1) About that time Antiochus retreated in disgrace from
the region of Persia.
COMMENTARY: Not actually about that
time. The writer takes liberty with the
timing to compress the story and lump the telling of certain events together.
2) He had entered the city called
Persepolis and attempted to rob the temples and gain control of the city.
Thereupon the people had swift recourse to arms, and Antiochus’ forces were
routed, so that in the end Antiochus was put to flight by the people of that
region and forced to beat a shameful retreat.
COMMENTARY: He’d attempted to loot the
temple of “Aphrodite”—most likely Astarte or Inanna.
3) On his arrival in Ecbatana, he learned
what had happened to Nicanor and to Timothy’s forces. 4) Overcome with anger, he planned to make the Jews
suffer for the injury done by those who had put him to flight. Therefore he
ordered his charioteer to drive without stopping until he finished the journey.
Yet the condemnation of Heaven rode with him, because he said in his arrogance,
“I will make Jerusalem the common graveyard of Jews as soon as I arrive there.”
COMMENTARY: Anger puts the body under
tremendous stress, weakening the immune system.
Same for insisting on a marathon without breaks. And his injustice of mistreating the horses
who pulled his chariot compounds his sins, which is never healthy.
5) So the all-seeing Lord, the God of
Israel, struck him down with an incurable and invisible blow; for scarcely had
he uttered those words when he was seized with excruciating pains in his bowels
and sharp internal torment, 6) a fit punishment for him who had
tortured the bowels of others with many barbarous torments.
COMMENTARY: From the few clues
available, medical opinion says this was “most likely” an intestinal
7) Far from giving up his insolence, he
was all the more filled with arrogance. Breathing fire in his rage against the
Jews, he gave orders to drive even faster. As a result he hurtled from the
speeding chariot, and every part of his body was racked by the violent fall.
COMMENTARY: Some sources say that an
illness killed him, others say a fall.
This account takes the position that both killed Antiochus between
them. A man doubled over with pain
couldn’t hold on very well in a speeding chariot.
And what lesson does this offer for us?
How often our own bodies warn us that we’re headed in the wrong direction
in life, informed by the psychosomatic link, and yet we hurtle on all the faster
to our own destruction!
I remember, when I tried to go back to medical transcription, how the foot with
which I habitually pushed the dictation-machine’s pedal broke in my sleep
without any reason except the insistence of my psyche. I tried to persist anyway, having two feet to
choose from, as I thought. But when I limped
on my way to the commuter train for a job at a new hospital, the other foot sprained,
leaving me sprawling on the asphalt while crossing the street, completely
unable to walk and desperately crying out for somebody to drag me to safety
before some car could run over me. By no
means is medical transcription a sin, but it was just fundamentally wrong for
me at that time—that phase of my life had passed and I needed to let go of it. I had burnt out, and my body sabotaged me to
get me free of it.
8) Thus he who previously, in his
superhuman presumption, thought he could command the waves of the sea, and
imagined he could weigh the mountaintops in his scales, was now thrown to the
ground and had to be carried on a litter, clearly manifesting to all the power
COMMENTARY: This writer does love to
point out irony.
9) The body of this impious man swarmed
with worms, and while he was still alive in hideous torments, his flesh rotted
off, so that the entire army was sickened by the stench of his corruption. 10) Shortly before, he
had thought that he could reach the stars of heaven, and now, no one could
endure to transport the man because of this intolerable stench.
COMMENTARY: Apparently some of his
injuries must have included open wounds, probably compound fractures: broken
bones jutting through the skin, which carry a very high risk of infection even
in these days when we know about sepsis.
He might also have had deep abrasions, if he got dragged along by the
speeding chariot before the driver could stop the horses. The worms, of course, would be maggots.
In any case, inordinate
pride leads to inordinate indignity.
Many these days confuse pride with self-respect, but they are in fact
nothing alike. Pride is hypersensitive,
and can fly easily into a reason-toppling rage at any threat to itself, whereas
self-respect is confident and unperturbed; what the proud see as a threat, the
self-respecting see as a lesson and a chance for further self-improvement. The self-respecting love to improve, but the
proud seek to appear as if they need no betterment.
At last, broken in spirit, he began to give up his
excessive arrogance, and to gain some understanding, under the scourge of God,
for he was racked with pain unceasingly. 12) When he could no
longer bear his own stench, he said, “It is right to be subject to God, and not
to think one’s mortal self equal to God.”
