Factors Leading to the Maccabean Revolt (Part 1)

Antiochus IV Epiphanes CoinEarly in his reign, Antiochus IV Epiphanes was involved in a dispute over the high priesthood in Jerusalem. Onias III was the legitimate High Priest. His pro-Hellenism brother Jason traveled to the newly established Antiochus and bribed the king to be appointed as High Priest (1 Mac 1:13-15, 2 Mac 4:7-15). In order to please Antiochus, Jason pledge to build a gymnasium near the temple and encourage the Jews to become more “Greek.” The gymnasium was popular, even among some of the priests who left their duties to play in the games, which were dedicated to Hermes.

As offensive as these things were to the orthodox Jews, for some the Hellenization did not go far enough. For this reason, Menelaus (with the support of the Tobiad party) went to Antiochus and offered the king a larger bribe (300 more talents than Jason) for the office. Antiochus immediately declared Menelaus High Priest and sent Syrian troops with him in order to oust Jason from Jerusalem.  Menelaus was not even of a priestly family and was only interested in the priesthood for political power and wealth. “Apparently, religion was to Antiochus nothing but a tool, a convenient means to an end” (Seow, Daniel, 183).

Menelaus had some serious problems as well.  Since most of the Jews did not support him as high priest, he had trouble raising the money to pay Antiochus his bribe.  As a result he was forced to sell temple items to pay bribes to the king’s agent Andronicus.

Onias III protested: Menelaus was not the real high priest and had no authority to sell anything from the temple, let alone to pay bribes to a Gentile king!  Andronicus was not impressed with his protest and had the true high priest killed (2 Mac 4:33-38, many would include Dan 9:26-27 here as well; For those who assume a second century date for Daniel, this is the “cutting off of the anointed one” in Daniel 9).

2 Maccabees 4:33-35 When Onias became fully aware of these acts, he publicly exposed them, having first withdrawn to a place of sanctuary at Daphne near Antioch. 34 Therefore Menelaus, taking Andronicus aside, urged him to kill Onias. Andronicus came to Onias, and resorting to treachery, offered him sworn pledges and gave him his right hand; he persuaded him, though still suspicious, to come out from the place of sanctuary; then, with no regard for justice, he immediately put him out of the way. 35 For this reason not only Jews, but many also of other nations, were grieved and displeased at the unjust murder of the man.

Menelaus’s robbing of the temple caused riots against his priesthood. Lysimachus, Menelaus brother, led troops against the rioters and killed 3000 people, but was himself killed in the battle. Menelaus was called into account by Antiochus, but managed to bribe his way out of trouble.

2 Maccabees 4:43-50  Charges were brought against Menelaus about this incident. 44 When the king came to Tyre, three men sent by the senate presented the case before him. 45 But Menelaus, already as good as beaten, promised a substantial bribe to Ptolemy son of Dorymenes to win over the king. 46 Therefore Ptolemy, taking the king aside into a colonnade as if for refreshment, induced the king to change his mind. 47 Menelaus, the cause of all the trouble, he acquitted of the charges against him, while he sentenced to death those unfortunate men, who would have been freed uncondemned if they had pleaded even before Scythians. 48 And so those who had spoken for the city and the villages and the holy vessels quickly suffered the unjust penalty. 49 Therefore even the Tyrians, showing their hatred of the crime, provided magnificently for their funeral. 50 But Menelaus, because of the greed of those in power, remained in office, growing in wickedness, having become the chief plotter against his compatriots.

The situation in Judea is one of political chaos as two men vie for the office of High Priest. Their motivation is not to lead Judea in worship, but to obtain wealth and power. Menelaus in particular is portrayed in 2 Maccabees as violent and greedy, willing to do whatever was necessary to maintain his power.

