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Outlines Of Jewish History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. Visit of Alexander the Great: His favors to the Jews of





              2. Rapid Changes of Foreign Rulers.




              3. Prosperous Rule of Simon I and Eleazar:

              Public works of Simon the Just.


                            The Septuagint.


              4. Rise of Hellenism.






              1. Onias II (250–226 B. C.):

              His difficulties with Ptolemy III, Euergetes.


                            Power of the “Son of Tobias.”




              2. Simon II (226–198, B. C.):

              His personal courage against Ptolemy IV, Philopator.


                            Palestine finally subjected to Antiochus III, the Great.






              1. Onias III (198–175 B. C.):

              Prosperous beginning of his pontificate (2 Mach. 3:1–3).


                            Episode of Heliodorus (2 Mach. 3:4–4:6); Onias in Antioch.




              2. Jason and Menelaus:

              Rapid growth of Hellenism in Jerusalem under Jason.


                            Accession and tyranny of Menelaus.


                            Plunder of Jerusalem and profanation of the temple by Antiochus IV, Epiphanes.


§ 1. From Jaddus to Eleazar

1. Visit and Favors of Alexander the Great. The religious freedom and material prosperity which the Jews had so long enjoyed under the Persian suzerainty explain how, after the rapid overthrow of the Persian domination in Syria by Alexander the Great, the Jewish high priest Jaddus refused to transfer to the Greek conqueror the allegiance which the nation had vowed to the Persian monarchs. The capture of Tyre by Alexander and the report of his cruelties to its inhabitants overawed, however, the Jews, and to appease the victorious king, now on his march towards Jerusalem through the plain of Saron, they sent him ambassadors. As he approached the Holy City, a long procession of priests and elders, headed by Jaddus, clad in his pontifical robes, went out to meet him on the plateau of Scopus, the high ridge to the north of Jerusalem.

Following a wise policy of conciliation, the Greek monarch accepted the proffered submission of the Jews and entering their city, displayed the greatest reverence for the worship of Jehovah. Having offered sacrifices in the Temple, he was shown in the prophecies of Daniel the prediction that a Greek would overthrow the Persian empire; whereupon, ha granted to the Jews the free enjoyment of their religious and civil liberties for themselves and for their brethren in Media and Babylonia, together with the exemption of tribute during the Sabbatical years.

These great favors of Alexander to the Jews of Jerusalem so attached the nation to his cause that many among them enlisted in his army and followed him in his march to Egypt. In return for the valuable services of this Jewish contingent, the Macedonian conqueror of the land of the Pharaos granted to the Jews who settled in the new Egyptian city he had founded, and which—after his own name—he had called Alexandria, equal civic rights with the Macedonians (331 B. C.).

The visit of Alexander to Jerusalem, just recorded, is known to us only by the testimony of Josephus, and as in this testimony marvellous circumstances are mingled with natural events, the whole story has been rejected by several writers. Many things, however, stated by Josephus in this connection, fit in so well with the general history of the time that his narrative must be admitted as grounded on fact (Antiquities of the Jews, book xi, chap. viii; cfr. also SMITH, New Testament History, p. 16, sq.).

2. Rapid Changes of Foreign Rulers. Upon the death of Alexander (323 B. C.), his vast empire was divided among his generals: Egypt was assigned to Ptolemy I, son of Lagus (323–285 B. C.), whilst Palestine, as a part of Cœle Syria, passed into the possession of Laomedon. Between these two rivals a war soon broke out, and for fifteen years the Holy Land was alternately a province of Egypt, or a province of Syria, according to the varying fortunes of war. At the beginning of this conflict, Onias I, the Jewish high priest, having refused to transfer the allegiance of the nation to the ruler of Egypt, saw Jerusalem taken by a large Egyptian army, which entered it under the pretence of offering sacrifice, on a Sabbath day, when religious scruples prevented the Jews from offering any resistance (320 B. C.). A few years later, Palestine fell into the hands of Antigonus, one of the most successful generals of Alexander (314 B. C.), but two years later it became again a possession of Egypt. Once more Palestine was reconquered by Antigonus, who gave orders that all its fortresses should be dismantled, but ultimately in 301 B. C, after the decisive battle of Ipsus, in Phrygia, whilst Upper Syria was adjudged to Seleucus I, Judæa and Samaria were annexed to Egypt, and remained so during a whole century (301–202 B. C.).

3. Prosperous Rule of Simon the Just and Eleazar. The successor of Onias I, in the high priesthood, was Simon, surnamed the Just (310–291 B. C.), who is the last of “the men of renown” praised in the book of Ecclesiasticus, chapter 50. From this inspired book we learn that Simon I repaired and fortified Jerusalem and its Temple with strong and lofty walls, made a spacious reservoir of water, and maintained the Divine service in the greatest splendor (50:1–23). Jewish tradition has ever regarded this great pontiff as the last member of the Great Synagogue, and its rule as “the best period of the restored theocracy” (SMITH, New Testament History, page 20).

