a ruler, Antipas was most like his father and also the best of the three rulers. It was Antipas who interacted significantly with John the Baptist, who denounce him for marrying his brother’s wife. John ultimately died at the hands of Antipas (Burch, 2008). The reign of Herod and his three sons was therefore significantly influencial in the life and death of Christ.

The Intertestamental period is an important area of study for those who are concerned with studying the particular social and political developments that framed the context of Christ’s birth, life, ministry, and death. In many ways, this period paved the way for the coming of Christ and his subsequent ministry. Particularly, the development of language and political developments such as the reign of Herod and his sons, provided context, background, and the circumstances surrounding the important events that created one of the world’s most dominant religions, Christianity.


Battle, J.A. (n.d.) Intertestament Period. New Testament Survey. Western Reformed Seminary. Retrieved from: — Intertestament_Period.pdf

Bennema, C. (2001). The Strands of Wisdom Tradition in Intertestametnal Judaism: Origins, Developments, and Characteristics. Tyndale Bulletin Vol. 52, No. 1. Retrieved from:

Burch, J. (2008). The Life and Teachings of Christ. The Synoptic Gospels. Retrieved from:

Carson, D.C. (2006). A Brief History of the Interestamental Period and Beyond. Retrieved from:

Jones, M.R. (n.d.) The Interestamental Period and its Preparation for Christianity. Retrieved from:

Knoblet, J. (2005). Herod the Great. Oxford: University Press of America, Inc.

Satterfield, B. (2001). The Inter-Testamental Period. Retrieved from:

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