Chapter 4

2 Maccabees 4:

1) The Simon mentioned above as the informer about the funds against his own country slandered Onias as the one who incited Heliodorus and instigated the whole miserable affair. 2) He dared to brand as a schemer against the government the man who was the benefactor of the city, the protector of his compatriots, and a zealous defender of the laws.

COMMENTARY:  This is a very popular dodge today—to accuse the innocent of one’s own crimes or failings, which makes any accusation of their own incredible, because how could the first accuser be guilty of something he’s so vehemently against?


3) When Simon’s hostility reached such a pitch that murders were being committed by one of his henchmen,

COMMENTARY:  Plausible deniability.  “He did what?  Oh, I didn’t authorize that!”  And maybe sometimes the one in charge really didn’t authorize murder, but one still bears responsibility for creating a climate where one’s followers would believe that murder is acceptable.


4) Onias saw that the opposition was serious and that Apollonius, son of Menestheus, the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, was abetting Simon’s wickedness.

COMMENTARY:  The murders must have been blatant, then, and yet unpunished by the authorities.  One might get away with a sneaky murder on one’s own, but to be open about it one must have powerful backing.  Which is why so many die of pollution-caused diseases today: the poisoners pay extravagant campaign contributions for anyone who will let them get away with murder.


5) So he had recourse to the king, not as an accuser of his compatriots, but as one looking to the general and particular good of all the people. 6) He saw that without royal attention it would be impossible to have a peaceful government, and that Simon would not desist from his folly.

COMMENTARY:  Having branded Simon as a treacherous snitch against his own people, the author must take pains to distinguish Onias from the same charges.  A populace living in fear of assassination qualifies as a legitimate excuse to ask help from the conqueror.


7) But Seleucus died, and when Antiochus surnamed Epiphanes succeeded him on the throne, Onias’ brother Jason obtained the high priesthood by corrupt means:a

COMMENTARY:  Seleucus died because Heliodorus assassinated him.  (You will remember Heliodorus as the would-be temple robber thrashed by angels.)  And so the way clears for the antisemitic  Antiochus Epiphanes.

Jason, being Onias’ brother, had the prescribed bloodline for the job, but not the proper character.  There’s some irony in his name, though not apparent to the writer at the time.  You see, being enamored of all things Greek and holding his own culture in contempt, he had his name changed to the Greek Jason from its embarrassingly Jewish original: Jesus.


8) in an interview, he promised the king three hundred and sixty talents of silver, as well as eighty talents from another source of income.

COMMENTARY:  You could call that a bribe.  Today we would call it a campaign contribution.  And indeed, it did contribute to King Antiochus’ military campaigns to try and restore the Seleucid Empire to its former glory.  You may remember, from our studies of 1 Maccabees, that Antiochus was seriously strapped for cash.


9) Besides this he would undertake to pay a hundred and fifty more, if he was given authority to establish a gymnasium and a youth center for it and to enroll Jerusalemites as citizens of Antioch.

COMMENTARY:  Interesting, that this version shows the gymnasium coming to Jerusalem under Antiochus, not Ptolemy, Greek Pharaoh of Egypt.  Perhaps the author wanted to spare the Egyptian Jews ,for whom he wrote, this embarrassing detail.

As mentioned in our study of 1 Maccabees, this gymnasium and youth center would train youth both intellectually and athletically in the Greek way of doing things, as well as provide a pick-up parlor for those who wished to follow the Greek custom of matching up teenage boys with adult men for lovers in the interest of furthering their education.  The fact that Jason would not merely be okay with this, but pay to set it up, shows just how much he wanted to be Greek.


(And this really isn’t too surprising.  Conquered people throughout history often come to believe—with the encouragement of their oppressors—that they are culturally inferior, and that their only salvation lies in assimilation.  Yet rejection of one’s heritage often leads to self-loathing, alcoholism and addictions, domestic abuse and similar problems that reinforce even more the message of inferiority.)

Wanting to enroll Jerusalem Jews as Antioch citizens shows another layer to Jason’s move, absent in 1 Maccabees.  Legal citizenship in the empire’s capitol conveyed additional powers and privileges to whoever could secure it. 


