“Then the king of the north
He shall throw up
He shall take
A well-fortified city.
The forces of the south
Shall not stand.
Not even his picked troops
There shall be
No strength to resist.
But he who comes
Shall take the actions
No one shall withstand him.
He shall take a position
In the beautiful land.
All of it shall be
In his power.
He shall set his mind
With the strength
Of his whole kingdom.
He shall bring terms of peace.
He shall perform them.
In order to destroy the kingdom,
He shall give him
A woman in marriage.
But it shall not succeed.
It shall not be to his advantage.”
Then the king of the north, King Antiochus III (222-187 BCE), took possession of the beautiful land of Israel or Judah. He would set up a siege against the fortified city. The southern forces from Egypt would not be able to stand up against him, even their special troops were not good enough. No one had the strength to resist. He set his mind to it and he was able to do it. Then he arranged a peace treaty. King Antiochus gave his daughter Cleopatra to the young King Ptolemy V (204-181 BCE) in marriage in 194 BCE, but it did not work.
“Menelaus also joined King Antiochus and Lysias. With utter hypocrisy he urged King Antiochus on, not for the sake of his country’s welfare, but because he thought that he would be established in office. But the king of kings aroused the anger of King Antiochus against the scoundrel. When Lysias informed him that this man was to blame for all the trouble, he ordered them to take him to Beroea. He was to be put to death by the method which is customary in that place. There is a tower there, fifty cubits high, full of ashes. It has a rim running around it on all sides that inclines precipitously into the ashes. There they all push to destruction anyone guilty of sacrilege or notorious for other crimes. By such a fate it came about that Menelaus the lawbreaker died, without even burial in the earth. This was eminently just. He had committed many sins against the altar whose fire and ashes were holy. Thus he met his death in ashes.”
Menelaus was not mentioned in 1 Maccabees, but was the high priest in Jerusalem here during the time of Judas Maccabeus from 171-161 BCE. He had purchased the high priest by outbidding Jason under King Antiochus IV. Now, he was urging on King Antiochus V, his son, to make sure he stayed in office. Somehow, the king of kings, a reference to God, aroused the anger of the young King Antiochus V, after Lysias, his guardian, informed the king that Menelaus was the cause of all the problems in Jerusalem. They sent him to Beroea, which was in northern Syria. There they had a Persian execution plan with a tower about 75 foot high filled with ashes that had a rim around the top of it that leaned into the ashes. They would push people into the ashes, like a farm silo that would suffocate them to death. Thus Menelaus, the lawbreaker, justly died in ashes without a burial because he had committed many sins against the holy altar.
“King Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt. He was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still alive, King Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his ancestors. He would take him for his friend and entrust him with public affairs. Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him. He urged her to advise the youth to save himself. After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son. But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant.
Have pity on me.
I carried you nine months in my womb.
I nursed you for three years.
I have reared you.
I have brought you up to this point in your life.
I have taken care of you.
I beg you,
To look at the heaven and the earth.
See everything that is in them!
Recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.
In the same way,
The human race came into being.
Do not fear this butcher!
Prove worthy of your brothers!
So that in God’s mercy
I may get you back again with your brothers.’”
King Antiochus IV was upset at the way things were going. As there was only 1 son left, he urged him to give up his traditional ways. He promised to make him rich and powerful in his kingdom. The son would not listen. Then the king urged the mother to try and convince her son to save his life. Instead she urged him on to resist the king. In a moving passage, she spoke about carrying him for 9 months, nursing him for 3 years, and then bringing him up. Now she wanted him to recognize the creator God in heaven who made the human race. She wanted him to be worthy of his brothers. She wanted him to accept death so that God’s mercy would bring him back to his brothers. These seven sons were like suicide bombers willing to die for the laws of their God. The theology of creation and the afterlife predominated in their views of the ancestral laws. Notice that she spoke in their native language.
“Not long after this, King Antiochus sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their ancestors. He wanted them to no longer live by the laws of God. He was also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem. He was to call it the temple of the Olympian Zeus. He also was to call the temple in Gerizim the temple of Zeus, the Friend of Strangers, as did the people who lived in that place.”
King Antiochus IV sent an Athenian elder senator to compel the Jews to give up the laws of their ancestors and their God. He wanted to pollute the Temple in Jerusalem by calling it the Temple of the Olympian Zeus. He was putting in an altar and statue of Zeus in the Temple. This was a strong enforcement procedure. In 1 Maccabeus, it was more like a unification of worship in the Seleucid Empire, while here it is specific to Samaria and Jerusalem. The temple at Mount Gerizim of the Samaritans had the added title Zeus, Friend of Strangers.
“In his malice toward the Jewish citizens, King Antiochus sent Apollonius, the captain of the Mysians, with an army of twenty-two thousand. The king commanded him to kill all the grown men. They were to sell the women and boys as slaves. When this man arrived in Jerusalem, he pretended to be peaceably disposed. He waited until the holy Sabbath day. Then, finding the Jews not at work, he ordered his men to parade under arms. He put to the sword all those who came out to see them. Then he rushed into the city with his armed warriors. He killed great numbers of people.”
