SEDER OLAM - Revisited

סדר עולם - חדש



What is new

Index of names


Generations  1-14
(3760 - 2080 BCE)

Generations 15-21
(2080 - 1240 BCE)

Generations 22-28
(1240 - 400 BCE)

Generations 29-35
(400 BCE - 440 CE)

Generations 36-42
(440 - 1280 CE)

Generations 43-49
(1280 - 2120 CE)

Generation 50

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The high priests since Jaddua
(3480 AM - 280 BCE)

The Zenon Papyri
(3502 AM - 258 BCE)

Joshua ben Elazar ben Sirach
(3514 AM - 246 BCE)

Antigonus of Socho
(3520 AM - 240 BCE)

The Septuagint
(3530 AM - 230 BCE)

High Priest Onias II
(3535 AM - 225 BCE)

Ptolemy IV Philopator
(3539 AM - 221 BCE)

Demetrios the Chronographer
(3545 AM - 215 BCE)

Ptolemy V Epiphanes
(3556 AM - 204 BCE)

The Nash Papyrus
(3560 AM - 200 BCE)

Judea under Seleucid rule
(3562 AM - 198 BCE)

Aristobulus of Paneas
(3580 AM - 180 BCE)

Heliodorus Stele
(3588 AM - 178 BCE)

Antiochus IV Epiphanes
(3585 AM - 175 BCE)

Antiochus spoils the Temple
(3588 AM - 172 BCE)

Murder of Onias III the High Priest
(3590 AM - 170 BCE)

Yose ben Yoezer and the first Zugot
(3590 AM - 170 BCE)

Antiochus conquers Egypt
(3591 AM - 169 BCE)

