The Wood Between the Worlds – OT and NT

In “The Magician’s Nephew” Polly and Digory find a world that connects theirs to all sorts of hidden lands like Charn and Narnia.

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The Bible has a magical world like this too…

Just like the attic above Digory’s family apartment that linked all the homes together, all of the worlds in C.S. Lewis’ beloved Narnia series are connected by the wood between the worlds.

This place is featured prominently in “The Magician’s Nephew” but also shows up in some of the other stories too.

The Bible has a place like this, it’s called the Inter-Testimental Period. It’s the world of 400+ years between the Old Testament and the New Testament. It too is a “magical” world where just about anything can happen.

This is where I started my latest class as a part of Life University here at church on Wednesday nights. You can find a PDF on my notes page under “New Testament Survey…”

The Bible talks about this time in Daniel 8; 11; Zechariah 9; and even Hebrews 11, but most of our information comes from the OT Apocrypha (Hebrew writings in Greek) like 1-2 Maccabees, Josephus, Herodotus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The OT (basically) ends in the Persian period as we see Cyrus allowing Jews to return to rebuild the temple, and then Artaxerxes sends Ezra back to restore/rebuild Jerusalem. This was basically a peaceful time and the first of sex epochs of time in the world between the testaments. It is during this time, when there was no temple to be able to worship as the OT prescribes, that the synagogue was invented. Ten Hebrew men, and their families, could get together and devote themselves to prayer and studying God’s word, this would be a synagogue or “gathering.” Eventually, they would set aside specific people to study God’s word and lead these synagogues, this is when the concept of a “Rabbi” was created, during captivity in Babylon, and it is also when many Jews picked up the Babylonian language of Aramaic.

Alexander the Great had a short put massively impactful rule for the grecian period. He dealt kindly with the Jews and made Greek the lingua franca of the world. Had this not occurred, the New Testament could not have been written. When he died, Alexander’s four most powerful generals divided his empire into Egypt (Ptolemy), Syria (Seleucus), Macedonia “Grease” (Cassander), and Western/Central Asia Minor and Thrace (Lysimachus). Ptolemy was the ruler who won Israel as basically part of Egypt.

During this time, the Septuagint was translated (LXX). It is the Greek version of the OT and was the Bible of the Apostles and first church. Far and away, most of the time, when the NT quotes the OT, it is quoting the LXX. It was the common Bible of the day, and the one that the writers of the NT would have been most familiar with.

It used to be that we thought, even though the entire Roman Empire of Jesus’ day spoke Koine Greek as their primary language, Jews maintained Hebrew (or perhaps their Aramaic hold-over language from Babylonian captivity) as their primary language. However, archeological evince does not support this long-held view, and more recent developments have convinced scholars of the absolute dominance of Greek in all corners of first century life.

As an example, about 20 years ago, Pieter Van Der Horst evaluated more than 1,600 Jewish epitaphs (funerary inscriptions) in ancient Palestine dating from 300BC to AD500, and determined that 70% are Greek, about 12% are in Latin, and only 18% are Hebrew or Aramaic.

In Jerusalem itself about 40 percent of the Jewish inscriptions from the first century period (before 70 C.E.) are in Greek. We may assume that most Jewish Jerusalemites who saw the inscriptions in situ were able to read them*

Funerary inscriptions are a great test-case for preferred languages. People tend to inscribe things on their tombstones that their friends and family can understand. It’s telling that not only are the majority in Greek, not Hebrew/Aramaic, in the region of the Jews in the first century, but in the heart of the Jewish religious world, Jerusalem, more inscriptions are in Greek than any other language! This is in Jerusalem… even if a Jew’s most common language was Greek, you still might expect them to put Hebrew on their tombstone as a kind of “religious language” so this just underscores the absolute dominance of the Greek language in the time of the writing of the NT, and that began with Alexander the Great. It would be impossible to imagine the early church writing the NT in any other language, if they wanted it to be at all distributed, and this is why all of the oldest manuscripts are, without exception, in Greek.

While this period was a good time, the Syrian period was not. Antiochus IV Epiphanies (which means “god manifest” – though the Jews called him Epimanes “madman”) was defeated by the Romans and unleashed his fury on Jerusalem. Jews were sold as slaves, Jerusalem was desolated, the temple was plundered, he sacrificed a sow on the Lord’s altar, he set up pagan altars, made it law that everyone had to observe heathen festivals, and he outlawed the observance of Judaism. He was a bad dude.

The Syrians were in a village forcing a local Jewish elder to sacrifice to pagan gods. When this Jew had done this, another Jew, Matthias Maccabeus, could not take it any more. He rose up and killed the unfaithful Jew as well as the Syrians who were there, this is called the “Modin incident.” His family, the Hasmoneans, fled to the hills and a gorilla war began lead by Matthias’ son Judas Maccabeus.

On December 25, 165BC there was a cleansing and rededication of the temple. There was only enough oil for one day’s light, but it lasted for 7, thus the festival of Hanukkah was born. It’s also why I like to celebrate the birth of the light of the world on December 25.

Even though the Hasmonean family fought valiantly for a noble purpose, to purify the faith of the Jewish people, within one generation corruption set in and the Hebrew people, once again, turned from God. At this time the three main sects of Judaism that we see in the NT are formed. The Rabbis who were experts in the law, who studied Torah (what we call the OT) and interpreted it for the people, became known as the Pharisees. Those who served in the day-to-day observance of temple rituals and rites and ruled politically in Jerusalem became the Sadducees. There was a third group who saw all that was going on and became disgusted with the corruption and believed that Judaism needed to be cleansed. They withdrew to the desert and lived a kind of monastic life devoting themselves to interpreting and copying God’s word. These are the Essenes and they are the group responsible (most likely) for the Dead Sea Scrolls.

After about 100 years of the Maccabean revolt, the Romans came in and did what they do best, they took charge. Pompey conquers and Herod, and Edomite, is propped up as the vassal ruler of the Jews (this worked, but was not appreciated by the Hebrew people). As a “good will campaign” the Romans gave Herod oodles of money to rebuild Samaria and revamp the temple in Jerusalem (John 2:20 mentions that it took 46 years for Herod to do this). He build an opulent palace on Mr. Zion and was an extremely suspicious ruler, even killing his wife and children because he thought his throne was threatened (remember his killing of the children <2 years old when the “King of the Jews” was born).

Jesus was born under Roman rule… and thus ends the Inter-Testimental period. It’s an incredible time that was so formative in setting the stage for the NT to unfold in just the right way. You can definitely see God’s hand at work in the fascinating time between Old and New Testaments.

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* Pieter Van Der Horst, “Jewish Funerary Inscriptions – Most Are in Greek,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept.-Oct. 1992, p. 48.

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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  • val

    Thanks. I studied your notes from last week. But this really helps clear things up.

  • Great! thanks so much for commenting. I’m just trying to help and have some fun 😉