What follows is John Stevenson's generally excellent summation of the main political events affecting the Holy Land between the Book of Malachi and the coming of Jesus. There were no further prophets during this period. John bravely attempts to sum these events up into a fairly concise writing. I did find one or two minor errors, mainly in punctuation but the main points are well covered, albeit in a very brief form.
UK Apologetics Editor, 2012.

he period from the book of Malachi at the end of our Old Testament to the opening of Matthew at the beginning of our New Testament comprises about 400 years. These 400 "silent years" were only silent in the sense that there were no prophets from God who were writing Scripture. They were years which brought about dramatic and sweeping changes throughout the ancient world. These changes began with the arrival of a conqueror from the west known as Alexander the Great.



Alexander was the son of King Philip of Macedon. It was a tiny backwoods kingdom, considered barbaric even by the neighboring Greeks of Athens and Thessaly. But from his earliest childhood, Alexander seemed destined for greatness. Even as a child he dreamed of world conquest. The Iliad was his Bible and Achilles was his hero. Alexander had grey eyes and a slight build. His hair was blond and he kept his face smooth-shaven.

1. Childhood.

Alexander the Great

When Alexander was 7 years old, a group of Persian envoys came to the palace while Philip was away. Alexander came in and proceeded to cross-examine the guests about the size and morale of the Persian army, the distance to Susa, and the condition of the roads leading there.

Another tradition tells of an account when Alexander was about 9 years old. He had gone with his father. Philip, to buy a stallion. However, the king's grooms were not able to manage the horse who defied every attempt to ride him.

Philip was on the verge of giving the horse back when Alexander offered to ride him. Philip accepted. Alexander took the horse's bridle and turned him so that he was facing the sun and could not be spooked so easily. Then, after calming him down, he mounted and was able to ride him.

The horse, whose name was Bucephalas, was given to Alexander as a present and became his favorite, carrying him into almost every major battle Alexander fought.

In 343 B.C. Philip commissioned Aristotle to be the tutor of Alexander. Aristotle was a boyhood friend of Philip who had studied under Plato. Alexander picked up much of Aristotle's scientific curiosity, his interest in medicine, biology and rhetoric, and even certain of his political ideas. In fact, when Alexander finally set out on his conquest of Persia, he took with him a whole group of geologists, biologists, and experts in other fields of science.

Alexander commanded the Macedonian Heavy Cavalry under Philip at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 B.C. Alexander was only 16 years old, and yet it was his responsibility to hold the entire left flank against the Theban Band who held the Athenian right flank.

When a gap opened up between the Allied Greek Infantry and the Theban Band, Alexander personally led a charge through and opened up a huge hole in the enemy line, breaking down all organized resistance.

Thus, when Alexander came to the throne of Macedon in 336 B.C. he was already used to the responsibility of authority, even though he was only 20 years old.

2. Conquest of Asia.

Alexander's ascension to the throne of Macedon galvanized him to action. Within his first year, he conquered all of Achaia, leaving only the Peloponnesian Peninsula out of his league of Greek nations. He then crossed over the Hellespont and into Asia Minor. The Persians were waiting for him and he defeated them at the battle of Granicus. This left all of Asia Minor open to him and he wasted no time in consolidating his hold upon that land. 

3. The Battle of the Issus.

A second Persian army had been assembled on the plains of Syria to await Alexander's coming. As he moved through the gates of Cilicia and southward down the coast of the Mediterranean, this Persian army moved in behind him, cutting off his supply lines. Alexander was forced to turn and attack.

This time Alexander not only defeated the Persian army, he captured the wife and daughters of the Persian king Darius III who was forced to flee the field. Alexander was left free to make his way southward virtually unopposed.

4. Tyre.

Early in January 332 B.C. Alexander came to Tyre, the most powerful naval port in the Mediterranean at that time. The city of Tyre stood on rocky island about a half mile off the coast. It was surrounded by massive walls that rose to a height of 150 feet. The city was considered invincible.

Nebuchadnezzar had attacked Tyre in 586 B.C. and had substantially destroyed the mainland city, but even after a 13 year siege he had not been able to capture the island city.

