Alexander the Great and the Ancient Greeks in Bible Prophecy

Atavist Bible Church

2020 Bible Prophecy Review

Autumn Lecture

Second Kingdom Negative

The Third Kingdom of Bible Prophecy and Its

Mixed Influence on the Second Jewish Commonwealth

Mark Mountjoy

Introductory Remarks

Today we would like to discuss Alexander the Great and the ancient Greeks in Bible prophecy. This conquerer and his people represent the third kingdom of Bible prophecy (Daniel 2:39 cf. 7:6); in history they had a mostly negative, but some positive influences on the Second Jewish Commonwealth.  

Two prior foreign takeovers had already happened, but the arrival of Alexander the Great portended the greatest changes to Jewish identity, self-awareness and determination because of the audacious ubiquity and pervasiveness of Hellenistic culture.

Hellenism’s reach touched and threatened to overturn everything that was good, just and precious in the Jewish world and did so more than anything that could have been humanly conceived or imagined during the two hundred and eighty-six years of the Jews’ bondage of the Babylonian Captivity or the occasional Persian crises.

Now, the Second Jewish Commonwealth, founded by Ezra, Nehemiah and Zerubbabel and established under the watchful eyes of the Persians, had already existed two hundred and sixteen years before Alexander, but it was not without Providence's own rhyme or wisdom that, in a whirlwind of victories, these cataclysmic changes were suddenly brought to the Levant, the Holy Land and beyond.  

Lecture outline:

A. Background and backstory:

Ongoing Israelite and Jewish transgressions against the Law of Moses and the institution of the Levitical Priesthood and the First Temple, social injustice and religious syncretism led to war, loss and captivity.  The Kingdom of Israel, in 724 B.C., after being warned for over two hundred years, fell,

"All the kings of Israel, without exception, were unfaithful and disobedient to God. They embraced idolatrous religions and were extremely wicked. After repeated prophetic warnings about coming disaster—unless Israel repented, the northern kingdom of Israel was overpowered by the Assyrians in around 724 BCE."1

Succumbing to the territorial ambitions of the Assyrians, the Israelites were forceably carried away captive beyond the Euphrates River where they grew into a mighty nation, ‘not to be estimated by numbers.’2 

B. The Beginning, Order and Direction of Bible Prophecy.

The beginning, order and direction of events in the Bible prophecy calendar did not begin with the capture of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian King Sargon II, but with the Neo-Babylonian captivity of the kingdom of Judah under the direction of Nebuchadnezzar II (609-587 BC.)

This first kingdom of Bible prophecy (the Neo-Babylonian Empire) was succeeded by the dual kingdom of the Medes and Persians and this second kingdom of Bible prophecy was followed by the triumphant conquests of Alexander the Great; it is these developments with which I would like to draw your attention today.

Now, the language of this kingdom was ancient Greek and Koine Greek4 and its territorial extent reached over 2 million square miles or 5179976.221 km (see map).  Its territorial Seleucus I Nicatorreach was far larger than any of the four kingdoms, hands down.

The Bible assigns rule, authority and power, not only to Alexander the Great, but also to the four Diodochi rulers, his successors: Seleucus I Nicator (pictured left), Ptolemy I Lagus (pictured as Pharoah of Egypt, below), Cassander the son of Antipator (not pictured) and Lysimachus the son of Agathocles (also not pictured). 

The Scriptures depict these Greek dignitarians as a four headed leopard under whom Judah would be transferred from Persian custody and chaperoned until appointed developments became ripe for prophetic fruition.  And so, it is a definite history moving in a definite direction with definite goals.

When Alexander the Great unexpectedly died in Babylon, in 323 B.C., five years of chaotic turmoil ensued as his successors bitterly fought over his vast territories.  Then, in 318 B.C. Ptolemy Lagus I took Egypt; he also annexed a large maritime section of the Meditteranean Sea and grabbed Judea, too. 