24 thoughts on “Factors Leading to the Maccabean Revolt (Part 1)

  1. This portion of Maccabees is a very sad reflection on religious government. It is such a painful concept to understand that when there is power to be had, power hungry people are quickly drawn to it. Jason wanted Antiochus to give him the role of high priest. So he bribed Antiochus. This is crazy because this shows Jason’s heart. Either he thinks there is no God of Israel or he thinks He has no power. Then in the comical, he who lives by the sword dies by the sword fashion (Matt 26:52), Jason gets out bribed by Menelaus. It is scary to think how much power people try to obtain in religious circles. It definitely reminds me of some of the difficult situations that that have caused people that are close to me to leave church. This is a reflection of a very modern problem. The people do not look at church and see the power of God, they see an opportunity for power for themselves.

  2. Menelaus’ s corrupted motivation for taking the place as high priest is a common characteristic that is prevalent in many churches and authority figures today. Essentially, in the story we are seeing a prime example of power struggle. Now power struggles can happen in any group setting…anywhere from Sunday small group to your working office. However I find Menelaus’s behavior amidst his power struggle to be really be one of the most repulsive. Bribing the king to allow him a position, when he knew he couldn’t afford to pay him? Having absolutely no tie in the Zadok lineage? And selling gold from the temple in order to pay off his bribe? What a dirtball. His behavior certainly did not help the Jews to further their fascination with the Greco-Roman culture, and caused a great self-awareness on the Jew’s part of the apostasy they had committed towards Yahweh. In churches today, I am sure that bribes of money can be offered to people in higher positions, in order for one to get where they want to be. On a less dramatic scale, a bribe today may not always be in the form of a check. It may look like someone offering their ties and connections with other people as a way of advertisement for their church body, etc.

  3. I can’t help but wonder how beat down the Jewish people must have felt at this point in their history. They no longer had a king of their own because Israel had been taken captive. Alongside that, the sacred priesthood had been perverted. What it must have been like to watch as the position of high priest changed hands in such a horrible fashion. It must of been heart breaking for those Jews who tried to retain their traditions. 1 and 2 Maccabees seems to show some of the outcry against all this. I also wonder to what degree does this occur in churches today. How many pastors or elders are motivated more so by the prospect of influence over others than serving our God as they are meant to?

  4. When people talk about ‘corruption’ in early or current forms of the church, it’s interesting to be able to look back at the almost soap-opera like drama the Jews went through with the struggle to have a righteous high priest. Between selling church items for bribes and riots that killed thousands of people, it’s easy to see the pressure that was put on the Jewish people while they were kind of forced to watch these two men fight for a position not because of religious reasons, but because of power. Not to say that we slaughter thousands of people these days, but I think we can draw similarities in motive between some people leading or preforming in the Christian church today. What’s in the motive of one’s heart?

  5. It is crazy to see what steps Menelaus takes to try and become a high priest, not because he cares about the Jews and finding a place for them to worship but out of his own greed. We see this a lot in today’s church as well. I have seen this several times throughout my life being a pastor’s kid moving from church to church. The new change, the new set up, the new paint color makes people upset. Some that go to the church are hurt because they feel that they had no say in all of the changes. It seems there should be more important things to argue about like how do we get to share the gospel with as many people as possible instead of if we should have tables set up or just chairs. But people want power and a say and to make a change. Menelaus was willing to steal from the temple, causing a riot that killed three thousand people so that he could have a say and a power position. In a church perspective this could be the equivalent of a church split. People choose sides and become angry, focused more on themselves and how comfortable they are instead of expanding the kingdom of God. It’s a shame to see how destructive pride can be.

  6. As I was reading this post, I was saddened by the lack of respect for a religious position of power, but could not help but relate it to some abuses of power that we still see today. Unfortunately, we still see Christian/religious officials abusing power or sustaining their power for personal gain. Even on a smaller scale, I have witnessed power struggles in my own church, though the matters are typically settled quickly and professionally. The 3,000 that died in a riot against the selling of temple artifacts forced me to reflect on our power struggles today as well. How often do well-intended purposes escalate into violence even now? The power and wealth of one person can determine whether thousands live or die. Wealth still seems to run our world.

    I also was reminded of a mass of Bible verses that inform Christians that they will face trials in this life. James 1:2-4 tells us that we will face trials of many kinds, but should find joy in persevering so that we may be made complete. There are several other verses that assure suffering (Psalm 34:19; John 16:33; Phillipeans 1:29, and so on). The men who stood up for the preservation of the sacredness of the position of High Priest faced death; I think that this is a good reminder that serving the Lord does not assure riches and happiness in this world, but we must trust in the goodness of God and His eternal plan.