10) When Jason received the king’s approval and came into office, he immediately initiated his compatriots into the Greek way of life.

COMMENTARY:  This would have far more impact coming from the High Priest.  His job included teaching them the proper way to be Jewish.  This might be why the people later felt okay with appointing a priest of the wrong lineage as High Priest—because they were so badly led astray by a priest of the right lineage.


11) He set aside the royal concessions granted to the Jews through the mediation of John, father of Eupolemus (that Eupolemus who would later go on an embassy to the Romans to establish friendship and alliance with them); he set aside the lawful practices and introduced customs contrary to the law.

COMMENTARY:  I couldn’t find out what concessions, specifically John won for Judea from the Seleucids.  However, this does set an interesting precedent for the concessions later won by the Maccabees.  It makes a lot more sense if they were restoring rights lost under Antiochus, although that would be less glorious than seizing brand new privileges.

Interestingly, John gave his son a Greek name, but not one drawn from Greek mythology like “Jason”.  Eupolemus means “Good Warrior” or possibly “Fights for Good”.  He’s probably the same Eupolemus who became the first significant Greco-Jewish historian.  Sadly, only fragments of his works remain.


12) With perverse delight he established a gymnasium at the very foot of the citadel, where he induced the noblest young men to wear the Greek hat.

COMMENTARY:  And often nothing else.  “Gymnasium” means “Naked Place”, because the Greeks exercised in the buff.  The position of the gymnasium put it smack dab next to the temple.  Mind you, I’m not personally alarmed by nudity, but putting it there amounted to mooning God.  Context is everything.

The Greeks modeled this wide-brimmed hat on that worn by Hermes, Greek God of, among other things, athletic contests.  Greeks showed off their enrollment in a gymnasium by wearing such hats, which marked the rigors of their exertions as an offering to the god; since Hermes also ruled commerce (and thievery!) they considered this good for business, and conducted many business deals while cleaning up after games in the gymnasium.  So this meant more than a fashion-statement.  It meant a slide into apostasy—encouraged by the High Priest!  Right next door to the Jewish temple.


13) The craze for Hellenism and the adoption of foreign customs reached such a pitch, through the outrageous wickedness of Jason, the renegade and would-be high priest, 14) that the priests no longer cared about the service of the altar. Disdaining the temple and neglecting the sacrifices, they hastened, at the signal for the games, to take part in the unlawful exercises at the arena.

COMMENTARY:  I’m sure many of us, of all faiths (at least in the USA) have at some time encountered a minister who rushed through services during Football Season to catch the big Sunday Game.  As iffy as that might be, imagine if everyone in town perceived the game as  consecrated to a competing deity!  One can debate whether or not the priests intended it as such, or whether they just got caught up in the sports craze, but it’s still putting something ahead of their God.


15) What their ancestors had regarded as honors they despised; what the Greeks esteemed as glory they prized highly.

COMMENTARY:  “Despised” in the Bible usually doesn’t mean “Hated in extremity” as we often say now, but rather, “Counted of little or no value in comparison to some alternative.”


16) For this reason they found themselves in serious trouble: the very people whose manner of life they emulated, and whom they desired to imitate in everything, became their enemies and oppressors.

COMMENTARY:  Especially with Jason funding Antiochus’s war chest!  It has been my personal experience, as well as my observation of the fortunes of others, that whenever we discard our own values or identity in order to please someone else, we don’t just suffer for it, we often suffer at the very hands of those for whom we made this sacrifice in the first place.


17) It is no light matter to flout the laws of God, as subsequent events will show.

COMMENTARY:  A warning to the Hellenized Jews of Alexandria.


18) When the quinquennial games were held at Tyre in the presence of the king,

COMMENTARY:  The Quinquennial Games were Tyre’s imitation of the Olympics, held in tribute to the patron deity of their city.  Their name reflects that these games came around every five years.


19) the vile Jason sent representatives of the Antiochians of Jerusalem, to bring three hundred silver drachmas for the sacrifice to Hercules. But the bearers themselves decided that the money should not be spent on a sacrifice, as that was not right, but should be used for some other purpose.

