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2 Maccabees 4:33-35 When Onias became fully aware of these acts, he publicly exposed them, having first withdrawn to a place of sanctuary at Daphne near Antioch. 34 Therefore Menelaus, taking Andronicus aside, urged him to kill Onias.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

12 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.

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  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.

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  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?

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  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?

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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?

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  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.

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