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Hebrew years 3480 to 3600 (280-160 BCE)
  ~~~ Part I ~~~ Part II ~~~ 

About Year 3480 – 280 BCE – The high priests since Jaddua

Jaddua was the grandson of Joiada, and the last one of his descendants to be mentioned in the Bible (Nehemiah 12). The high priests have been as follows until the present time:

- Jaddua (or Ido in Hebrew), born about Hebrew year 3333 (427 BCE), in office about 371-320 BCE
- Onias I, son of Jaddua, about 320-280 BCE
- Simon (the Just), son of Onias, about 280-240 BCE; he was High Priest for 40 years (Talmud, Yoma, 9a)
- Eleazar, son of Onias I, and brother of Simon, from about 240 BCE (the son of Simon the Just, Onias II, was too young for the role)
- Manasseh, uncle of Eleazar
- Onias II, son of Simon the Just, until about 180 BCE

Simon the Just was both High Priest (Kohen Gadol) and President of the Sanhedrin (Nassi), which was the assembly of 120 Elders set up in Jerusalem since the return from Babylon.

Simon the Just was one of the last of the men of the Great Sanhedrin. He used to say: 'The world is based upon three things: the Torah, the divine service, and the practice of kindliness'.
--- Talmud, Avoth, Mishna 2

The tomb of Simon the Just
The tomb of Simon the Just in East Jerusalem
Charles Clermont-Ganneau, 'Archaelogical Researches in Palestine during the years 1873-1874'
(Palestine Exploration Fund, 1896)

These times were times when emancipation was offered to the Jews. Eager to strenghen his recently established kingdom, Seleucus offered them the full rights of citizenship in the cities (polis) he founded and equal rank to the Hellenists.[4] The same was done in Egypt two years later when Ptolemy also granted freedom to his Jewish citizens. As a result, and over the years, many Jews gradually endorsed Hellenism and assimilated into their foreign culture. This created divisions among the Jewish nation, and was the root cause of the disasters that fell upon them in the years that followed.

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About Year 3502 – 258 BCE – The Zenon Papyri

An important discovery of some 20,000 papyri documents, dating from 259 BCE, was made in Egypt during the First World War. They have been called the Zenon Papyri after the name of a business agent, Zenon, who was sent for some years to Judea by Appolonios, finance minister (the dioketes) of Ptolemy II, for the procurements of goods. The papyri from the correspondance of Zenon with his master and with many other people he dealt with during his lenghty stay. This source gives a good snapshot of Judea in these times, with name of places, of people, business practices, litigations and so on. The Greek documents have been made available online by the University of Michigan. Some parts of the texts have already been translated. Here is one example:

In the 27th year of the reign of Ptolemy [II] son of Ptolemy [...] at Birta of the Ammanitis [probably present-day Amman in Jordan], Nikator son of Xenokles, at the service of Toubias [probably a Jewish landowner there] sold to Zenon [...] in the service of Appolonius the dioketes a Sidonian girl named Phragis, about seven years old of age, for fifty drachmai.
---Tcherikover, Victor, Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum, Volume 1, 1957, page 120

It is equally interesting to notice the Sidonian slave girl. Sidonians are one of the two Phoenician people (the other one are the people of Tyre). The reason of their presence in Judea and over the Jordan is that Sidonians were granted the use of Judean cities and harbours by the Persians in their attempt to counter-balance the maritime power of the Greek nations. This alliance proved useless but the result of it is that Sidonians established themselves in the land and were later enslaved by the Greeks. The price of the slave was 50 drachmas, as compared to the price of a donkey: 80 drachmas !
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About Year 3514 – 246 BCE – Joshua ben Elazar ben Sirach

Ptolemy II "Philadelphus", the son of the army commander who accompanied Alexander in his campaigns, reigned over Egypt between 285 BCE and 246 BCE. His son Ptolemy III reigned from his death and was called “the Benefactor”. He gave freedom to the Jews who were captive or enslaved in Egypt. He also showed some originality in his reign by willing to write his laws or decrees in bilingual way, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Greek alphabet. This was a very important step that would help future historians to decipher old languages. His son Ptolemy IV followed this approach and was the king under whom the Rosetta Stone was created, in three languages. This stone will be the key item that helped decipher the hieroglyphs in the 19th century.

It is probably during this effort of Ptolemy III to rally scholars able to write in different languages that a Jewish scribe from Jerusalem, Sirach ben Joshua, was invited to Egypt at this time:

When I arrived in Egypt in the 38th year of the reign of Ptolemy the Benefactor and stayed for some time, I found opportunity for no little instruction. Therefore, it seemed highly necessary that I myself should devote some diligence and labor to the translation of this book. During that time I have applied my skill day and night to complete and publish the book for those living abroad who wished to gain learning and are disposed to live according to the law.
--- Apocrypha, Sirach, Prologue, 8-10

