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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE TIMESPAN BETWEEN THE PEOPLE OF GOD BEING PART OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT’S EMPIRE UNTIL WHEN KING HEROD WAS IMPOSED ON THEM BY THE ROMANS

THE PRECEDING POST – WHICH EXPLAINS THE MEANING OF THE RETURN FROM BABYLONIAN EXILE – “THE STORY OF THE REPATRIATION IN THE BIBLE; ANOTHER STORY OF GOD’S GREAT LOVE (FROM 538 B.C. ONWARDS)” WAS POSTED ON THIS BLOG ON OCTOBER 10, 2013.

“After the reforms of Esdras [Ezra] and Nehemias [Nehemiah] the loyalty of the people of Jahweh seemed to have been established. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt. The true worship of Jahweh had been reinstituted in the rebuilt Temple at Jerusalem. The people could feel that once again they were the people of God and that God was with them. It is only natural to suppose that this feeling was associated with the hope that the glorious promises of God would be fulfilled, especially the promise that through them God would establish a glorious kingdom on earth and lead the nations of the world to worship at the Temple.

RELATIVE FREEDOM UNDER PERSIAN RULE

But still the nation, the people of God, remained subject to the domination of the Persian rulers. After the efforts of Esdras and Nehemias and until the period of the Macchabees, the history of God’s Chosen People is for the most part shrouded in historical silence. Except for an unsuccessful rebellion under Artaxerxes III Ochus (358-337 B.C.), there is no evidence to show that the people did not remain politically submissive to the Persian rule. The fact that the Persian rulers allowed the free worship of Jahweh may account for this relatively peaceful period.

THE APPEARANCE OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT

In the fourth century before Christ a new factor appeared on the political horizon. Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, began his reign in the summer of 336 B.C. After consolidating his rule in Greece, Alexander set out in 334 to conquer the empire of Persia. In a series of victories Alexander defeated Darius III, the great king of Persia, and assumed control of the Persian kingdom in 330 B.C. After the death of Alexander in 323 his empire was divided among the more powerful of his generals. Egypt and Palestine fell to the rule of the Ptolemies. Thus the Chosen People came under the domination of the rulers of Egypt.

THE CHOSEN PEOPLE’S JAHWEH WORSHIP UNDER THE PTOLEMIES

The Ptolemies respected the religious views and practices of the Jews and the Jews seem to have been content with their rule. But in the meanwhile a new threat appeared. In the year 200 (or 198) Antiochus III the Great (223-187 B.C..) Defeated Ptolemy IVPhilopator and took over control of Syria and Palestine. Antiochus belonged to the family of the Seleucids, who had gained possession of the Mesopotamian portion of the empire of Alexander. After the reign of Seleucus IV Philopator (187-175 B.C.), Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.), another son of Antiochus the Great, succeeded to the throne.

THE GREEK GODS AND CULTURE ARE FORCED ON GOD’S PEOPLE

Antiochus IV was an ardent Hellenist, that is, he was anxious to spread Greek culture throughout his kingdom. The most stubborn resisters to the process of Hellenisation were the Jews, with their worship of Jahweh. Antiochus was determined to succeed in the Hellenisation of the Jews.

A MORE GREEK-FRIENDLY HIGH PRIEST IS PUT IN PLACE BY ANTIOCHUS IV

About 173 Antiochus IV deposed Onias III, high priest at Jerusalem, and made Jason, a brother of Onias, high priest in his place. Jason had already manifested to Antiochus a willingness to cooperate in the Hellenisation of Jerusalem. His efforts were aided by the Tobiads, an influential family at Jerusalem. The people, however, were not friendly to these plans and Jason did not have the courage to wipe out the worship of Jahweh in the Temple at Jerusalem.

ANTIOCHUS ENTERS THE TEMPLE AND ERECTS THERE A STATUE OF ZEUS

In the year 168 Antiochus entered Jerusalem himself and took from the Temple the golden lampstand, the altar and other furnishings. In 167, at his orders, the ‘Abomination of desolation’ was erected in the Temple. The ‘Abomination’ was probably a statue of Jupiter Olympus. The sacrifices to Jahweh were stopped and a Greek altar was erected and pagan sacrifices were offered there. Altars were also set up throughout the countryside and sacrifices were offered there also. Participation in pagan sacrifices and festivals was made obligatory on all.

THE HASIDEANS, FORERUNNERS OF THE PHARISEES, FORMED TO UPHOLD BELIEFS

Unfortunately many Jews gave up their faith and participated in this pagan worship. Others, however, of a sterner mould left the cities and retired to the country or the desert where it was possible to retain their ancient religious beliefs. These devout followers of Jahweh were known as the Hasideans, that is, the ‘Pious’. They were the forerunners of the later Pharisees.

