The Jews, upon their return from Babylon, at first made use of an altar without a Temple, till the Temple was finished under Darius the Second. And then they made use of the Temple without the ark, a priesthood without the Urim and Thummim, and sacrifices without fire from heaven. In some of these things they were necessitated by present circumstances; in other things they were directed by the prophets, that flourished at that time.
Under the Persian empire, they went on quietly with the Temple, little or nothing molested or incommoded by them, unless in that affair under Bagos, mentioned by Josephus.
But under the Greeks happened the calamity of the Temple and nation; and all those dreadful things which are spoken concerning God by Ezekiel the prophet, were fulfilled in the tyranny of this empire. For Gog, in that prophet, was no other than the Grecian empire warring against the people and sanctuary, and true worship of God. It was a long time that the Jewish nation suffered very hard things from that kingdom; the relation of which we have, both in Josephus and the books of the Maccabees. The chief actor in those tragedies was Antiochus Epiphanes, the bloodiest enemy that the people and religion of the Jews ever had: who, besides other horrid things he acted against their law and religion, profaned the Temple and the altar, and made the daily sacrifice to cease for "a thousand and three hundred days," Daniel 8:14, or 'one thousand two hundred and ninety days,' chapter 12:11: a round number for "a time and times, and half a time," chapter 7:25, 11:7; that is, "three years and a half."
Of the insolences of the Greeks against the Temple, we read in Middoth: "In the railed place" [that divided the Chel from the court of the Gentiles] there were thirteen breaches which the kings of Greece made upon it, &c. And that of the impudent woman; "Mary, the daughter of Bilgah, apostatized, and married a certain Greek soldier. She came, and struck upon the top of the altar, crying out, O wolf, wolf! thou that devourest the wealth of Israel; and yet in the time of her extremity canst not help her." The same things are told of Titus.
But the heaviest thing of all was, when Antiochus profaned the Temple and the altar, nor would allow any sacrifices to be offered there but heathenish and idolatrous. Of which persecution consult 1 Maccabees 1 and Josephus, Antiq. lib. xii. cap. 7. Indeed, this waste and profanation of sacred things lasting for three years and a half, so stuck in the stomachs of the Jews, that they retained that very number as famous and remarkable; insomuch that they often make use of it when they would express any thing very sad and afflictive.
"There came one from Athens to Jerusalem, and stayed there three years and a half, to have learnt the language of wisdom, but could not learn it. Vespasian besieged Jerusalem for three years and a half; and with him were the princes of Arabia, Africa, Alexandria, and Palestine, &c. Three years and a half did Hadrian besiege Betar. The judgment of the generation of the deluge was twelve months: the judgment of the Egyptians twelve months: the judgment of Job was twelve months: the judgment of Gog and Magog was twelve months: the judgment of the wicked in hell twelve months. But the judgment of Nebuchadnezzar was three years and a half: and the judgment of Vespasian three years and a half. Nebuchadnezzar stayed in Daphne of Antioch, and sent Nebuzar-adan to destroy Jerusalem. He continued there for three years and a half."
There are many other passages of that kind, wherein they do not so much design to point out a determinate space of time, as to allude to that miserable state of affairs they were in under Antiochus. And perhaps it had been much more for the reputation of the Christian commentators upon the Book of the Revelation, if they had looked upon that number, and the "forty-and-two months," and the "thousand two hundred and sixty days," as spoken allusively, and not applied it to any precise or determinate time.
By the way, whilst we are speaking of the persecution under the Greeks, we cannot but call to mind the story in the Second Book of Maccabees 7, of the mother and her seven sons, that underwent so cruel a martyrdom: because we meet with one very like it, if not the same, only the name changed.
"'We are killed all the day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter,' Psalm 44:22. Rab. Judah saith, This may be understood of the woman and her seven sons. They brought forth the first before Caesar, and they said unto him, Worship idols. He answered and said to them, It is written in our law, I am the Lord thy God. Then they carried him out and slew him. They brought the second before Caesar," &c. Which things are more largely related in Echah Rabbathi, where the very name of the woman is expressed: "Mary, the daughter of Nachton, who was taken captive with her seven sons. Caesar took them and shut them up within seven gates. He brought forth the first and commanded, saying, Worship idols," &c.
The story seems wholly the same, only the names of Antiochus and Caesar changed; of which the reader, having consulted both, may give his own judgment. And because we are now fallen into a comparing of the story in the Maccabees with the Talmudists, let us compare one more in Josephus with one in the same authors.
Josephus tells us, that he foretold it to Vespasian, that he should be emperor. Vespasian commanded that Josephus should be kept with all the diligence imaginable, that he might be conveyed safely to Nero; which when Josephus understood, he requested that he might be permitted to impart something of moment to Vespasian himself alone. Vespasian having commanded all out of the room, except Titus and two other of his friends, Josephus accosts him thus, "Are you sending me to Nero? Thou thyself, O Vespasian, shalt be Caesar and emperor, thou and this thy son," &c.
The Talmudists attribute such a prediction to Rabban Jochanan Ben Zaccai, in the tracts before quoted; viz. "Rabban Jochanan Ben Zaccai was carried out in a coffin, as one that is dead, out of Jerusalem. He went to Vespasian's army and said, Where is your king? They went and told Vespasian, There is a certain Jew desireth admission to you. Let him come in, saith he. When he came in, he said, Live, O king, live, O king." [So in Gittin; but in Midrash, Live my lord the emperor.] "Saith Vespasian, You salute me as if I were king, but I am not so; and the king will hear this, and judge such a one to death. To whom he, Although you are not king yet, you shall be so, for this Temple must not be destroyed but by a king's hand; as it is written, 'Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one,'" Isaiah 10:34.
To which of these two, or whether indeed to both, the glory of this prediction ought to be attributed, I leave it to the reader to judge; returning to the times of the Greeks.
The army and forces of the enemy being defeated under the conduct of Judah the Maccabee, the people begin to apply themselves to the care and the restoration of the Temple, and the holy things. The story of which we meet with 1 Maccabees 4:43, &c. and in Josephus, whose words are worth our transcribing; "He found the Temple desolated, the gates burnt; and the grass, through the mere solitude of the place, springing up there of its own accord: therefore he and his followers wept, being astonished at the sight."
They, therefore, apply themselves to the purging of the Temple, making up the breaches; and, as Middoth in the place above speaks, "Those thirteen breaches, which the Grecians had made, they repaired; and, according to the number of those breaches, they instituted thirteen adorations."
The altar, because it had been profaned by Gentile sacrifices, they pull it wholly down, and lay up the stones in a certain chamber near the court.
"Towards the northeast there was a certain chamber where the sons of the Asmoneans laid up the stones of that altar, which the Grecian kings had profaned": and that (as the Book of the Maccabees hath it) "till there might come a prophet that should direct them what to do with them."
Nor did it seem without reason: for, whereas those stones had once been consecrated, they would by no means put them to any common use; and since they had been profaned, they durst not put them to any holy use.
The rest of the Temple they restored, purged, repaired, as may be seen in the places above quoted; and, on the five-and-twentieth of the month Cisleu, they celebrated the feast of the Dedication, and established it for an anniversary solemnity, to be kept eight days together. Of the rites of that feast I shall say more in its proper place; and, for the sake of it, I have been the larger in these things.