Egypt controlled the Holy Land for eleven years before the Seleucid Syrians got the upper hand and took it under their wings.5

Now, when Judea was under Seleucid control heat from the Hellenistic world began to marinate and cook the inhabitants, turning their feelings of fealty and devotion to the Law to ruin and threatening to extinguish everything it represented for them and their future national and salvific hopes in God, prematurely.

C. Forsaking Their Nation’s Appointed Covenant Estate.

Wicked individuals wanted to forsake the Laws of Moses and the Covenant God made to the children of Israel.  These betrayers were the cause of Israel’s downfall during the Hellenistic period.  But who were these betrayers?  The Tobiad Philhellene partisans. 

These people were numerous and sent a large  delegation to King Antiochus with a clear aim of getting his assistance in ridding the country of any and all traces of Judaism.7  They agreed on a strategy and it soon became clear: Request a gymnasium be built in the holiest city of all; hold what could only be seen as shocking and scandalizing games there.  They commonized the Temple and allowed it to become a red-light district where Greeks and Hellenized Jews openly caroused and fornicated, in the light of the sun by day or in the light of the moon by night, without fear of arrest or retribution.

Hat of HermesIn addition to this, among the masses a certain Greek hat8 was worn.  This 'petasos' was an article of clothing that indicated a person had completely abandoned their Jewish spiritual identity in favor of Hellenism and idolatry.Men wrestling

Now when Syria stole Judea from Egypt it was eager to take the nation completely away from monotheism at every level of society.  King Antiochus IV Epiphanes was only all too eager to push the proverbial envelope and have the entire culture of the Holy Land thrown away and the country uniformly Hellenized, even if by the use of sword and fire and bloodshed

The impact of this prospect and the chance that it might actually succeed was all the more threatening on account that the gym was built adjacent to the Second Temple (where the priest were close enough that they could see and actually hear what was going on). 

In little time the temptations presented by the games overcame the curiousity of the priests and their zeal to work in the God's House grew cold and died out.  It was through this encroachment of apostasy, the Ptolemy I as Pharaoh of Egyptgymnasium and male nude wrestling that a large number of people in Israel were mezmerized and deceived into committing widespread apostasy in and out of the priesthood.  Now, while the Temple grounds began to become neglected and unkept, at the very same time the priests and the people, in tens of thousands, crowded into the gymnasium to see the games.9  

Other dangers lurked.

A cash-strapped monarch, Antiochus, also was aware that the Second Temple was, for all intents and purposes, the national bank10 of the Jewish people and he, sorely in need of money, could not think of a better place to plunder of its vast reserves of wealth.  But when he did this, in the eyes of some, he went too far. 

All Judeans did not agree that the Law of Moses was outdated.  All did not see the Greek way of life, with its sensual pleasures and emphasis on materialism, physicality, and greed was the best way forward.  And it was all too clear to them that their world and its ideals were disintegrating all around them and the walls were closing in. 

Many fretted, anxious how they might stem this seemingly irresistable tide.   How would they stop this from happening?  Perhaps they could halt it by persuasion? Maybe it could be reversed by pacificism?  Or, as a last resort, maybe it would require violence?  

In any case, what at first started as a slow trend toward fermentation and upheaval was now rapidly coming to an obvious cataclysmic head.  But these dangerous predicaments can be seen in the prophecies of  betrayal, sacriledge and disaster in Daniel 8:1-27 and 11:29-32.

D.  All-or-Nothing: The Philhellene’s Zero Sum Game.

The Tobiads and their Greek confederates did not want halfway measures.  They were much more interested in expanding their influence and enchroaching even into the inner parts of the Jewish Temple itself, where they could, finally, extinguish the concept and sanctity of belief in an invisible God.  

Meanwhile, King Antiochus was on a fateful expedition south to Egypt, where he hoped to subdue the Ptolemaic government under Seleucid imperial power.11

E. Antiochus’s  Humiliating Defeat in Egypt and Portent of Horror in Jerusalem.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes went to Egypt on an expedition to conquer it, but met up with Roman allies who turned him, humiliatingly, away.  He came back up the coast, but before he arrived, an unfounded rumor spread that he had died (which, as they say, ‘reports of his death were greatly exaggerated’). 

