Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Beginning of the Rebellion

The conflict between the Hellenists and the Hasidim came to a climax during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.), leading to the Maccabean revolt. Antiochus IV had been in Rome as a hostage because of his father’s military defeats. Before his death Seleucus Philopater had sent his son to Rome in exchange for his brother Antiochus IV. This twelve years spent in Rome influenced the young Antiochus greatly.

antiochus_iv_epiphanesAfter leaving Rome Antiochus went to Athens where he served as chief magistrate until Seleucus IV Philopater was murdered by Heliodorus. Heliodorus ruled as regent for Demetrius, the second son of Seleucus IV. When Antiochus IV heard of his brother’s death and that Heliodorus had seized the throne, he arranged financial support King Eumenes II of Pergamum. When he arrived in Syria, Antiochus began to flatter and bribe everyone involved in arbitrating the dispute over who should be king.

Although he was finally named king, Antiochus took over a troubled kingdom. The Seleucids were nearly out of money and continually harassed by Rome to the west and the Parthinians to the east. Antiochus dealt with the first problem by robbing temples and shrines throughout the kingdom, including Jerusalem. In order to develop some stability in the kingdom, he encouraged Hellenism throughout the kingdom, usually by adding Zeus to the local pantheon.

Antiochus angered the Jews by appointing high-priests who had bribed him for the office. He appointed Jason as high-priest in 175 in exchange for a bribe (which was larger than the bribe offered by Onias III, the high-priest antiochus_iv_epiphanes_1appointed by Antiochus’ predecessor.) Three years later, Jason was replaced by Menelaus, an enemy of Onias III, who happened to offer an even larger bribe to Antiochus.  Both Jason and Menelaus were extremely lax with respect to Jewish law; Jason even petitioned Antiochus to re-found Jerusalem as a Greek city-state with the name Antioch and built a gymnasium at the foot of the temple mount.

Jason attacked Menelaus in Jerusalem, forcing Antiochus to put down the rebellion with a show of force. Antiochus responded to this Jewish in-fighting by outlawing distinctive Jewish religious practices and began a program of persecution of the Jews with the intent of insulting and offending the Jews in every way possible. This included sacrificing a pig to Zeus in the Temple, the “abomination that causes desolation” from Daniel 9.

Antiochus is often described as a “Hellenistic zealot” who sought to impose Hellenism on the “faithful” Jewish people. That is the impression one gets from reading 1 Maccabees, but the book is not necessarily “objective history.” There is really no evidence that indicates Antiochus was any more Hellenistic that any other Greek ruler, nor was his method of suppressing the Jewish nationalistic feelings particularly extreme by the standards of the day.

While these outrageous actions of Antiochus were the direct causes of the Maccabean revolt in 164 B.C.E., the tension between completely Hellenized Jews (Menelaus and Jason) and somewhat Hellenized Jews (Onias III, and the later Hasmoneans) was present in the period prior to Antiochus’ offensive actions.

There will be a range of responses from the Jews to the highly offensive policies of Antiochus and his political descendants, from the armed rebellion of the Maccabeans to passive martyrdom of the seven brothers in 4 Maccabees. Some groups withdrew from society to study their sacred Scripture (the Essenes, some Pharisees), others developed elaborate apocalyptic hopes for God’s immediate intervention. Others give up any resistance to the empire and ally themselves with the emperor who commits abominations.

What is remarkable is these are still the kinds of options available to modern Christians in a post-Christian America. What are the dangers of joining the empire, what are the risks of speaking out against the “abominations”? How can the various responses to Antiochus be a guide (or a warning) to Christian responses to present anti-Christian governments?



11 thoughts on “Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Beginning of the Rebellion

  1. In regards to joining the empire or not joining the empire whatever decision was chose had significant impact. If one speaks out against the abominations as put out by Antiochus, they most certainly had the opportunity to be killed. As you look in history, this was common as was portrayed by the Greeks, which was either conform or be forced to conform (Tomasino 109, Long 18). However, not revolting means you ally with the very same emperor you despise greatly. And if you do ally with the oppressive emperor, how do you know that the emperor won’t turn on you or kill you? While as mentioned within the post, perhaps the most adequate response may have been to withdraw, and leave society completely in order to avoid the tumultuous hold, put down on the Jews by Antiochus. A decision like always would have to be made by the Jews and figuring out the right one would have been hard to determine in my opinion. The oppressive nature displayed by Antiochus would only be temporary however; as, the Jews looked to revolt against him.