COMMENTARY: Sometimes our afflictions
can be a blessing, for they break through our masks and our
self-delusions. The reason pride is so
sensitive is that it cannot survive too much humiliation. Whereas self-respect can grow stronger from
13) Then this vile man vowed to him who would never again
show him mercy, the Sovereign Lord, 14)
that the holy city, toward which he had been hurrying
with the intention of leveling it to the ground and making it a common
graveyard, he would now set free;
COMMENTARY: The writer assumes that God
would never show mercy to Antiochus, but he was not a prophet and had no way of
knowing for certain. The continuation of
hardships in this life is not automatically a punishment, but could be harsh
medicine, or could have reasons having nothing to do with punishment or mercy
at all. In this case I’d go with “harsh
medicine”, because plainly his suffering lanced his swollen pride like a boil.
15) that the Jews, whom he had judged not
even worthy of burial, but fit only to be thrown out with their children to be
eaten by vultures and wild animals—all of them he would make equal to the
COMMENTARY: Interesting that Antiochus
would say “Athenians” when Athens wasn’t even part of the Seleucid Empire. For although the Athenian experiment in
democracy went down in flames generations before, the name still invoked images
of freedom and personal choice.
16) that he would adorn with the finest
offerings the holy temple which he had previously despoiled, restore all the
sacred vessels many times over, and provide from his own revenues the expenses
required for the sacrifices.
COMMENTARY: Clearly he’s in the
bargaining stage of facing his mortality.
17) Besides all this, he would become a
Jew himself and visit every inhabited place to proclaim there the power of God.
COMMENTARY: Jewish tradition is not as
avid for converts as Christianity. By
their traditions one must ask three times before being accepted as a
convert. Christians, on the other hand,
accept deathbed conversions, and even hope in the possibility of a conversion
after one has lost the ability to speak of it, just in case.
The real question for Antiochus is how God heard this profession of faith. Was it a true conversion, or delirium?
18) But since his sufferings were not lessened, for God’s
just judgment had come upon him, he lost hope for himself and wrote the
following letter to the Jews in the form of a supplication. It read thus:
COMMENTARY: Applying a Christian
perspective not intended by the writer, I would say that, rather than refusing
aid, God might have wanted to take the life of Antiochus at the ripest point
for harvest, lest he recover only to fall back into his old, tyrannous ways.
19) “To the worthy Jewish citizens, Antiochus,
king and general, sends hearty greetings and best wishes for their health and
COMMENTARY: Apparently Antiochus sent
out a form letter to all of his subject nations, changing only this first line
to specify whichever people he addressed.
20) If you and your children are well and
your affairs are going as you wish, I thank God very much, for my hopes are in
COMMENTARY: People could read into that
whichever deity they regionally worshiped.
21) Now that I am ill, I recall with
affection your esteem and goodwill. On returning from the regions of Persia, I
fell victim to a troublesome illness; so I thought it necessary to form plans
for the general security of all.
COMMENTARY: The people of Judea would
doubtless hear that first sentence as ironic, considering their battles with
22) I do not despair about my health,
since I have much hope of recovering from my illness. 23) Nevertheless, I know that my father,
whenever he went on campaigns in the hinterland, would name his successor, 24) so that, if anything unexpected
happened or any unwelcome news came, the people throughout the realm would know
to whom the government had been entrusted, and so not be disturbed.
COMMENTARY: He has to claim to expect
recovery, in hopes of delaying the scrambling for his throne at least until
after his death. And so he tried to make
it sound as if he merely took a prudent precaution. But had mere prudence motivated him, he would
have written this letter when his father would have, before he’d even set off.
25) I am also bearing in mind that the
neighboring rulers, especially those on the borders of our kingdom, are on the
watch for opportunities and waiting to see what will happen. I have therefore
appointed as king my son Antiochus, whom I have often before entrusted and
commended to most of you, when I made hurried visits to the outlying provinces.
I have written to him what is written here.
COMMENTARY: He makes it sound good to
appoint a nine-year-old boy who’d mainly acted before as a puppet regent now
and then under the real regency of General Lysias.
26) Therefore I beg and entreat each of
you to remember the general and individual benefits you have received, and to
continue to show goodwill toward me and my son.
COMMENTARY: By now the Judeans must be
rolling on the ground with laughter.
27) I am confident that, following my policy, he will
treat you with equity and kindness in his relations with you.”
COMMENTARY: They’re hoping he doesn’t
follow his father’s policies at all!
28) So this murderer and blasphemer, after
extreme sufferings, such as he had inflicted on others, died a miserable death
in the mountains of a foreign land.
COMMENTARY: “And let that be a warning
to all who want to tyrannize us!” would be the lesson that the Egyptian Jews
got from this.
29) His foster brother Philip brought the body home; but fearing Antiochus’
son, he later withdrew into Egypt, to Ptolemy Philometor.
“Foster brother” here merely meant a title for an official high in
Antiochus IV’s esteem, “Like a brother to me” and does not mean that they were
actually raised together.