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III. Judaea's Relationship to Antiochus
Against the Backdrop of the Egyptian Campaigns
Antiochus IV desired to enlarge his frontier, and he sought the opportunity by a military campaign against Egypt.
This quest for more power (and perhaps financial gain) made the matter of Judaea's loyalty a serious consideration,
for Judaea was the buffer state between these two powers. The political situation of Antiochus IV's realm cannot be
ignored. McCullough comments,
... Antiochus's primary interest in Judea was its location on the southwest border of his kingdom.
It was important to him that there be peace and security in this area. To ensure such peace he looked for the
cooperation of the Jewish high priest, who, as the recognized head of the Palestinian Jews, was to all intents and
purposes a political figure. (23)
During the years 169-67 BC, Antiochus IV carried out his military campaigns against Egypt. This was during the
time when Menelaus served as the High Priest, and tensions with Antioch were at their highest. The religious
persecution of Antiochus IV that came in 167 BC must be seen in light of the events attending the Egyptian campaigns.
Scholars have proposed numerous reasons to explain the actions of Antiochus IV, including his character, attempts at
unification of the empire by establishment of one religion, political motives of reconstituting the decaying power
of his kingdom, his devotion to the Hellenic spirit and culture, and even the idea that Antiochus was not the real
perpetrator but rather men from within the Jewish ranks (as well as a combination of the above).
(24) Tcherikover, however, advances the theory that the real reason for the
religious persecution of Antiochus IV is to be found in the developments that paralleled his military campaigns
against Egypt, most notably the rebellion that began surfacing in Jerusalem.
A discussion of the military campaigns is difficult due to the fact that the number and date of the campaigns is
unclear and a subject of debate among scholars. Furthermore, it is not entirely clear how many times Antiochus IV
actually visited Jerusalem in connection with these military expeditions. There does seem to be some consensus,
however, that Antiochus IV carried out two primary campaigns against Egypt. Tcherikover alerts us that "... the
studies of Otto and Bichermann make it virtually certain that Antiochus' first expedition to Egypt fell in the year
169, and the second in 168." (25) But the number and time of visitations by
Antiochus IV to Jerusalem is a much more problematic issue. There are three reports of a plundering of the temple
by or on the orders of Antiochus IV: I Macc. 1.20-24, I1 Macc. 5.15ff., and Josephus, Antiquities, XII, 5:2-4.
However, the information is unclear on whether or not the temple was plundered on two different occasions. Jagersma
notes that the account in II Macc. 5
... mentions a plundering of the temple, in which Menelaus accompanied Antiochus IV as a guide.
This plundering is said to have taken place after Antiochus' second expedition to Egypt and Jason's revolt. The king
is supposed to have interpreted the revolt as a rebellion by Judaea (II Macc. 5.11) and to have occupied Jerusalem
at that time by force. Thousands of inhabitants are said to have been killed, with others being carried away as
slaves. The plundering of the temple in 168 is supposed to be set against this background.
Tcherikover (186) defends the theory that there were two visitations, upon return from each of the Egyptian
campaigns. The work of Emil Schurer, however, argues the view that Antiochus visited Jerusalem only once in the
160s, viz. in the autumn of 169 BC. (27)
A complete and scholarly resolution of this issue is beyond the scope of this paper, but the position of Tcherikover
seems a bit more plausible. Despite the fact that scholars are quite critical of Josephus on many points (including
Tcherikover himself), he does specifically record two visitations by Antiochus and the other source material does not
contradict this. Furthermore, it is quite reasonable to believe that Antiochus IV would have visited Jerusalem during
each of the Egyptian campaigns. He would have had to travel very near Jerusalem upon his return to Antioch, and he
had a high interest in the affairs of Jerusalem since this was his buffer zone with Egypt. There had been several
previous dealings with Jerusalem and with each of the High Priests (particularly Menelaus) that would have caused him
to keep his guard up in regard so Jerusalem affairs, not to mention his vital interest in the financial potential of
the Temple treasury.
