Menelaus become the high priest (2 Macc 4:23-4:29)

“After a period of three years, Jason sent Menelaus, the brother of the previously mentioned Simon, to carry money to the king. He sent him to complete the records of essential business. But Menelaus, when presented to the king, extolled him with an air of authority. He secured the high priesthood for himself, outbidding Jason by three hundred talents of silver. After receiving the king’s orders he returned. He possessed no qualification for the high priesthood. He had the hot temper of a cruel tyrant and the rage of a savage wild beast. So Jason, who after supplanting his own brother, was supplanted by another man. He was driven as a fugitive into the land of Ammon. Menelaus held the office, but he did not pay regularly any of the money promised to the king. Sostratus, the captain of the citadel kept requesting payment, since the collection of the revenue was his responsibility. Two of them were summoned by the king on account of this issue. Menelaus left his own brother Lysimachus as deputy in the high priesthood, while Sostratus left Crates as the commander of the Cyprian troops.”

In 172 BCE, 3 years later, Jason the high priest and brother of Onias III sent Menelaus, a Benjaminite brother of Simon, the brother-in-law of Onias III, to King Antiochus IV with money on official business. However, this Menelaus decided that he was going to outbid Jason for the position of high priest by offering 300 talents of silver, about $180,000 USA. Although he was not qualified to be a high priest since he was not a Levite, the king gave him orders to become the high priest in Jerusalem. Obviously the position of high priest went to the highest bidder. Menelaus was cruel and full of rage. Jason was then driven into the land of Ammon, east of the Jordan River. Menelaus never kept his financial promise to the king, although he ruled as high priest for 10 years from 172-162 BCE. Meanwhile, Sostratus, the captain of the citadel troops was not getting any money. The king then called Sostratus and Menelaus to settle this money issue. In the meantime, Lysimachus, the brother of Menelaus, was the deputy high priest in Jerusalem, and Crates became the commander of the citadel troops.

King Antiochus IV is welcomed at Jerusalem (2 Macc 4:21-4:22)

“When Apollonius son of Menestheus was sent to Egypt for the coronation of Philometor as king, King Antiochus learned that Philometor had become hostile to his government. The king took measures for his own security. Therefore upon arriving at Joppa, he proceeded to Jerusalem. He was welcomed magnificently by Jason and the city. He was ushered in with a blaze of torches and with shouts. Then he marched his army into Phoenicia.”

Apollonius, the governor, was sent to Egypt for the coronation of the new King Ptolemy VI the Philometor about 175 BCE. The mother of King Ptolemy VI, Cleopatra I, had died when he was only 10 years old. His father King Ptolemy V had died in 180 BCE so that he technically was king when he was 5 years old. However, he ruled with his mother until she died. In 174 BCE, at the age of 11, he married his sister Cleopatra II. He ruled in Egypt until 146 BCE. However, Apollonius learned that King Ptolemy VI and his advisors had turned anti-Syrian rather than pro-Syrian like his mother and father. Then King Antiochus IV (175-164 BCE) decided to make a trip to Joppa and Jerusalem. Jason and the people of Jerusalem warmly welcomed him, before he went to Phoenicia.

The Olympics at Tyre (2 Macc 4:18-4:20)

When the quadrennial games were being held at Tyre, the king was present. The vile Jason sent envoys, chosen as being citizens of Antioch from Jerusalem. They were to carry three hundred silver drachmas for the sacrifice to Hercules. Those who carried the money, however, thought best not to use it for sacrifice, because that was inappropriate. They spent if for another purpose. So this money that was intended by the sender for the sacrifice to Hercules, but by the decision of its carriers it was applied to the construction of triremes.”

Now we have the Olympics in the biblical tradition. The quadrennial Olympics were held in Tyre. The Greek Olympics began in 776 BCE. However, they were eliminated by the Christian Emperor Theodosius in 393 CE as a pagan cult. Although the Olympics were only held in Olympia in Greece, there were other gatherings of athletes in what might be called Pan-Hellenic Games that were held throughout the ancient world in various cities at different times what were also called Olympics. Tyre was an important sea port town north of Palestine. Hercules was the name of god of Tyre. Instead of offering the sacrifice to Hercules, these so-called Antiochian envoys to these games made triremes, war vessels with rowers on each side.