As in 1 Maccabees, chapter 1, King Antiochus IV sent a “chief collector” to Jerusalem. There it was 2 years later, but here there is no exact time period. There he was unnamed tax collector, but here it is Apollonius, who was a Mysian of Asia Minor with a huge army. However, in both stories there is the idea that he came peacefully, but then struck the people of the city. Here there is the added dimension that he did this destruction on the Sabbath when the Jews were not working. In both cases, he killed many people and took others into slavery.
“When a false rumor arose that King Antiochus was dead, Jason took no fewer than a thousand men. He suddenly made an assault on the city. When the troops upon the wall had been forced back, at last the city was taken. Menelaus took refuge in the citadel. Jason kept relentlessly slaughtering his compatriots, not realizing that success at the cost of one’s kindred is the greatest misfortune. He imagined that he was setting up trophies of victory over enemies and not over compatriots. He did not, however, gain control of the government. In the end he got only disgrace from his conspiracy. He fled again into the country of the Ammonites. Finally he met a miserable end. He was accused before Aretas the ruler of the Arabs. He had to flee from city to city, pursued by everyone, hated as a rebel against the laws, and abhorred as the executioner of his country and his compatriots. He was cast ashore in Egypt. There he who had driven many from their own country into exile died in exile. He embarked to go to the Lacedaemonians in hope of finding protection because of their kinship. He who had cast out many to lie unburied had no one to mourn for him. He had no funeral of any sort and no place in the tomb of his ancestors.”
Jason, the former high priest, thought that the Syrian King Antiochus IV had died. Since Jason was pro-Egypt, he wanted to take back Jerusalem for them. He attacked Jerusalem with 1,000 troops. He was initially successful as he forced the high priest Menelaus to flee to the Seleucid citadel in Jerusalem. However, like the late 18th century French revolutionaries, he started killing his fellow Israelites in Jerusalem. He thought that he was killing the enemy but it was his own Jewish compatriots. He was not successful. He was once again driven into the land of Ammonites, east of the Jordan River. However, the Arabs pursued him from country to country. He finally made his way to Egypt but he was not accepted there either. Finally, he died in Sparta where no one mourned for him since he had no funeral or ancestral tomb.
“About this time, King Antiochus made his second invasion of Egypt. It happened that, for almost forty days, there appeared over all the city golden-clad cavalry charging through the air, in companies fully armed with lances and drawn swords. These troops of cavalry had drawn up. There were attacks and counterattacks made on this side and on that side. There were brandishing of shields, massing of spears, hurling of missiles, the flash of golden trappings, and armor of all kinds. Therefore everyone prayed that the apparition might prove to have been a good omen.”
There is some confusion about the 1st and 2nd invasion of King Antiochus IV into Egypt. The first attack would have been in 170 BCE when he conquered Egypt, but left it with a puppet government in order to please Rome. In 168 BCE, 2 years later, he invaded again. Once again, the Roman legate told him to stop. He drew a line in the sand. If he went beyond that, Rome would declare war on the Seleucid dynasty. Was this simply 2 phases of the same war or 2 wars? At this time there was some kind of apparition that lasted 40 days in Jerusalem. People saw golden clad cavalry fighting with shields, spears, and armor. Everyone was hoping that this was a good omen.
“For this reason, not only Jews, but many also of other nations, were grieved and displeased at the unjust murder of Onias. When the king returned from the region of Cilicia, the Jews in the city appealed to him with regard to the unreasonable murder of Onias. The Greeks shared their hatred of the crime. Therefore King Antiochus was grieved at heart and filled with pity. He wept because of the moderation and good conduct of the deceased. Inflamed with anger, he immediately stripped off the purple robe from Andronicus. He tore off his garments. He led him around the whole city to that very place where he had committed the outrage against Onias. There he dispatched the bloodthirsty fellow. The Lord thus repaid him with the punishment he deserved.”
The killing of the deposed high priest Onias was a semi-official act of the king. The Jews and many other nations were upset about this murder of Onias. After all, Andronicus had tricked Onias into coming out of a pagan sanctuary Temple. When King Antiochus IV returned from Cilicia, the southern coastal region of Asia Minor, he was upset and angry. He too wept for the good man. He immediately stripped Andronicus of his purple robes, the robes of authority. He tore his garments and brought him to the place where the outrage had taken place. Then he killed him so that he was given the punishment that the Lord said that he deserved. Here the king of Syria implements the will of God and brings justice to the death of the former Jerusalem high priest.
“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.
“Then Ptolemy wrote a report about these things that he sent to King Antiochus. He wanted the king to send him troops in order to turn over to him the cities and the country. He sent other men to Gazara to do away with John. He sent letters to the captains asking them to come to him so that he might give them silver, gold, and gifts. He sent other troops to take possession of Jerusalem and the temple hill. But someone ran ahead and reported to John at Gazara that his father and brothers had perished. He told him.
‘He has sent men to kill you also.’
When John heard this, he was greatly shocked. He seized the men who came to destroy him. Then he killed them. He had found out that they were seeking to destroy him.”
Ptolemy wrote a report to King Antiochus VII telling him what had happened. He wanted some help from the king. Ptolemy then sent men to kill his brother-in-law John. He told the captains that he had gold, silver, and gifts for them. He sent other troops to take over Jerusalem. However, the plot to kill John failed as someone told him what was happening. Instead, he killed the men coming to get him. The story ends here without any resolution. However, it seems that John won out, but it is not clear what happened to Ptolemy.