The first Egyptian campaign was successful for Antiochus IV in that he dealt a defeat to Egypt. He appointed two
rulers over the country in different locations to prevent the centralization of power, and then returned to Antioch
by way of Jerusalem. He probably reached Jerusalem at the end of 169 BC. Although relations with Jerusalem had
previously been generally friendly,
... on this visit Antiochus laid hands on the Temple treasures and looted them. I Maccabees
(1.20ff.) also gives a detailed account of the spoilation of the Temple vessels and speaks of the way the place was
desecrated. Naturally this left a feeling of violent hatred for Antiochus among the people, and as it was a time of
war, this inevitably assumed a political coloring. (28)
The increased financial demands of the recent military campaign may have prompted this action against the Temple
treasury. In 168 BC, Antiochus IV carried out another military campaign against Egypt, which resulted in bitter
disappointment for him. On the previous campaign, Ptolemy VI had been forced into a treaty, but quickly broke it,
so that as early as 168 BC Antiochus had begun a new campaign against Egypt. (29)
Once again he was prevailing, only to be thwarted by the arrival of ships from Rome
(note Dan. 11:29-30). Waltke notes,
... the Roman legate C. Popilius Laenas handed Antiochus an ultimatum from the senate, arrogantly
drew a circle around Antiochus, and demanded his answer before he stepped outside the circle. Antiochus was forced
to retreat to Syria within a specified time. (30)
As a bitter and disappointed Antiochus IV marched back to Syria, he did so with the thought that the securing of
Judaea was now more necessary than ever... not only for fear of the now independent Egypt but also the threat of
Rome from the south. No doubt, he hoped to find Jerusalem in good order!
IV. The Religious Persecution of Antiochus Against Judaea
Finding Jerusalem in good order was the very thing that Antiochus IV did not find! A revolt had occurred during
the time that Antiochus was carrying out his second military campaign in Egypt. Jason, the former High Priest of
the line of Zadok, had been living in Transjordan since he had been deposed by Antiochus in favor of Menelaus. But
during the second Egyptian campaign of 168 BC, Jason made an attempt to regain control of Jerusalem. This bold
endeavor may have been due to a false report that Antiochus was now dead (note II Macc. 5:5), and there was certainly
a great deal of sentiment toward Egypt in light of Menelaus' cooperation with Antiochus after the first Egyptian
This revolt led by Jason resulted in a great many people being killed, and with Menelaus having to seek refuge
in the citadel (II Macc. 5:5-6). Nevertheless, Jason was not able to retain control and had to flee Jerusalem back
to Transjordan. Tcherikover argues that control of the city passed to the opponents of the king─the enemies of the
Hellenizers─and that it was these before whom Jason fled. (31) These would be
the Hasidim, a sect that had arisen within Judaism who were intensely loyal to the Mosaic Covenant and against
Hellenization and foreign influence.
Despite the fact that Jason's revolt had not succeeded, the news of the events was not favorably received by
Antiochus. McCullough comments,
Antiochus was not amused by such insurrectionary activities, and on his return journey form
Egypt, doubtless deeply chagrined by his failure there and interpreting events in Judea as a revolt against himself,
he went to Jerusalem to discipline its people in an extremely ruthless way (2 Mac 5:11-14; cf
Dan 11:29-30). (32)
No doubt, in light of the recent events with Egypt and Rome, Antiochus felt compelled to communicate a message
that insurrection would not be tolerated. Such opposition to Hellenization and Seleucid authority could only be
interpreted as sympathy for Egypt, for only from Egypt could the rebels hope to receive support for the liberation
movement. Therefore, upon reaching Jerusalem, he had the walls of the city torn down, slaughtered thousands of Jews,
and sold many more into slavery (II Macc. 5:llff). In addition, he himself entered the Holy of Holies, with Menelaus
as his guide. Upon departing the city, he left Philip, the commander of the Phrygian mercenaries, in charge
(II Macc. 5.22).
Apparently the spirit of rebellion continued so that Apollonius, head of the Moesian mercenaries captured the
city on a Sabbath (when the religious faithful would not fight). "Apollonius had received from Antiochus the
assignment of putting an end once and for all to the danger threatening the peace of the kingdom from the rebellious
Jews." (33) The focus of action now shifted to the events connected with the
Among the measures taken by Appollonius to secure the city's loyalty to the Seleucid king, were
two which totally changed the status of Jerusalem: the erection of the citadel known by its Greek designation, akra,
which was made into the center of the new polis, and the dispatching of a katoikia, i.e., a colony of foreign
soldiers, inside Jerusalem. The introduction of the katoikia was a particularly bitter blow. It marked the beginning
of mass opposition which very soon turned into a general rebellion. Many examples in Greek and Roman history bear
witness that the establishment of a katoikia, or cleruchy, of soldiers in a quiet town meant its total ruin.
