9.6 -- The Disconnect Between Old and New Testaments
During the 5th and 6th Centuries BC, the Jews re-established themselves in their homeland. Yet in the following centuries, their sovereignty was never secure nor absolute -- there was always an overlord. The greatest threat to the purity of the religion and the survival of the state was the Seleucid Empire, a successor to Alexander's Macedonian Empire. Antiochus IV Epiphanes ("God Manifest"), who ruled during the early 2nd Century, profaned the Temple and committed sacrilege, murdering many devout Jews. He is remembered as a prototype of the endtimes Antichrist. His cruelty sparked the revolt of the Maccabees in 167. This family-run uprising eventually drove the Seleucid forces out of Judah, and established the Hasmonean Dynasty, which lasted only 100 years, at which time the Romans took power.
During these tumultuous centuries, the Jewish leaders had to develop thick skins and hard heads to stand up to the invaders politically, and to resist them ideologically. It was hard to hold on to the heritage of the past and maintain the wall of separation from foreigners -- when the foreigners were running the government and living in the cities. But resistance was imperative: only if the nation purified itself would God intervene and establish His Kingdom under the rule of the Messiah.
Looked at 2000 years later, this was an heroic effort maintained for many generations in highly perilous conditions. Consider what didn't happen: the triumph of Antiochus in abolishing Temple worship, the fusing of Jewish and Greek beliefs into some debased form of syncretistic paganism, the continued domination of Seleucid culture and political power over the Jews. Judaism developed a "survival mentality" in these centuries. And if the price for Israel's existence was the development of a caste system -- a devout "remnant" of observant traditionalists vs a mass of ignorant compromisers -- well, this was inevitable. Certainly one could not blame the successors of Ezra and Nehemiah, who sought to maintain the highest standards of racial and religious purity in the Temple and the community. To these tough religious leaders belongs the credit for the strength and fervor of the faith at the time the Roman occupation began. These men were the pillars of the community, doing their utmost to keep the light of God's Presence in Israel from going out.