Antiochus IV FAQ
What was the policy of Antiochus IV trying
Antiochus promoted the Greek culture and religion in the areas he
controlled. This is shown in the following paragraphs by Mahlon
H. Smith from:
Antiochus' lack of lasting military
achievements was offset by his policy of Hellenization. He was not only
a lavish benefactor of shrines to Greek gods across the eastern
Mediterranean -- including the temple of Zeus at Athens --, in
territories he controlled he actively promoted the cult of the living
ruler founded by his father, representing himself as the manifestation
of the supreme god, Zeus (hence the epithet epiphanes). Thus, he turned
the advancement of Greek culture into a political tool to publicize his
own claims of absolute power. And as the supreme god incarnate he
assumed personal responsibility for all religious cult within his realm.
Soon after he assumed the Seleucid throne (175 BCE), Antiochus filled
the vacant office of high priest of the Jewish temple state in
Jerusalem (which his father had brought under Seleucid control a
quarter of a century earlier) with a Hellenized Judean priest who took
the Greek name Jason, but replaced him in 172 BCE with his brother
Menelaus, on promise of greater tribute. To curry Antiochus' support,
these rival priests completely Hellenized Jerusalem, promoting Greek
culture & building a gymnasium for Olympic sport.
While Antiochus was conquering Egypt (169 BCE), Jason's forces
recaptured Jerusalem & slaughtered supporters of Menelaus.
Returning from Egypt (167 BCE) Antiochus sacked Jerusalem & rebuilt
it as a Seleucid fortress. Torah observance was outlawed & the
imperial cult brought into the Jewish temple itself with the erection
of a statue of Antiochus as Zeus with a Hellenistic altar of sacrifice.
Jews who resisted were subject to execution.
Although previously unrecognized, the hellenization policies initiated
by Antiochus extended to the revision of the cosmology of the Bible as
well as the aspects mentioned above. This was probably it most
persistent, fateful effect.
The contrary is more likely correct. The Greeks joined their science to
religion, which made it sacrilige to question the concept of a rigid
sky. Thus, Aristarchus
of Samos encountered religious opposition when
he proposed a heliocentric theory. The Stoic Cleanthes urged the Greeks
to have him charged with impiety. I think something similar happened to
Seleucus of Seleucia in the 2nd century BC, but he was apparently less
fortunate. Almost nothing is known of his work except that he extended
the work of Aristarchus, saying the heliocentric system was "not just a
hypothesis, but a fact" and discovered that the tides in the Indian
Ocean were somehow caused by the moon. Yet in Babylon, astronomy was
quite advanced. Cumont
says Seleucus rejected the idea of a rigid heaven. [Astrology and
Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, Franz Cumont, II, 1912]
Didn't the Greek kings encourage development of
The discoveries of Seleucus were revolutionary, but none of his work
survived, and little is known of his life. Hellenism required the
worship of Zeus and the Olympian gods, whose existance would be
threatened if the earth revolved about its axis. Otto Neugebauer wrote
[Neugebauer, O. A history of ancient mathematical
astronomy, New York, 1975]:
The constructive logic of the Greeks,
combining with the patient labours of the indigenous race, produced in
those days on the banks of the Euphrates an intellectual movement, too
little known, which would perhaps have attained to the glory of
Alexandrine science, if it had not been lamentably arrested in the
latter half of the second century by the ravages of the Parthian
invasion and the sack of Babylon. The Chaldeans themselves, emancipated
from tradition, discussed freely the principles of the universe, and of
the rival sects, which then sprang up at Borsippa, Orchoe, and
elsewhere, some went so far as to reject as mendacious the very
astrology which had been elaborated by their ancestors. The most
remarkable representative of this rationalistic movement is Seleucus of
Seleucia, who may be either a Greek emigrant or a hellenised native.
Giving up the firmament of primitive cosmogonies, he opened the
infinite spaces of a limitless universe to the courses of the stars.
Recurring to a bold hypothesis of Aristarchus of Samos, and advancing
new arguments in its support, he showed that the sun is the centre of
the world, and that the earth has a double motion, revolving round the
sun and spinning on its own axis; at the same time he offered a better
explanation than any one had previously propounded of the movement of
the tides, which no doubt he had observed in the Persian Gulf, by
referring them to the phases of the moon. Copernicus, who by the
formulation of his heliocentric theory produced "the greatest
revolution in the history of knowledge," seems to have been ignorant
even of the name of his distant forerunner.
But the scientific rationalism of this Galileo of antiquity was
destined to be condemned. It was opposed by the force of a
thousand-year-old tradition, the anxious superstition of the mob, the
haughty convictions and temporal interests of a powerful sacerdotal
caste. The future belonged to a compromise, which, while respecting
those ancient beliefs to which the majority of mankind was invincibly
attached, would satisfy the demands of a more comprehensive
intelligence. This conciliatory formula was discovered by stoicism.
