So just how do we know about the period between the Old and New Testaments? If you are like me, you have heard at least one pastor say in a a sermon that "the prophets fell silent" or something to that effect. While true, there obviously is still some record of the four hundred years between testaments. As you would expect, I have had a class that discusses this very topic! Some of the major sources used to reconstruct the history of the intertestamental period include:
· The Hebrew Old Testament, the Pentateuch whose 39 books were regarded as the Holy Word of God by the end of the period.
· The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint which has some content that differs from the Hebrew. According to Scott, where these differences exist, the Septuagint is considered a separate source.
· The Apocrypha of the Old Testament which are books found in the Septuagint but not in the Pentateuch. These books are considered a separate source as well.
There are other writings from which the fullness of the period is also derived. The writing of Flavious Josephus and Philo Judaeus as well as the Dead Sea scrolls are rather important. Additionally, it is important to remember that the New Testament itself provides details about the period.
At this point in my studies, I consider the Septuagint the most important. The differences in emphasis and changes in content provide some insight into the thoughts of the translators. The Septuagint also contains the books of the Apocrypha which were written during the Intertestamental period. I sincerely believe that any serious study of this period would be incomplete without these sources especially in light of the fact that many consider them to be scripture though I am not among them.
Studying these and other sources is important in a proper understanding of the New Testament for a number of reasons. First, we now have variations of the same documents of the period. Study of the progressive changes of these documents reveals details about the period that would otherwise be missed. Second, knowledge of these writings was common at the time and the authors of the New Testament books knew this. Beginning their work with the understanding that the audience would have a common frame of reference at the time must have impacted the way in which they approached the material under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Third, the Hellenistic culture was changing the Jewish people. For example, the Greek influence on education was much different. Both boys and girls were educated and everyone was strongly encouraged to continue learning until at least 18 years of age.
If one is to have a full understanding of anything, learning about the culture, the manner in which families worked to survive, the system of government, etc. are all very important. Omitting any aspect of life will only serve to limit the understanding of the student. I have benefited tremendously from purchasing a book that covers the manners and customs of those who lived in biblical times. I would encourage my readers to do the same. It will be a blessing to your studies.