Sirach arrived in Egypt at the end of the reign of Ptolemy II, who indeed reigned for 38 or 39 years. As he was towards the end of his life, his son was probably already reigning as a regent until his father’s death. Sirach wrote a book to serve as a guide to the Jewish community of Alexandria who, at the time, was in need of books written in a language they could understand, Greek, as they had lost the knowledge of Hebrew.

The book of Sirach is a praise for Wisdom which comes to those who fear God, and guidance for his brethen about how to conduct their life:

Before all other things wisdom was created. […]
If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments, and God will bestow her upon you;
For fear of God is wisdom and culture; loyal humility is his delight.
Do not play the hypocrite before men; keep watch over your lips.
Do not exalt yourself lest you fall and bring upon you dishonor.
--- Apocrypha, Sirach, Chapter 1, 4 and 26-30

Sirach also advised to learn the history of the generations as a mean to learn from their examples:

Study the generations long past and understand:
Has anyone hoped in God and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in His fear and been forsaken?
Has anyone called upon Him and been rebuffed?
Compassionate and merciful is God;
He forgives sins. He saves in time of trouble.
--- Apocrypha, Sirach, Chapter 2, 10-11

Sirach gave extended advice to man, wife, children, all to live a life with purpose:

With three things I am delighted, for they are beautiful to God and to men: harmony among brethren, friendship among neighbors, and the mutual love of husband and wife.
Three kinds of men I hate, their manner of life I loathe indeed: a proud pauper, a rich dissembler, and an old man lecherous in his dotage.
--- Apocrypha, Sirach, Chapter 25, 1-2 

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About Year 3520 – 240 BCE – Antigonus of Socho

When Simon the Just died in 240 BCE, he had a son, Onias II, who was too young to be High Priest, so Simon was succeeded by his younger brother Eleazar and by Antigonus of Socho his disciple as Nassi. The latter was the first prominent Jewish leader to bear a Greek name, given by parents who probably wanted to endorse Hellenism, an assumption that marked Antigonus in his life and provoked a reverse reaction in him to endorse the religion of his ancestors:

Antigonus of Socho received [the Oral Tradition] from Simon the Just. He used to say: 'Be not like servants who serve the master in the expectation of receiving a reward, but be like unto servants who serve the master without the expectation of receiving a gratuity, and let the fear of heaven be upon you'.
--- Talmud, Avoth, Mishna 3

This teaching may be understood as follows: in the first part, the sentence can be read as a plea against assimilation, do not endorse Hellenism culture (and names) thinking that it will bring you any reward, and the second part of the sentence is directed towards religion where the real master is God. Tradition holds that from the time of Antigonus, and because of misinterpretations of the above teaching, some Jews assimilated and formed some factions or sects (minim in Hebrew). It started from two disciples of Antigonus: Zadok whom followers were called the Sadducees, and Boethus whom followers were called the Boethusians, the latter being generally considered as a subset of the former larger group.  

Eleazar was the High Priest who authorized the translation of the Torah into Greek, as seen below.

When Onias II, son of Simon the Just, became mature enough to gain the role of High Priest, he had a dispute with his brother Shimon and fled to Egypt. But he later returned to Judea to become High Priest.

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About Year 3530 – 230 BCE – The Septuagint

Ptolemy the Benefactor was eager to gather all the knowledge of the world in the Library he (or his father) founded in Alexandria, capital of the Ptolemaic kings:

Demetrius of Phalerum, the president of the king's library, received vast sums of money, for the purpose of collecting together, as far as he possibly could, all the books in the world. By means of purchase and transcription, he carried out, to the best of his ability, the purpose of the king.
On one occasion when I was present he was asked: How many thousand books are there in the library? and he replied, 'More than two hundred thousand, O king, and I shall make endeavour in the immediate future to gather together the remainder also, so that the total of five hundred thousand may be reached. I am told that the laws of the Jews are worth transcribing and deserve a place in your library.' 'What is to prevent you from doing this?' replied the king. 'Everything that is necessary has been placed at your disposal.' 'They need to be translated,' answered Demetrius, 'for in the country of the Jews they use a peculiar alphabet (just as the Egyptians, too, have a special form of letters) and speak a peculiar dialect. They are supposed to use the Syriac tongue, but this is not the case; their language is quite different.' And the king when he understood all the facts of the case ordered a letter to be written to the Jewish High Priest that his purpose (which has already been described) might be accomplished.
--- Letter of Aristeas, 9-11, translation by R.H. Charles, Clarendon Press, 1913

Upon request from the king, Eleazar the High Priest sent six elders from each tribe, totalling 72 elders, to Alexandria to work on the translation of the Bible into Greek (Talmud, Megilah, 9a). The purpose was two folds: first, the main goal was to enrich the library of Alexandria, but, second the Jews who lived in Egypt had lost the use of the Hebrew language and therefore asked to have the Bible translated for their prayers:

