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Judaean coin, showing  a bunch of grapes.

2 Maccabees 4

The Second Book of Maccabees describes the struggle of the Jews for religious, cultural, and political independence against the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Greek who sympathized with the hellenization of Judah. It is slightly ironic that the anonymous author of The Second Book of Maccabees wrote a history to make his point, because this literary genre was invented by Greeks.

The fourth chapter of 2 Maccabees is offered here in the Revised Standard version; the first chapter can be found here.
 
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Coin of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Antiochus IV Ephiphanes

Jason makes Jerusalem a Greek city

The previously mentioned Simon, who had informed about the money against his own country, slandered Onias, saying that it was he who had incited Heliodorus and had been the real cause of the misfortune. He dared to designate as a plotter against the government the man who was the benefactor of the city, the protector of his fellow countrymen, and a zealot for the laws.

When his hatred progressed to such a degree that even murders were committed by one of Simon's approved agents, Onias recognized that the rivalry was serious and that Apollonius, the son of Menestheus and governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, was intensifying the malice of Simon. So he betook himself to the king, not accusing his fellow citizens but having in view the welfare, both public and private, of all the people. For he saw that without the king's attention public affairs could not again reach a peaceful settlement, and that Simon would not stop his folly.

When Seleucus died and Antiochus who was called Epiphanes succeeded to the kingdom, Jason the brother of Onias obtained the high priesthood by corruption, promising the king at an interview three hundred and sixty talents of silver and, from another source of revenue, eighty talents. In addition to this he promised to pay one hundred and fifty more if permission were given to establish by his authority a gymnasium and a body of youth for it, and to enrol the men of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch.[1]

When the king assented and Jason came to office, he at once shifted his countrymen over to the Greek way of life. He set aside the existing royal concessions to the Jews, secured through John the father of Eupolemus, who went on the mission to establish friendship and alliance with the Romans; and he destroyed the lawful ways of living and introduced new customs contrary to the law. For with alacrity he founded a gymnasium right under the citadel, and he induced the noblest of the young men to wear the Greek hat. There was such an extreme of Hellenization and increase in the adoption of foreign ways because of the surpassing wickedness of Jason, who was ungodly and no high priest, that the priests were no longer intent upon their service at the altar. Despising the sanctuary and neglecting the sacrifices, they hastened to take part in the unlawful proceedings in the wrestling arena after the call to the discus, disdaining the honors prized by their fathers and putting the highest value upon Greek forms of prestige.

For this reason heavy disaster overtook them, and those whose ways of living they admired and wished to imitate completely became their enemies and punished them. For it is no light thing to show irreverence to the divine laws - a fact which later events will make clear.

When the quadrennial games were being held at Tyre and the king was present, the vile Jason sent envoys, chosen as being Antiochian citizens from Jerusalem, to carry three hundred silver drachmas for the sacrifice to Heracles [i.e., the city god of Tyre Melqart]. Those who carried the money, however, thought best not to use it for sacrifice, because that was inappropriate, but to expend it for another purpose. So this money was intended by the sender for the sacrifice to Heracles, but by the decision of its carriers it was applied to the construction of triremes.
 

Menelaus replaces Jason

[175]When Apollonius the son of Menestheus was sent to Egypt for the coronation of [Ptolemy VI] Philometor as king,[2] Antiochus learned that Philometor had become hostile to his government, and he took measures for his own security. Therefore upon arriving at Joppa he proceeded to Jerusalem. He was welcomed magnificently by Jason and the city, and ushered in with a blaze of torches and with shouts. Then he marched into Phoenicia.

[171]After a period of three years Jason sent Menelaus, the brother of the previously mentioned Simon, to carry the money to the king and to complete the records of essential business. But he, when presented to the king, extolled him with an air of authority, and secured the high priesthood for himself, outbidding Jason by three hundred talents of silver.

After receiving the king's orders he returned, possessing no qualification for the high priesthood,[3] but having the hot temper of a cruel tyrant and the rage of a savage wild beast. So Jason, who after supplanting his own brother was supplanted by another man, was driven as a fugitive into the land of Ammon.

And Menelaus held the office, but he did not pay regularly any of the money promised to the king. When Sostratus the captain of the citadel kept requesting payment, for the collection of the revenue was his responsibility, the two of them were summoned by the king on account of this issue. Menelaus left his own brother Lysimachus as deputy in the high priesthood, while Sostratus left Crates, the commander of the Cyprian troops.
 

Onias killed

While such was the state of affairs, it happened that the people of Tarsus and of Mallus [in Cilicia] revolted because their cities had been given as a present to Antiochis, the king's concubine. So the king went hastily to settle the trouble, leaving Andronicus, a man of high rank, to act as his deputy.

But Menelaus, thinking he had obtained a suitable opportunity, stole some of the gold vessels of the temple and gave them to Andronicus; other vessels, as it happened, he had sold to Tyre and the neighboring cities.

When Onias became fully aware of these acts he publicly exposed them, having first withdrawn to a place of sanctuary at Daphne near Antioch. 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, and in spite of his suspicion persuaded Onias to come out from the place of sanctuary; then, with no regard for justice, he immediately put him out of the way. For this reason not only Jews, but many also of other nations, were grieved and displeased at the unjust murder of the man.

When the king returned from the region of Cilicia, the Jews in the city appealed to him with regard to the unreasonable murder of Onias, and the Greeks shared their hatred of the crime. Therefore Antiochus was grieved at heart and filled with pity, and wept because of the moderation and good conduct of the deceased; and inflamed with anger, he immediately stripped off the purple robe from Andronicus, tore off his garments, and led him about the whole city to that very place where he had committed the outrage against Onias, and there he dispatched the bloodthirsty fellow. The Lord thus repaid him with the punishment he deserved.
 

Trial of Menelaus

When many acts of sacrilege had been committed in the city by Lysimachus with the connivance of Menelaus, and when report of them had spread abroad, the populace gathered against Lysimachus, because many of the gold vessels had already been stolen. And since the crowds were becoming aroused and filled with anger, Lysimachus armed about three thousand men and launched an unjust attack, under the leadership of a certain Auranus, a man advanced in years and no less advanced in folly.

But when the Jews became aware of Lysimachus' attack, some picked up stones, some blocks of wood, and others took handfuls of the ashes that were lying about, and threw them in wild confusion at Lysimachus and his men. As a result, they wounded many of them, and killed some, and put them all to flight; and the temple robber himself they killed close by the treasury.

Charges were brought against Menelaus about this incident. When the king came to Tyre, three men sent by the senate presented the case before him. But Menelaus, already as good as beaten, promised a substantial bribe to Ptolemy son of Dorymenes to win over the king. Therefore Ptolemy, taking the king aside into a colonnade as if for refreshment, induced the king to change his mind. Menelaus, the cause of all the evil, 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.

And so those who had spoken for the city and the villages and the holy vessels quickly suffered the unjust penalty. Therefore even the Tyrians, showing their hatred of the crime, provided magnificently for their funeral. But Menelaus, because of the cupidity of those in power, remained in office, growing in wickedness, having become the chief plotter against his fellow citizens.

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Note 1:
In other words, he wanted to call Jerusalem Antioch.

Note 2:
Unclear. Ptolemy VI had been king since 180. However, his mother Cleopatra I Syra acted as regent until her death in 175, when Ptolemy married to Cleopatra II. Probably, this event is meant.

Note 3:
He did not belong to the Zadokite families.

Online 2006
Latest revision: 7 December  2006


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