COMMENTARY:  The author wrote “Hercules”, because the Greeks loved to match the names familiar to them to deities of other nations  who reflected the same or similar archetype, and those who wrote in Greek followed suit, considering it a part of translation.  But in fact the Quinquenniel Games were sacred to Melcarthus, patron deity of Tyre.  So you’ve got a Jewish High Priest making an overt offering to a rival to the deity he’s pledged to serve.  Apparently even his followers found this a bit much.


20) So the contribution meant for the sacrifice to Hercules by the sender, was in fact applied to the construction of triremes by those who brought it.

COMMENTARY:  Triremes are war-ships with three rows of oars for speed.  Thus they also helped to arm those who would soon turn against them.


21)  When Apollonius, son of Menestheus, was sent to Egypt for the coronation of King Philometor, Antiochus learned from him that the king was opposed to his policies. He took measures for his own security; so after going to Joppa, he proceeded to Jerusalem.

COMMENTARY:  We will hear more about Apollonius, as you might remember from the last book.  “King Philometor” was in fact Pharaoh Ptolemy VI, called Ptolemy Philometor, which means that he loved his mother. 


This matters because his mother, Cleopatra, was the sister of Seleucus and Antiochus.  Since he inherited the kingdom in his infancy, she had been the de facto ruler of Egypt.  The Seleucid Empire and Egypt had long disputed over who owned Palestine and Coele-Syria, but with the marriage it had gone to the Seleucids as a dowry payment.


But then she died when her son reached fourteen, and in the ancient world that was old enough for him to rule in his own name.  With dear ol’ Mom out of the way, he wanted to press his claim to that territory!  So now Antiochus feels a pressing need to reroute his travels by way of Jerusalem, to make sure the territory’s secure.


22) There he was received with great pomp by Jason and the people of the city, who escorted him with torchlights and acclamations; following this, he led his army into Phoenicia.

COMMENTARY:  Jason had some territory securing of his own to do: namely the backing provided by King Antiochus for his assimilation efforts.


23) Three years later Jason sent Menelaus, brother of the aforementioned Simon, to deliver the money to the king, and to complete negotiations on urgent matters.

COMMENTARY:  Another Jew with a Greek name.  This one took the name of the cuckolded brother of Agamemnon who went to war to get back his wayward wife, Helen of Troy.  Menelaus means “Wrath of the People”.


Josephus disputes that his father was the same Simon mentioned earlier, which would have made him of the wrong house for the role, and instead says that he was the son of another Simon—the father of Onias and Jason.  By this account, Menelaus originally had the same name as his eldest brother: Onias (how that worked I don’t know) but changed it for love of all things Greek.  My own speculation is that maybe Onias changed his own name to take on the name abandoned by his brother, but if so no record confirms this.


24) But after his introduction to the king, he flattered him with such an air of authority that he secured the high priesthood for himself, outbidding Jason by three hundred talents of silver.

COMMENTARY:  That’s the problem with bribery—sooner or later somebody comes along who can pay more than you can.


25) He returned with the royal commission, but with nothing that made him worthy of the high priesthood; he had the temper of a cruel tyrant and the rage of a wild beast.

COMMENTARY:  This lays the groundwork for assimilation to go from seduction to brute force.


26)  So Jason, who had cheated his own brother and now saw himself cheated by another man, was driven out as a fugitive to the country of the Ammonites.

COMMENTARY:  He who lives by the bribe will die by the bribe, apparently.  The penalties we pay for our sins often display such irony, I’ve noticed.


27) But Menelaus, who obtained the office, paid nothing of the money he had promised to the king,

COMMENTARY:  And that’s still another problem with bribery.  You’re making a deal with someone dishonest to begin with.


28) in spite of the demand of Sostratus, the commandant of the citadel, whose duty it was to collect the taxes. For this reason, both were summoned before the king.

COMMENTARY:  Still, one should think twice before trying to cheat someone with an army.


29) Menelaus left his brother Lysimachus as his deputy in the high priesthood, while Sostratus left Crates, commander of the Cypriots.

COMMENTARY:  Yet another Greek-named Jew takes over the priesthood.  Lysimachus means “Scattering the Battle”, and does not come from mythology.