Everywhere it devoted itself to the task of justifying popular
worships, sacred narratives, and ritual observances. In Greece, it was
able without much difficulty to come to terms with cults more
formalistic than doctrinal, more civic than moral, in which no
authority demanded assent to definite dogmas. A system of accommodating
allegories could readily put on gods or myths a physical, ethical, or
psychological interpretation, which reconciled them with the
cosmology or ethics of the Porch.
I see no need for considering Greek
philosophy as an early stage in the development of science ... One need
only read the gibberish of Proclus's introduction to his huge
commentary on Book I of Euclid's Elements to get a vivid picture of
what would have become of science in the hands of philosophers. The
real "Greek miracle" is the fact that a scientific methodology was
developed, and survived, in spite of a widely admired dogmatic
Academics often trace the origin of science to the Greeks, but they
were responsible for suppressing the supperior heliocentric science of
Aristarchus and Seleucus, and
promoting superstition in its place. Otto Neugebauer wrote:
The unique role of the Hellenistic
period in the field of sciences, as in other fields, can be described
as the destruction of a cultural tradition which dominated the Near
East and the Mediterranean countries for many centuries, but also the
founding of a new tradition which held following generations in its
[Neugebauer, O. 1946. The history of ancient astronomy: problems and
methods. Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
58(340):17-142. (See p. 120.) Reprinted in Neugebauer, O. 1983.
Astronomy and History: Selected Essays. Springer-Verlag, p. 157-164.]
Why would Antiochus have cared about the
cosmology of the Bible?
He was defending the geocentric
cosmology which was the foundation of the Greek religion. The fear of
rejection of the pagan religion was behind the attempt by Antiochus to
the scriptures. Remember he could not have hoped to eliminate the
scriptures, as they were distributed in sveral Jewish communities, in
Babylon, Antioch, and Alexandria, etc. There was also a Greek
translation to contend with. The intent seems to have been to defend
the geocentric cosmology, and also the Greek religion that was based on
it, which was under threat because of discoveries by astronomers such
as Aristarchus and Seleucus, and because of religious conflicts within
his realm, such as those between the hellenizers and the Jewish
'hasidim'. No doubt he was backed by the priests of Apollo and Zeus.
The Stoic philosopher Cleanthes had urged the Greeks to bring a charge
of sacrilige against the astronomer/philosopher Aristarchus, for
advancing a heliocentric cosmology. If the heavens did not move, then
there was no need for a rigid heaven, hence Zeus did not exist!
Plutarch says in the dialogue of On the Face of the Moon [923a]: "Do
not bring against me a charge of impiety such as Cleanthes used to say
that it behoved the Greeks to bring against Aristarchus of Samos for
moving the Hearth of the Universe, because he tried to save the
phenomena by the assumption that the heaven is at rest, but that the
earth revolves in an oblique orbit, while also rotating about its own
This concern by Cleanthes was probably shared by Antiochus IV, as he
was actively promoting the Greek religion, the worship of Zeus and the
Olympians. Antiochus was the son of Antiochus III and was a hostage in
Rome after his father's defeat at Magnesia, and there he was educated
in the Roman fashion. In those days, princes
were supposed to also be philosophers. This was Plato's teaching on
kings." A royal education in hellenistic times included reading Homer
various Greek poets and philosophers. To understand the life of
Antiochus, one needs to examine the ancient concept of Zeus. After his
release from Rome he went to Athens where he was
elected to a civil office.
Livy on Antiochus IV:
"Antiochus (IV), son of Antiochus
(III), whom his father had given to the Romans as a hostage, was sent
from the City (of Rome) back to the kingdom of Syria upon the death of
his brother Seleucus [in 175 BCE], who had succeeded their father
he died. Apart from being religious, which led him to erect many
magnificent temples in many places --- (e.g.) the one to Olympian Zeus
at Athens and to Capitoline Zeus [ = Jupiter] at Antioch --- he was
very poor at playing the king." -- Livy: Periocha 41.
