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Antiochus IV Epiphanes

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Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls What is This? Explores the history, relevance, and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes

son of Antiochus III “the Great,” succeeded his brother Seleucus IV as king of the Seleucid empire in 175 bce, and ruled over that kingdom until his own death in late 164 bce. Antiochus's image is etched in the collective memories of Jews and Christians as the Syrian despot who imposed a systematic religious persecution on the Jews of Judea, setting in motion the Hasmonean uprising that ultimately led to Jewish political independence, thereby effecting a major turning point in the history of the Jewish people.

Antiochus's personality is projected by classical historians as eccentric and contradictory, at once generous and gregarious while also tyrannical. On his coins he employed the epithet [Theos] Epiphanes (“God manifest”), but Polybius (26.10) is often cited for his mocking rendering of the king's surname as Epimanes (“mad”). Antiochus inherited an empire in decline, following his father's defeat at the hands of the Romans, and his espousal of a fierce Hellenizing policy, evinced through the founding of more Greek poleis than all his Seleucid predecessors, is frequently interpreted as a step toward restoring the kingdom to its earlier prominence as the leading force in the Hellenistic East. Antiochus encouraged this process in Jerusalem as well, by deposing the high priest Onias and appointing his brother Jason (2 Mc. 4.7–10), who proceeded to introduce a variety of Hellenistic institutions into the city, and ultimately transformed the city into a Greek polis called “Antioch” (2 Mc. 4.9; the precise meaning of the text in 2 Maccabees has been fiercely debated by scholars—see Tcherikover, 1959, pp. 161–169). Subsequently, Jason was also deposed by the king in favor a more docile pro-Hellenist, Menelaus (2 Mc. 4.23–27). In retrospect, this interference by Antiochus in the most sensitive areas of Jewish religious life was a harbinger of future events.

Antiochus embarked on two campaigns against Ptolemaic Egypt: in 170–169 bce and again in 168 bce. Neither expedition led to the king's ultimate goal of outright conquest, with the initial successes of the second campaign only to be thwarted by Roman intervention leading to Antiochus's retreat. It is unclear precisely when and in what sequence (compare 1 Mc. 1.20–24, 2 Mc. 5.11, and Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 12.242–250; see Mørkholm, 1966, p. 142; Tcherikover, 1959, pp. 473–474), but in close proximity to these campaigns disturbances broke out in Jerusalem, possibly encouraged by the perception of a Seleucid defeat and even the king's death (2 Mc. 5.5), and these were cruelly put down in the course of a visit (or visits) to the city by the Seleucid king himself. Within months, the king's steps toward neutralizing any Jewish opposition culminated in the imposition of religious persecution; under penalty of death, the Jews were required “to depart from the laws of their fathers and to cease living by the laws of God. Further, the sanctuary in Jerusalem was to be polluted and called after Zeus Olympius” (2 Mc. 6.1–2). Antiochus's expeditions to Egypt, as well as his “raging against the holy covenant,” the desecration of the Temple, and the establishment therein of “the appalling abomination” are all described in great detail in the Book of Daniel (11.21–45). To this we might possibly now add Acts of a Greek King (4Q248), which has been interpreted (see Broshi and Eshel, 1997) as alluding to the actions undertaken by Antiochus both in Egypt and in Jerusalem, and which has even been dated earlier than Daniel and described as the possible source for the reference there (Dn. 11.39) to the king who “will distribute land for a price.”

Antiochus did not personally devote his remaining years to the implementation of Seleucid policy against the Jews. The dwindling financial resources of his empire forced Antiochus to turn eastwards, and in 164 bce he began an expedition with the intention of sacking one of the wealthy temples in Elymais. He died at Tabae, a city situated between Persis and Media, shortly before 20 November 164 bce.

Bibliography

  • Broshi, Magen, and Esther Eshel. “The Greek King Is Antiochus IV (4QHistorical Text=4Q248).” Journal of Jewish Studies 48 (1997), 120–129.
    The identification of a scroll fragment as a historical composition alluding to the Egyptian campaigns and steps against the Jews taken by Antiochus IV. A valuable summary of the questions and various solutions proposed to establish an accurate sequence of Antiochus's activities in the area, with major implications for the redactional relationships between Qumran material and the later books of the Hebrew scriptures
    .
  • Mørkholm, Otto. Antiochus IV of Syria. Copenhagen, 1966. A definitive study of the reign of Antiochus, with a complete chapter (pages 135–165) devoted to Seleucid policy in Judea.
  • Tcherikover, Victor. Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews. Philadelphia, 1959.
    A study of the events leading to the Hasmonean uprising, with particular attention to the prehistory of Hellenization in Jerusalem, and an analysis of all the theories addressing the nature and causes of the Antiochean persecution of the Jews
    .

Isaiah M. Gafni

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