Upon his arrival in Jerusalem all mayhem broke loose and the sorrows foretold for Jerusalem and the Jewish people sprang into brutal reality, there and then:-

“Now Antiochus was not satisfied either with his unexpected taking the city, or with its pillage, or with the great slaughter he had made there; but being overcome with his violent passions, and remembering what he had suffered during the siege, he compelled the Jews to dissolve the laws of their country, and to keep their infants uncircumcised, and to sacrifice swine's flesh upon the altar; against which they all opposed themselves, and the most approved among them were put to death. Bacchides also, who was sent to keep the fortresses, having these wicked commands, joined to his own natural barbarity, indulged all sorts of the extremist wickedness, and tormented the worthiest of the inhabitants, man by man, and threatened their city every day with open destruction, till at length he provoked the poor sufferers by the extremity of his wicked doings to avenge themselves” 12

Violence and destruction and death were everywhere and the pious ones, clinging all the more tightly to their cherished Laws, stubbornly refused to fight on the Sabbath days—a fatal decision which the Greeks took full advantage of—even burning pacifist Jewish recalcitrants in caves!13

F. What Was Good About the Greeks?

After all that we said, it would be no wonder if everybody should ask, What was good about the Greeks?  What benefits to the people of God did they bring?  How did their Hellenistic culture add to and contribute to Jewish salvation history?  Admittedly the Babylonian and Persian eras added to the Jewish experience. 

What did the Greeks add? 

The contrast between the Greek self-understanding and Jewish spirituallity could but make perceptive person realize the beauty of holiness found only in the one true God of Israel and fealty to his Word at all costs—even death. 

Thus, for this very reason, in the Greek period, an age of martyrs arose.  Deep reflection upon what was at stake caused faithful people of God to esteem their lives as nothing in order that they might please God and obtain a better resurrection.14 

It is this realization, first and foremost, that became clear to Old Testament Jews during the trying times and dark days of the Hellenistic period.

Their language.  The Greek language, far more than Hebrew is exact (even more so than even English!).  In consequence of this, both the Septuagint and the New Testament have meanings which can be more exactly defined than if either had been preserved in the Hebrew tongue (and for this clarity we praise the Lord!).

Finally, on the example of Greek society, at its very worst, the earliest Christians could easily recognize and avoid the corruption of society that pervaded the late Second Temple period because, in truth, the behaviour of the Senate of Israel, the Zealots, the Sicarii and even the Essenes reflected the corrupt nature of Hellenism and stood darkly against the true children of light who were the despised Talmidei Yeshua, who the world prejoritively called the ‘Minim.’  They followed a Jewish set of writings they called the Brit Chadashah. And these are those who we call today, the ‘New Testament Christians.’

G. The Original Abomination of Desolation Heralds the Impending End of the Greek Era. 

As the winter of 168 B.C. drew near, the temperature of the country was at a fever pitch and popular support for the installation of a statue of Zeus in the Second Temple was at hand.  And as we indicated above, this fatal step was not going to be an event that depended for its success purely on the hopes and wishes of Antiochus Epiphanes: People in the country wanted this step to take place; people wanted the Temple to reflect Greek religious polytheism and people, on a popular level, wanted foreign cosmic assumptions to supplant the Aaronic priesthood which stood at the very center of the Jewish world.

Even in the countryside, Antiochus’s edict to sacrifice pigs on make-shift altars in the synagogues was, in many cases, met with willing obedience, but in the small village of Mode’in one Mattathias Hasmoneaus, a father of five sons, refused to put up with the enormitiesthe  Antiochus deputy had mattathias the apostate grangerproposed there.

“You are a leader, honored and great in this city, and supported by sons and brothers.  Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done.

Then you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.” - 1 Maccabees 2:17-18.

But when Mattathias heard this he lifted up his voice and gave his speech:

“Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers.  Far be it from us to desert the Law and the ordinances.  We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.”15 

Afterward a Jewish man came forward, intending to offer the horrible sacrifice, but Mattathias, with his sword, struck the official and the Jewish apostate and killed both of them on the altar!  He then cried out with a loud voice:-

“Let every one who is zealous for the Law and supports the covenant come out with me!”  And he and his sons fled to the hills and left all they had in the city” (1 Maccabees 23-27). 