30) While these things were taking place, the people of Tarsus and Mallus rose in revolt, because their cities had been given as a gift to Antiochis, the king’s concubine.

COMMENTARY:  Mallus is about thirty miles east of Tarsus, a city of Cilicia.  Apparently people didn’t trust Antiochis’s credentials to rule them.


31) So the king hastened off to settle the affair, leaving Andronicus, one of his nobles, as his deputy.

COMMENTARY:  So now everybody has left deputies in charge of everywhere pertinent to the story.


32) Menelaus, for his part, thinking this a good opportunity, stole some gold vessels from the temple and presented them to Andronicus; he had already sold other vessels in Tyre and in the neighboring cities.

COMMENTARY:  I guess he figured that it was good insurance to bribe the guy left in charge in the King’s absence, in case the power shifts yet again.  And apparently the Guardian Angels of the Temple don’t beat up high priests.


33) When Onias had clear evidence, he accused Menelaus publicly, after withdrawing to the inviolable sanctuary at Daphne, near Antioch.

COMMENTARY:  The Sanctuary of Daphne was a grove of bay trees next to the Temple of Apollo.  Because the nereid, Daphne, had turned into a bay tree to escape being raped by Apollo, anyone who could escape to this refuge was considered safe from gods and men alike.  It shows how much the situation has deteriorated that Onias does not feel safe going to one of the closer Jewish sanctuary cities, but must flee all the way to Antioch.  Perhaps he hopes that the Hellenized Menelaus will respect a Pagan sanctuary more than a Jewish one.


34) Thereupon Menelaus approached Andronicus privately and urged him to seize Onias. So Andronicus went to Onias, treacherously reassuring him by offering his right hand in oath, and persuaded him, in spite of his suspicions, to leave the sanctuary. Then, with no regard for justice, he immediately put him to death.

COMMENTARY:  Sadly, money speaks louder than faith in any culture, when dealing with base men.  Even so, Andronicus didn’t dare murder Onias in the grove itself, though he didn’t flinch from making a false oath there.


35) As a result, not only the Jews, but many people of other nations as well, were indignant and angry over the unjust murder of the man.

COMMENTARY:  Menelaus and Andronicus managed to simultaneously blaspheme both faiths at once, plus murder a man for being a whistleblower.  That takes some special skill at villainy!


36When the king returned from the region of Cilicia, the Jews of the city, together with the Greeks who detested the crime, went to see him about the murder of Onias.

COMMENTARY:  Some say that “the city” referred to Antioch, while others maintain that the translation should be “each city”, meaning that Jews from both Antioch and Jerusalem objected.


37) Antiochus was deeply grieved and full of pity; he wept as he recalled the prudence and noble conduct of the deceased.

COMMENTARY:  2 Maccabees is much more nuanced than 1 Maccabees, which portrayed Antiochus simply as a sadistic monster until his deathbed repentance.  But even if he did sell Onias out for cash, he could still respect the former priest.  It is one thing to dispossess a man; another entirely to kill him.


38) Inflamed with anger, he immediately stripped Andronicus of his purple robe, tore off his garments, and had him led through the whole city to the very place where he had committed the outrage against Onias; and there he put the murderer to death. Thus the Lord rendered him the punishment he deserved.

COMMENTARY:  The purple robe would have indicated that Andronicus acted on behalf of the King.  Stripping him naked showed that even in Antioch Greek custom sat uneasily on an Asian throne, for in this part of the world, before the Greeks conquered it, parading criminals naked through the streets was the final humiliation before execution of the worst of the worst.  A respected foe could expect to at least keep his clothing when he lost his head.  So you can see how even in Eastern lands where Greek ways had become the official norm, gymnasiums would make the local people uneasy.


To execute him right outside the Sanctuary of Daphne also had its nuances.  Not only did it expiate with blood the blood of the fallen, it also showed the demigoddess Daphne that the king had avenged the violation of her grove.


39) Many acts of sacrilege had been committed by Lysimachus in the city with the connivance of Menelaus. When word spread, the people assembled in protest against Lysimachus, because a large number of gold vessels had been stolen.