When the work was completed [on the 8th of Teveth], Demetrius collected together the Jewish population in the place where the translation had been made, and read it over to all, in the presence of the translators, who met with a great reception also from the people, because of the great benefits which they had conferred upon them. They bestowed warm praise upon Demetrius, too, and urged him to have the whole law transcribed and present a copy to their leaders. After the books had been read, the priests and the elders of the translators and the Jewish community and the leaders of the people stood up and said, that since so excellent and sacred and accurate a translation had been made, it was only right that it should remain as it was and no alteration should be made in it.
And when the whole company expressed their approval, they bade them pronounce a curse in accordance with their custom upon any one who should make any alteration either by adding anything or changing in any way whatever any of the words which had been written or making any omission. This was a very wise precaution to ensure that the book might be preserved for all the future time unchanged.
--- Letter of Aristeas, 308-311

The translation of the Bible was an extraordinary event as it unveiled for the first to a very large public the contents that were before only known to the keepers of the tradition. It had been approved by early scholars as, according to a Mishna:

There is no difference between books [of the Scripture] and tefillin and mezuzahs save that the books may be written in any language whereas tefillin and mezuzahs may be written only in Assyrian. Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel says that books [of the scripture] also were permitted [by the Sages] to be written only in Greek.
--- Talmud, Megilah, 8b

The Septuagint also became a major calalyst to the adoption of Christianity by the Gentiles, especially the Greeks, who had access to the text of the Scriptures and could embrace the new faith more easily.

Compared to the 39 official books of the Tanakh in Hebrew, compiled at the time of Ezra the Scribe, around 450 BCE, the Septuagint also contains additional works that were written in Greek before its compilation and were already known to the Jewish diaspora of Greek language.

These 14 books were:

- 9 books included that will be in the New Testament: the Book of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus (which was provided by Sirach for this community before the writing of the Septuagint), Wisdom of Solomon, Maccabees I & II (the books related to the Maccabee revolt were obviously not part of the original Septuagint, as these events took place later, but were added to later versions of it), Tobit or Tobias, Daniel additions (Bel and the dragon), Judith, Esther additions, Baruch

- 5 books not accepted by either Jewish or Christian sacred texts: Esdras (which seemed to be a Greek version of the book of Ezra/Nehemiah), Maccabee III, Prayer of Manasseh, Song of the Three Holy Children, history of Susanna (these two last books are Daniel additions)

The Septuagint
God’s name in one of the earliest fragment of the Septuagint

There is no remain known of the original text of the Septuagint. The earliest two copies discovered date from the Christian Era and their text bear many discrepenacies from the Hebrew text, which leads to believe that the Christian copists altered the original Greek translation of the Septuagint and probably destroyed the original copies. The only differences between the original version and the Hebrew text had been noted in the Talmud. One example is related as follows:

They [the 72 Elders] also wrote for him [Ptolemy] ‘the beast with small legs’ and they did not write ‘the hare’ [Leviticus 11:6 uses the word אַרְנֶבֶת meaning 'hare'], because the name of Ptolemy's wife was hare, lest he should say, The Jews have jibed at me and put the name of my wife in the Torah.
--- Talmud, Megilah, 9a-9b

The name 'hare' was not of Ptolemy's wife but of his mother, Arsinoe (Ἀρσινόην in Greek). Maybe the Greek pronunciation of her name was felt to be too close to the Greek translation of אַרְנֶבֶת, which is pronounced 'Arnevet' in Hebrew.

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About Year 3535 – 225 BCE – Onias II

Onias son of Simon the Just returned from Egypt at about that time and was chosen as the next High Priest. But he was not very intelligent. He decided not to pay the tribute to the king of Egypt. This caused a crisis with Ptolemy III which could have led to a war against Judea. But one of Onias' nephews, Joseph son of Tobias, managed to avoid the conflict by collecting the taxes on behalf of the king of Egypt. Through him started a class of civil servants who held the function of tax collectors instead of the High Priest. Corruption was not long to follow and it resulted into more burden for the Jewish population who was more pressured by these private tax collectors than they had even been before from the religious body. This collaboration of Jewish tax collectors with the Greek authorities ultimately led to the rebellion of the Maccabees several years later and, before that, to the establishment of a dual religious authority (the Zugot, see below in 170 BCE), to share the duties and not lose them to another class of civil servants as Onias II had done.   

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Year 3539 – 221 BCE – Ptolemy IV Philopator

Ptolemy IV succeeded to his father in Egypt. At the time, Israel was under control of the Ptolemaic kingdom but, from the reign of Ptolemy IV, the role of Egypt in the world affairs would start to decline.

The Mediterranean 218 BCE

