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In-Between Times Before Jesus
James Borror Th.D.   

Q. Can you explain what happened during those 400 years before Jesus was born?


Dr. James Borror, Professor at Talbot Theological Seminary, offers a concise answer to your question:

Most people reading the last of the Old Testament and moving on to Matthew feel that something has been "left out." It is like entering a whole new world different than the prophets, kings and priests who composed the Old Testament writings.

The years from Malachi to Matthew are sometimes called the "400 silent years." The silence refers to the fact that there is no Word from God during these years. But they were not silent in activity. The history of the time was dramatic and life changing for almost every group that lived through it.

1. Babylonian/Persian Influence

a. The Jews were Cured of idolatry

b. The Scribes and rabbinic literature arose

The Scribes produced the rabbinical literature known as the Mishna (God's laws allegedly passed down orally and not recorded in Scripture), the Gemara (a commentary on the Mishna and a compilation of accepted traditions). These two volumes were later added to and combined to form the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud).

c. The synagogues were founded

Places for assembly or "synagogues" were instituted in order to conduct formal Jewish worship, and to provide schools for education while they were far from their homeland.

d. The teaching of the Scriptures became important

e. Unification of the Jewish people was brought about

2. Greek Influence

Alexander attempted to found a worldwide empire united by language, custom, and civilization. This process, called "Hellenization", included the adoption of Greek culture and religion in all parts of the world.

3. Egyptian Influence

a. Effect on Judaism

Alexander began a deliberate and decisive campaign to bring in a one world government with Greek civilization being the catalyst around which it would be developed. He imposed on the Middle East the Greek language, Greek customs, and most importantly, he attempted to blend together all religions in the world of his influence into a single religion which used Greek nomenclatures and theological opinions as its basis.

After the death of Alexander in 323 B.C. the land of Palestine was attacked by invading armies no less than four times by 301 B.C. Palestine remained under the direct control of the Hellenistic people of Egypt for just over a hundred years (until 198 B.C.).

Ironically, the ones who were affected the most by this new culture were the priests (the religious authorities themselves). Most influential Jews fell under the sway of Hellenism, and then the common people. It takes little imagination to realize what happened to the religious life of the people as a whole.

The recognition of this religious disorder among the Jews during the Egyptian domination is the real key that explains why the Judaism of Christ's day emerged.

There were hundreds of new laws which were inherited from pagan practices that had infiltrated the Judaism of Christ's time.

b. Emergence of religious parties

Two religious parties emerged:

1) the Hellenizing party,

2) and the orthodox Jews, in particular the Hasidim or "Pious Ones" (predecessors of the Pharisees).

6. Roman Influence

In addition to the Pharisees and Sadducees, three other parties joined the political mix of this time.

a. The Zealots were even less tolerant of change than the Pharisees, and they added a strong nationalistic spirit to the Pharisee's devotion to the Law.

b. The Herodians went a step further toward pragmatic politics than the Sadducees, openly supporting Herod's government and opposing any hint of rebellion.

c. A fifth group, the Essenes, responded to cultural and political issues by withdrawing into a monastic lifestyle - many think at Qumran.

Despite their differences, all of these people shared a concern for the future of the Jews and each group had its own expectations for the long-promised Messiah.


Author and teacher James Borror Th.D. is our "father in the faith." Founder of Golden Minutes Ministries, he was also Professor of Theology at Talbot Theological Seminary for decades of service to this great school.

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