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2 Maccabees 4:33-35 When Onias became fully aware of these acts, he publicly exposed them, having first withdrawn to a place of sanctuary at Daphne near Antioch. 34 Therefore Menelaus, taking Andronicus aside, urged him to kill Onias.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.

15 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.


    • It’s crazy how many of the issues that we are facing in the church today were also dealt with back in the Intertestemental period. Clearly, there is somewhat of a natural tendency for humans to pursue power. Humans want to be in charge and hold as much power as possible due to greed, pride, and our sinful tendencies. Menelaus’ method for becoming the high priest was very manipulative, and it went against Jewish custom. “The installation of Menelaus represented an arrogant disregard for Jewish ish traditions and sensibilities. For centuries the high priests were drawn only from the family of Zadok, the high priest in the time of King David” (Tomasino, 1538-1539). It is interesting how often churches in today’s society struggle with similar issues regarding the pursuit of power.


  2. Through this it is easy to see how Israel is lead astray and kind of confused as to what to believe, they do not have a high priest that can lead them in worship or sacrifices. They were in the middle of a power struggle against people who were greedy and looking out for their own best interests. It is interesting to see that just like today, how much politians ignore or support things just because they were bribed, nothing seems to have changed. Just like the Jewish preists during that time, how often are we, as Christians, today to neglect our own spiritual life because of entertainment purposes? We do not go to church because the big game is going to be on during that time, or we need to get ready for a party for the game.


  3. Of all of the factors that contributed to the Maccabean revolt, the internal tensions concerning the priesthood are among the most significant. Had Antiochus IV not been so careless in assigning the position of high priest based on bribes there might not have been such a great deal of corruption introduced to the political side of the temple in Jerusalem. The hellenization that took place in the city as a result of the shifts of power and position only contributed to the tension that was growing there. The events leading up to the Maccabean revolt were characterized by a shift from focusing on temple worship in Jerusalem to focusing on money, power and new elements of Greek culture. This is demonstrated most plainly in the behavior of the priests when they neglected their duties in the temple to participate in the games at the gymnasium. All of these things played a part in the unrest that spread throughout Jerusalem and eventually resulted in revolt.


    • Great blog post, Nathan!! I find it interesting that the first thing you mentioned here was how the priesthood and the corrupt way in which these people went about assigning the positions. I think that this is a great reflection of how some churches could potentially be assigning their leadership today. This caused me to reflect on possible bribary that happens in the modern church. This revolt does not seem far fetched from what could potentially happen to people in this day in age due to the fact that there are a lot of similar factors today (money, power and new culture).


  4. 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.


  5. 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?


  6. In the time of the Maccabees you see this corruption of the one thing left that was traditional Israel. Without a king, without a real high priest, without a good priesthood the Jewish nation must have hit a sad hopeless feeling. But much like here in America when we feel unrepresented that hopelessness turns to anger, it turns to zeal. The question one has to think through is, now what? Modern day people have turned to protesting and violence but the Jews turned to revolt and violence and bloodshed only leads to more bloodshed.


  7. Antiochus was the one that ultimately desecrated the temple, but Jason and Menelaus definitely did a good job in leading him there. I find it sad that the Jews were as much of an issue as the Greeks in regard to bringing in immorality from Hellenism. Jason and Menelaus were clearly just power hungry individuals who did not really care that much about correctly following the Law of God. Neither of them sacrificed a pig on the alter but 2 Maccabees 4 records how “vile Jason” tried to pay for a sacrifice to Hercules for games at the gymnasium. With religious leaders like that, it makes sense that unrest was building for a revolt.


  8. 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?


  9. Any time there is a position of leadership, it will draw people who are interested solely in power. When you have a leadership position that is both religious and political (high priest), then it will just amplify this immensely. As we see here, we have two men vying for the position with absolutely no regard for the people they are going to lead, and no fear of the God they are supposed to lead worship for. On a much smaller scale, I think this can apply to some of the issues in the modern church, especially our “Americanized” church. It seems more and more that we see church leadership who choose to lead not because they are called, but because they want power and adoration. Arrogant leadership leads to major issues, which we see in Maccabees. How can the church today resist and avoid issues with insincere leadership?


  10. The point you made about the situation in Judea and how they were motivated by greed. This was indeed just political chaos for the high priest, they were motivated by greed; they wanted to obtain power and wealth not thinking about what’s best for Judea and trying to lead them. As our textbook talks about in Chapter 4, Pious Jews realized that Antiochus’s actions threatened their national and religious existence. This would later go on to lead to the revolt as Mattathias dies and his son Judas leads the revolt. Judas was a great fighter and it earned him the nickname Maccabeus meaning hammer and from this nickname the rebellion became the “Maccabean revolt”


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