Simon I was succeeded by his brother Eleazar II, whose rule from 291 to 276 B. C. seems to have been blessed with profound peace under the mild government of the first two Ptolemies, Soter (son of Lagus) and Philadelphus (B. C. 285–247). It is under the reign of this latter king that a portion of the Hebrew sacred Scriptures was rendered into Greek for the first time. This fact is made known to us by a legend, the substance of which is briefly as follows: The King of Egypt, Ptolemy Philadelphus, we are told, had recently established a library in Alexandria, his capital, and at the suggestion of his head librarian, Demetrius Phalereus, he determined to enrich it with a copy in Greek of the Sacred Writings of the Jews. Thereupon, he was advised by one of his distinguished officers, Aristeas by name, to set free the thousands of Jewish slaves who were in the various parts of the kingdom, in order that he might thereby secure the good-will and help of the Jewish authorities at Jerusalem to carry out his design. This he did with royal liberality; and a long procession of these freed men started for the Holy City, bearing with them most costly presents for the Temple, together with a letter from the king, requesting Eleazar, the high priest, to send a copy of the Law, and Jewish scholars capable of translating it.

In compliance with the request, Eleazar sends down to Egypt fine parchment manuscripts of the Pentateuch written in golden letters, and six learned men out of each tribe, seventy-two in all (hence the version received the name of the Septuagint, which is a round figure for seventy-two), to carry out the great work of the translation. During seven days the interpreters have audiences of the king and excite the admiration of all by the wisdom with which they answer seventy-two questions, after which lodgings are assigned to them in the island of Pharos, away from the bustle of the capital. There they complete their work in seventy-two days, and it obtains the formal approval of the Jews of Alexandria. Finally, King Ptolemy receives the translation of the Law with great reverence, and sends the interpreters home laden with rich gifts for themselves and for the high priest.

Whatever may be thought of the marvellous details of this legend, which was accepted by Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, book xii, chapter ii) and by many writers after him, it seems beyond doubt (1) that it refers to a time when the numerous Jews, who had settled in Egypt, had ceased to be familiar with the Hebrew language, and therefore desired a Greek translation of the Law for public reading in the synagogues; (2) that a translation of the Pentateuch was made in Alexandria about the middle of the third century before Christ; (3) that the King of Egypt, Ptolemy Philadelphus, probably showed some interest in the work, and obtained a copy of the translation for his royal library of Alexandria; (4) that friendly relations existed between Ptolemy Philadelphus and the Jewish high priest Eleazar. (For fuller information, see article “The Septuagint” in American Ecclesiastical Review, August. 1896, by the present writer.)

4. Rise of Hellenism. It is to the vast conquests of Alexander the Great that we must refer the origin of those influences which are designated under the general name of Hellenism. “It had been his fond dream to found a universal empire which would be held together not merely by the unity of government, but also by the unity of language, customs and civilization. All the Oriental nations were to be saturated with Hellenic (that is Greek) culture, and to be bound together with one great whole by means of this intellectual force. He therefore took care that always Greek colonists should directly follow in the steps of his army. New cities were founded, inhabited only by Greeks, and also in the old cities Greek colonists were settled. Thus over one-half of Asia a network of Greek culture was stretched, which had as its object the reducing under its influence of the whole of the surrounding regions. The successors of Alexander the Great continued his work; and it is a striking testimony to the power of Greek culture that it fulfilled in large measure the mission which Alexander had assigned to it. All Western Asia, in fact, if not among the wide masses of the population, yet certainly among the higher ranks of society, became thoroughly Hellenized” (SCHURER, The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, first division, vol. i. page 194, sq., English Translation). Of course, this steady advance of Greek civilization all through Western Asia meant the spread of ideas and customs, moral, social and religious antagonistic to the religious and national traditions and customs of the theocracy but lately restored and enforced in Israel. It is therefore important to notice the rise and early developments of influences which from the very beginning were an abiding danger for the Jews who resided outside Palestine because of their daily contact with Hellenic culture, and which very soon constituted a real danger for the faith and morals of the Jews of the Holy Land, because many cities in the neighborhood of Juda and Benjamin offered to them, together with advantages of a material and intellectual kind, numerous and powerful allurements to foreign customs and pagan rites.