Alexander sent envoys asking that the city come to terms with him. The envoys were murdered and their bodies thrown into the sea. Alexander settled down in what was to be the longest siege of his career.

Alexander had no navy and so he decided to bring the island to him. He began by demolishing the ruins of the mainland city and using the rubble to construct a causeway across the water which separated the island from the coast. It was grueling work and further hampered by constant raids that the people of Tyre made in their swift warships.

Alexander went to Sidon and Byblos and confiscated a fleet of ships which could bottle up the fleet of Tyre. The causeway was finally completed and Alexander launched a three-pronged simultaneous attack.

The city of Tyre fell to Alexander on July 29, 332 B.C. The siege had taken 7 long months. Thousands of the inhabitants were slaughtered. The 30, 000 remaining survivors were sold into slavery while 2000 captured troops were crucified.

Writing at some time between 592 and 570 B.C., the prophet Ezekiel gave the following predictions concerning the overthrow and eventual destruction of the city of Tyre.

Behold, thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves.

"And they will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; and I will scrape her debris from her and make her a hard rock.

"She will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken," declares the Lord God, "And she will become spoil for the nations." (Ezekiel 26:3-5).

Beginning in verse 7, we are given a more detailed picture of the destruction that will come against Tyre in the person of Nebuchadnezzar. However, in verse 12, there is a change as Ezekiel turns from what "he" will do to those whom he simply refers to as "they."

"Also they will make a spoil of your riches and a prey of your merchandise, break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses, and throw your stones and your timbers into the water.

"So I will silence the sound of your songs, and the sound of your harps will be heard no more.

"And I will make you a bare rock; you will be a place for the spreading of nets. You will he built no more, for I the Lord have spoken," declares the Lord God. (Ezekiel 26:12-14).

There are a number of points to this prophecy. Let's list them:

The fulfillment of this prophecy was not the product of blind chance. There is not another city in all of the ancient world that had the same kind of destruction which Alexander brought against Tyre.

Alexander was the unwitting servant of the Lord, bringing Divine judgment against the pagan city.

If you go to site of ancient Tyre today, you will find a place for the spreading of nets. A small fishing village occupies the site while, several miles down the coast, a modern city had taken for itself the name Tyre.

5. Alexander and Jerusalem.

Following the destruction of Tyre, Alexander continued south, finally coming to the Philistine city of Gaza. Gaza was positioned on the top of a steep hill which rose 100 feet above the surrounding plain. Therefore, an enemy attacking Gaza faced walls that were 150 feet high, the bottom part of which was solid mountain.

Alexander built huge movable towers which could he rolled up to the walls of the city, allowing his archers in the tower to pick off the defenders. Even so, it was two months before the city of Gaza could be taken.

While the siege of Gaza was underway, Alexander took a small force and rode east to Jerusalem. Josephus relates how that the High Priest of Jerusalem led a procession of priests out to meet Alexander. The High Priest brought with him a scroll of the book of Daniel.

And when the book of Daniel was showed him, wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended; and he was then glad. (Antiquities 11:8:5).

Alexander was so impressed by the Jews and their Bible that he allowed Jerusalem to remain semi-independent and the Jews to practice their distinctive worship as long as they remained politically loyal to him.

6. The World of Alexander.

During the next eight years, Alexander drove his armies all the way to India. It was only when they refused to go any further that he finally agreed to turn back toward home. Returning to Babylon, he became sick and died. He was only 30 years old.

Alexander had reigned twelve years when he died. His servants succeeded him, each in his own domain. After his death, they all put on crowns, as did their sons after them. For many years, "...they did much evil upon the earth." (1 Maccabees 1:7-9).

When Alexander died in 323 B.C. he had conquered almost the entire known world. From Macedonia in the west to India in the east; from the mountains of Armenia in the north to the Indian Ocean in the south were all under Greek dominion.

The only direction where Alexander had not extended his realm was to the west where lay the growing kingdoms of Rome and Carthage.

Although Alexander's military empire would quickly shatter apart upon his death, many of his ideas and accomplishments would remain to show their effect upon future generations.

a. Cultural Interchange from East to West.

