The great persecution- Monday, 33rd Week in ordinary time- 1 Mc 1:10-15, 41-43, 54-57, 62-63
Alexander the Great, who studied under Aristotle, had a vision of uniting the world under Hellenism. Hellenism is the promotion of the Greek language and culture. He succeeds his father Philip in the year 336 BC and defeats the Persian king Darius III that year.
Contrary to popular belief, the division of Alexander’s kingdom was not done at his behest from his deathbed but was a slow break-up of the Empire. After his death, his generals (the ‘diadochi’) began to fight. The two power centres after Alexander were the Ptolemy’s and the Seleucid’s. One of his generals, Seleucus, occupied Babylon in 311 BC. He and the four others become ‘kings’ in 306 BC.
The Greeks in their bid to Hellenize followed a policy of persuasion rather than enforcement. The Jews of the diaspora gradually absorbed Greek Culture. As a consequence the Greek speaking Jews could no longer understand Hebrew Scriptures. Beginning In the third century the Hebrew Scriptures was translated in to Greek. The Jews of Palestine were impacted by Hellenistic colonies that dotted the land of Palestine. Names of places now change e.g. Sebaste to Samaria
Then the Seleucid king, Antiochus III defeated the Ptolemy’s and won over Asia Minor turning their sight to Egypt. In 198 BC, in Panium, near the Jordan headwaters, he shatters the Egyptian army and drove it from Asia. Antiochus now annexes Palestine and makes it part of the Seleucid empire.
But Antiochus III grows big for his boots and dares Rome. He assists the Greeks in the fight against Rome. Rome declares war in 192 BC and drove him out from Europe following the defeated king into Asia, trumping him in Magnesia in 190. In 187 Antiochus III is killed while robbing money from the temple in Elam to pay the Romans For the Jews, things begin to change from now on.
During the reign of Seleucus IV (187-175BC) a certain Simon quarrelled with the high priest Onias III and enticed Seleucus with thoughts of acquiring the temple wealth. Seleucus tries to gain the wealth through his minister Heliodorus but fails. The High priest Onias is now obliged to travel to Seleucus’ court in the face of Simon’s slanders and defend himself. While he is there Seleucus IV is assassinated by Heliodorus, his minister and was succeeded by his brother Antiochus IV Epiphanies.
The story of the Jews between 187-134 is told to us in 1 &2 Maccabees. These two books do not form a literary unit. 2 Maccabees is not a continuation of the first. Two different authors composed these books and each had his own particular interest in writing his work. 1 Maccabees covers the period between 175-134 BC and it tells of the religious persecution of Antiochus Epiphanies IV, the origin and the successes of the Jewish resistance movement, the Jewish independence movement and independent Israel.
2 Maccabees covers the period from a little after 187 BC to a little before 160. It tells of the Seleucid interference under Seleucid IV, the religious persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanies, and the heroic exploits of Judas Maccabeus, as the leader of the Jewish resistance and independence movement.
We see that 1 Maccabees covers a longer historical period than 2 Maccabees. 2 Maccabees almost entirely focuses on Judas Maccabeus and ends before his death while 1 Maccabees focuses not only on Judas Maccabeus but also on the events that took place after his death.
Among the terms of peace that Antiochus III had to submit to the Romans was the surrender of twenty hostages; among them was his son who was also called Antiochus . When Antiochus was released by Rome, he hears of the assassination of Seleucus IV and immediately seized the throne in September 175 BC.
The kingdom of Antiochus the IV is threatened on every side. Internally it is unstable because of a mixed population of different races and cultures. Externally it is menaced by the Parthians in the east, Egyptians in the south and Rome in the west. Faced with a need to defend his kingdom he decides to unify them through aggressive Hellenization and for money he resorted to the pillage and plunder of Jerusalem.
Antiochus IV He begins the worship of Zeus and the other Greek gods and also of himself as the visible manifestation of Zeus. In 169 BC he arrogantly took the title of ‘Theos Epiphanes’ meaning, ‘manifestation of god’. Hence he called himself Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Ironically, not all the Jews were against the Hellenization policy under Antiochus IV. There were differences among the Jews regarding the desirability of Greek culture and the degree to which one could adopt it and still remain a Jew. Some Jews could not compromise their religious practices; others found the old laws an embarrassment and a burden and so they joined with the Gentiles.
To compound matters, there was a struggle for power within the community and these included the office for the High Priest. All the parties in the struggle sought to win the favour of the king and Antiochus promised to support the one who acted according to his will and to provide the money he so desperately needed for his military campaigns. So he begins to meddle in Jewish religious affairs in a way that no other king before him had done.
In the midst of great persecutions and trials the book of Maccabees presents us with heroes who walked the straight and narrow part.
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