Daniel 11:21-24 describes the rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. Antiochus IV had been in Rome as a hostage. Before his death Seleucus Philopater had sent his son to Rome in exchange for his brother Antiochus IV. These twelve years spent in Rome influenced the young Antiochus greatly. After leaving Rome he 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.
Antiochus IV heard of his brother’s death and that Heliodorus had seized the throne. He hurried to Syria where he began to flatter and bribe everyone involved in arbitrating the dispute over who should be king. Antiochus was named king, despite not being the rightful heir.
But Antiochus took over a kingdom which was in trouble. The Seleucid kingdom was nearly out of money and continentally harassed by Rome to the west and the Parthians 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. Goldstein argues Antiochus was less interested in imposing Greek customs than imitating the Roman way of administering a large kingdom (Goldstein, 1 Maccabees, 111).
Daniel describes Antiochus as a “contemptible person.” He did develop a reputation for maniac behavior. Polybius described him as a “completely unreliable rule” who went from practical joking to deranged cruelness almost without warning. Antiochus would sometimes join a stage performance as an actor, or an orchestra as a player. He was reputed to participate in public sex on occasion. When he added Theos Epiphanes, “God Manifest,” to his name in 169 B.C., many made a joke out of his name by calling him Epimanes, “Madman.”
Early in his reign, Antiochus was involved in a dispute over the high priesthood in Jerusalem. Jason was the very pro-Hellenism brother of the legitimate high priest, Onias III. He bribed Antiochus to be appointed as the new high priest (1 Mac 1:13-15, 2 Mac 4:7-15). In order to please Antiochus, Jason pledged to build a gymnasium near the Temple and encourage the Jews to become more Greek. The gymnasium was popular and some of the priests participated in the games dedicated to Hermes.
As offensive as these things were to the many Jews, some though this Hellenization did not go far enough. 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.
Jason was removed from Jerusalem but had enough support that he hopes to return and remove Menelaus from office. Menelaus had some serious problems as well. Most of the Jews did not support him as high priest so he had trouble raising the money to pay Antiochus. As a result, he was forced to sell Temple items to pay bribes to the king’s agent Andronicus.
The legitimate high priest Onias protested this offense: 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! Antiochus was not impressed with his protest and had the true high priest killed (2 Mac 4:33-38, possibly Dan 9:26-27).
Robbing of the temple caused riots against his priesthood. Lysimachus, Menelaus brother, led troops against the rioters and killed 3000, but was killed himself in the battle. Menelaus was called into account by Antiochus but managed to bribe his way out of trouble (2 Macc 4:43-50).
Antiochus IV sought to unite Egypt and Syria, probably because Ptolemy Philometer was a very young man at the time (11:25-28). He could not attack Egypt because of Egypt’s relationship with Rome. If he attacked Egypt, Rome would come to their defense. Fortunately for Antiochus, Egypt attacked him in 169. He as able to march on Egypt and rout the Egyptian army.
About this time Jason heard a false rumor Antiochus was killed in battle in Egypt. He took 1000 men and attacked Jerusalem in an attempt to run Menelaus out. Menelaus hid in the citadel, Jason failed and eventually died as an outcast (2 Mac 5:5-10).
Returning from Egypt, he entered Jerusalem as a show of force after hearing of the growing insurrection caused by the rival high priests (1 Mac 1:16-28, 2 Mac 5:1-11). He looted the temple with the help of Menalaus the High priest, and slaughtered 80,000 Jews.