This brazen act of courage and holy indignation was the handwriting on the wall that pitched the country into a do-or-die civil war. 

Now the Bible, in Daniel 2 and in Daniel 7, indicates that the power borne of this struggle against the third kingdom, would be, ironically, inferior to it: Fundamentally divided, militaristic in nature, bellicose, exhibiting widespread marital transgressions against the Law of Moses, indulging itself in wanton barbarity and involving itself in occult practices16 and willful opposition against the God of Israel  and the elect of the promised kingdom of God.

But these attitudes were not so evident at the beginning so much as they are manifest realities of this fourth kingdom’s nature at the very end.St Judas the Maccabee

However, in the second century B.C., little did anyone realize at the time, but this signaled the beginning of the end of the Greek jurisdiction over the affairs of Judea and the religio-political freedom of the Jewish people was now no more than a quarter of a century away.17  

A new day was coming and coming soon, but it would come at a painful and terrible price!

I’d like to leave you with this: 

We covered the background and backstory, the beginning, order and direction of Bible prophecy, we discussed, at length, the great forsaking of the Law and customs when Israel fell under the spell of Hellenism's charms.

We described the treachery of the Philhellene’s zero sum game and how their strategy of cultural sabotage and conquest directly paved the way for Antiochus’s reign of terror, persecution and martyrdom and how, in a nutshell, owing to the difference that could be discerned between the darkness of man’s fickle ways and light of God’s Word, the wise were tried and tested and purified in the furnace of affliction whereas the abomination of desolation revealed the ugliness of the depths and depravity of the wicked who, in this life only, sought meaning in lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life.

In conclusion, infidelity to God and neglect of the things of God and, above all, the lack of love for God led to the catastrophe of Israel during the Greek era.  What came out of it and whether or not the majority learned any valuable lessons from that national experience will be the subject of future lectures. 

I want to thank you for your patience, time and consideration of the ideas we have gathered and presented on Alexander the Great and the Ancient Greeks in Bible Prophecy in this Atavist Bible Church 2020 Bible Prophecy Review, Autumn Lecture, published on Monday 5 October 2020  

 

Endnotes

1 The kings of Assyria, Tiglath-Pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, and Ashurbanipal, and the Assyrian Empire itself are included in the calendar by sects and cults in order to extend the reach of the four kingdoms out of a desire to “buy time” and extend the list in time and history.

2 Josephus states that the ten tribes remained where Sargon had transplanted them (in Media) “. . .wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude and not to be estimated by numbers.”-The Antiquities of the Jews 11.5.2:133.

3 Nebuchadnezzar I ruled the original Chaldean dynasty much earlier in c. 1125–1104 B.C., was the fourth king of the Second Dynasty of Isin and Fourth Dynasty of Babylon. He ruled for 22 years, but Nebuchadnezzar II ruled a neo-Babylonian dynasty from c. 605 BC – c. 562 B.C. and became its greatest and longest ruling monarch. 

See the list of Assyrian kings here, but be aware that these predate the first kingdom of Bible prophecy and are not a Scriptural part of that equation.

4Ancient Macedonian, the language of the ancient Macedonians, either a dialect of Ancient Greek, or a separate Hellenic language, was spoken in the kingdom of Macedonia during the 1st millennium BC and belongs to the Indo-European language family. It gradually fell out of use during the 4th century BC, marginalized by the use of Attic Greek by the Macedonian aristocracy, the Ancient Greek dialect that became the basis of Koine Greek, the lingua franca of the Hellenistic period.

The surviving public and private inscriptions found in Macedonia indicate that there was no other written language in ancient Macedonia but Ancient Greek, and recent epigraphic discoveries in the Greek region of Macedonia, such as the Pella curse tablet, suggest that ancient Macedonian might have been a variety of North Western Ancient Greek. Other linguistic evidence suggests that although Ancient Greek was the language of literacy, the vernacular was a separate language, although closely related.” Source: Wikipedia.

