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THE portion of Jewish history, which is coinprised between the return from Babylon and the birth of Jesus Christ, commends itself to our consideration on a variety of grounds.
Restored to their liberty and home by Cyrus, and furnished, both by him and several of his successors, with liberal supplies of all things necessary for their purpose, the Jews commenced and brought to a happy conclusion, the building of their “ Second House.” (B. C. 515.) Some few years afterwards, under the guidance of Nehemiah, they repaired the walls and private dwellings of Jerusalem; and, both there and throughout the other cities of Judæa, once more established the name and semblance of a people, and employed themselves, as heretofore, in the ordinary occupations of civil life.
But their condition was not such as it had been in the former golden days of their prosperity : their numbers were diminished, their resources were impaired, their limits circumscribed, their authority restricted ; since now they were no longer governed by independent princes of their own, but were subjected to the uncertain and arbitrary controul of governors appointed by the kings of Persia.
We thus see them already placed in a new position: they are also entering on a new career of action; as being now brought into immediate contact with other nations; and about to bear their part in the fulfilment of those prophecies of Daniel, which speak of the rise and progress of the Grecian empire in Asia, and of the treatment which the religion and fortunes of the Jews should experience at the hands of the successors of Alexander.
Unable, by their numbers and position, to maintain their independence as a state, we find them falling alternately under the sway of Syria or of Egypt; and suffering perpetual annoyance from the mutual quarrels which arose between these states, in addition to the positive persecutions, on religious grounds, which they underwent from Ptolemy Philopator, (B. C. 217.) and from Antiochus Epiphanes.
One short bright space in their history succeeds, when resistance to religious tyranny procured for them civil freedom also: when under the leadership of the Asmonæan princes they obtained, not merely independence, but some portion of renown and splendour.
This light, however, was soon quenched through the bane of internal dissensions; and by the growing influence of the Romans, who now began to appear on the Eastern stage, and to take an active part in the politics of Asia and Egypt, they were consigned to the hands and dominion of a halfstranger in the person of Herod the Great; who wielded a sceptre, which he had obtained through rivers of blood, really at the will and beck of a Roman commander, though nominally retaining the name and diadem of a sovereign; because the Word of God had announced that “the sceptre “ should not depart from Judah,” till the Shiloh, the Messiah, should appear.
Mixed up as we have seen the Jews to have been during the above-named period, with the affairs, not only of Asia, but also of Greece and Rome, we might reasonably expect to find ample notices concerning them in the several Greek and Roman historians. To a certain extent this expectation has been realized : we still possess various and valuable information on Jewish matters, in the works of classic authors which are yet remaining; and there is ground for believing that much more of the same stamp and value has been lost to us, through that common misfortune which has deprived these later ages of so large a portion of the literary treasures bequeathed by the learned of former days.
Polybius, of Megalopolis in Arcadia, who flourished during the times of the Maccabees, and is known and valued for the extent and accuracy of his observations, had particular reasons for directing his attention to the Jewish affairs of his day; inasmuch as he was not only acquainted with the general outline of their proceedings, but enjoyed the personal and close friendship of Demetrius the Second, whose escape from Rome he certainly
was privy to, and perhaps had originally advised. Polybius left behind him a history in forty books : of these, no more than five entire, with fragments of twelve others, have been preserved to the present time: but from these small remains we learn to estimate the extent of our loss : and, judging from that portion of Jewish history which we find in these fragments, we might have expected from his unmutilated works very considerable accessions of important information.
Diodorus Siculus lived during the reigns of Hyrcanus and Herod : he wrote a history of Roman affairs in forty books; of which only fifteen are now remaining, with extracts from some few of the rest. We collect that Diodorus had given particular attention to Jewish matters: in his 34th book he speaks of the bad character which that nation bore amongst foreigners, and relates several of the acts of Antiochus Epiphanes. Again, in a fragment of the fortieth book, there is evidence that he had written a narrative of Pompey's expedition against Jerusalem ; as he begins with the words Ημείς δε μέλλοντες αναγράφειν τον προς Ιουδαίους πόλεμον, &c. : but all which now remains of this, whatever it might have been, is merely the introductory part, relating to the early history and habits of the Jews, such as they were believed by Diodorus to be. For the preservation of even this short fragment we are indebted to the most learned and diligent Photius, patriarch of Constantinople.
Another historian, who was contemporary with Herod the Great, is Dionysius of Halicarnassus:
but, as the plan of his work did not embrace the period of time with which these books are concerned, we are not to expect from him any thing either of corroborative or corrective information.
Strabo, the eminent Greek geographer, likewise, flourished before the death of Herod. He is said to have written some historical books; but these unfortunately are lost.
This author is very frequently quoted by Josephus; and there is good ground for supposing that if his works had survived, they would have contained much valuable matter connected with this period of Jewish history.
Livy, who was alive during the time of Herod and Augustus, is well known to have related every thing belonging to Roman history with considerable minuteness of detail: but a very large portion of his great work has perished through lapse of time, and especially that part which contained the transactions belonging to the period of the Maccabees : had these survived, there is little doubt that, from the close connexion at this time existing between the affairs of Syria and Rome, ample notice and information
various points of this our history would have been found in the pages of Livy.
Besides these writers, most of whom were living during the times of which the five books of Maccabees treat; and all of whom wrote their accounts or histories before Josephus published his great work on Jewish history, and therefore could not have been either biassed or informed at secondhand by him :—we find others, of high