The death of the high priest Menelaus (2 Macc 13:3-13:8)

“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.

Menelaus is acquitted (2 Macc 4:43-4:50)

“Charges were brought against Menelaus about this incident in Jerusalem. When the king came to Tyre, three men sent by the senate presented the case before him. But Menelaus, already as good as beaten, promised a substantial bribe to Ptolemy son of Dorymenes to win over the king. Therefore Ptolemy, taking the king aside into a colonnade as if for refreshment, induced the king to change his mind. He acquitted Menelaus, the cause of all the trouble, of the charges against him. Meanwhile, the king sentenced to death those unfortunate men, who would have been freed un-condemned if they had pleaded even before the Scythians. So those who had spoken for the city, the villages, and the holy vessels quickly suffered the unjust penalty. Therefore even the Tyrians, showing their hatred of the crime, provided magnificently for their funeral. But Menelaus, because of the greed of those in power, remained in office. He grew in wickedness. He had become the chief plotter against his fellow citizens.”

There were charges brought against Menelaus concerning this whole affair of Lysimachus in Jerusalem. King Antiochus IV came to Tyre to hear the case. 3 men from the Jewish Senate presented the case before the king. Menelaus bribed Ptolemy, the king’s friend, who had been the governor of Cyprus. Thus he put in the fix with the king so that the 3 accusers were condemned and killed, while Menelaus was acquitted. Those who spoke for the city, the villages, and the villages lost their lives, while Menelaus remained in office and grew in wickedness. He continued to plot against his fellow citizens. This was worse justice than that of the barbarian Scythians in southern Russia. Apparently these Scythians were considered the worst kind of people at that time. The locals in Tyre were also upset so they provided a wonderful funeral for the 3 men from Jerusalem, although the 3 men had been condemned to death by the king.