5 Source: A Brief History of the Samaritans, link. For more information on the Cutheans/ Samaritans, see also, The Antiquities of the Jews 9.14.1:277-282 and 9.14.3:288-291.

5 The Antiquities of the Jews 11.5.2:131-133.

6 In the long wars that followed between the different Diadochi, Ptolemy's first goal was to hold Egypt securely, and his second was to secure control in the outlying areas: Cyrenaica and Cyprus, as well as Syria, including the province of Judea. His first occupation of Syria was in 318, and he established at the same time a protectorate over the petty kings of Cyprus. When Antigonus One-Eye, master of Asia in 315, showed expansionist ambitions, Ptolemy joined the coalition against him, and on the outbreak of war, evacuated Syria. In Cyprus, he fought the partisans of Antigonus, and re-conquered the island (313). A revolt in Cyrene was crushed the same year.  Source: Wikipedia.

The Jewish Temple was the repository of the tithes, mint and cummin and even gifts and donations sent to Israel by foreign dignities.  “The inhabitants of Jerusalem brought tithes to the temple in order to support the high priest and Levites” (link). 

8 “And the sons of Tobias took the part of Menelaus, but the greater part of the people assisted Jason; and by that means Menelaus and the sons of Tobias were distressed, and retired to Antiochus and informed him, that they were desirous to leave the laws of their country, and the Jewish way of living according to them, and follow the king's laws, and the Grecian way of living: wherefore they desired his permission to build them a Gymnasium at Jerusalem.  And when he had given them leave they also hid the circumcision of their genitals, that even when they were naked they might appear to be Greeks.

Accordingly, they left off all the customs that belonged to their own country, and imitated the practices of the other nations”(The Antiquities of the Jews 12.5.2:239-241)  

9 “The Greek domed-hat was imposed on the inhabitants of Yerushalum by Antiochus Epiphanes, as recorded in the book of Maccabees. The same scholar’s hat of ‘Hermes’ (Greek deity of wisdom) is reflected in the sophists’ ceremonial costumes (cap & mortar board). KIPA is the Hebrew word for ‘dome.’” www.fossilizedcustoms.com/kipa.html

Source: The Torah Institute.

10 https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Antiochus_IV_EpiphanesSee also The Antiquities of the Jews 12.5.3:246-256.

Caption: St. Judas the Maccabee and his soldiers.  Source: https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/what-is-the-true-meaning-of-hanukkah.

11 Antiochus himself was playing the same kind of zero sum game: He already had control of a vast country north, and east of Israel, yet he wanted not only to be king over Syria, but also  Egypt, which was way too ambitious and ended up causing his downfall (1 Maccabees 1:16-17).

12 The Wars of the Jews, 1: 2; Whiston, V3: 11.

13 Since the Jews were being burnt in caves on the Sabbath days, the Hasmoneans allowed them to break the Law and fight on the Sabbath, otherwise the Greeks would have kept the advantage every time the seventh day came around - The Antiquities of the Jews 12.6.2:274-277.

14 See e.g., 1 Maccabees 1:62-64 cf. Hebrews 11:35-40 and Revelation 12:11.

15 1 Maccabees 2:19-21 RSV.

16 The discovery of occult amulets under the tunics of the Jewish freedom fighters by Judas the Maccabee was met with horror and dismay. 

“Judas rallied his army and went to the city of Adullam.  As the week was ending, they purified themselves according to custom and kept the sabbath there.  On the following day, since the task was now become urgent, Judas and his men went to gather up the bodies of the slain and bury them with their kinsmen in their ancestral tombs.  But under the tunic each of the dead  they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the Law forbids the Jews to wear.  So it was clear to all that this was why these men had been slain.  They all therefore praised the ways of the LORD, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden.  Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out.

The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen.”  (2 Maccabees 12:38-42)

17 1 Maccabees 13:41

18 The North’s king list:

Seleucus I Nicator, Satrap 320–315, 312–305 B.C.
King 305–281 BC.

Antiochus I Soter, co-ruler from 291, ruled 281–261 B.C.