These soldiers certainly had no intention of slighting what they considered to be the cult of
a local god, yet, on the other hand, they did not want to give up their own religious customs and their traditional
deities. Since their residence was the akra, which was also the new center of the polis of Antioch-at-Jerusalem,
they were obviously regarded as permanent citizens of the polis, whether they had obtained full citizenship or were
annexed to it as foreigners accorded the status of permanent residents. These new inhabitants of Antioch-at-Jerusalem
desired to worship in the Temple the deities who were familiar to them as well: first and foremost the supreme Syrian
god Basal Shamin and the Syrian goddess known under different names such as Anath, Allat, etc. The worship of the god
of wine, Dushara, identified by the Greeks with Dionysus, may also have been set up in the Temple. Concurrently with
Syrian gods, Syrian customs were also introduced into the Temple. The author of II Maccabees (6:4) attests that the
Temple filled with prostitutes in religious rites is not typical of the Greek religion whereas it was a permanent
feature in the cult of the Syrian goddess. It follows, therefore, that this custom was introduced into the Temple not
as a result of Antiochus' persecutions but some time earlier, just after the establishment of the Syrian katoikia.
These actions connected with the Akra, as carried out by Apollonius, only served to incite the more conservative
elements of the Jewish society to further rebellion. The pollution of the Temple of the Lord by Gentiles worshiping
other deities and using sacred prostitutes was too extreme. Consequently, there was a flight among the Jews out of
Jerusalem following the actions of Apollonius in 168-67 BC.
But the abandonment of the Temple by the Jewish populace was not favorably looked upon by Antiochus IV. Up until
this point, his persecutions upon Judaea had been mostly political in nature, and no action was taken to declare
illegal the Mosaic Law or religion of the Jews. Now, however, it was becoming more and more obvious that the Jewish
religion itself was detrimental to the unification of the realm. McCullough adds an interesting thought:
As had been noted earlier, this was a departure from Seleucid religious policy, and it has to be
interpreted in light of conditions in Judea. As Antiochus presumably had limited knowledge of Jewish religious
customs, he must have been advised by some person or persons that the religious peculiarities of the Jews lay behind
the recent troubles in Jerusalem, and that, by banning such practices, there was a good chance that tranquility could
be established in Judea. (35)
Thus, about a year after Apollonius' political measures of establishing the Akra, Antiochus IV issued down orders
for religious persecution (i.e., in December of 167 BC). This time of the persecutory decrees is known as the period
of the Gezerot.
According to II Macc. 6:1, Antiochus sent a special emissary to Judaea to carry out the decree "in order to force
the Jews to transgress the laws of their fathers and not to live according to God's commandments." McCullough notes,
Here the Jewish ritual was prohibited (1 Mac 1:45-6), and the sacred precincts were formally given
over, on the fifteenth of Chislev, 167 BC, to the worship of Zeus Olympios (1 Mac 1:54; 2 Mac 6:2), whose Aramaic
designation may have been 'Lord of heaven' (b'l šmyn.). The main structure of the temple seems to have been
left intact, as well as the altar of burnt offering, although upon the latter a small pagan altar was erected (1 Mac
1:59; 4:44). It is generally assumed that this pagan object is the 'desolating sacrilege' of 1 Mac 1:54 (cf
Dan 11:31). In addition to this altar we might have expected that
either a statue of Zeus or some acceptable symbol of Zeus was erected, but this is nowhere specifically mentioned
(cf M Taanith 4.6). (36)
The persecution not only involved a complete abomination of the Temple and the altar, but copies of Torah were
burned, and Sabbath keeping and circumcision were forbidden. Furthermore, the Jews were forced to celebrate the
king's birthday every month and to participate in the festal procession in honor of Dionysus. High places and altars
on which swine and other animals were to be sacrificed were erected throughout Judaea, and inspectors were appointed
by the king to made sure these measures were carried out.