  7. There is so much that happened as the Maccabean revolt was starting to happen. I think it is really sad that the people who were coming into power in Jerusalem were not wanting to help the people get closer to God, but instead, they wanted to be in power for their own selfish desires. One thing that I found very interesting about this was at the beginning with Jason building a gymnasium in an attempt to make Antiochus happy. I wonder if this was also to make the Jews be more interested in adopting a more Greek lifestyle and culture because the gymnasium and games played inside could be fun to participate in. Due to the fact that this gymnasium was dedicated to Hermes, I think that it was a very bad and evil thing to do. However, if it were not dedicated to Hermes, then the building of the gymnasium in Judea may not have as big of a deal. Another thing that I think was evil was that Menelaus sold items from the temple, especially since he was not being supported by so many people. It would be one thing if he sold things to help the Jews, but he was doing so because he wanted the power. I still do not think that it would be right for him to sell things from the temple, but if he were to, it should not be for his own selfish intentions. As interesting as the Maccabean revolt is to learn and read about, it is sad to see what the Jews had to go through.

  8. I think that much like the Maccabean revolt this issue with the hunger for power from individuals with the wrong motive is a very real issue in todays society. I think that this is still happening very clearly in the church today and the government for sure. Power driven people who just want control are very quickly to do whatever it takes even if how they obtain that power is very wrong and corrupt. They want to obtain it easy with paying for it or fighting for it and being dirty with how they get it. Just like Antiochus was King, Jason bribed him for the title of High Priest which was basically in this day the number two in power. Individuals will do things to get into a position to have power by bribing either and individual specifically or could even be a political party for a position in the legislation. Are we trying to glorify God or our names?

  9. The early factors leading to the Maccabean revolt had much to do with the role of religion and the position of the high priest. There was a shocking lack of respect for a position that was supposed to be the leader of repenting sins, offering sacrifices, and communicating with God. The reason such disrespect existed for this position had much to do with the other roles the high priest fulfilled and served in. The high priest was not just a leader in the temple, but also a leader among the Jews. The Jews had no king or other political leaders during this time, so the high priest often filled the void. Additionally, the temple ran a sort of banking system, so the high priest had access to a lot of money and was responsible for taxes and tributes. As Jason bribed the king, Antiochus IV, in order to get the high priesthood that belonged to his brother Onias III, he was focused more on the power that came with the position rather than the sacred responsibilities of the position.

    2 Maccabees 4:7 tells readers that “When Seleucus died and Antiochus, who was called Epiphanes, succeeded to the kingdom, Jason the brother of Onias obtained the high priesthood by corruption.” His bribery and promises to Hellenize the Jews were corrupt methods to get something that he had no right to. Jason also chose to use the position to Hellenize some of the Jewish culture. This was how he gained the support of the king and was able to bribe his way into the position. Through his support of the Greek culture and endorsement of some of their customs and traditions, Jason offended orthodox Jews, however, others believed that he did not support the Greeks enough and promote Hellenization enough. This opened up the door for more trouble. Menelaus decided to outbid Jason for the position of the high priest, offering a bigger bribe. This did not end well for Menelaus, he did not have support from the people and could not raise enough money to pay off his bribe, so he robbed the temple. This all goes to show that abuse of positions of power has been occurring for hundreds of years, just as it still does today.

  10. These events truly show the corruptness of the government and church leaders during this time. Religion did not matter to them as much as power and money did. Clearly, money was the start of this civilization’s issues. 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” It is apparent that money has influenced their thought processes in a negative way. No wonder this was one of the factors that lead to the Maccabean Revolt. I find it interesting that some of the priests left their duties to play in the gymnasium Jason built. This shows how loosely devoted they were to their religion.
    Strauss Chapter 4 says, “Pious Jew realized that Antiochus’s actions threatened their national and religious existence” (Strauss, 128). Therefore, the Jews finally saw how destructive his actions were. It makes you wonder if there were any non-Jews who also agreed his methods were destructive. “Though the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes was one of the bleakest moments in Jewish history, out of this came one of the brightest” (Strauss, 128). On the brighter side, good did come out of the Maccabean Revolt. This is encouraging to hear for the Jews because they were finally able to get the justice they deserved.

