Thursday 24 January 2013

Maccabean revolt- part 1

An account of the revolt of the Maccabees, and the battle between the Jewish monotheists and the Seleukid Empire. 

During the reign of Great King Seleukus IV Philopater, Hannibaal Baraq of Qart-Hadasht arrived in Tyre.  He was once a general in his home city, but was fleeing because the city's judges (shoftim) and assembly of elders had driven him out into exile.  He went to the Seleukid king in hopes of getting his empire to install him as a general and fight against the rising power of Rome in the west.  Seleukus eventually fought against the Romans, but was forced to sign a peace treaty which allowed the Romans to take his son and heir back to Rome as a hostage. 

Seleukus was required to pay a large sum of money, and so sent his minister Heliodoros to Jerusalem to plunder wealth from the temple treasury.  On his return, Heliodoros killed the king, but was overthrown by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. 

During the reign of Antiochus, the Judahite world was in conflict.  Some of them adhered to their ancestral Canaanite religion, while others followed the monotheistic religion of Josiah and the Deuteronimistic reformers.  For example, several Judahites built a temple in the city of Yebu in Egypt.  This temple was dedicated not only to Yahweh, but also to Bethel and Anat.  Indeed, it was very common for the Judahites living in Egypt to be polytheists.  In Gerizim and Shechem, the Samaritans had built a large temple to Yahweh and to Baal Berith (one had also stood there long before, but was gone by then).  Jerusalem's own temple was very different.  It was under the control of the monotheists, as was much of the city of Jerusalem.  The current high priest was Honiyyo, the son of Simon.  Despite this, there were polytheists in Judah, and even in Jerusalem itself there was much trading with the Sidonians. 

Antiochus removed Honiyyo as high priest, and installed his brother Joshua as high priest in his place.  Joshua (who was also known by his Greek name, Jason) built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, and began to pay money to the king.  To appease the king, he also gave Jerusalem the secondary name Antioch, which would be its Greek name.  Several people were pleased with the Jerusalem gymnasium, while others were angry with Joshua and wanted Honiyyo to be re-installed.

Joshua sent a Benjamite named Honiyyo Menelaus (different from the other Honiyyo, who didn't have a Greek name) to deliver money to the Great King, and he took this opportunity to bribe Antiochus into making him high priest instead.  Joshua fled from Jerusalem to the land of the Ammonites. 

Honiyyo Menelaus was a polytheist, following his ancestral religion.  He began to restore the high places and altars of the various Canaanite gods which were worshiped around Judah before their shrines were destroyed by the monotheists.  These gods were often equated with Greek gods by the Seleukids, and the monotheistic Jews accused the Greeks of introducing worship of these 'foreign' gods into Judah, because they wanted to hide their Canaanite polytheistic origins.  From then on, 'Hellene' became a word used by many Jews to mean 'barbarian', or an outsider who worships 'false' or 'foreign' gods- regardless of whether or not that person actually was Greek (indeed, Judahite polytheists were also called this).  Money was also sent from Jerusalem to sponsor athletes in the Tyrian Games, which were held at Tyre for the god Melqart (equated by the Greeks with Herakles, and the Games themselves were started by Alexander after he conquered the city). 

The new high priest was also responsible for having many temples built in Jerusalem for the old gods of that city.  Baal Shamem was none other than great Zeus Olympios, while Melqart was Herakles, Ashtart was Aphrodite, and Eshmun was Asklepios.  Groves were built for various gods, and worship of Pan and Daphne and various heroes from Greek and Semitic legend found their place in Judah.  It is important to remember that despite the insistence of the monotheists that these gods were 'foreign' to the Jews, Honiyyo Menelaus and the others like him were simply returning to the polytheism of their ancestors, which until then had not been in any position of power or state religion in Judah despite being practiced by quite a few people living there.  Honiyyo Menelaus appealed to the Greeks for support, as they were fellow polytheists they would allow him to escape persecution. 

Antiochus then sent an officer named Sostrates to subdue Joshua's followers, and collect a sum of money from Honiyyo Menelaus.  It was then that the other Honiyyo (the brother of Joshua, and son of Simon) heard of this and publicly accused Honiyyo Menelaus of robbing the temple and seizing the sacred vessels.  In order to escape these accusations, Honiyyo Menelaus sent the king's lieutenant Andronicus to kill Honiyyo the son of Simon at the sanctuary in the city of Daphne, near Antioch. 

After this had been done, Honiyyo Menelaus left his brother Lysimachus in charge of paying the money to the Great King.  However, violence broke out, and a mob of Jewish monotheists killed Lysimachus.  They brought their claim before the king that Honiyyo Menelaus and Lysimachus had been plundering the temple in order to pay the money, while Honiyyo Menelaus accused them of being allies of the Egyptians and persecuting him because they were opposed to the Seleukid government.  Antiochus then executed several of the Jews.

Following this, there was another great war between the Seleukid and Ptolemaic empires, with Antiochus going as far as to advance into Egypt in order to take it.  While he was away in Egypt, Joshua returned from Ammon and installed himself as high priest at Jerusalem, forcing Honiyyo Menelaus to flee into the citadel.  A rumor was started that Antiochus was dead, and so Joshua was ruling over Judah.  In a rage at this treason, Antiochus returned to Jerusalem and besieged the city, killing many inhabitants.  Joshua was forced to abandon his position as high priest, and flee from Jerusalem once more to the land of the Ammonites.  From here he was pursued once more, and so fled into Egypt.  Finally, he fled to Greece and went to Sparta, where he died.  Antiochus installed Honiyyo Menelaus as the high priest again.

The Great King managed to anger much of his empire in his attempt to gain money, as he plundered several temples, including the Jerusalem temple, a Persian Anahita temple, and the temple of Bel in Elam.  Becoming unpopular with his subjects in all provinces, Antiochus turned to his vassal satraps in an effort to control the populations.

In Jerusalem, Honiyyo Menelaus continued his polytheistic religion and customs.  The king's birthday was made a public holiday.  The Samaritans equated Baal Berith with Zeus Xenios, and sent a message to Antiochus claiming to be Sidonians and announcing that Gerizim and Shechem were sites of worship for Zeus Xenios.  This was done to show that their religion was polytheistic, but many monotheistic Jews were angered that Yahweh was sharing a temple with Baal Berith.  But the final stage was yet to come.  Honiyyo Menelaus had already built several temples to various gods in Jerusalem, but he now turned his attention toward the main temple.  This temple, he decided, would return to being a polytheistic temple as it had in the days of old before Josiah and Hezekiah.  Idols of gods and goddesses were placed inside.  Yahweh himself was equated with Zeus and Dionysos.  It was for this reason that a public festival was installed into Jerusalem which involved processions for Yahweh (Dionysos) while wearing wreaths of ivy.  Zeus Olympios had already been equated with Baal Shamem, and so it was not difficult for Honiyyo Menelaus and his supporters to gain an idol of this god.  This Zeus Olympios idol was installed in the Jerusalem temple as the cult statue, and was meant to represent Yahweh.

As it can be imagined, this created conflict between the polytheistic and monotheistic Judahites.  Antiochus supported the polytheists, and in order to stop a potential rebellion sent an Athenian senator to Jerusalem to command the people to sacrifice to the gods by law as part of the state religion.

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