The Books of the Maccabees opens with the battle of Raphia (also called battle of Gaza) in 217 BCE when Philopator defeated the Syrian army of Antiochus III the Great who attempted to take control of the Levant.

After his victory, Philopator went to Jerusalem at the invitation of the Jews and offered a sacrifice to God to thank Him for the victory. But then he also wished to enter the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest was allowed in, and only once a year. The entire population of Jerusalem stood up to oppose such move by prayers and lamentations. The High Priest Simon II prayed for God to intervene:

Here the all-seeing God, who is before all things, Holy in the holies, heard our righteous supplication; and chastised him who was greatly exalted with insolence and boldness: shaking him this way and that way, as a reed is shaken by the wind; so that he lay upon the floor without the power of exertion, and paralysed in his limbs, and not even able to speak, being overtaken with a just judgment. Whereupon his friends and body-guards, when they saw that speedy and sharp punishment which had overtaken him, being afraid lest he should even die; struck with overwhelming fear they quickly drew him out of the place.
--- Maccabees I, 2:21-23

After his recovery, Philopater left Jerusalem with threats to the Jewish nation. Back in Egypt he began a life of debauchery ans was eventually assassinated a few years later in 204 BCE.

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Year 3545 – 215 BCE – Demetrios the Chronographer

The campaign of Philopator against Judea probably put the Jews of his realm in discomfort and distress. Most of them lived in Alexandria and had adopted the Greek culture. They didn't speak Hebrew but were sentimentally connected with their brethren in Judeah. At this time, a Jew called Demetrios (or Demetrius) endeavoured to write a chronology of Jewish history. This was probably the first attempt of doing such work, based on the Scriptures and devoid of religious considerations.

Demetrios worked with the Septuagint as a source, because he only knew Greek. His work has been lost since, except for the
extracts that Christian writers used after his death, of which notably Eusebius of Caesaria and Clement of Alexandria. The former gives an account of the chronology established by Demetrios,[1a] and the second gives an account of the Lost Tribes, as compared to the two of Judah and Benjamin who form the Jewish people.[1b]

These chronological calculations, when they concerned event beyond the era of the Bible, are generally wrong. For example, Demetrios stated that there were 573 years between the captivity to Assyria and the reign of Ptolemy IV. Instead, the captivity of the Ten Tribes occurred in various phases between the Hebrew years 3016 (captivity of Naphtali) to year 3038 (fall of Samaria), and Ptolemy started to reign in year 3539. So the difference is between 523 and 501 years, not 573. Despite these errors, the important point is that, as early as the Septuagint was published, Israelites and foreign cultures started to study its text. This greatly influenced the scholars of early Christianity as it provided them with a tool to establish the new doctrine, and religion, based on interpretation of ancient Hebrew scriptures especially on the arrival of the Messiah in the person of Jesus (for this, they needed to extract from the scripture some calculations of chronology to prove the case). As of the Greek philosophers, most of the early Christian scholars accused them of plagiarism from these Hebrew scriptures.[1c].

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Year 3556 – 204 BCE – Ptolemy V Epiphanes

Ptolemy IV and his wife-sister were assassinated and replaced by their son Ptolemy V Epiphanes who was only 5 years old. The kingdom was then ruled by a succession of military regents who were more interested in eliminating each other.

The Rosetta Stone dates from the beginning of the reign of Ptolemy V Epiphanes and contains details about his rise to godhood status over Egypt.

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Year 3560 – 200 BCE – The Nash Papyrus

The Nash Papyrus is a manuscript held by the University of Cambridge, England, which was acquired in 1898 in Egypt. The papyrus contains the earliest known scripture of the Ten Commandments and of the Shema prayer.

Nash Papyrus
The Nash Papyrus (University of Cambridge)

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Year 3562 – 198 BCE – Judea passes under Seleucid rule

The chaotic situation in Egypt influenced the other regions of Alexander’s herited empire to seek for a split from the Ptolemees and annexation of their kingdom. This caused a war. The result of the conflict was that Macedonia (Greek region) took control of some islands while Antiochus III from the Seleucid dynasty (Syrian region) took over the Levant, including Judea. The latter was the result of the victory of the Seleucids in the battle of Panyas (present-day Banyas, in Northern Israel). To seal a lasting peace over this annexation, Antiochus III gave in 192 BCE one of his daughters, Cleopatra, as a wife to Ptolemy V then aged 17. But, despite the conciliary attitude, the bitterness of having lost the Levant was not easily forgotten and, soon after, Ptolemaic Egypt decided to side with Rome in order to get support in their dispute against the Seleucid kingdom.

At the beginning, Antiochus III wanted to please the people of Judea and granted them special rights and religious freedom. But the king pursued his ambition to conquer Egypt and end the Ptolemaic rule. This led Rome to intervene in the regional affairs and, after three years of conflict, Antiochus III had to accept the harsh conditions of the Romans in 189 BCE. These included a very heavy annual fine to be paid to Rome. Antiochus III had no other choice, if he wanted to keep his rule, to impose new levies on the people of his dominions, and this new tax policy included Judea.

