03.04.10 319 B.C. Jewish Families Taken to Egypt; Ptolemy Dynasty of Egypt Rules Judah; The Parthian and Roman Empires Begin to Rise
A time of political upheaval was about to begin. For the next 122 years the Jews of Jerusalem and surrounding Promised Land were governed by their high priests, who were essentially puppet governors controlled by the Greek overlords in Egypt. For the most part, these rulers were mild in light of other sovereigns. The Greek Ptolemy Soter captured Jerusalem without a fight on the Sabbath day because the Jews refused to “work” on that day. He took 120,000 Jews to surrounding villages of Alexandria as slaves. They became the principle settlers in a city where the Jewish population would grow to over one million and where the Hebrew Bible would be translated into Greek. This was the first translation of the Hebrew text and was needed because the Jews of Egypt had lost their Hebrew tongue.
At the same time, the Seleucids expanded their kingdom and founded the cities of Seleucia and Antioch. Seleucia was located in the eastern section of the kingdom along the banks of the Euphrates (modern Iraq and Iran), while Antioch was in Syria along the Orontes River. Rivalry between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies soon led to military sparring. Finally, a great battle took place at Raphia, near Gaza where Ptolemy conquered the Seleucids. However, within a few years, Ptolemy died and left a five-year-old son to reign. Hearing this, the Seleucids attacked again and conquered Judah. The dark days of the Jewish people were about to begin.
In the meantime, the Romans were growing into a powerful military force in the peninsula of Italy, and were on one conquest after another. By the second century, they fought the Greeks and won, after which they sailed to northern Africa where they laid conquest to Carthage. This was about the same time the Seleucids took control of Judah, meaning that there was war everywhere.
Also at this same time, far to the east in the Old Persian Empire, a province known as Parthia grew strong and seized control of the Empire by defeating their Seleucid overlords. The Parthians had developed highly skilled cavalry bowmen for which the Seleucids had no defense. These bowmen, who thundered across the deserts on horseback were the terror of the age; the primary reason the Parthian King Arsaces led his people to victory. Eventually his empire covered a massive territory from the Euphrates to the Indus River. Fearing the Parthians wanted access to the Mediterranean Sea, the Romans recognized them as a formidable threat, and hence, six decades before the birth of Jesus they moved into the land of the Jews to establish a frontier protective buffer.
The Parthians had obtained considerable knowledge of the Jewish faith from the exiles who had been relocated into their land centuries earlier by King Nebuchadnezzar. It would be the Parthians who would send the magi to honor the infant Jesus. Jewish believers from Parthia were also present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9). Clearly, the Jewish exiles were responsible for infiltrating the entire Middle East and parts of Central Asia with the anticipation of a coming messiah.
. Metzger, New Testament. 18.
. Josephus, Antiquities 12.1.1 and 12.2.1.
. See “Septuagint” in 02.02.25.
. Dresden, “Parthians.” 3:661.