    Strauss, Mark L. Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels, Zondervan
    Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2020.

  11. I really enjoyed reading this very thought-provoking blog post not only because it gained Jewish independence, moreover; the reasons behind the Maccabean Revolt were some of the same reasons that are applicable in modern society today. There are many obvious reasons as to what caused the Maccabean Revolt, however in my opinion the one that I think is the biggest problem and the one that applies to modern day society would be how people see money and politics as the most important aspect of life. P.Long mentions that “Menelaus was not even of a priestly family and was only interested in the priesthood for political power and wealth. Apparently, religion was to Antiochus nothing but a tool, a convenient means to an end” (P.Long). I think this is very applicable in today’s society, because money and politics rules the world unfortunately. On a different tangent, it is really interesting because if you think about it, nothing has really changed from biblical times and it’s frightening. The world is so wicked simply because the people that are most often in charge are the ones that are the most corrupt, and do not get into much trouble because they have the status, so that they can get out of or belittle criminal activities based off of one’s clout and status; as well as having abundance of money to pay their way out of pretty much everything, or buy bribe ones way to the top no matter if one is not credible.

  12. The part of this story that irritates me the most is the disgracefulness from the priest. Being a priest is being an extension of God and to embarrass him like that is disgusting. The fact that these two men were going for the High priest position for their own doing is a disgrace also. Being a servant of God is being that, a servant, so if one today was to become a Pastor for their own wealth and glory they should not become a pastor at all. Menelaus especially needs to be punished. This honestly reminds me of presidential elections today in America. I try to be ignorant and believe that one politician is a good person who is looking to make a change for the better, but they are honestly all corrupt and trying to better themselves. The comparison is honestly scary to think about.

  13. This story shows the human nature of people to allow their greed and self-pursuit of success in their field to overtake them and betray their own people. This is an ageless story, as throughout history we have seen things like the Maccabean revolt repeatedly, even today, politicians will do nearly anything to get ahead. I think that Menelaus even being a priest is most interested in sitting at the top of society as a priest, being that it was one of the highest places in Jewish society, rather than taking on the duties of being a priest and serving God. In trying to become the high priest, Menelaus had to take drastic action against his brother Jason, and ultimately lost not only his Jewish roots, but also lost himself and in the process, killed 3,000 people when the feud boiled over and caused a riot in the city. I think it is telling that even after the injustices that occurred, Menelaus stayed in power, “… growing in wickedness, having become the chief plotter against his compatriots” (2 Maccabees 4:50). Often, we see leaders in society who are fueled by greed, led down a path that leads to increased wrongdoing. Thousands of years ago, leaders in society were able to fail upward and stay in power thanks to a system that does not punish those who do wrong by their people, and even today in certain societies this example is very applicable to what is happening now.

  14. I think it’s very interesting how easy it was to simply buy their way into power in Jerusalem, especially the High priest position seeing how sacred that position was held at one point. Obviously, the Hellenization of Jerusalem played a large part in that because of how open people became to Greek ways, which obviously led them away from their traditional Judaism. It was also interesting to me how it seems that Antiochus took 2 bribes, showing that he really only cares about money, rather than how he may look to the people he is ruling over. It also makes sense how nobody seemed to really like Menelaus as the High priest, as he shouldn’t have been, leading him to have to sell temple items, because he had little support. Even today, many politicians have to “buy” their way into offices. It is in a different way, but interesting to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

  15. The Maccabean Revolt back during that period is a reflection of what is happening today in our world. People are losing sight of God and who He is. It is very sad to read and see how little had changed. People are more focused on worldly things and having the pleasures of this world. Menelaus even after being caught selling items from the church did not receive consequences. Sadly enough but sometimes evil prevails because Satan exists. 2 Maccabees 4:47, “Menelaus, the cause of all the trouble, he acquitted of the charges against him, while he sentences to death this unfortunate man, who would have been freed uncondemned if they had pleaded even before Scythians.” Even though Menelaus might have believed he got away with his sin we know that he would one day face God. Now for believers, we can see this as an example of Satan’s work. Yet we must stand strong and keep our eyes on the things above. We can easily lose focus of our path, but we must find our way back to Him.