As a result, the famous Maccabean revolt ensued. Three years later, the Temple could be rededicated at an opportune
moment. McCullough explains:
Seleucid armies had now been defeated three times, and doubtless Judas knew that most of the state's
remaining military resources were involved, like Antiochus himself, in Syria's eastern campaign, it was a propitious
time to recover the temple, and Judas acted accordingly (1 Mac 4:36-61; 2 Mac 10:1-8; Ant XII, 316-26). Some of the
soldiers were derailed to block any effort on the part of the Seleucid garrison in the Acra to interfere with the
Jewish plan, which, in fact, seems to have proceeded without let or hindrance. Priests were chosen to cleanse the
sanctuary, in which connection Menelaus is nowhere mentioned. The pagan altar was removed, and a completely new altar
erected. Necessary repairs to the structures in the temple area were made and new vessels for the service fabricated.
On the twenty-fifth of Chislev 164 BC the renovated temple was formally dedicated to the service of Israel's God,
three years after it had been taken over by Antiochus in 167 BC. (37)
The victory of rededicating the Temple was well-timed, for Antiochus IV was to die shortly thereafter, having been
engaged in campaigns in Parthia and Armenia.
He retired to Babylon and then to Tabae (Isfahan) in Persia. Here, having heard of the successes
of the Maccabees in restoring the temple worship at Jerusalem, he died insane in 164 B.C.
The period from 200 BC to 164 BC was one of the most turbulent periods of Jewish history, and certainly Antiochus
IV Epiphanes played a key role in this era. The tensions connected with international politics and the growth of
Hellenization came to a climax under his reign. That he was an evil man, no one can doubt. The difficulties and
persecutions that he brought down upon the Jewish people will mark him forever as a despicable person. Nevertheless,
one important matter needs to be clarified and expounded in the conclusion to this paper, which revolves around a
simple question. What happened during that final year (167 BC) to change things from political measures carried out
by Apollinius to the religious actions instigated by Antiochus IV?
Tacitus had made a remark that Antiochus IV strove to do away with Jewish belief and introduce Greek customs
(Hist. V.7.4), but he may have relied on some anti-Jewish sources for this opinion, which tends to discredit his
remark. A better explanation lies in the events that transpired within the Akra, a political move but one which had
important ramifications because of the changes that this led to in the sphere of the cult. Tcherikover sees the
Hasidim as the key to understanding the persecution, and insists that they inspired the mounting intoleration by
the Jews. He remarks,
Apollonius' acts had created a rebellion, and the introduction of the Syrian cults onto the
Temple mount had lent a religious odor to the rising. The Jewish faith was faced, not after Antiochus' decree, but
before it, with the alternative of renouncing its existence or of fighting for its life. The Jewish rising, which
had first broken out in natural resistance to Apollonius acts, during the year 168/7 took on the form of a religious
He finds some support for this in the sources (e.g., I Macc. 7.12; cf. 2.29). The fact that they were organized
as a fighting community after the Maccabean revolt (except for the Sabbath, in which they would not bear arms),
suggests that they were activists before the persecutions as well. Hence, the Hasidim were the main factor behind
what Antiochus IV did:
If the revolt was led by the Hasidim, for whom the commandments of the Torah were of the utmost
sanctity, and if devotion to the Mosaic Law was the watchword of the uprising, then that Law had to be extirpated
if the rebellion was to be put down. (40)
The religious persecutions of Antiochus IV in 167 BC can be attributed to many factors, but a reasonable theory
can be built around the mounting antagonism of the Jews as inspired by the Hasidim. In light of the political
tensions with Egypt and Rome to the south, Antiochus IV could not afford to be easy-going in his policies toward
Judaea. The conservative religious community of Jerusalem posed too great a threat to his hand on Jerusalem, and
he resorted to measures he felt would put an end to this threat... he would try to eliminate their faith. Although
God allowed Antiochus to persecute Judaea of that day, He did not allow him to fully carry out his diabolical plans.
22. Ibid., 173.
23. W. Stewart McCullough, The History and Literature of the Palestinian Jews From Cyrus to
24. The latter is the suggestion of Bickermann in his book Der Gott der Makkabäer.
"Bickermann's basic assumption is that Antiochus, a king of Greek education and a pupil of the Epicureans, could
not have been the initiator of the persecution... not Antiochus but the Hellenistic reformers of Jerusalem, the
High Priest Menelaus and his group, were the real initiators of the decrees. Antiochus' function was merely the
abolition of the rule of the Torah in Judaea, and it was the Jewish Hellenizers who filled the formal abolition with
real content" (Tcherikover, 183; cf. I Macc. l.llff.; II Macc. 4.7ff.: 13.4). Tcherikover (184) objects on the basis
that in the sources, we find the association of the persecution with Antiochus' name alone, without a word about
Jason and Menelaus as religious persecutors.