COMMENTARY:  Onias did at least succeed in stirring up the ant’s nest before he died and nobody could unstir it.  Apparently Menelaus, still out of town, left an even worse thief in charge than himself.  I can see a growing disgust with the hereditary priesthood paving the way for the Maccabees to take over.


40) As the crowds, now thoroughly enraged, began to riot, Lysimachus launched an unjustified attack against them with about three thousand armed men under the leadership of a certain Auranus, a man as advanced in folly as he was in years.

COMMENTARY:  Truly the victors write the histories.  No one currently in power would use the word “unjustified” on the use of force to quell a riot.  But one could argue that the riot itself was justified. 


As for the dig against Auranus, one could either see it as a rebuke for one who had spent his life accruing experience in folly instead of in wisdom as one should, or one could see it as saying he was senile.  The outcome seems to go with the latter.


41) Seeing Lysimachus’ attack, people picked up stones, pieces of wood or handfuls of the ashes lying there and threw them in wild confusion at Lysimachus and his men.

COMMENTARY:  Typical rioter’s weaponry, and normally ineffective against an armed response.  However...


42) As a result, they wounded many of them and even killed a few, while they put all to flight. The temple robber himself they killed near the treasury.

COMMENTARY:  Auranus does not seem to have known how to lead an army against an informally-armed mob.  Most likely he did once know, but forgot; a bumbler wouldn’t have made it to such a high position, but a senile man could have made it there on past merits and then overstayed his position.


43)  Charges about this affair were brought against Menelaus.

COMMENTARY:  Instead of indicting the rioters who killed Lysimachus, they’re placing the blame firmly on the one who provoked the riot.  Now that’s refreshing!


44) When the king came to Tyre, three men sent by the senate pleaded the case before him.

COMMENTARY:  “Senate” being the Sanhedrin, but the writer puts it in terms that his Alexandrian audience would understand.


 45) But Menelaus, seeing himself on the losing side, promised Ptolemy, son of Dorymenes, a substantial sum of money if he would win the king over.

COMMENTARY:  And where does he get the money to finance yet another bribe?  By selling stolen Temple property, of course!


46) So Ptolemy took the king aside into a colonnade, as if to get some fresh air, and persuaded him to change his mind.

COMMENTARY:  Then, as now, it always pays to have a good lobbyist in your hire.


47) Menelaus, who was the cause of all the trouble, the king acquitted of the charges, while he condemned to death those poor men who would have been declared innocent even if they had pleaded their case before Scythians.  48) Thus, those who had prosecuted the case on behalf of the city, the people, and the sacred vessels, quickly suffered unjust punishment.

COMMENTARY:  Scythians, from a vast and wild realm to the north, covering Eastern Iran, Central Asia and parts of Eastern Europe, were considered the ultimate barbarians of that time and region.  But in fact they had quite a sophisticated culture and left behind intricate works of art.  But in Judea, if you wanted to brand somebody as a slobbering brute, you called him a Scythian.

Anyway, the king has apparently decided to kill the messengers, literally.  Perhaps he assumes that because they plead for the same cause as the rioters, they must have been the ringleaders and possibly the murderers.  Kings in those days were rather careless about executing the precise person responsible for an undesired deed.


49) For this reason, even Tyrians, detesting the crime, provided sumptuously for their burial.

COMMENTARY:  The King’s own people, however, were not in agreement with him.  Elaborate funerals and tombs for the executed were a way to protest an unjust death that those in power dared not object to. 

A similar case involved the final Cleopatra’s little sister, Arsinoe, dragged out of the sanctuary of Artemis at Ephesus on the orders of Julius Caesar (under pressure from Cleopatra) and murdered on the steps. She had taken refuge there after having won a brief victory against Caesar by seizing the Lighthouse of Alexandria in her teens.  The people of Ephesus, outraged at the violation of their sacred space, built her a tomb in a cemetery reserved for great warriors, and shaped it as a miniature of the lighthouse.


50) But Menelaus, thanks to the greed of those in power, remained in office, where he grew in wickedness, scheming greatly against his fellow citizens.


COMMENTARY:  Considering that all Jews paid a tithe to the temple, he had a steady stream of income with which to maintain his power—all he had to do was spend the money on bribes instead of sacrifices, incense, paupers and temple maintenance.

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