Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, by Julius Wellhausen, , at sacred-texts.com
Palestine fell into Alexander's possession in 332; after his death it had an ample share of the troubles arising out of the partition of his inheritance. In 320 it was seized by Ptolemy I., who on a Sabbath-day took Jerusalem; but in 315 he had to give way before Antigonus. Even before the battle of Ipsus, however, he recovered possession once more, and for a century thereafter Southern Syria continued to belong to the Egyptian crown, although the Seleucidæ more than once sought to wrench it away.
In the priestly dynasty during the period of the Ptolemies, Onias I. ben Jaddua was succeeded by his son Simon I., after whom again came first his brothers Eleazar and Manasseh, and next his son Onias II.;
the last-named was in his turn followed by his son Simon II., whose praises are sung by the son of Sirach (xlix. 14-16). At the side of the high priest stood the gerusia of the town of Jerusalem, as a council of state, including the higher ranks of the priesthood. The new sovereign power was at once stronger and juster than the Persian,—at least under the earlier Ptolemies; the power of the national government increased; to it was intrusted the business of raising the tribute.
As a consequence of the revolutionary changes which had taken place in the conditions of the whole East, the Jewish dispersion (diaspora) began vigorously to spread. It dated its beginning indeed from an earlier period,—from the time when the Jews had lost their land and kingdom, but yet, thanks to their religion, could not part with their nationality. They did not by any means all return from Babylon; perhaps the majority permanently settled abroad. The successors of Alexander (diadochi) fully appreciated this international element, and used it as a link between their barbarian and Hellenic populations. Everywhere they encouraged the settlement of Jews,—in Asia Minor, in Syria, and especially in Egypt. Alongside of the Palestinian there arose a Hellenistic Judaism which had its metropolis in Alexandria. Here, under Ptolemy I. and II., the Torah had already been translated into Greek, and around this sprung up a Jewish-Greek literature which soon became very extensive. At the court and in the army of the Ptolemies many Jews rose to prominent positions; everywhere they received the preference over, and everywhere they in consequence earned the hatred of, the indigenous population.
After the death of Ptolemy IV. (205) Antiochus III. attained the object towards which he and his predecessors had long been vainly striving; after a war protracted with varying success through several years, he succeeded at last in incorporating Palestine with the kingdom of the Seleucidæ. The Jews took his side, less perhaps because they had become disgusted with the really sadly degenerate Egyptian rule, than because they had foreseen the issue of the contest, and preferred to attach themselves voluntarily to the winning side. In grateful acknowledgment, Antiochus confirmed and enlarged certain privileges of the "holy camp," i.e., of Jerusalem (Josephus, Ant., xii. 3, 3). It soon, however, became manifest that the Jews had made but a poor bargain in this exchange. Three years after his defeat at Magnesia, Antiochus III.
died (187), leaving to his son Seleucus IV. an immense burden of debt, which he had incurred by his unprosperous Roman war. Seleucus, in his straits, could not afford to be over-scrupulous in appropriating money where it was to be found: he did not need to be twice told that the wealth of the temple at Jerusalem was out of all proportion to the expenses of the sacrificial service. The sacred treasure accordingly made the narrowest possible escape from being plundered; Heliodorus, who had been charged by the king to seize it, was deterred at the last moment by a heavenly vision. But the Jews derived no permanent advantage from this.
It was a priest of rank, Simon by name, who had called the attention of the king to the temple treasure; his motive had been spite against the high priest Onias III., the son and successor of Simon II. The circumstance is one indication of a melancholy process of disintegration that was at that time going on within the hierocracy. The high-priesthood, although there were exceptional cases, such as that of Simon II., was regarded less as a sacred office than as a profitable princedom; within the ranks of the priestly nobility arose envious and jealous factions; personal advancement was sought by means of the favour of the overlord, who had something to say in the making of appointments. A collateral branch of the ruling family, that of the children of Tobias, had by means of the ill-gotten wealth of Joseph ben Tobias attained to a position of ascendancy, and competed in point of power with the high priest himself. It appears that the above-mentioned Simon, and his still more scandalous brother Menelaus, also belonged to the Tobiadæ, and, relying upon the support of their powerful party (Josephus, Ant., xii. 5, 1), cherished the purpose of securing the high-priesthood by the aid of the Syrian king.
The failure of the mission of Heliodorus was attributed by Simon to a piece of trickery on the part of Onias the high priest, who accordingly found himself called upon to make his own justification at court and to expose the intrigues of his adversary. Meanwhile Seleucus IV. died of poison (175), and Antiochus IV. Epiphanes did not confirm Onias in his dignity, but detained him in Antioch, while he made over the office to his brother Jason, who had offered a higher rent. Possibly the Tobiadæ also had something to do with this arrangement; at all events, Menelaus was at the outset the right hand of the new high priest. To secure still further the favour of the king, Jason held himself out to be an enlightened
friend of the Greeks, and begged for leave to found in Jerusalem a gymnasium and an ephebeum, and to be allowed to sell to the inhabitants there the rights of citizenship in Antioch,—a request which was readily granted.
