A Brief Outline of the Old Testament History and the Major Landmarks of the Development of the Pentateuch, according to the Contemporary Biblical Scholarship

Judaism and Hellenism.  In 332 BC, Judea transitioned from under the rule of the Persians to the rule of Alexander the Great, and after Alexander’s death Judea became incorporated into the Greco-Egyptian Ptolemaic Kingdom.  King Ptolemy Lagides resettled many of the Jews into Alexandria.  There, ca. 250 BC during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-247 BC), the translation of the Pentateuch and, later, of the other sacred books into Greek was undertaken.  This translation is known as the Septuagint (LXX).

In 189 BC, Antiochus III (Antiochus the Great), a king of the Seleucid dynasty reconquered Judea from Egypt.  The Seleucids would spread Greek customs and beliefs to the peoples under their governance: a phenomenon referred to as Hellenization. “The word Hellenistic comes from the root word Hellas, which was the ancient Greek word for Greece. The Hellenic Age was the time when Greek culture was pure and unaffected by other cultures.” The Old Testament community of the faithful struggled against the Hellenistic influences.  Written at the beginning of the 3rd century BC, the books of Tobit, Baruch, and the Epistle of Jeremiah were aimed at the reaffirmation of the ethical and religious ideals of Judaism and its defense from the Greek influences.

In 168 BC, the Seleucid king Antioch IV Epiphanes (175-163 BC) beset Judea with murderous persecutions, striving to exterminate its faith.  The Temple of Solomon was turned into a pagan temple; the books of the Scriptures were being burned, and observance of all the religious rituals became banned.  The persecuted people and martyrs in those days would draw consolation in the prophecies of the Book of Daniel that was composed ca. 165 BC on the basis of older traditions. The Hebrew Bible includes Daniel in the Ketuvim (writings), while Christian biblical canons group the work with the Major Prophets.  The Book of Judith was written around that time, too (and later translated into Greek).        It is a deuterocanonical book, included in the Septuagint and the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian Old Testament of the Bible, but excluded from the Hebrew canon and assigned by Protestants to the apocrypha.

In 164 BC the Jews rebelled against Antiochus the Great.  They achieved quick success under the leadership of Judah the Maccabee from the Hasmonean clan.  The Hasmoneans were a dynasty of the Ancient Judaea, descendants of the Maccabee family and leaders of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid dynasty.  Ca. 140 BC, the country was already fully independent and governed by the Hasmonean dynasty.  By this time, the Hebrew Bible was complete.

At the junction of the two Testaments. Judea remained an independent kingdom up until 63 BC when it was conquered by the Romans.  During the rule of the Hasmoneans, several trends or schools emerged within the Community of the faithful, each school producing its own literature.  From the milieu of the Pharisees, the first records of the “Oral Law” (the predecessor of the Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, the primary source of Jewish civil and religious law and theology), the Second Book of Maccabees (ca. 120 BC), and the Psalms of Solomon (ca. 63 BC) appeared.  The adherents of the Hasmonean dynasty, close to the party of the Sadducees, created the First Book of Maccabees (ca. 100 BC).  First Maccabees is a book written in Hebrew by an anonymous Jewish author after the restoration of an independent Jewish kingdom by the Hasmonean dynasty, around the late 2nd century BC.  The book is held as canonical scripture by the Catholic, Orthodox, and mostly Oriental Orthodox churches, but not by Protestant denominations; it is not part of the Hebrew Bible. Some Protestants consider it to be an apocryphal book.  In the circles belonging to the order of the Essenes, the Qumran literature, the Book of Jubilees, and the other apocrypha emerged ca. 2nd-1st centuries BC.

In Alexandria, the Hellenized Jews of the Diaspora enjoyed their own rich literature: various treatises, dramas, commentaries, and historical compositions.  The most prominent among these are the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon (ca. 50 BC) and the writings of Philo of Alexandria (ca. 25 BC – 50s AD) who attempted to combine the Old Testament teachings with the philosophy of antiquity.

Many of the books written in the last two centuries BC already go beyond the framework of the biblical tradition.  Yet, they are important for the interpreters of the Scriptures, as they form, as it were, a bridge between the Old and the New Testaments.  The Messianic hopes and the ethical teachings of the scribes created the atmosphere that has anticipated and made provisions for the preaching of the Gospel.

  1.  Chaniotis, Angelos (2011).Greek History: Hellenistic. Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guide.  Oxford University Press. p. 8.
  2. “Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age,” Mr. Giotto’s Online Text Book.  https://www.penfield.edu/webpages/jgiotto/onlinetextbook.cfm?subpage=1653418#:~:text=The%20word%20Hellenistic%20comes%20from,and%20unaffected%20by%20other%20cultures.&text=One%20man%2C%20Alexander%2C%20King%20of,for%20this%20blending%20of%20cultures. Accessed 2/02/2022.
  3.  See Feldman, L. (2010). ” Introduction: The Influence Of Hellenism On Jews In Palestine In The Hellenistic Period”. In Judaism and Hellenism Reconsidered. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
  4. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Judaism/Religious-rites-and-customs-in-Palestine-the-Temple-and-the-synagogues
  5.  1 Maccabees 1:56, see Lieberman, Saul. The martyrs of Caesarea. Routledge, 2018.
  6.  Nodet, E. (1997). A Search for the Origins of Judaism (Vol. 248, Journal for the study of the Old Testament. Supplement series). London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., p. 44.
  7.  Collins, John. (1984). Daniel: With an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature.  Eerdmans, pp. 34-36.
  8.  Bandstra, Barry L. (2008). Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Wadsworth Publishing Company, p. 445.
  9.  Moore, Carey A. Judith: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Yale Bible 40. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.
  10.  Carr, D. (2010). An Introduction to the Old Testament (1st ed.). Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, p. 246.
  11.  See the discussion of the literary revival in Machiela, D., & Jones, R. (2021). Was there a Revival of Hebrew during the Hasmonean Period? Journal of Ancient Judaism, 12(2), 217-280.
  12.  Rappaport, U., 47.  1 Maccabees in Barton, J. and Muddiman, J. (2001), The Oxford Bible Commentary Archived 2017-11-22 at the Wayback Machine, p. 711.
  13.  Newman, H., & Ludlam, R. (2006). Proximity to Power and Jewish Sectarian Groups of the Ancient Period (Vol. 25, The Brill Reference Library of Judaism). Leiden: BRILL, pp. 51-121.
  14.  Gruen, E. (2004). Diaspora. London: Harvard University Press, p. 5.
  15.  Borgen, P. (1997). Philo of Alexandria : An exegete for his time (Supplements to Novum Testamentum v. 86). Leiden ; New York: Brill, p. 9.
  16.  Charles, R. (1913). The Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English : With introductions and critical and explanatory notes to the several books (ATLA monograph preservation program ATLA fiche 1987-6237). Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. xiii.
  17.  DeSilva, D. (2004). An Introduction to the New Testament. Westmont: InterVarsity Press, p. 390.