Jason, the high priest tales over (2 Macc 4:7-4:10)

“When King Seleucus died, King Antiochus, who was called Epiphanes, succeeded to the kingdom. Then Jason, the brother of Onias, obtained the high priesthood by corruption. He promised the king at an interview three hundred sixty talents of silver and, from another source of revenue, eighty talents. In addition to this, he promised to pay one hundred fifty more if permission were given to establish by his authority a gymnasium and a body of youth for it. He wanted to enroll the men of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch. When the king assented, Jason came to office. He at once shifted his countrymen over to the Greek way of life.”

By the time that Onias arrived in Antioch, Heliodorus had already assassinated King Seleucus IV (187-175 BCE). Now King Antiochus IV (175-164 BCE), the son of King Antiochus III who had ruled from 222-187 BCE, became king. He was the brother of King Seleucus IV. Jason was the brother of the high priest Onias, so that he was a Levite. He obtained the high priesthood by corruption. I still think that it is strange that the Syrian king had the right to name the Jewish high priest. Jason has promised the new king about 440 talents of silver, the equivalent of a quarter million $USA. He wanted a Greek gymnasium in Jerusalem that would become the center of political and cultural education. He also wanted all the men of Jerusalem to be citizens of Antioch. The new King Antiochus IV said fine. Thus Jason took over as the new high priest of Jerusalem. He wanted to shift his countrymen to the new Greek way of life. Unlike in 1 Maccabees, chapter 1, where the movement to the Greek way was led by the generic renegades, here it is explicitly assigned to Jason, the new high priest. Despite his protestations of not getting into details, this biblical author explained the role of the high priest Onias and his brother Jason in great detail.

The situation of this letter (2 Macc 1:7-1:9)

“In the reign of King Demetrius,

In the one hundred and sixty-ninth year,

We Jews wrote to you.

In the critical distress that came upon us,

In those years

After Jason and his company

Revolted from the holy land and the kingdom.

He burned the gate and shed innocent blood.

We prayed to the Lord.

We were heard.

We offered sacrifice and cereal offering.

We lighted the lamps.

We set out the loaves.

Now see that you keep the festival of booths

In the month of Chislev,

In the one hundred and eighty-eighth year.”

Here is the reason for the letter. They want the Jews in Egypt to celebrate the festival of Booths in 124 BCE in the month of Chislev, the 188th year. Apparently this is not the first letter since there is a reference to an earlier letter around 143 BCE, the 169th year mentioned here, when King Demetrius II was the Seleucid leader. All these calendar dates are from the beginning of this Seleucid Empire in 312 BCE. The distress was the capture and murder of Jonathan Apphus, the son of Mattathias in 143 BCE. Jason was the brother of the high priest Onias, who turned on the Maccabees. The destruction and shedding of innocent blood can be found in 1 Maccabees, chapter 1. However, under Simon, they were able to recover and rebuild the Temple. Thus they were asking the Jews in Egypt to celebrate with them the feast of Booths in Chislev. However, the normal time of festival of Tents or Booths, according to Leviticus, chapter 23, was in the 7th month, 1 week after the Day of Atonement. Clearly this work must have been written after 124 BCE.

Two Jews sent to Rome (1 Macc 8:17-8:21)

“Judas Maccabeus chose Eupolemus son of John, son of Accos, and Jason son of Eleazar. He sent them to Rome to establish a friendship and an alliance. They wanted to free themselves from their yoke. They saw that the kingdom of the Greeks was completely enslaving Israel. They went to Rome, a very long journey. They entered the senate chamber and spoke as follows.

‘Judas, who is also called Maccabeus,

And his brothers and the people of the Jews

Have sent us to you

To establish an alliance and peace with you,

So that we may be enrolled as your allies and friends.’

The proposal pleased them.”

Judas Maccabeus sent 2 people on this important mission to Rome. One was Eupolemus, the son of John and grandson of Accos, who was part of a priestly family. It is not clear whether this Eupolemus is the Greek Jewish writer of the 2nd century BCE. The other was Jason, the son of Eleazar, who was the brother of Judas. Thus Jason, a Hellenistic name, was the nephew of Judas. They wanted to establish friendship and an alliance with Rome, which was far away. The emphasis on distance meant that they could form an alliance, according to Mosaic Law, with a far away country, but not with their close neighbors. This sounds a little weird. They believed that the Greeks were putting a yoke on them. However, it was very clear that the Syrians from Antioch, the Seleucid dynasty, were causing all their problems by asking the Jews to Hellenize their way of life. Apparently, these 2 Jewish envoys were successful since the idea pleased the Romans.