  2. The time of Antiochus Epiphanies reign makes me wonder what would happen if an anti Christian person became president of America. Would we see something like cross burnings or bible burnings as a federal mandate (instead of pig sacrifices on the altar) or would the multiple branches of government prevent such an extreme act? Our response to such a crisis should not be like that of the Maccabean revolt, but rather more like the many underground Christian movements that exist throughout the persecuted world.

  3. The first lesson or warning this can bring to a christian audience is that if you try to use violence to gain a means to an end likely you will be crushed, and crushed hard as an example. The spread of Christianity in the Roman world was not brought to people by sword but the word of the persecuted people. In a post christian America we need to go back to our roots, shining light by doing what they did in acts caring for people. Much like the Jews during the revolt and this time what they did was different and it stuck out, kindness was considered weakness and those who followed the law cared for the orphans and widows. Modern America Christianity is about protesting and crying when we dont get our way or our choice of president. The differences between the Jews at this point and us now is we have control over what is said in our churches, we have control over who we give our time to, and we have control over who we are in the face of any elected official without fear of death.

  4. The fact of the matter is that regardless of what time period you are living in, government cannot dictate what you personally believe. I think that the dangers of joining such an empire include a desensitization to the immoral belief system that some governments have…as well as an allegiance or maybe idolization to an authority figure other than God. I think Dave nailed it when talking about how the biggest difference between the Jews of the second temple period and Christian Americans is that we do have control over our “religious” behaviors…That being said, as of right now, we do not live in an America where its government is anti-God. So the only repercussion of publically proclaiming one’s faith would be more of a social judgement than a legal issue. If someday America does get to that point where it is anti-Christianity, then who knows how Christians will be persecuted…the important thing is to not “join the empire” in hopes to keep you, your family, and your hidden faith safe.

    • I think that it Christians in America have found themselves in a unique position. As Kate said, as of now we live in a country that maintains several freedoms that give us the ability to practice whatever religion we so choose. Our government is not anti-God, therefore, we have every ability and resource to pursue religion in whatever method that may be. However, there are consequences of speaking out against “abominations.” In today’s society, it seems like whenever Christians speak out against controversial social issues, they are instantly labeled as being judgmental, which is a major turn off for most people. At the same time, we do not want to join what the government says is legal just because we do not want to speak out against it. There certainly needs to be a balance in issues such as these.

      • This is also my biggest concern in the American culture. I do not worry about facing death or political persecution. Many also shouldn’t really be too bothered by the social judgment of it all. If we Christians place our hope in the future, it truly should not matter if people think we are naive, dumb, or judgmental. However, where this does become and issue is when we see people turned away from the faith because of this conception. When we get into these issues, it becomes less about us and more about our ministry to the lost. It is very difficult, and I’m sure we could debate it for hours where the line is on this. How can we be genuine and stick up for our faith and still not put up barriers for people to join the church?

  5. To me it seems that Antiochus was just a foreshadowing of what would happen during World War II when Hitler was in power. Antiochus did everything in his power to insult and offend the Jews while Hitler did more than just offend and insult them. Hitler went as far as to kill as many Jews as possible and try to turn the all of Europe against them. Thankfully, there were countries who, with their allies, were able to stand up against him and defeat him.

  6. It’s interesting that the conflict in Jerusalem started from the inside. The pattern of turning away from God in the Old Testament makes a definitive appearance in the account of Jason and Menelaus. As the religious leadership in Jerusalem focused more and more on power and money, the focus on proper worship was lost, and the Jewish faith in the city was diminished. The division caused by political religion brought violence into the city, and eventually caught the attention of the outsiders, bringing even greater consequences in the form of the attack on Jerusalem and the “abomination that causes desolation.”
    In the Church today, I believe that many of our evangelical and structural hindrances originate with the same sort of pattern. A lost focus, a shift to political priorities, and a greater concern with who’s in what position instead of whether or not we’re all following God can lead to trouble. It’s important for Christians to remember that the structure of the Church is for our benefit, but not for the furthering of a man-made agenda. Also, in the same way that the division in Jerusalem attracted the negative attention of Antiochus IV, the division in the Church today is causing people to abandon the faith, or never even give it a chance in the first place.

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