Alexander stimulated trade between the east and the west. This brought about prosperity as well as a change of cultures. Both Alexandria and Antioch became important trading centers.

b. Scientific Learning.

Alexander encouraged scientific investigations. Specimens of plants and animals had been collected by biologists who had accompanied his army. This brought about a renewed interest in science into the ancient world.

c. Hellenization.

Alexander began Hellenizing the Persian Empire. By bringing in Greek settlers into the east and encouraging them to intermarry with the Persians, he was able to indoctrinate the conquered peoples with Greek ideas.

He tried to advance the idea that all men - whether Macedonian, Greek or Persian - should feel a sense of brotherhood.

He was largely successful in this endeavor with one important exception - the Jews. Alexander accomplished this in several ways.

d. Language.

Perhaps one of the most significant changes was in the area of language. Following Alexander's conquests, Greek became the common language of the ancient world.

It was for this reason that when the authors of the New Testament sat down to write, they wrote in Greek and not in the Hebrew of the Old Testament.


Alexander had left no heir to the throne when he died. After his death, a son was born to his wife Roxanna, but both she and her son were eventually murdered.

As he lay on his deathbed, Alexander's generals and friends had asked to whom he was going to bequeath his kingdom. Alexander had answered, - "To the strongest." These words guaranteed a power struggle among his generals. After seven years of war, several leaders emerged.

1. Antigonis.

Antigonis, also known as the "One-Eyed," was 59 years old at the death of Alexander. He took control of Anatolia. Northern Syria and Mesopotamia.

2. Ptolemy.

It is generally believed that Ptolemy was an illegitimate half-brother to Alexander through their father, Philip. He had been one of Alexander's seven bodyguard generals.

Ptolemy took over Egypt, Palestine, Phoenicia, and Southern Syria. Ptolemy's number one general was a man named Seleucus who would play a very important role in ancient history.

3. Cassander.

Cassander was only 31 years old at the time of Alexander's death. His father, Antipater, had been left as regent of Macedonia during Alexander's absence. When his father died, Cassander took the throne of Macedonia, allying himself with Ptolemy. To form a tie with the royal family, he married Alexander's half-sister.

4. Lysimachus.

Lysimachus had also been one of the bodyguard generals. He was given the governorship of Thrace to the east of Macedonia.

Of these four men, Antigonis was the strongest. His intention soon became known - he sought to reunite the empire, setting himself up as the sole ruler. He might have succeeded in taking over the empire if he had been allowed to attack his enemies one by one. However, in 315 B. C. Ptolemy, Cassander and Lysimachus formed an alliance against him.

The next 15 years saw a series of wars that left two major powers still standing - Ptolemy in the south with Egypt and Seleucus holding the north lands of Syria, Mesopotamia, Media and Persia. Between these two giants lay the tiny kingdom of Judah.



The Ptolemaic dynasty was to rule over Egypt for the next 300 years, culminating in the infamous person of Cleopatra.




Ptolemy I Soter

323-284 B.C.

One of Alexander's generals; originally ruled in the name of Alexander's half-brother and Alexander's son.

Ptolemy II Philadelphus

284-246 B.C.

Organized Library of Alexandria. Erected the Pharos Lighthouse; Septuagint translated.

Ptolemy III Euergetes I

246-222 B.C.

Major building programs in Egypt.

Ptolemy IV Philopator

222-205 B.C.

Battle of Raphia in 217 B.C. stopped Seleucid incursion.

Ptolemy V Epiphanes

204-180 B.C.

Ascended throne as a child; lost Palestine to Antiochus III.

Ptolemy VI Philmetor

180-145 B.C.

Also ascended throne as a child; Antiochus IV invaded Egypt.

Ptolemy VII, Neos Philopater

145 B.C.

Only a child at his father's death; replaced on throne by his uncle.

Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II

145-116 B.C.

Uncle to Ptolemy VII

Ptolemy IX, Soter II

116-80 B.C.

Ptolemy IX ruled 116-110 and was ousted by his younger brother, Ptolemy X who ruled for a year. The two brothers went back and forth, bringing a series of revolts to Egypt.