THE JEWISH FUGITIVE

Among those who remained faithful to the true religion was a certain Mathathias, a priest. He lived at Modin, a village nineteen miles northwest of Jerusalem. When asked to sacrifice to idols he killed the royal official who made the demand and fled to the desert with his five sons.

THE SUBSEQUENT JEWISH UPRISING

This courageous act proved to be the beginning of a successful rebellion against the Seleucid dynasty. Faithful followers of Jahweh rallied to the cause of Mathathias and his sons. On the death of Mathathias the military leadership of the movement passed to Judas, his third son. Judas, called Macchabaeus, in 164 reached an agreement with Lysias and Antiochus V Eupator by virtue of which the Temple was restored to the faithful Jahwists.

THE INSTITUTION OF THE JEWISH FESTIVAL HANUKKAH

Exactly three years after its profanation by Antiochus IV the Temple was rededicated to Jahweh. Judas ordered that a yearly festival should be celebrated to commemorate the victory of Jahwism. This festival is known as the Hanukkah, or Festival of Lights.

THE HIGH PRIEST HENCEFORTH IS GIVEN CIVIL AS WELL AS PRIESTLY AUTHORITY

This victory of Judas Macchabaeus was neither complete nor permanent. At Jerusalem itself there remained a strong faction favourable to Hellenism. The Greek monarchs at Antioch still desired absolute rule over the Jews. The struggle therefore continued. In 160 Judas himself was killed. His youngest brother Jonathan assumed military leadership of the Jahwist party.

The intrigues and wars between the various claimants to the throne at Antioch aided the Macchabees to achieve their aims. Jonathan was made high priest in 152 by Alexander Balas, one of the claimants to the Seleucid throne. In 142 Simon Macchabaeus became military leader and high priest. In 140 the people themselves regularised the high priesthood of Simon and the civil and priestly authority were united in one person.

CIVIL WAR AMONG THE JEWS

Under John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon, the territory subject to the Macchabaean family was enlarged until it approximated the kingdom of David. But the Jahwistic spirit which had animated the efforts of the original Macchabaean brothers weakened when a stable dynasty was established. Matters came to a head during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.).

Alexander was the first of the descendants of the Macchabees to call himself ‘king’. He spent most of his reign in a series of military campaigns designed to extend his kingdom. He found himself in strong opposition to the Pharisees, the descendants of the Hasideans. The Pharisees objected to the exercise of the high priesthood by a man whose hands were continually stained with the blood of war. This opposition led to civil war.

PEACE WITH THE PHARISEES

In the course of the war both Alexander and the party of the Pharisees appealed to foreign intervention. This represented a complete about-face from the ideals for which the original Macchabees had fought. Before his death Alexander saw the necessity of coming to terms with the Pharisees, who represented the wishes of the majority of the people. At his request Alexandra, his wife, who succeeded to the throne, made peace with the Pharisees.

THE ROMAN SENATE AND THE TRIUMVIRS ESTABLISH HEROD AS KING IN 37 B.C.

During her lifetime she made her son Hyrcanus high priest. But after her death her other son, Aristobolus, seized both the kingship and the high priesthood from Hyrcanus. The cause of Hyrcanus was supported by Antipater, an Idumaean general of Alexander Jannaeus.

The remaining history of the Macchabaen dynasty unfolded under the evil star of Antipater and his son Herod.

THE EVIL STAR OF ANTIPATER AND HEROD

Both of the latter were astute politicians and they gained the support of the new power in the East, the power of the expanding Roman state. The struggle for power in the Promised Land ended in 37 B.C. when the Roman Senate and the Triumvirs established Herod the Great as king.

THE CHOSEN PEOPLE NOW LIVE UNDER ROMAN RULE

Thus the splendid achievements of the first Macchabees ended in the imposition of an Idumaean king over the Chosen People by Rome, a foreign power. And thus, it would seem, the dream of the people was not yet to be fulfilled. The kingdom of God on earth was not yet established at Jerusalem. When would the hopes of the nation come to pass?” (To be continued)
– By Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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“BY THE RIVERS OF BABYLON…” – THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BABYLONIAN EXILE IN THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND

By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down,
yea, we wept,
when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps
upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive
required of us a song; and they that wasted us
required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
(Ps 137:1-4)

“LIKE A MAN SKIDDING TO A HALT AT THE EDGE OF A PRECIPICE

The captivity in Babylon was a shock to the complacency and to the expectations of the Chosen People. Since the times of Abraham and Moses they had regarded themselves as the favoured children of God. God had rescued them from oppression in Egypt. He had enabled them to conquer the land of Canaan. He had built up for them the grandiose kingdoms of David and Solomon at a time when the great empires of Egypt and Assyria were dominating the world of the Near East. In spite of reverses they had probably never lost the feeling that their God would protect them.