§ 2. Onias II and Simon II

1. Onias II (250–226 B. C.). For some unknown reason, Onias II, the son of Simon the Just, entered on the high priesthood only after the successive rules of his uncles Eleazar and Manasses. He proved a ruler very much unlike his father of glorious memory. Whilst Simon I was an active and liberal prince, ever faithful to Egyptian suzerainty, Onias, on the contrary, showed himself an indolent ruler who probably through avarice and through compliance with Syrian influence withheld for several years from Ptolemy III, Euergetes (247–222 B. C.), the annual tribute of twenty talents. Not withstanding his well-known good-will towards the Jews, the King of Egypt threatened Palestine with invasion should Onias refuse longer to obey the summons to answer for his conduct. The threatened invasion was however averted owing to the singular cleverness of the high-priest’s nephew, Joseph, “the son of Tobias” as he is called, who paid the arrears, and so ingratiated himself with the Egyptian monarch that for twenty-two years he held the office of collector of the tribute of Phenicia, Palestine and Cœle-Syria. Unfortunately, the power which the son of Tobias had started in the Holy Land was soon to prove “a source of evils as great as the danger from which he had delivered it” (SMITH, New Testament History, p. 22; cfr. JOSEPHUS, Antiq. of the Jews, book xii, chap. iv, § 1–6).

2. Simon II (226–198 B. C.). The son and successor of Onias II was Simon II, who became high priest four years before Ptolemy IV, Philopator (222–204 B. C), ascended the throne of Egypt, and five years before Antiochus III, the Great, ascended that of Syria. Between these two great rivals, Judæa was indeed in a precarious condition; yet, it clung at first to its allegiance to Egypt, and after his great victory at Raphia, near Gaza (B. C. 217), Philopator paid a friendly visit to Jerusalem, offered sacrifices and made rich presents to the Temple. Impelled, however, by curiosity, the Egyptian king wished to enter the sanctuary and penetrate into the Most Holy Place, as indeed he would have been at perfect liberty to do in any Egyptian temple. To this the high priest objected with great courage and firmness, but apparently in vain, until a preternatural terror seized the king and prevented him from violating the innermost sanctuary of the living God.

This mortifying event seems to have marked the end of the kind disposition of the Egyptian ruler towards the Jews, and we are told, that upon his return to Alexandria he started a violent persecution against the Jewish element of that city. At his death, his son and successor Ptolemy V, Epiphanes, was but a child five years old, and Antiochus III availed himself of this opportunity for attacking the Egyptian dominions. In 203 B. C. the Syrian monarch seized Cœle-Syria and Judæa, but in 199 B. C. Scopas, the Egyptian general, recovered Judæa, garrisoned Jerusalem and ruled over it with an iron hand. Finally, in the following year, Antiochus defeated the Egyptian forces in a decisive battle at the foot of Mount Panium—thus named after a cave sacred to Pan—near the sources of the Jordan, and obtained thereby full mastery over the territory of Cœle-Syria and Judæa. The Syrian conqueror was welcomed as a deliverer into the Holy City, and he, on his part, anxious to attach the Jews to his cause, issued a decree whereby he granted them full freedom of worship, “forbade the intrusion of strangers into the Temple and contributed liberally towards the regular celebration of its services. At the same time, imitating the examples of Alexander and Seleucus, he gave orders to Zeuxis, the general of his forces, to remove 2,000 Jewish families from Babylon into Phrygia and Lydia, where they were to be permitted to use their own laws, to have lands assigned to them, and to be exempted from all tribute for ten years” (MACLEAR, New Testament History, p. 15; cfr. JOSEPHUS, Antiq. of the Jews, book xii. chap. iii, §§ 3, 4).

§ 3. Onias III, Jason and Menelaus

1. Onias III. The same year in which Antiochus III showed himself so favorable to the Jewish people and religion, the son of Simon II succeeded his father in the high priesthood under the title of Onias III (198–175 B. C.). Of the beginning of this new pontificate, the second book of Machabees (3:1–3) gives us a short but laudatory description: peace and order prevailed in the Holy City, and royal gifts were bestowed in abundance upon the Temple of Jehovah, and in particular, King Seleucus IV, Philopator (187–175 B. C.), the successor of Antiochus the Great, defrayed liberally all the expenses entailed by the offering of the Jewish sacrifices.