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Year 3580 – 180 BCE – Aristobulus of Paneas

Ptolemy V died in 181 BCE and was succeeded by his son Ptolemy VI who reigned from the age of 6 years old until 145 BCE.

The Jews of Alexandria, having embraced the freedom and emancipation granted to them by the Ptolemees, started to prosper and assimilated to the Greek culture in their vast majority. Some of their scholars attempted to reconcile their Judaism with the Greek philosophy, and its various forms. Aristobulus of Paneas was one of these Hellenized Jews from Alexandria, of which family seemed to have prominent position with the ruling Ptolemaic family. He endeavoured to demonstrate that the Greek philosophers (Phythagoras, Socrates, Plato) owed their thoughts to the Mosaic laws and morale, and that several Greek authors (such as Homer) actually borrowed themes from the Bible to write their own works. This may be seen as an attempt to justify the embracement from Hellenized Jews of the Greek culture which, in their eyes, was not different from the Bible. They saw Moses as the father of the Greek philosophy. This theory was even echoed by some Greek philosophers such as Nemenius of Apamea who asked: What is Plato but Moses speaking Attic Greek?   

Aristobulus was a follower of the Peripatetic school of Greek philosophers. The movement was founded by Aristotle and, as we know of this latter's links with Jewish scholars at the time of Alexander's campaigns, there may be some substance behind what Aristobulus considered having been the source of Greek philosophy.[5]

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Year 3582 – 178 BCE – The Heliodorus stele

Seleucus IV succesded his father, Antiochus III, on the throne in 187 BCE. He could not succeed to raise money fast enough from Judea to pay his duty to Rome. In 178 BCE, he ordered his minister Heliodorus to go to Jerusalem and seize the money deposited in the Temple ! The story is told in the Second Book of the Maccabees and has recently been confirmed by the discovery of a stele in Tel Maresha, in 2006, so-called Heliodorus stele, which bears the order from the king to get the money from the "sanctuaries" of the region:

King Seleukos to Heliodoros his brother greetings. Taking the utmost consideration for the safety of our subjects, and thinking it to be of the greatest good for the affairs in our realm when those living in our kingdom manage their lives without fear, and at the same time realising that nothing can enjoy its fitting prosperity without the good will of the gods, from the outset we have made it our concern to ensure that the sanctuaries founded in the other satrapies receive the traditional honors with the care befitting them. But since the affairs in Koile Syria [Judea] and Phoinike [Phoenicia] stand in need of appointing someone to take care of these (i.e. sanctuaries) . . . Olympiodoros . . .
--- Heliodorus stele, translation

Heliodorus Stele
Heliodorus Stele
(Museum of Israel, Jerusalem)

This money was collected to help the widows and orphans of the people and managed by the High Priest, so the king's orders caused a lot of grief to the population:

But Heliodorus, because of the king's commands which he had, said that this money must in any case be confiscated for the king's treasury. So he set a day and went in to direct the inspection of these funds. There was no little distress throughout the whole city. [...] But when he arrived at the treasury with his bodyguard, then and there the Sovereign of spirits and of all authority caused so great a manifestation that all who had been so bold as to accompany him were astounded by the power of God, and became faint with terror. For there appeared to them a magnificently caparisoned horse, with a rider of frightening mien, and it rushed furiously at Heliodorus and struck at him with its front hoofs. Its rider was seen to have armor and weapons of gold.
--- Second Book of the Maccabees, chapter 3

The story went on that a second miracle occurred. The people of Jerusalem, fearing that the death of the king' envoy would cause severe retaliation, praised to God to spare his life. Onias the High Priest acoompanied their prayers and Heliodorus was resuscited. The story concludes as follows:

Then Heliodorus offered sacrifice to the Lord and made very great vows to the Savior of his life, and having bidden Onias farewell, he marched off with his forces to the king. And he bore testimony to all men of the deeds of the supreme God, which he had seen with his own eyes. When the king asked Heliodorus what sort of person would be suitable to send on another mission to Jerusalem, he replied: "If you have any enemy or plotter against your government, send him there, for you will get him back thoroughly scourged, if he escapes at all, for there certainly is about the place some power of God. For He Who has His dwelling in heaven watches over that place Himself and brings it aid, and He strikes and destroys those who come to do it injury."
--- ibidem

Heliodorus struck in the Temple
Gerard de Lairesse, Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple
The historical record says that, when he returned from Jerusalem, Heliodorus actually assassinated Seleucus IV and reigned in his stead. Seleucus had one heir, Demetrius, who had been sent to Rome as a hostage (but with all the honours due to a heir). So, Antiochus, the youngest son of Antiochus III and younger brother of Seleucus IV, managed to seize the power (as Antiochus IV) by ousting the usurper Heliodorus. The true heir, Demetrius (nephew of Antiochus IV), was educated and raised in Rome, as a future ally to them.

