Antiochus’s second failed Egyptian campaign was followed by his persecution of the Jews (11:29-35). In 168 Antiochus made a second foray into Egypt with the intention of annexing it to his own kingdom. This time things were not to go as well as he had planned. His army was met by a delegation from the Roman senate led by Popilius Laenas. Popilius presents Antiochus with a letter from the Senate ordering him out of Egypt or face the wrath of Rome.
Antiochus asked for time to consider the letter, so Popilius drew a circle around him on the ground and told him not to leave the circle until he made his decision. Humiliated, Antiochus was forced out of Egypt and he took his frustration out on Judea.
After his humiliation in Egypt, Antiochus learned of the uprising in Jerusalem caused by the competing high priests. Jason had picked this time to make his attempt to regain the office of High Priest based on a rumor which said Antiochus had been killed in battle. See 1 Mac. 1:16-19. He waited until the Sabbath then sends his general Appolonius and some mercenaries into Jerusalem. They slaughter men, women and children indiscriminately and burn much of the city.
Antiochus fortified the citadel heavily, imposed a heavy tax on the city for the rebellion, and confiscated land. He occupies the city with foreign troops and Hellenistic sympathizers. 1 Mac 1:35-36 calls these “people of pollution” and notes the city had become the abode of foreigners.
Perhaps the most offensive action Antiochus did was to combine the worship of Yahweh with Zeus. Within the temple itself Antiochus sacrificed to Zeus, supported by the high priest and the Hellenistic Jews! (1 Maccabees 1:29-40; 2 Maccabees 5:11-27).
2 Maccabees 5:11–27 (NRSV) When news of what had happened reached the king, he took it to mean that Judea was in revolt. So, raging inwardly, he left Egypt and took the city by storm. 12 He commanded his soldiers to cut down relentlessly everyone they met and to kill those who went into their houses. 13 Then there was massacre of young and old, destruction of boys, women, and children, and slaughter of young girls and infants. 14 Within the total of three days eighty thousand were destroyed, forty thousand in hand-to-hand fighting, and as many were sold into slavery as were killed. 15 Not content with this, Antiochus dared to enter the most holy temple in all the world, guided by Menelaus, who had become a traitor both to the laws and to his country. 16 He took the holy vessels with his polluted hands, and swept away with profane hands the votive offerings that other kings had made to enhance the glory and honor of the place. 17 Antiochus was elated in spirit, and did not perceive that the Lord was angered for a little while because of the sins of those who lived in the city, and that this was the reason he was disregarding the holy place. 18 But if it had not happened that they were involved in many sins, this man would have been flogged and turned back from his rash act as soon as he came forward, just as Heliodorus had been, whom King Seleucus sent to inspect the treasury. 19 But the Lord did not choose the nation for the sake of the holy place, but the place for the sake of the nation. 20 Therefore the place itself shared in the misfortunes that befell the nation and afterward participated in its benefits; and what was forsaken in the wrath of the Almighty was restored again in all its glory when the great Lord became reconciled. 21 So Antiochus carried off eighteen hundred talents from the temple, and hurried away to Antioch, thinking in his arrogance that he could sail on the land and walk on the sea, because his mind was elated. 22 He left governors to oppress the people: at Jerusalem, Philip, by birth a Phrygian and in character more barbarous than the man who appointed him; 23 and at Gerizim, Andronicus; and besides these Menelaus, who lorded it over his compatriots worse than the others did. In his malice toward the Jewish citizens, 24 Antiochus sent Apollonius, the captain of the Mysians, with an army of twenty-two thousand, and commanded him to kill all the grown men and to sell the women and boys as slaves. 25 When this man arrived in Jerusalem, he pretended to be peaceably disposed and waited until the holy sabbath day; then, finding the Jews not at work, he ordered his troops to parade under arms. 26 He put to the sword all those who came out to see them, then rushed into the city with his armed warriors and killed great numbers of people. 27 But Judas Maccabeus, with about nine others, got away to the wilderness, and kept himself and his companions alive in the mountains as wild animals do; they continued to live on what grew wild, so that they might not share in the defilement.
Antiochus is well known for his persecutions of the Jews; the details are recorded in 1 & 2 Mac as well as in Josephus. His “forced Hellenization” is prototypical of all tyrants who attempt to force Jews to conform to Gentile standards.
Daniel 11 says that despite the persecution, some of the wise will survive, but only after they are purified as with fire. The identity of “the wise” in this passage is a difficult problem. Some identify the wise with the Hasadim, while others do not. The Hasadim were the dissenters who opposed Hellenistic trends and eventually divided into Pharisee, Sadducee, and Essene.
There were two “paths of resistance” in the Maccabean revolt. One could take up arms, as Judas and his brothers did, or one could resist passively and be martyred for the faith. The “wise” in Daniel are likely those who accepted the martyr’s path.
1 Maccabees 1:59–62 (NRSV) On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. 60 According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, 61 and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks. 62 But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food.
After his humiliation in Egypt and the desecration of the Jewish Temple, Antiochus returned to Syria and selected his 8-year-old son Antiochus V Eupator as his successor (1 Mac 3:27-37). He named Lysias as the boy’s regent and left him in charge of about half the army. Lysias lead the army of the Seleucids against the Maccabean resistance, but this is not found in Daniel.
Antiochus was in desperate need of funds, so he led his army east to collect tribute. (He could not go to the south, since the Romans were protecting Egypt, and Palestine was already well looted). He had some success but was turned back at Elymas. He thought gold left from Alexander’s day was at Elymas. He returned to Babylon, where he died in 163 B.C. 1 Mac 6:1-16 describes the king as dying of consumption soon after hearing the news of the cleansing of the temple by Judas Maccabees. It is also possible he was poisoned.
And this is a problem for interpreting Daniel 11. The “end of the story” is not quite right. Daniel 11:36-12:3 does predict the end of the arrogant king who persecuted God’s people. But the details are not quite right. Michael does not appear to defend God’s people and the Greeks are not replaced by a glorious kingdom of God as Daniel 2 and 7 expected. Does Daniel “get it wrong” at this point? Is the hoped for kingdom the short-lived Hasmonean kings? Or does Daniel shift to the future in 11:36?