THEY HAD IGNORED THE WARNINGS OF THE PROPHETS

They believed in their star in spite of the warnings of the prophets sent to them by God. But their defeat at the hands of the Babylonians and, even more, the destruction of the Temple of Jahweh at the conclusion of their disastrous opposition to Nabuchodonosor had brought them up short, like a man skidding to a halt at the edge of a precipice.

SOLOMON’S TEMPLE AT JERUSALEM GOT DESTROYED

The Temple had represented to them the presence of God in their midst. The destruction of the Temple no doubt meant to them that they had lost the protection of their God. What was left to them but annihilation?

IN BABYLON THEY WERE AT FIRST ENSLAVED

In Babylon they were at first enslaved. They were deprived of independence, of their own homeland, of their Temple, the sanctuary of their God. It was a time to despair, a time to lose heart. On the purely natural plane there is evidence that they adapted themselves to the conditions of their new life. They were dwelling in a land that was richer than the land from which they had come. Agriculture was much easier. Their natural talents at affairs of business and banking came to the fore. During their stay in Babylon they seem to have prospered in the ordinary business of human living.

GOD, THROUGH THE PROPHET ISAIAH, HAD TOLD THEM THAT A REMNANT OF THE RACE WOULD BE SAVED

But, through Isaias [Isaiah], God had promised that a remnant of the race would be saved. Belief in this promise never died. But the people, faced with the ignominy of their condition as exiles, as a displaced people, subject to the will of their conquerors, meditated on the reason for their fall. It was then that they began to realise that their sufferings were, as the prophets had told them, the punishment of their sins, of their failure to worship Jahweh, and Jahweh alone. They realised that they had failed their God, the one true God, by serving the false gods of the other nations of the world.

GOD IS FAITHFUL

It was a consolation to them then to remember what their prophets had also told them, that God would save at least a remnant, a portion of the people. Moreover God did not leave them absolutely desolate. The elders of the people recalled to them the glorious promises which God had made them.

While they could no longer sacrifice to their God in the Temple at Jerusalem, at least they could meet together to recall from memory the wonderful history of their nation since God had called them, in the person of Abraham, from the city of Ur so long ago. Perhaps God, as a wise Father, had brought them back so close to the land of their origin; they had been made by God, only God could remake them as a nation, as God’s chosen nation.

THEY BEGAN TO SEE AT LAST THAT THEIR ONLY HOPE WAS GOD

They began to see at last that their only hope was in their God. They learned in these difficult circumstances that there was no real god, no true god but Jahweh, the God Who had revealed Himself to Abraham, their father.

THE ROLE OF THE PROPHET DANIEL

This lesson was brought home to them forcefully in the adventure of Daniel the prophet at the court of the Chaldean kings. It is Daniel, acting under God’s inspiration, who interprets the dream of Nabuchodonosor when the Chaldean soothsayers fail. It is the companions of Daniel who triumph in the fiery furnace. It is the people of God who triumph when the king wishes them to worship false gods.

It is also Daniel who teaches them that the kingdoms of the world will all perish and that it is only the Kingdom of the Son of Man which will be everlasting, bringing peace to all nations. They probably did not understand completely the revelations made by Daniel about the Messianic kingdom to come in this world and at the end of time. But at least his message seemed to be a message of hope, and it helped them to forge in their souls a greater faithfulness to Jahweh.

THE PROPHET EZECHIEL SPEAKS ALSO OF THEIR SINS

God sent them also the prophet Ezechiel to encourage them in the midst of trial. Like all the prophets, Ezechiel recalled to them that their desolation was the punishment of their sins. But he forecast for them an even more glorious future. He regarded the Chosen People in their present condition as a race of dead people, only their dry bones remained. But, as he told them, God could raise up even their dry bones and make them a living people again.

THEY LEARNED THAT THEIR OWN PERSONAL SINS COULD CAUSE DISASTER

At this time, too, they learned from Ezechiel an even more important lesson. They had been accustomed to the idea that the sins of parents would bring suffering and disaster to their children. But this had led them to attribute their misfortunes to their ancestors rather than to themselves. But now they learned the significant lesson that their own personal sins could bring disaster to themselves. In this way they learned the important lesson of personal responsibility. This meant a great gain for the individual consciences of the people.