Antiochus II Theos, 261–246 B.C.

Seleucus II Callinicus, 246–225 B.C.

Seleucus III Ceraunus, 225–223 B.C.

Antiochus III the Great, 223–187 B.C.

Seleucus IV Philopator, 187–175 B.C.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes,* 175–163 B.C.

Antiochus V Eupator, 163–161 B.C.

Demetrius I Soter, 161–150 B.C.

Alexander I Balas, 150–145 B.C.

Demetrius II Nicator, first reign, 145–138 B.C.

Antiochus VI Dionysus, 145–140 B.C.?

Diodotus Tryphon, 140–138 B.C.

Antiochus VII Sidetes, 138–129 B.C.

Demetrius II Nicator, second reign, 129–126 B.C.

Alexander II Zabinas, 129–123 B.C.

Cleopatra Thea, 126–121 B.C.

Seleucus V Philometor, 126/125 B.C.

Antiochus VIII Grypus, 125–96 B.C.

Antiochus IX Cyzicenus, 114–96 B.C.

Seleucus VI Epiphanes Nicator, 96–95 B.C.

Antiochus X Eusebes, 95–92 BC or 83 B.C.

Demetrius III Eucaerus, 95–87 B.C.

Antiochus XI Epiphanes Philadelphus, 95–92 B.C.

Philip I Philadelphus, 95–84/83 B.C.

Antiochus XII Dionysus, 87–84 B.C.

Seleucus VII Kybiosaktes, 83–69 B.C.  

Antiochus XIII Asiaticus, 69–64 B.C.

Philip II Philoromaeus, 65–63 B.C.  Source: Wikipedia.

19 The South’s king list:

Ptolemy I Soter (303–282 BC)[10] married first Thaïs, then Artakama, then Eurydice, and finally Berenice I
Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–246 BC)[11] married Arsinoe I, then Arsinoe II; ruled jointly with Ptolemy Epigonos (267–259 BC)
Ptolemy III Euergetes (246–221 BC) married Berenice II
Ptolemy IV Philopator (221–203 BC) married Arsinoe III
Ptolemy V Epiphanes (203–181 BC) married Cleopatra I Syra
Ptolemy VI Philometor (181–164 BC, 163–145 BC) married Cleopatra II, briefly ruled jointly with Ptolemy Eupator in 152 BC
Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator (never reigned)
Ptolemy VIII Physcon (170–163 BC, 145–116 BC) married Cleopatra II, then Cleopatra III; temporarily expelled from Alexandria by Cleopatra II from 131-127 BC, then reconciled with her in 124 BC.
Cleopatra II Philometora Soteira (131–127 BC), in opposition to Ptolemy VIII Physcon
Cleopatra III Philometor Soteira Dikaiosyne Nikephoros (Kokke) (116–101 BC) ruled jointly with Ptolemy IX Lathyros (116–107 BC) and Ptolemy X Alexander I (107–101 BC)
Ptolemy IX Lathyros (116–107 BC, 88–81 BC as Soter II) married Cleopatra IV, then Cleopatra Selene; ruled jointly with Cleopatra III in his first reign
Ptolemy X Alexander I (107–88 BC) married Cleopatra Selene, then Berenice III; ruled jointly with Cleopatra III till 101 BC
Berenice III Philopator (81–80 BC)
Ptolemy XI Alexander II (80 BC) married and ruled jointly with Berenice III before murdering her; ruled alone for 19 days after that.
Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos (Auletes) (80–58 BC, 55–51 BC) married Cleopatra V Tryphaena
Cleopatra V Tryphaena (58–57 BC) ruled jointly with Berenice IV Epiphaneia (58–55 BC) and Cleopatra VI Tryphaena (58 BC)
Cleopatra ("Cleopatra VII Philopator", 51–30 BC) ruled jointly with Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator (51–47 BC), Ptolemy XIV (47–44 BC) and Ptolemy XV Caesarion (44–30 BC).
Arsinoe IV (48–47 BC), in opposition to Cleopatra.

Source: Wikipedia.

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