  16. There were a lot of things happening leading up to the Maccabean Revolt. There was a huge hunger for power so much that people were willing to kill and do whatever it takes to maintain that power. People were more focused on having power than they were on anything else. Strauss mentions that under Antiochus IV, Israel would face its greatest threat to survival yet, Strauss also mentions that Antiochus IV got the nickname “Epiphanes” which means Madman. (Strauss, 127) After the gymnasium was built there was even more of a divide between people. I feel like one thing started happening after another everything went downhill. I think that the power struggle is something that we see in today’s world people get caught up in worldly things and place that before their relationship with God. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” I think this is something that we as Christians need to understand as much as it seems like money can fix all of your problems. You will never be satisfied with what you have unless you have a relationship with God. When it comes to money I feel like it doesn’t matter if you have one hundred dollars or a thousand you are always going to want more. I think the same was happening but instead of money, it was power. The more power someone had was never enough so they had to take and take because they were never satisfied.

  17. Being a Jew in this time must have been devastating. They had no say in who their priest was unlike today how we get to chose who our Pastors are. The leadership in this time period it is evident that leadership was corrupt and evil. Their evil seemed to be rooted in fame and money. We know that the Lord warns us in 1 Timothy 6:10 that the root of all evil is money and Antichous is a good example of how greed and money can affect us. I feel the Maccabean revolt is a great demonstration of how sin can escalate an poltute the lives of leaders and affect God centered people.

  18. One reason that led up to the revolt was when “Pious Jews realized that Antiochus’s actions actions threatened their national and religious existence”. (Strauss, 128). This led to a rebellion breaking out. In today’s day, it reminds me of the Maccabean revolt. Our world is so broken and split apart. As soon as one man comes up, there are always people there trying to tear them down. I am so tired of seeing people being taken away from this earth because of hunger and greed from another human being. People these days are literally shying away from God’s word and trying to live in their own selfish ways, as if that’s going to workout for them. Greed, hunger, and the selfish need for more are all reasons that led up to the revolt. Money is not the only thing that matters in life. When reading this portion of Strauss, I immediately thought of a scripture that my great grandmother would share. Then he said to them, “watch out!” Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.“ It’s really scary seeing the events that took place in the Bible still be present and alive today.

  19. It is unsettling how easy it seemed to bribe their way into powerful and important positions. Both attempts to bribe their way into power and wealth failed and succeeded in one way or another. Jason, who first took to bribery proposed something what while popular among some people and even some priest, did not please the Jews or the Hellenization. Therefore, his goal wasn’t completely successful and, in the end, resulted in his demise.

    Menelaus, coming up with a larger bribe, became the High Priest, but was unable to uphold his promise without robbing the Temple. This action was the beginning of his demise and disfavor among the public, and also resulted in the death of his brother and 3000 people.

    Both Jason and Menelaus did not seek to better or build religion in Judea, they sought to seek their own status and power. Both seemingly achieved this without much resistance in the beginning that shouldn’t have been considered and resulted in many deaths, upheaval, and anger.

    Throughout this blogpost, what stood out to me was the evil that is in the world and the things people are willing to do to gain fame and fortune.

  20. While reading this blog post it really stood out to me how similar we have it in today’s society. Many people are just driven by power and greed and just want to get as high up as they can in society, with ought care for how they get there. It is also testament to the fact that these greedy, money driven power runs do not usually end up well. We see this first with Jason, who bribed his way to power, and did not end up having the support of the people, he said he would do good things like build the gymnasium but all it took was for a larger bribe and he was out. Menelaus was next, and he even went to the extreme of robbing the temple, which he was not even allowed to do, and still ended up failing, as he went about getting his power the wrong way. It has been shown time and time again that simply buying power is not the way to go. People who are in power for the right reasons tend to stay in power.

Leave a Reply