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Sunday, January 29 2012

A History Of Jerusalem: Greeks, Ptolemies, Seleucids

The complete series of studies for A History Of Jerusalem:
1. In The Beginning
5. The Glory Of Solomon
9. Greeks, Ptolemies, Seleucids
13. The Herodian Dynasty
17. Constantine and Muhammad
2. Melchizedek's Salem
6. The Temple Of The LORD
10. Abomination Of Desolation
14. The Coming Of The Messiah
18. The British Mandate
3. Jebus Of Canaan
7. The Capital Of Judah
11. The Hasmonean Kingdom
15. Titus And The Zealots
19. Zionism
4. The City Of David
8. Ezra And Nehemiah
12. Pompey And The Caesars
16. Hadrian and Simon bar Kokhba
20. War And Peace

After the end of the Israelite monarchy of "Israel" and "Judah" (see A History Of Jerusalem: The Capital Of Judah and Kings of Israel and Judah), Jerusalem was within the Babylonian (or "Chaldean") Empire (see Ancient Empires - Babylon) for about seventy years, before the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persian (or "the Medes and Persians") Empire (see Ancient Empires - Persia). That historic event is recorded in the book of Daniel with the famous "handwriting on the wall" (or "a hand writing on the wall") incident with Belshazzar, who was then the imperial ruler of Jerusalem.

The Writing On The Wall

"5:1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. 5:2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem [see The Temple Vessel Prophecies Today]; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. 5:3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. 5:4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

5:5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. 5:6 Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another." (Daniel 5:1-6 KJV)

"5:30 In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. 5:31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old." (Daniel 5:30-31 KJV)

The "Old" Testament historic record ends during the time of the Persian Empire. The Greek Empire, that conquered the Persian Empire, peaked during the approximately three centuries between the end of the "Old" Testament and the beginning of the "New Testament." The fall of the Persian Empire to the Greek Empire was however recorded in prophecy, by the prophet Daniel. Daniel's prophecy is extremely detailed - providing not only the nationality of the Empire that would defeat Persia (i.e. Greece, which in the time of Daniel was a only small, benign kingdom in southern Europe), but also that the royal conqueror would die at a young age, without children, and that his Greek Empire would be divided into four major sections. That is exactly what happened with Alexander the Great. A brief excerpt of the prophecy:

"8:20 The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia. 8:21 And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. 8:22 Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power." (Daniel 8:20-22 KJV)

The Greek Empire of Alexander The Great

As shown on the map above, Alexander's Empire extended from Greece in the west to India in the east, as well as though Judea and Jerusalem, into Egypt and northern Africa. As such, Alexander the Great was the imperial king of Jerusalem during his reign.

Alexander The Great Exactly as prophesied, Alexander died at a relatively young age (in the former palace of King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, of an illness; speculation of the cause ranges from appendicitis, typhoid, or food poisoning - by accident, or as a means of assassination) without any "official" children. Alexander's body was transported to Egypt where it was buried in a gold coffin in the city that was named after him - Alexandria (they apparently didn't regard it as burying the Greek king in a foreign country because Egypt was then, and as far as they were concerned would forever be, within the Greek Empire).

As is also accurately stated in the prophecy by Daniel, Alexander's kingdom was divided up into four major zones, with some overlap, and rampant internal struggles for power within each of them.

The two major sections that deal directly with the history of Jerusalem were the Seleucids, headquartered in Syria (which we will cover in detail in a subsequent study in this series, about the "abomination of desolation" in Jerusalem; see also The Prophet Daniel's View Of Hanukkah) and the Ptolomies, headquartered in Egypt, whose eventual military loss to the Romans (see The Cleopatra Connection) enabled Rome to grow from a republic (see The Politics Of Rome) into a malignant empire (see Pax Romana: The Birth Of The Roman Empire) - that enabled the Romans to occupy Jerusalem at the time of the first coming of the Messiah (see also Does Rome Have Christ's Birth Certificate?).

The Seleucids and The Ptolemies

Seleucus was the Macedonian general who, as one of the Diadochi, or Successors, of Alexander, acquired much of the extensive eastern section of the empire centered on the territory of the old Babylonian Empire (see the Fact Finder question below). From Seleucus was established his namesake Seleucid Dynasty that lasted for almost two and a half centuries.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes Seleucus received the satrapy of Babylonia in 321 B.C. from Antipater, the administrator of Alexander's kingdom. After losing it for a brief time to Antigonus, another of Alexander's former generals, Seleucus regained control after the battle of Gaza in 312 B.C., and in 306 B.C. assumed the title of king as Seleucus I Nicator. His territory extended over a vast region, however the land of Israel and Jerusalem long remained contested between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies, primarily because it formed part of the tenuous border between them. Seleucus was assassinated in 281 B.C. by Ptolemy Ceraunus.

