The letter of Lysias to the Jews (2 Macc 11:16-11:21)

“King Antiochus’ letter ran thus.

‘King Antiochus to his brother Lysias,


Now that our father has gone on to the gods,

We desire that the subjects of the kingdom

Be undisturbed in caring for their own affairs.

We have heard that the Jews

Do not consent to our father’s change to Greek customs

But they prefer their own way of living.

They ask that their own customs be allowed them.

Accordingly, since we choose

That this nation also should be free from disturbance,

Our decision is that their temple be restored to them,

That they shall live

According to the customs of their ancestors.

You will do well, therefore,

To send word to them.

Give them pledges of friendship,

So that they may know our policy.

They may be of good cheer,

Let them go on happily in the conduct of their own affairs.’”

The young King Antiochus V noted the death of his father, King Antiochus IV, since he had gone on to the gods. He did not want people in the kingdom disturbed. He had learned that the Jews did not like the Greek customs imposed on them by his father, but they preferred their own customs. The 10 year old king decided that the Temple should be restored. They should be allowed to follow the customs of their ancestors. He was pledging his friendship so that they should be of good cheer and happily conduct their own affairs. Everything seems to be in good order with this agreement.

The first campaign of Lysias (2 Macc 11:1-11:4)

“Very soon after this, Lysias, the king’s guardian and kinsman, who was in charge of the government, being vexed at what had happened, gathered about eighty thousand infantry and all his cavalry. He came against the Jews. He intended to make the city a home for Greeks. He intended to levy tribute on the temple as he did on the sacred places of the other nations. He intended to put up the high priesthood for sale every year. He took no account whatever of the power of God, but was elated with his ten thousands of infantry, his thousands of cavalry, and his eighty elephants.”

Once again, this is similar to 1 Maccabees, chapter 4. However, there are some minor discrepancies. The chronology seems to be different here since this probably occurred before the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. This was a good description of Lysias, since he had been the guardian of the young King Antiochus V. He was, in fact, in charge of the government. He did not like that the Jews had been successful in the battle of Emmaus against Gorgias, as in 1 Maccabees, chapter 4. Here he has 80,000 infantry instead of 70,000. There is no number given to the cavalry here, but there in the other description it was 5,000. Here there is a mention of 80 elephants that was not mentioned there. Here there is the explicit mention that he wanted Jerusalem to be a Greek city that was not said in 1 Maccabees. Here there is a greater emphasis on the Hellenization of Jerusalem. He hoped that more money would come from the annual selling of the position of high priest as in the other pagan temples throughout the kingdom. Lysias was relying on his troops, cavalry, and elephants, and not the power of God that the Jews were relying on.

Simon and Onias (2 Macc 4:1-4:6)

“The previously mentioned Simon, who had informed about the money against his own country, slandered Onias. Simon said that it was Onias who had incited Heliodorus. Onias had been the real cause of the misfortune. Simon dared to designate as a plotter against the government the man who was the benefactor of the city, the protector of his fellow countrymen, and a zealot for the laws. His hatred progressed to such a degree that even murders were committed by one of Simon’s approved agents. Onias recognized that the rivalry was serious. Apollonius son of Menestheus, and governor of Coele-syria and Phoenicia, was intensifying the malice of Simon. So he appealed to the king, not accusing his compatriots but having in view the welfare, both public and private, of all the people. He saw that without the king’s attention public affairs could not again reach a peaceful settlement. Simon would not stop his folly.”

Simon, the one who complained about the money in the Temple treasury, then slandered Onias. He said the Onias was the cause of the problem when he incited Heliodorus to look for the money. Simon was calling the kettle black. He was the one who started the investigation, but he was saying the Onias was the one who started the problem. Some of Simon’s men committed murder. Onias realized that Apollonius, the governor of the area, was siding with Simon. He decided that he would go directly to the king. Otherwise, there was no way to stop Simon. By this time Onias and Heliodorus were good friends, which bothered Simon also.

Simon takes command (1 Macc 14:41-14:43)

“The Jews and their priests decided

That Simon should be their leader

And high priest forever,

Until a trustworthy prophet should arise.

He should be governor over them.

He should take charge of the sanctuary.

He should appoint officials over its tasks.

He should appoint officials over the country.

He should appoint officials over the weapons and the strongholds.

He should take charge of the sanctuary.

He should be obeyed by all.

All contracts in the country should be written in his name.

He should be clothed in purple and wear gold.”

This decree said that the Jews and the priests had decided that Simon and his family would be in charge forever. However, there was one caveat that a trustworthy prophet might rise up and challenge one of his descendents. He was the governor and the high priest combining the political and religious authority. He was in charge of the sanctuary as well as all the tasks of the government and the army. Every contract with another country had to be written in his name. He was to wear purple and gold. He was like a modern day appointed dictator benevolent ruler.

The dispute between Lysias and Philip (1 Macc 6:55-6:59

Lysias heard that Philip, whom King Antiochus while still living had appointed to bring up his son Antiochus to be king, had returned from Persia and Media. Philip had the forces that had gone with the king so that he was trying to seize control of the government. So Lysias quickly gave orders to withdraw. He said to the king, the commanders of the forces, and to the men.

‘Daily we grow weaker.

Our food supply is scant.

The place against which we are fighting is strong.

The affairs of the kingdom press urgently upon us.

Now then let us come to terms with these people.

Make peace with them.

Make peace with their entire nation.

Let us agree to let them live by their laws as they did before.

For it was on account of their laws that we abolished

That they became angry

That they did all these things.’”

Lysias heard that Philip was coming back from Persia. Philip had been appointed by the late King Antiochus IV to take care of his son King Antiochus V, who happened to be with Lysias here. Lysias knew that Philip had all the eastern forces with him. Thus he wanted to go back to meet Philip to prevent him from seizing control of the Syrian part of the government. He wanted his forces to withdraw. He gave a little speech to the king, the troop commanders, and the men. He told them that they were getting weaker by the day. Besides, the Jews had strong fortifications. On top of that, there were other pressing problems in the kingdom. He wanted to have a peace treaty. He wanted to let the Jews live by their own laws like before. That would make the Jews happy and end the rebellion.