Marty believes that knowing what happened between the Old and New Testaments is crucial to understanding the earthly life of Jesus and the New Testament setting and events. He has written this book for the layman, in a reader friendly edition of his more technical and detailed material.
He covers the time period by dividing it into four sections:
Persian (539-331 BC)
Greek (331-143 BC)
Jewish – Maccabean/Hasmonean (143-63 BC)
Roman (63 BC – AD 70)
He has included sidebars on particular topics, such as the Sanhedrin. When he recounts the events of the time period, he also show how that impacted New Testament events. Discussion questions are also included at the end of each chapter. A Glossary of important terms is also added at the end of the book.
We read about the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Herodians in the New Testament but they are not mentioned in the Old Testament. When did they originate and why were they so corrupt that Jesus would pronounce scathing denunciations of them? Marty tells us of their origin during the Hasmonean Period of Israel's history, a time of political intrigue and religious corruption. That really helps understand their place in New Testament events.
We might wonder how Herod, an Idumean, became “king” of the area. Marty tells how Herod (the Great) went to Rome after the Parthians invaded Judea and was named “king,” even though his kingdom was occupied. After Herod's failed attempt to gain control of Jerusalem, Mark Anthony sent Roman soldiers. Jerusalem was taken after forty days, and the temple after fifteen more. (The temple had been under the control of the last in the Hasmonean dynasty.) Furious it had taken so long to capture Jerusalem, the Romans went on a killing spree.
Background information like that really helps us understand why the Jews felt the way they did toward the Romans. Reading about Herod's other activities also gives additional insight into Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, who was ruling as tetrarch in Galilee during Jesus' earthly life and who had John the Baptist killed.
As Marty notes, though sometimes called “The Four Hundred Silent Years,” the period between the Testaments was not silent. God was certainly at work, preparing the world for the coming of His Son.
Marty has done an good job of telling the story of the Israelites during that time period. Even though I have read several books on the subject, I learned some new insights from this book. I really like the way he has included vignettes of how an event in the four hundred years impacted what we read in the New Testament. That is added information I've not seen in other history books. I do recommend this book to laypeople for a greater understanding of the New Testament. This is not a scholarly account but rather one aimed at the layman who is unfamiliar with the time period.
Dr. William H. Marty (ThD, Dallas theological Seminary) is Professor of Bible at the Moody Bible Institute and has published two textbooks. He and his wife live in Chicago.
Bethany House Publishers, 192 pages.
I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.