Ptolemy X, Alexander I

Ptolemy XI, Alexander II

80 B.C.

Lasted only 19 days before being murdered after he had murdered his own stepmother.

Ptolemy XII, Auletes

80-51 B.C.

Illegitimate son of Ptolemy IX; bribed Romans to retain throne.

Cleopatra VII

50-30 B.C.

Took throne from her brother, Ptolemy XIII. Had a son by Julius Caesar, but lost to Octavius at Actium.

There were a number of cities named Alexandria in the ancient world. The most famous is the one which resides on the western edge of the Nile Delta. It was here that Ptolemy II Philadelphus had a great library/museum constructed.

Aristeas (180-145 B.C.), a Jewish scholar who later worked in this Library, tells of the building of the great library. This massive production was commissioned by Ptolemy Soter and delegated to Demetrius, the former tyrant of Athens, who had studied under Aristotle along with Alexander the Great.

According to Aristeas, Demetrius recommended that Ptolemy gather a collection of books on kingship and ruling in the style of Plato's philosopher-kings, and furthermore to gather books of all the world's people that he might better understand subjects and trade partners.

The following description has been given as to the library's interior:

They consisted of pigeonholes or racks for the scrolls, the best of which were wrapped in linen or leather jackets. Parchment skins--vellum-- came into vogue after Alexandria stopped exporting papyrus in an attempt to strangle its younger rival library, set up by the Seleucids in Pergamon. (Ellen N. Brundige, 'The Library of Alexandria,' Perseus Project).

As the head of the Library, Demetrius had the job of gathering books and scrolls, as well as supervising a massive effort to translate other culture's works into Greek. This process began with the translation of the Old Testament into Greek, for which project Ptolemy hired and housed 72 rabbis. Because of this, the translation was known as the "Septuagint" (Latin: "Seventy") and is often abreviated by the Roman numberal LXX. This was to become the most popular and widely used translation of the Bible. It meant that people of every culture could now read the Scriptures in a common language.



Seleucus had been one of the sub-commanders under Ptolemy. He had captured Babylon in 311 B.C. and had set himself up as a sovereign independent of Ptolemy. The dynasty which he founded has become known as the Seleucids.




Seleucus I

311-281 B.C.

Carved out an empire extending from Phoenecia to India.

Antiochus I

281-261 B.C.

Founded the city of Antioch in Syria.

Antiochus II

261-246 B.C.

Married Bernice, the daughter of Ptolemy II to form a temporary alliance.

Seleucus II

246-226 B.C.

His stepmother Bernice was mudered, sparking war with Egypt.

Seleucus III

226-223 B.C.

Older brother to Antiochus III - he was poisoned after 3 years.

Antiochus III (the Great)

223-187 B.C.

Pushed Egypt back to the Sinai; conquered Anatolia and Parthia. Invaded Greece at the urging of Hannibal, but was defeated by the Romans at Magnesia (190 B.C.).

Seleucus IV

187-175 B.C.

Older brother of Antiochus IV; he was murdered.

Antiochus IV (Epiphanes)

175-163 B.C.

Invaded Egypt, but retreated under threat from Rome. Set up abominations in Temple which led to Jewish war for independence.

When Antiochus III was defeated by Rome at Magnesia in 190 B.C., he was forced to surrender his navy, his war elephants, and his youngest son, Antiochus IV was taken to Rome as a hostage. In order to pay the enormous tribute demanded by Rome, he was forced to raise taxes throughout his empire, plunder the treasuries of the various cities, and even plunder temples. It was as he was going into one temple for this purpose that the citizens rioted and murdered him.



When his father, Antiochus III, lost the Battle of Magnesia to the Romans, Antiochus IV was sent as a hostage to Rome where he spent 12 years.

Antiochus IV was treated well in Rome and sent to Latin schools where he roomed with a young Roman named Popilius. While he was here, he learned to respect the power and the endurance of the Romans.

When Antiochus III was killed in 187 B.C. Seleucus IV came to the throne and reigned for 12 years until he was murdered in 175 B.C. By this time. Antiochus IV had escaped from Rome and returned to Syria so that, at the death of his brother, he was able to take the throne.