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Year 3585 – 175 BCE – Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Antiochus IV Epiphanes raised to power in 175 BCE, in the 137th year of the Seleucid Dynasty (Maccabees, Book II, 1:10), and would rule the Seleucid kingdom for 11 years until his death in 164 BCE. His belligerent attitude, following the same ambition of his father to conquer Egypt, would cause Rome to intervene in the regional affairs once more and would also cause the Jewish revolt of the Maccabees in Judea.[2]

Antiochus IV Epiphanes
Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Altes Museum, Berlin)

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Year 3588 – 172 BCE – Antiochus spoils the Temple

When Antiochus Epiphanes came to power in 175 BCE, he decided to nominate local rulers based on their commitment to levy the taxes. So, in Jerusalem, he named the opportunistic Jason to the post of High Priest, instead of his brother Onias III, the pious High Priest who was already in office and therefore dismissed. This was already a deviation from Jewish law because a High Priest was supposed to retain his role until his death. But Jason was ambitious and thus keen to deviate from traditional Judaism, nd show allegiance by adopting Hellenistic customs. But he was misleading himself about the attitude of the king because he only earned his role of High Priest by organising the rising of funds from the Jewish population in order to pay the tribute to the Seleucid king.And this role could be revoked easily as the events proved it.

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Year 3590 – 170 BCE – Murder of Onias III the High Priest

In 172 BCE, when Menelaus was sent to Antiochus Epiphanes with the tribute money, the latter decided to change roles again and gave the priesthood to him, a Benjamite, instead of Jason, a Levite which was the only family authorized by Jewish Law to receive the priesthood. The reason for this change is that Menelaus promised to Antiochus to pay even more money than Jason did. And he achieved this goal by robbing the Temple from its sacred vessels and other valuables. To avoid any complication from zealous Jewish personalities, Menelaus ordered to have Onias III murdered in 170 BCE, as well as several other religious figures. His plundering of the Temple could then be unopposed.

Onias IV, son of Onias III, fled to Egypt to avoid being murdered as well. There he established a Jewish community with his followers in Leontopolis, on the eastern side of the Nile Delta, and even erected a temple for divine service.

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Year 3590 – 170 BCE – Yose ben Yoezer and the first Zugot

Yose ben Yoezer and Jose ben Johanan became the first recorded couple of religious leaders, known as the Zugot (pairs), who shared the functions at the head of Sanhedrin (the religious assembly and tribunal, beth din), one as of a president (nassi) and the other as his second (av beth din). Jose ben Yoezer was a disciple of Antigonus of Socho. He was an adversary to the ones who wanted to adopt Greek culture and assimilate. His tenure lasted 30 years until his death in 140 BCE. The introduction of two heads of the religious affairs was made to balance the growing influence of Hellenized Jews in the political affairs and in the priesthood.

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Year 3591 – 169 BCE – Antiochus conquers Egypt

Ptolemy VI’s reign was troubled with the fact that Antiochus IV Epiphanes, his uncle (as he was the brother of Ptolemy’s mother, Cleopatra), finally succeeded to invade Egypt in 169 BCE. This was a dream come true for the Seleucid ruler who even crowned himself king of Egypt in 168 BCE while Ptolemy VI was then 19 years old. But Rome soon threatened the Seleucid king with a war unless he would give up his usurped title and pulled his army out from the Ptolemaic territories.

Egypt thus passed under the direct protection of Rome, and would never rise again as a regional power. As of Antiochus, after being obliged by Rome to abandon Egypt, he passed his frustration and anger on Judea by edicting religious persecution against the Jews.

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[1a] Eusebius of Caesarea, Praeparatio Evangelica, Book IX, chapters 19-29, to access this chapter online, click here

[1b] Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book I, 21:141, to access this text online, click here

[1c] For example, the above mentioned chapter from Clement's work starts with: On the plagiarizing of the dogmas of the philosophers from the Hebrews, we shall treat a little afterwards...

[2] The Greek historian Polybius (200-118 BCE) nicknamed him Epimanes, which means the madman (Polybius, Fragments, XXVI, 10)

[3] This Temple was erected in 151 BCE and destroyed by the Romans in 73 CE, following the War of the Jews, which means that it stood for over 220 years, nearly as long as the temples in Jerusalem; it was accepted to be holding sacrifices, as mentioned in the Talmud: R. Isaac said: I have heard that sacrifices may be offered in the Temple of Onias at the present day. (Talmud, Megilah, 10a)

[4] According to Eusebius' Chronicles, this emancipation was decreed at the end of the 122th Olympiad (about 288 BCE)

[5] For the connection between Aristotle's philosophy and the teaching of Jewish scholars, click here

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