The Missing Four Hundred Years

Article excerpt

You decide to read the Bible through from Genesis to Malachi This time you want to read it in chronological order, not in the order in which the books appear in the Hebrew Scriptures, nor in the order in which they were written, but the order in which the events and people actually appear on the stage of time.

And so you do. You have a little problem sorting out the sequence of the "minor" prophets, but eventually you do. And you find that the last four books -- chronologically -- are actually Malachi (c. 460 BCE), Ezra/Nehemiah (c. 445 BCE), and Joel (c. 400 BCE).

In Malachi you read that beautiful conversation between Man and God, and you read that God is going to send a messenger ahead of the Messiah. You read that the messenger will be Elijah. (Christians believe that Elijah did come back in the body of John the Baptist, who they believe baptized Jesus as the Messiah.)

You trace Ezra as he brings back the third migration of the Israelites from Babylon in the years 464-463 BCE. Then Nehemiah brings back the last two migrations in 404 and 358 BCE. Finally you read the small book of Joel -- written about 400 BCE -- and read the immortal words: "Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions."

So you finish Joel -- and your study of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Or have you?

You do wonder--briefly--what happened to the prophecies of those sons and daughters. But then you say, well, I guess nothing happened worth recording in those 400 years from the time of Joel to the Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 66 CE and the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.


Oh, yes, lots of things happened during those 400 years.

But before we take a look at what actually did happen in those four hundred years, let's make two quick flashbacks. Over 600 years earlier, the Israelites thought that Josiah might be the Messiah, but he died in battle at Megiddo (Armageddon in the Christian book of Revelation) in 608 BCE, and his successors -- and God -- let him stay dead. Eighty-seven years later -- in 521 BCE, at the time of the second migration from Babylon back to Palestine -- they thought that Zerubbabel might be the Messiah, but he "went to sleep with his ancestors" without showing any signs of being the Promised One. God seemed to be saying: "The world isn't ready yet. Give it -- and Me -- a little more time!"

So, during those 400 years, what did happen, and how do we know what happened? We must go to three main sources: extra-Biblical history, the apocryphal books, and the pseudepigrapha.

In the recorded history of that time we run into many familiar names: Alexander the Great, Aristotle, Plato, Ptolemy, Josephus Flavius, Philo, Seleucus, Antiochus, the Maccabees, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Herod the Great, Jesus, and many others.

Be patient now as we define the "Apocrypha" and the "Pseudepigrapha." We'll slide gracefully over all the arguments, claims, counterclaims, and infighting that both Christians and Jews endured while establishing what was what, which was which, and look at the "final" results.

The apocryphal books are those that are not considered by either Jews or Christians as belonging in the Hebrew canon -- which most Christians call the Old Testament to contrast it with their "New Testament" (the four gospels, Paul's letters, and other writings). That is, they are not accepted as inspired scripture and therefore are not considered of equal importance with 39 books formally accepted as belonging in that canon. Some examples are the books of the Maccabees, The Rest of Esther, Judith, Tobit, and Baruch. The Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church ("Greek Orthodox") have accepted them as canonical, and you'll find them in their versions of the Bible. But during the Protestant Reformation, all those books were deemed non-canonical, or "apocryphal," and not worthy of inclusion in what Protestants and Jews can read when they read their Bible. …