Antiochus IV knew that an eventual confrontation with Rome was inevitable and so he began to prepare for it. He knew that the Romans would have to come by sea, and so they would need a place to land. He reasoned that if he controlled all of the coast lands in the eastern Mediterranean. he might be able to prevent a Roman landing.

He already possessed the coasts of Anatolia, Syria and Palestine. He next decided to try to bring Egypt under his control, thereby strengthening his southern flank against Roman invasion.

Judah was also of interest to him, not because it posed a military threat, but because it was that part of his territory which lay closest to Egypt. He had also heard that Egypt was making offers to Judah to turn against him, so he decided to make sure that his hold there remained undisturbed.

In order to stabilize his position in Judah, he appointed men whom he could trust to positions of responsibility. One of these positions was that of high priest.

In doing this, he touched the Jews at their most sensitive spot - their religion. He created the very explosive situation which he had sought to avoid. Judah became a powder keg, waiting for a spark to set it off.

1. First Invasion of Egypt (170 B.C.).

Antiochus invaded Egypt in 170 B. C. Although he failed to capture the capital city of Alexandria, he succeeded in gaining possession of almost all of Upper Egypt. He even marched south to Memphis where he had himself crowned as Pharaoh.

2. First Revolt in Judah.

While Antiochus was in Egypt, a rumor reached Jerusalem to the effect that he had been killed. To celebrate the news, the Jews took all of the Seleucid officials and threw them off the walls of the city.

Antiochus, still very much alive, heard the news of the rebellion while he was still back in Egypt. He promptly left Egypt and marched into the city of Jerusalem. In three days he killed 80,000 people and led an equal number away as slaves. He also entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple and set up pagan idols there and sacrificed pigs upon the altar.

Before returning to Syria, Antiochus established the following laws in Jerusalem.

These laws were designed to extinguish the religious faith of the Jews. The penalty for breaking any of these laws was DEATH.

3. Second Invasion of Egypt (168 B.C.).

The Seleucid control over Egypt did not last long once Antiochus left. He returned to Egypt in 168 B.C. to complete the job. Once again, he was victorious. Only the capital city of Alexandria stood against him.

Rome at this moment was heavily engaged in Macedonia in a war with Perseus, son of Philip V. Antiochus had calculated that the Romans would be able to do nothing to stop his Egyptian venture. What he did not know was that the Roman Senate had sent an emmisary to meet him.

As Antiochus marched on Alexandria, who should come out of the city to meet him but his old friend Popilius at the head of a small embassy.

On their first approach he [Antiochus] saluted them and held out his right hand to Popilius; but Popilius put into his hand a written tablet containing the decree of the Senate and desired him first to read that. (Livy).

The Senate's message was a crisp order to Antiochus to put an end to his Egyptian campaign and retreat. Antiochus replied that he would call his advisors together and consult them on what was to be done. Popilius responded by taking a swagger stick that he had been carrying and using it to draw a circle around Antiochus on the sand. He told Antiochus not to step out of the circle until he had given his decision concerning the contents of the letter. Antiochus hesitated for a few moments, astonished at the authoritative attitude of Popilius. Then he agreed to leave.

4. Second Revolt in Judah.

As Antiochus left Egypt, he received news that the Jews had rebelled again. He was furious. To let out his frustrations, he sent an army under his general Apollonius to Jerusalem.

Apollonius entered Jerusalem under the guise of peace and was therefore unopposed. On the Sabbath day when the Orthodox Jews would not fight, the Seleucid army fell upon the Jews, killing thousands and carrying off the women and children as slaves.

Antiochus now began an intense persecution of the Jews. He set up a statue of Zeus in the Temple and forced the Jews to worship it. The statue had an uncanny resemblance to Anitiochus.

Two women were brought in for circumcising their children and they led them publicly about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts, and then threw them down from the top of the wall. (2 Maccabees 6:10).

There is another story told of one woman and her seven sons who were dragged before the king. They were commanded to reject their faith and to worship Antiochus. They refused and were killed one by one in agonizing torture.

The spark had been set to the powder keg. It was oniy a matter of time before the explosion was set off.