COLLECTIVE AND INDIVIDAUL RESPONSIBILITY OF CONDUCT

At the same time their sufferings also broadened the scope of their desires. They began to look forward not only to the restoration of the kingdom of Israel but also to the restoration of the whole people of Israel. They forgot the rivalry between the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In their mutual sufferings they lost their old antagonisms and began to dream again of a united people, one people, faithful to their God.

DREAMS OF A REUNITED NATION WORSHIPPING GOD IN A NEW TEMPLE

God Himself nourished them in their hopes. He inspired Ezechiel to draw up plans for the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem. No doubt also, He recalled to them the prophecies of Isaias [Isaiah] about the end of their captivity in Babylon.

INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS

Meanwhile, on the larger scale of human history God was preparing the redemption of His Chosen People. The people of Babylon itself were becoming restive under the oppressive rule of the Chaldean monarchs. To the north and east of the empire a new and vigorous force was growing. Cyrus, a king of the Persian people, conquered the Medes and became a threat to the Babylonian empire.

A FLAME OF HOPE

A flame of hope must have surged up in the breast of the people as the name Cyrus began to be whispered and then shouted in the empire. At this time they will have recalled that Isaias [Isaiah] had spoken of a Cyrus who would come as God’s Messias to rescue His Chosen People. They will have remembered that Isaias had foretold the ruin and destruction of Babylon:

‘Babylon, glorious among the nations, the famous pride of the Chaldeans, shall be even as the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrha. It shall be no more inhabited forever… But the wild beasts shall rest there, and their houses shall be filled with serpents: and ostriches shall dwell there, and the hairy ones shall dance there; and owls shall answer one another there, in the houses thereof, and sirens in the temples of pleasure’ (Isaiah 13:19-22).

ISAIAH’S PROPHECY ABOUT CYRUS COMES TO PASS

Isaias had foretold not only the destruction of the empire of the Babylonians. He had even foretold that it would be accomplished by Cyrus: ‘ Thus saith the Lord to my anointed Cyrus, whose right hand I have taken hold of, to subdue nations before his face, and to turn the back of kings and to open the doors before him: and the gates shall not be shut. I will go before thee and will humble the great ones of the earth. I will break in pieces the gates of brass and will burst the bars of iron. And I will give thee hidden treasures and the concealed riches of secret places: that thou mayest know that I am the Lord who call thee by thy name, the God of Israel. For the sake of my servant Jacob and Israel my elect, I have even called thee by thy name’ (Isaiah 45:1-4).

Things came to pass as God had foretold. Cyrus invaded the empire during the reign of Nabonidus. His victory over the Chaldean dynasty was easy and swift. This was probably due to two factors: the empire was dissatisfied with the oppressive rule of the Chaldean kings, and Cyrus, an Aryan monarch of a new style of governing, was reputed to be a lenient monarch. He allowed the conquered people to keep their gods and their own customs; he restored exiled peoples to their own lands.

CYRUS LETS THEM BUILD THE TEMPLE AGAIN

The Chosen People remembered that Isaias had said that Cyrus would let them build their Temple again: ‘Thou (Cyrus) art my shepherd, and thou shalt perform all my pleasures; who say to Jerusalem: Thou shalt be built; and to the Temple: thy foundations shall be laid’ (Isaiah 44:28).

True to his policy of seeking to gain the favour of conquered peoples, Cyrus extended his mercy to the Chosen People. In the year 538 B.C. he published an edict:

‘Thus saith Cyrus king of the Persians: The Lord the God of heaven hath given to me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judea. Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him. Let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judea, and build the house of the Lord the God of Israel: he is the God that is in Jerusalem’ (Esdras [Ezra] 1:2-3).”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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ST ANTHUSA – A PANTHER LED PEOPLE TO WHERE SHE HAD DIED

ST ANTHUSA OF SELEUCIA, (THIRD CENTURY)

St Anthusa was ostracised by her pagan family for having become Christian. Originally from Seleucia in modern day Iraq, she had travelled to Tarsus (South Turkey) to secretly receive the sacrament of Baptism from the city’s bishop, St Athanasius. The latter was subsequently martyred as one of the victims of the persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Valerian (253-260).

Because her pagan family did not want to have anything to do with Anthusa since her conversion to Christianity, she journeyed into the wilderness and settled in a mountain cave. Henceforth she lived as a hermitess, spending the remaining years of her life in solitude, praying and doing penance, eating a purely plant based diet consisting mainly of herbs.

From time to time she suffered disturbing attacks by demons, but, firm in Christ, she always remained victorious and regained her tranquillity. After twenty-three years in solitude she died a peaceful death. Another hermitess called Polychronia learned of Anthusa’s death when a panther clamped his jaws onto the woman’s mantle and pulled her to the place where Anthusa’s body was resting. Polychronia gave her an honourable burial.

 
 

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