The malady which had long been incubating now reached its acute phase. Just in proportion as Hellenism showed itself friendly did it present elements of danger to Judaism. From the periphery it slowly advanced towards the centre, from the diaspora to Jerusalem, from mere matters of external fashion to matters of the most profound conviction. 1 Especially did the upper and cultivated classes of society begin to feel ashamed, in presence of the refined Greeks, of their Jewish singularity, and to do all in their power to tone it down and conceal it. In this the priestly nobility made itself conspicuous as the most secular section of the community, and it was the high priest who took the initiative in measures which aimed at a complete Hellenising of the Jews. He outdid every one else in paganism. Once he sent a considerable present for offerings to the Syrian Hercules on the occasion of his festival; but his messenger, ashamed to apply the money to such a purpose, set it apart for the construction of royal ships of war.
The friendship shown by Jason for the Greek king and for all that was Hellenic did not prevent Antiochus IV. from setting pecuniary considerations before all others. Menelaus, intrusted with the mission of conveying to Antioch the annual Jewish tribute, availed himself of the opportunity to promote his own personal interests by offering a higher sum for the high-priesthood, and having otherwise ingratiated himself with the king, gained his object (171). But though nominated, he did not find it quite easy to obtain possession of the post. The Tobiadæ took his side, but the body of the people stuck to Jason, who was compelled to give way only when Syrian troops had been brought upon the scene. Menelaus had immediately, however, to encounter another difficulty, for he could not at once pay the amount of tribute which he had promised. He helped himself so far indeed by robbing the temple, but this landed him in new embarrassments. Onias III., who was living out of employment at Antioch, threatened to make compromising revelations to the king; he was, however, opportunely assassinated. The rage of the people against the priestly temple-plunderer now broke out
in a rising against a certain Lysimachus, who at the instance of the absent Menelaus had made further inroads upon the sacred treasury. The Jews’ defence before the king (at Tyre) on account of this uproar resolved itself into a grievous complaint against the conduct of Menelaus. His case was a bad one, but money again helped him out of his straits, and the extreme penalty of the law fell upon his accusers.
The feelings of the Jews with reference to this wolfish shepherd may easily be imagined. Nothing but fear of Antiochus held them in check. Then a report gained currency that the king had perished in an expedition against Egypt (170); and Jason, who meanwhile had found refuge in Ammanitis, availed himself of the prevailing current of feeling to resume his authority with the help of one thousand men. He was not able, however, to hold the position long, partly because he showed an unwise vindictiveness against his enemies, partly (and chiefly) because the rumour of the death of Antiochus turned out to be false. The king was already, in fact, close at hand on his return from Egypt, full of anger at an insurrection which he regarded as having been directed against himself. He inflicted severe and bloody chastisement upon Jerusalem, carried off the treasures of the temple, and restored Menelaus, placing Syrian officials at his side. Jason fled from place to place, and ultimately died in misery at Lacedaemon.
The deepest despondency prevailed in Judæa; but its cup of sorrow was not yet full. Antiochus, probably soon after his last Egyptian expedition (168), sent Apollonius with an army against Jerusalem. He fell upon the unsuspecting city, disarmed the inhabitants and demolished the walls, but on the other hand fortified Acra, and garrisoned it strongly, so as to make it a standing menace to the whole country. Having thus made his preparations, he proceeded to carry out his main instructions. All that was religiously distinctive of Judaism was to be removed; such was the will of the king. The Mosaic cultus was abolished, Sabbath observance and the rite of circumcision prohibited, all copies of the Torah confiscated and burnt. In the desecrated and partially-destroyed temple pagan ceremonies were performed, and upon the great altar of burnt-offering a small altar to Jupiter Capitolinus was erected, on which the first offering was made on 25th Kislev 168. In the country towns also heathen altars were erected, and the Jews compelled, on pain of death, publicly to adore the false gods and to eat swine's flesh that had been sacrificed to idols.
The princes and grandees of the Jews had represented to Antiochus that the people were ripe for Hellenisation; and inasmuch as, apart from this, to reduce to uniformity the extremely motley constituents of his kingdom was a scheme that lay near his heart, he was very willing to believe them. That the very opposite was the case must of course have become quite evident very soon; but the resistance of the Jews taking the form of rebellious risings against his creatures, he fell upon the hopeless plan of coercion,—hopeless, for he could attain his end only by making all Judæa one vast graveyard. There existed indeed a pagan party; the Syrian garrison of Acra was partly composed of Jews who sold themselves to be the executioners of their countrymen. Fear also influenced many to deny their convictions; but the majority adhered firmly to the religion of their fathers. Jerusalem, the centre of the process of Hellenisation, was abandoned by its inhabitants, who made their escape to Egypt, or hid themselves in the country, in deserts and caves. The scribes in especial held fast by the law; and they were joined by the party of the Asidæans (i.e., pious ones).
516:1 The Hellenising fashion is amusingly exemplified in the Grecising of the Jewish names; e.g., Alcimus = Eljakim, Jason = Jesus, Joshua; Menelaus = Menahem.