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Silence in heaven; turmoil on earth - from 'The even greater silence'

Music: Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (Nabucco) The Kingdoms of Judah and Israel were tiny compared with the Empires that surounded them; Egypt to the SW, and Assyria to the East.

In 586BC the Assyrian ruler Nebuchadnezzar conquered the people of Judah, and exiled them to Babylon.

However, big empires can be conquered too – Cyrus the Great, the Persian ruler, conquered the Assyrians, and in 535BC he pemitted 50,000 of the people of Judah to return home to Jerusalem. Eighty years later, in 456BC, another 5000 returned, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.

Temple worship was restored, and there were prophets in the land. The last canonical prophet was Malachi, around 400BC, who chided Israel for cheating on their tithes, and not serving God in their hearts; he foretold both wrath to come, and another prophet.

But the Kingdom of Judah sat on some important trade-routes, and it wasn’t long before another conquerer came by to try his luck.

Map of the Conquests of Alexander the Great
In 333BC Alexander the Great conquered the Persians. He attacked first Tyre, then Gaza: after capturing the cities he killed all men of military age and sold all the women and children into slavery. Jerusalem was wiser: it opened its gates and welcomed him.

But there was no word of prophecy in this time.

Alexander conquers territory as far as present-day Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. He only turns back when his soldiers threaten to desert him. He gets a reputation for ruthless slaughter – even today, in Afghanistan, mothers will threaten their children with: “If you don’t behave, Sikandar will get you”. He establishes Greek Cities all the way through Asia Minor, linked by good roads; promotes Greek language and culture… and then dies.

Map of the Seleucid Empire
When Alexander died, his four generals divvid the lands up between themselves.

Map of the Seleucid Empire with: Tutankhamen “Up Pompeii”, and Armless Apollo
Ptolemy got Egypt, someone else got Greece, another the area we now call Turkey, and the commander-in-chief, Seleucus, got the lion’s share – and established a dynasty to run what became the Seleucid Empire.

So there are now three Power blocs – Egypt, Seleucid Greeks, and a small upstart Empire in Italy – Rome – but they’re busy fighting Carthage – we don’t have to worry about them for a bit.

There was civil war for 40 years between the Greek generals, and between 319 and 302 BC, Jerusalem changed hands seven times.

But there was no word of prophecy in this time.

Picture of Greek wrestlers
The Seleucid Empire attempted to “Hellenize” the Near East – by encouraging Greeks to settle in the area, establishing Greek Cities as focal points for trade and transport. Many of the existing cities began — or were compelled by force — to adopt Hellenized philosophic thought, religious sentiments, and politics.

Picture of Greek Discus thrower
At this time Jewish society started to divide into the “hellenised” Jews – speaking Greek – and those who tried to resist Hellenisation. In 175 BC The high priest Jason converted Jerusalem into a Greek polis replete with gymnasium. Some Jews are known to have engaged in non-surgical foreskin restoration in order to join the dominant cultural practice of socializing naked in the gymnasium, where their circumcision would have been a social stigma.

The Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV killed 40,000 Jews after a failed revolt, then sold another 40,000 into slavery. Then he tried to outlaw the Jewish religion; banning the Sabbath, killing people who circumcised their children, banning temple or synagogue worship; when people met to worship secretly in caves, he burnt them alive. People were even afraid to admit to being a Jew.

But there was no word of prophecy in this time.

However, there was a freedom movement. A rural priest, Mattathias, and his sons, the Maccabees, rebelled.

Picture of Che Guevara
Judah Maccabee freed Jerusalem in 164 BC, and cleansed the Temple. Only enough sacred oil could be found to fuel the Temple lamps for one day – but miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days – giving rise to the festival of Hannukah. Judah sought an alliance with the Republic of Rome, but was then defeated and killed by the Seleucid Greeks.

Picture of Greeks running
Judah’s brothers, Jonathon and Simon, continued the guerilla warfare against the Seleucids and the Hellenised Jews, and after several years of living in swamps and caves and launching raids on cities they won.

But there was no word of prophecy in this time.

Picture of Che Guevara (again)
They established the Hasmodian Kingdom of Judea, and after Jonathon’s assassination, Simon reached an accomodation with the Seleucids: you leave us alone, and we sit as a semi-autonomous part of your empire.

Now we start to get the division of Jewish religious thinkers into Pharisees and Saducees… the pharisees thought no-one should be king unless they were of the line of David (the Maccabees weren’t) and wanted to get rid of Greek (Hellenistic) influence. The Saduccees were more Hellenised, more worldy. The Maccabees were mostly Saduccees, even though they’d been fighting against Greek political control. The Maccabean leaders tended to take both the roles of King and High Priest.

Picture of oil slick bird
But after Simon was assassinated, it all began to go wrong again.

When the Seleucids started having civil wars between themselves, they forgot all about Judea. John Hyrcanus, son of Simon the Maccabee, was able to hire mercenaries and start conquering the surrounding territory – Samaria, Edom – places that had substantial Jewish populations who needed liberating – but then, when he ‘liberated’ them… he forced conversion and circumsicion on the Edomites, destroyed the Samaritan places of worship and enslaved the Greek settlers.

But there was no word of prophecy in this time.

John’s son Jannaeus continued using mercenaries to expand Judean territory. He was a Saduccee, and when High Priest, he deliberately got one of the laws of Succot wrong – the crowd pelted him with lemons – which was what he wanted them to do – it gave him an excuse to set the troops on them. 6000 were killed.

This led to a six-year civil war between the Pharisees and Saducees. The Pharisees did so badly that they were reduced to asking for help from the Seleucid Greeks – but still lost. Jannaeus crucified 800 of the rebel leaders, having their wives and children’s throats cut in front of them while they died – whilst he dined with his concubines.

But there was no word of prophecy in this time.

Picture of tug of war
After Jannaeus… his sons Hyrcanus II (pro-Pharissee) and Aristobulus II (pro-saduccee) battled over the Hasmodean crown.

Hyrcanus beseiged Aristobulus in Jerusalem; at passover the inhabitants paid 1000 dinar for a sacrifical lamb, but he gave them a pig instead. He stoned to death a holy man for refusing to pray for the destrauction of Jerusalem . The civil war between the two brothers was stirred by Hyrcanus’ advisor, Antipater the Idumean (Edomite), a sort of Peter Mandleson figure who quietly got his own sons, Phasael and Herod, made governors of Jerusalem and Galilee.

But there was no word of prophecy in this time.

Picture of Frankie Howerd going “Oooo!”
Rome saw a chance to expand, and backed Hyrcanus – as the stupider of the two, he would be more malleable by Rome.

But in the end it was Herod – the Edomite – not even a “proper” Jew – whom Rome established as a client-King. Herod married the last maccabean princess… then had her brother drowned at a party. Then he killed her, then her mother, then three of his own sons.

But there was no word of prophecy in this time.

By 4bc, knowing he was dying, and fearing that no-one would mourn him, Herod ordered that when he died, a group of prominent Israelites would be murdered, so that at least there would be some crying for someone.

Picture either of “burning building” or “fire”
So it all went horribly wrong. Judea got her freedom from the Greeks – the son of the freedom-fighters then oppressed her neighbours, then the grandson of the freedom-fighters oppressed the pharisees, then the great-grandsons of the freedom-fighters fought between themselves, and Rome took the opportunity to seize power.

But there was no word of prophecy in this time.

So – for the pillaged and beleaguered populace – who’ve seen all their hopes betrayed, and their leaders become more interested in their own power than in their people – the question is

How do you wait when heaven is silent?
How do you believe when hope has died?

Fade out of slide

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