The peace and prosperity of Onias’s godly rule were soon disturbed, however, by the disgraceful contests among the members of the family of Joseph, the successful collector of revenue already spoken of under a preceding high priest. However just, the intervention of Onias III simply resulted in arousing against him the revengeful feelings of Simon, apparently a member of that powerful family and now governor of the Temple and collector of the royal revenue for Seleucus IV. In consequence, Simon fled to Apollonius, the royal governor of Cœle-Syria, and told him of enormous treasures laid up in the Jewish temple. Upon this unexpected but most welcome news for the thoroughly exhausted treasury of the Syrian king, Heliodorus the royal treasurer was immediately dispatched to Jerusalem to seize this most alluring treasure. The inspired writer of the second book of Machabees has left a most graphic account of the interview between the Syrian envoy and the Jewish high priest; of the intense agony of both priest and people when Heliodorus, on the very day he had fixed for the purpose, advanced to pillage the Temple of Jehovah; of the terrible manner in which the royal officer was prevented by heavenly messengers from carrying out his work of profanation and plunder, and finally of the manner in which he was restored to health and vigor by the prayers of Onias in his behalf, and then withdrew to Seleucus testifying openly to his master that “He who hath His dwelling in the heavens, is the Visitor and Protector of that place” (2 Mach. 3:4–40).

Naturally enough, Simon was enraged at this ill-success of Heliodorus’s expedition, and he openly accused Onias of imposture, whilst his partisans in Jerusalem felt so sure of his influence with the governor of Cœle-Syria that they did not hesitate to defy the authority of the High priest by committing several murders in the Holy City itself. Under such circumstances, Onias understood that the only means to set all things right was to go up to Antioch, and to request the direct interposition of the sovereign, and he therefore repaired to the great capital of the Syrian empire (2 Mach. 4:1–6).

2. Jason and Menelaus. Not long after the arrival of the Jewish high priest at Antioch, Seleucus was succeeded on the throne of Syria by his brother Antiochus IV, surnamed Epiphancs “the Illustrious,” or Epimanes “the Madman,” from whom, instead of the vindication he had come to claim, Onias soon met with deposition from the high priesthood. This deposition purchased at very great price by an unworthy brother of Onias, who became high priest, was the real triumph of Hellenism in Jerusalem. Long before this, Greek customs and manners had gradually crept into the Holy City from the surrounding Greek cities, and had been favored by leading men among the Jews; but the accession to the high priesthood of a man whose very name—he had changed his Hebrew name of Josue into the Greek name of Jason—was a pledge to Hellenism, was an event of great significance in Israel (1 Mach. 1:12, sq.; 2 Mach. 4:13). In point of fact, the new high priest had hardly entered on his government when his true character became manifest to all. Nothing was omitted by him to wean the Jewish population from all the customs and religious views and practices of their fathers; and during the three years of his rule, he succeeded but too well in corrupting the faith and morals of the youth of Jerusalem. (For details see 2 Mach. 4:9–22; cfr. also SCHURER, vol. i, p. 202, sq.)

His successor was another Hellenizing leader, who purchased the deposition of the incumbent high priest by offering to the crown of Syria 300 talents of silver over and above the amount already paid by Jason. Of this new high priest—who also exchanged his Hebrew name of Onias, for a Greek name, namely, that of Menelaus—Holy Writ speaks as “having the mind of a cruel tyrant, and the rage of a wild beast” (2 Mach. 4:25). In fact, all that we know of him, points to one of the worst tyrants that ever lived. To pay the enormous sum of money he had promised to Antiochus, he stole several sacred vessels of gold, and when rebuked for this crime by the venerable Onias III, “his gold all powerful among the officers of the Syrian court” (Milman) secured the murder of the old man. Nor was his gold less powerful on another occasion, when the most serious charges against his cruel rule were brought by Jewish ambassadors before King Antiochus who was then in Tyre; for as we are old by the sacred text “Menelaus who was guilty of all the evil, was acquitted by the king of the accusations, and those poor men, who, if they had pleaded their cause even before Scythians (the most barbarous nation in the estimation of the time), should have been judged innocent, were condemned to death” (2 Mach. 4:23–50).

Meantime, Jason had not given up all hope of recovering the high priesthood, and when the following year the false rumor that Antiochus IV had perished in his expedition against Egypt, reached Palestine, he rebelled against Menelaus, his brother, took the Holy City and exercised the most frightful revenge against his opponents. He did not, however, succeed in securing again the high dignity he so ardently coveted, for his extreme cruelties caused a powerful reaction which compelled him to fly beyond the Jordan. At the news of the insurrection, which was probably reported to Antiochus as a deliberate revolt of the whole nation, the Syrian monarch most successful against Egypt, “left that country with a furious mind, and took Jerusalem by force of arms.” A three days’ massacre followed, during which 40,000 inhabitants were slaughtered and as many more sold as slaves. To complete the humiliation of the Jews, Antiochus next entered every part of the Temple under the guidance of Menelaus “that traitor to the laws and to his country,” took possession of all the sacred vessels and hidden treasures which he found, after which he departed into his own country leaving Menelaus in charge of the high priesthood, whilst two foreign officers, Phillip and Andronicus, became governors of Jerusalem and Samaria respectively (170 B. C.; cfr. 1 Mach. 1:17–29; 2 Mach. 5:1–23).

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