Silent Era Overview

An excerpt from The 14 Eras Booklet by Iva May:

The Silent Era

(The Inter-testament period)

(Approximately 400 years)

The last era before the coming of the Messiah claims the title, “Silent Era,” because the Hebrew canon closed after the writing and preaching of the prophet Malachi. For over 400 years, God did not speak to His people, either through the prophets or through other Scriptures; yet His silence did not equal inactivity. God providentially worked to

prepare the way for the King through various empires that ruled even as He fulfilled the words of Amos 8:11.

History of the Silent Years (430 B.C.-4 B.C.)

Just as Daniel predicted (Daniel 2, 7), four major empires rose and fell. Nebuchadnezzar conquered the known world during Daniel’s day, but his empire lasted only about a century (626-539 b.c.) before it fell to the “Medes and the Persians” (Dan 5:28). The Persian Empire spread from Egypt to India and northward toward Greece; this empire survived for about two centuries, but eventually Alexander the Great defeated the Persians as he extended the third kingdom of Daniel—the Greek empire—into the world. His early death brought about a division of his territory, but not before the process of Hellenization influenced the known world. The universal use of the Greek language, the Greek standards of weight and measurement, and Greek coinage affected even Israel.

The Seleucids, successors of Alexander who eventually ruled Israel, succeeded in alienating the Jewish people, especially when the Syrian Antiochus IV Epiphanes offered a pig to the Olympian god Zeus in the Holy of Holies. His actions ignited the Maccabean revolt that resulted in a period of independence. This freedom survived until Rome—the fourth empire—sent her armies to capture Jerusalem and to establish Roman rule through governors granted power by the Emperor.

Trends of the Silent Years

Judaism changed dramatically during the silent years. The former idolatries that had driven the nation into exile were no longer tolerated. Chasidim (“separate ones”) began to demand purity and a return to God’s Word; they may have been the precursors of the Pharisees. Synagogues became the mainstay of spiritual life in the villages, though the Temple held priority in Jerusalem. Courts called Sanhedrin consisting of 23 wise men (an uneven number to guard against a tie) adjudicated in the smaller towns, and the great Sanhedrin (council of 70 plus the high priest) ruled over the nation in Jerusalem. The Jewish historian Josephus noted that the Sadducees and the Pharisees had existed since the time of the Maccabees.

The Pharisees devoted themselves to the Law, led in the synagogues, and seemed to have the support of the majority of the nation. They believed in angels (in fact, angelology—the study of angels and the resultant belief in their mediatorial work —became a major characteristic of Judaism4), resurrection, and the coming Messiah. The Sadducees allied themselves with the governing powers, ruled the Temple, accepted only the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, believed in neither angels nor spirits, and denied a future resurrection. The controversy between these two groups occasionally spilled out into the open, but always existed as a subtext for all that transpired in the nation. The Herodians were a Jewish political party allied with the family of Herod (four generations ruled in the land), usually siding with the Sadducees to protect Rome’s interests and to preserve Rome’s peace (and their position of authority).

The Mishna and the Talmud began to develop during this era as an extended commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures. These books increased the actual commands to which the people were subject; each interpreter added his accretions to the whole, and the resultant weight of the laws burdened the people with over 600 regulations for daily conduct.

Importance of the Silent Years

This tenth era prepared the way for the coming Messiah in several ways. After the Babylonian captivity, the Jews began to speak Aramaic; Hellenization brought a common language for the world, and the Jews of the Diaspora (those scattered throughout the world) spoke Greek. These linguistic changes relaxed the Jewish attitude toward the Scripture and necessitated the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Septuagint (LXX). The Septuagint (“Seventy”) supposedly was translated by 70 scholars in 70 days, hence the name.

Rome paved the way by building the Roman road system and establishing the Pax Romana, the Roman peace. Apostles and missionaries could travel unimpeded swiftly throughout the empire, preaching the good news in a language (Greek) that the common people could understand.

Judaism produced a “vast bulk of intertestamental literature,” but “divine guidance kept the right books within the compass of Scripture. Eventually and gradually, Judaism manifested itself in the ‘Three Pillars of Judaism’: the tripartite OT canon of Law, Prophets, and Writings; the synagogue, with its new, liturgical, and entirely nonsacrificial worship; and Rabbinism, which culminated in the Talmud and Midrash.”5 The religious minutiae of the law created an unbearable burden that convinced men of their failure but offered no hope for true freedom. The temple became a place of corruption and the synagogue became a place of condemnation.

These religious trends and cultural changes came not as accidents but rather under the providential hand of God to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. It is no wonder that Paul could write to the Galatians that Christ was born “in the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4).

(This section on the Silent Years was written by Stan May, PhD)

What does the Silent Era reveal about God?

God Speaks

• God spoke about the time when Israel would experience a period of famine of hearing from God (Amos 8:11).

God Acts

• God is instrumental in the rise and fall of empires and nations.

• God always has a faithful remnant who trust in Him.

God Reveals

• Though God is silent, He is not inactive.

• God works in the political realm, elevating and demoting

people for His redemptive purposes.

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