25. Tcherikover, 186.
26. Jagersma, 49.
27. Emil Schurer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.-A.D. 135),
152-53. According to Schurer, there are three reasons for supposing that Antiochus visited Jerusalem twice: (1) an
inference from Dan 11:28-31: (2) statements in I Macc. and II Macc.;
and (3) the account in Josephus Antiquities (XII 5, 2-4). Each of these are analyzed in Schurer's work: "Thus
Daniel clearly refers to two phases of action, one after the campaign of 169 B.C., and one subsequent to that of 168;
but he does not explicitly and concretely refer so the presence of Antiochus in Jerusalem on either occasion" (152).
With regard to the accounts in Maccabees I and II, he notes that II Macc. makes no mention of the 'first' campaign,
and the account in I Macc. 1:20-3 is markedly similar to that in II Macc. 5:11-21 (taking τήν όευτέρον άφοόον in
II Macc. 5:1 as a reference to the second phase of the campaign of 180/69 BC). Finally, he notes that Josephus is
the only source to actually speak explicitly of two visits by Antiochus to Jerusalem, but his account is dismissed
rather quickly because "his narrative is filled with confusions, apparently resulting from an over-hasty conflation
of earlier documents" (153). Schurer concludes: "In consequence, it must be concluded that Antiochus visited Jerusalem
in 169 B.C., and that the attempted coup by Jason took place previously in that year. There is no reason to doubt
that the 'Mysarch', Apollonius (the name given in 2 Mac. 5:24), arrived in 167 B.C." (153). This reconstruction leads
to a rejection of the hypothesis of Tcherikover which relied on the attempted coup of Jason (at the time of the 2nd
campaign) as a primary factor leading to the persecutions of 167 BC.
28. Tcherikover, 186-87.
29. Jagersma, 44.
30. Bruce K. Waltke, "Antiochus IV Epiphanes," in ISBE, 1:145. Cf. Polybius xxix.2.1-4; 27.1-8; Livy
xlv.12.1-6; Diodorus xxxi.2: Appian Syr. 66; Justinus xxxiv.3.
31. Tcherikover, 187-89.
32. McCullough, 114.
33. Tcherikover, 188.
34. A. Schalit, gen. ed., The World History of the Jewish People, vol. 6, 134-36. Cf. I
Macc. 1.33 and Josephus (Antiquities XII, 251) for an account of the building of this Akra. Regarding this
structure, McCullough comments, "A hill overlooking the temple was fortified and garrisoned, to become the Acra,
which was held by a Seleucid force until 141 BC (1 Mac 1:33-4)" (114). Elsewhere he adds, "The location of the
Acre is uncertain. One view is that it was on the western hill, opposite the temple area, overlooking the Tyropoen
valley; another places it on the southeast hill. See W. A. Shotwell, BASOR, 176 (Dec. 1964), 10-19"
(McCullough, ftnt.13, p 239). Schurer's work also contains a footnote on the location of the Akra: "It is probable
that it lay on the southern spur of the eastern hill; south, that is to say, of the Temple mount" (ftnt. 39, p. 154).
He includes fuller discussion and takes note of some discrepancy with Shotwell.
35. W. Stewart McCullough, The History and Literature of the Palestinian Jews from Cyrus to
Herod, 115. Cf. the Ency. Jud. for a statement of agreement: "It would seem, therefore, that religious
oppression appeared to Antiochus to be the only means of achieving political stability in Palestine, since it was
that country's religion, if anything, that was out of place in a predominantly hellenized empire" (3:74).
36. McCullough, 115.
37. Ibid., 118-19.
38. Bruce K. Waltke, "Antiochus IV Epiphanes," in ISBE, 1:146. Cf. 1 Macc. 6:1-16; Appian Syr. 66;
Polybius xxi.ll; xxxi.9; Josephus Ant. xii.8.lff.
39. Tcherikover, 196.
40. Ibid., 198.
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