As with the Ptolemies of Egypt, the Seleucids promoted Greek language and culture throughout their domains. This included their heathen religion, which from the perspective of Bible History, reached its most outrageous extreme in 167 B.C. when Antiochus IV Epiphanes entered the Temple of God (which had been rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah - see A History Of Jerusalem: Ezra And Nehemiah) in Jerusalem, erected an altar to the pagan god Zeus, and sacrificed a pig on it. That "abomination of desecration" triggered the Maccabean uprising by the Hasmoneans (we will cover both the "abomination of desolation" and the revolt and kingdom of the Maccabees in subsequent studies in this series of A History of Jerusalem). The eventual victory and cleansing of the Temple is still commemorated by Jews today by the annual Festival of Hanukkah.

Ptolemy was the Macedonian general who, as another of the Diadochi, or Successors, of Alexander, acquired Egypt. From him was established his namesake Ptolemaic Dynasty that ruled for about three centuries, until the murder of Caesarion (Ptolemy XV), the 17 year old son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, by order of Octavian in 30 BC.

Although Ptolemy and his successors were and remained Greeks, they adopted many Egyptian customs, ruling in the supposed-tradition of the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. They also involved themselves in incestuous marriages in a like manner of many of the Pharaohs. The Ptolemaic kings, all fifteen of whom were named Ptolemy, often married their sisters, who were commonly named Cleopatra (from the Greek kleos patris meaning famous parents).

Antony and Cleopatra One Egyptian custom that they did not adopt however was the language - the Ptolemies were avid Greek speakers. They made Greek the official language of Egypt, and many cities were given Greek names. The name Egypt is itself derived from Greek.

Ptolemy moved the capital of Egypt from Memphis to Alexandria - the city founded by Alexander the Great himself, and where Alexander was buried. From there, the Ptolemies ruled an empire that extended beyond Egypt to Israel and Jerusalem, Cyrenaica, Cyprus and as far north as western Asia Minor / Turkey and the Aegean Sea region - which brought them into conflict with the Romans who were then getting ambitious with their own borders.

Alexandria became one of the greatest ancient centers of knowledge and trade. A great library was founded there. Many Jews also lived in the city and adopted Greek ways and language. The Septuagint, the Old Testament translation into Greek, was made by Jewish scholars in Alexandria.

Eventually the Ptolemaic kingdom was weakened by typical internal struggles for control (the ultimate threat to democracy is democracy itself, when legislative-gridlock and party-polarization lead people to view their fellow citizens as an, or even the greatest, enemy of the nation - when a country starts to devour itself) and the growing power of the Romans. Cleopatra VII was the last and generally most well-known of the Ptolemaic rulers. Although there were numerous Cleopatras, she is the one that made the name famous.

Cleopatra reigned with the political support of the Roman leader Julius Caesar, with whom she had a son. After Julius Caesar was assassinated, Cleopatra became involved with the Roman general Marc Antony - a love and power relationship that lasted for 10 years. It ended when the forces of Antony and Cleopatra were defeated by Octavian (recorded as Caesar Augustus in the Bible) at the battle of Actium. After Cleopatra, 39, and Antony, 53, both committed suicide (she by having a poisonous snake bite her), Egypt was absorbed by the emerging Roman Empire.

Fact Finder: Did the LORD (see The Rock Of The Church) enable the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar to see the Persian, Greek and Roman Empires that would follow him?
See Nebuchadnezzar's Dream; also What And Where Is Babylon Today?

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This Day In History, January 29

1613: Italian scientist Galileo Galiei observed the planet, later to be called "Neptune" (many scientists who reject "religion" nevertheless hypocritically name many discoveries and space exploration programs of the heavens after pagan "gods") without realizing that it was an "undiscovered" planet. A German, Johann Galle, is credited with the planet's discovery in 1846, over 2 centuries after Galileo.

1635: The Academie Francaise was founded. It became one of the most famous European literary societies.

1730: Peter II, Czar of Russia (czar is the Russian form of Caesar, as is the German Kaiser), died of smallpox on the day set for his wedding.

1820: King George III of England died. It was during his reign (1760-1820) that some (all of the others, thereafter known as Loyalists, about 1/4 of the New England population, returned to England or moved to Canada after the rebellion - most of the Loyalists were successful businessmen, or British Army or local Militia who did not desert at the start of the rebellion) in the New England colonies (which were created by England out of the uninhabited and undeveloped wilderness over the previous two centuries) rebelled in 1776.

1829: Montreal's McGill University was established.

1856: Britain's highest military honor, the Victoria Cross, was established.

1886: In Germany, Karl Benz received a patent for the first gasoline-powered automobile.

1891: Liliuokalani was proclaimed Queen of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

1916: During the First World War (listen to our Sermons The Ottoman Empire and The European World Wars), German Zeppelins began bombing Paris.

1916: Military tanks entered battle for first time, by the British, during the First World War.

1922: The political union of Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras ended.

1968: The ice cap of Antarctic was penetrated for the first time. Rock was encountered at a depth of about 2 kilometers.

1991: Iraqi forces attacked the Saudi Arabian town of Kafji.

1996: Venice's opera house, fatefully named La Fenice or "The Phoenix," was destroyed by fire.


Copyright © Wayne Blank