About 400 years elapsed between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew. Called the intertestamental period, this time set the stage for the Roman empire and the coming of Christ.
By Mark D. Harris
Knowledge is very important in all fields, but derives from different sources. One can know science by observation and experimentation since physical phenomena are perceivable by the senses and repeatable. Historical events, however, are not repeatable and so persons of later eras must rely on written records and on artifacts from earlier eras if they wish to understand them. The best understanding usually comes from a combination of sources.
The first major source of information about the intertestamental period is the Bible. Culture doesn’t change overnight, and so many of the lifestyles and opinions found in the late Old Testament persisted until and even through the intertestamental period. Lifestyles and practices we find in the New Testament are likely to be similar to those preceding it, especially in an age when change was far slower than in modern times. One can trace the postexilic reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah to the teachings of the Hasidim and then to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
The Septuagint, the first complete Greek translation of the Old Testament, written by 70 Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, is highly influential. Its subject matter and its style shine bright light on the ancient world. The Dead Sea Scrolls and similar Bible manuscripts affirm our confidence in the written word we currently possess, and also illuminate it, including the intertestamental period.
Another major written source of information about the Intertestamental period are books written during that time from the Apocrypha, including such books as Tobit, Judith, 3rd and 4th Ezra, 1st through 4th Maccabees and Psalms 151. While not considered canonical by the 4th century councils (including Hippo and Carthage), they contain valuable information about the Life and Times of those living through the era. Other books, including the pseudoepigraphia of the Old Testament, also reflect life in that era.
Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD) and Philo of Alexandria (20 BC – 50 AD) were Jewish writers whose work covered centuries of history and culture. Though given to the same temptations as other writers, such as the need to please your sponsor and exalt your king, their writings provide important secular support to those of Biblical authors. Roman writers of the period, including Tacitus (56-117 AD), Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), and others, contribute valuable perspectives and historical balance. Inscriptions on structures and tombstones provide another source of data for the serious student of the intertestamental period. The Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 BC), known as the “Father of History”, provided valuable knowledge about the early Intertestamental period.
Archaeology, of course, is another great source of knowledge that is frequently cross referenced with the written word to gain a fuller understanding. Pottery shards, bones, tools, weapons, and dried food stuffs indicate how members of a society lived, who they fought against, and what killed them.
The Bible has had more influence than any book on the planet. It has more evidence for its veracity than any other book from Antiquity. We must study these sources because, not being Jewish agriculturalists living under the Roman Empire in first century Palestine, we will miss much of the meaning of the New Testament if we do not. They also help us understand how issues and responses of that day translate into the issues that we face, and how to effectively respond to them. These sources help us learn from the examples of those who went before us.