Antiochus was concerned about
the cosmology in the scriptures of the Jews, or he would not have
ordered them to be
He was probably only interested in certain questions, such as the
of the creation of the world in Genesis, and whether or not it
his belief in the existence of Zeus, the rigid heaven. He could have
this simply by asking the high priest, Onias III, who he had detained
in Antioch, what the Jewish
said about the heavenly spheres. Anyway, it would have been easy for
to inform himself about what was in the holy books of the Jews. He was
very offended by what he learned about the Bible, apparently. Perhaps
discovered that the scriptures did not even mention a rigid, rotating
sphere centered on the earth such as the Greeks believed in. Antiochus
IV was not one who would shrink from the challenge this presented to
Being a hellenistic monarch, he would probably make every effort to
the Olympic gods once he perceived the creation account in the Jewish
books as a threat. All the resources of the ancient pagan religion
have supported him. Also the apostate Jews, who believed in the
geocentric cosmology, no doubt supported him as well, supposing it
be a good idea to bring the Bible up to date and in harmony with the
of the Greeks. This included the leaders, their high priests.
Antiochus IV Becomes King of Syria
Do the books of Maccabees say Antiochus
altered the Bible?
During the years of desolation of Jerusalem and the temple under
Antiochus, the book of the law which was kept in the temple was
desecrated by the hellenists, who painted images of the gods in it.
This was discovered by the Maccabees when they had recaptured the
temple, 1 Macc 3:46-48:
Wherefore the Israelites assembled
themselves together, and came to Maspha, over against Jerusalem; for in
Maspha was the place where they prayed aforetime in Israel. Then they
fasted that day, and put on sackcloth, and cast ashes upon their heads,
and rent their clothes, And laid open the book of the law, wherein the
heathen had sought to paint the likeness of their images.
Perhaps by his phrase "to paint the likeness of their images" the
author also includes changes to the text, as that is certainly what the
hellenists did. The concept of a rigid sky which was identified with
the Greek god Zeus was introduced by the redefinition of the 'raqia' or
firmament of Genesis 1 with the sky. Before, it referred to the rocky
crust of the earth.
How did Antiochus manage to force changes
in all copies of the Bible?
cosmological changes Antiochus ordered in the scriptures were most
first inserted in the new Greek translation. They were then introduced
in the Hebrew text to make it conform to the
Greek version. This would give more authority to the revisions. He
cause the same changes to appear in the Hebrew scrolls to make his
Antiochus appointed the high priests of the Jews during his reign.
legitimate high priest, Onias, was detained in Antioch, where he had
to consult the king about disputes in his country between hellenizers
conservatives. First the brother of Onias, Jason, who favored
was appointed; later, he was replaced by Menelaus. It was Menelaus who
had Onias murdered in Daphne, where he had gone to seek refuge at the
of Apollo. Both Jason and Menelaus supported the reforms of Antiochus
hellenization of the Jews.
During his Egyptian campaign, Antiochus was in collaboration with
Egyptian king Ptolemy Philometor, called the "king of the south." Both
kings would probably be interested in the project for revision of the
of the Jewish scriptures. Ptolemy Philometor might have seen it as an
to promote hellenism and to defend the pagan religion. Daniel
And as for the two kings, their minds shall be bent on
they shall speak lies at the same table.
Referring to Antiochus IV, vs 28
"his heart shall be set against the holy covenant." This refers to the
books of the law of Moses, where the creation account is found. The
of Antiochus probably required that the cosmology contained in sacred
of the nations be "corrected" so as to conform to the geocentric view
with its rigid sky.
However there are still numerous
between the cosmological passages of the LXX and the Hebrew text. In
cases these help to identify passages where corruptions might have
For example, the LXX version of Jeremiah does not include the
about God "rising up early" to send his prophets, as the KJV does.
Wouldn't the Jews prevent the introduction of
pagan concepts in the Bible?
During the reign of Antiochus IV the Jews were sharply divided over the
issue of hellenism. Their leaders, including the high priests at the
time, favored hellenism and introduced numerous reforms.
The account in 1
Maccabees 1 shows many of the Jews supported the hellenistic
of Antiochus. The high priests took Greek names; Jews began to give
names to their children, and wrote their literary works in Greek. Many
of the Jews probably supposed that the adjusted cosmology of Genesis 1,
which featured a rigid heaven, was an improvement, and so accepted the
Also the coins minted at the period suggest there was considerable
support for pagan worship; Jewish coins show Antiochus on one side
and Apollo on the other. There is also archaeological evidence
for shrines for worship of Apollo from that period.
Why didn't Antiochus IV change the Book
We don't know whether or not
Antiochus knew about Daniel's prophecy.
Daniel's prophecies are written in a cryptic form, using symbols
as various animals, horns, etc., to represent countries and kingdoms,
so, even if he was aware of them, perhaps their significance was not
by Antiochus. Furthermore, Daniel was told in Daniel
8:26 to "seal up" the vision. So its meaning was hidden, and was
not understood by Antiochus, even if he had read it. The last part of
book, from chapter 8 to the end, was in the Hebrew language, while the
earlier chapters were written in Aramaic. It is not very likely that
would have been able to read Hebrew, and there is a question whether a
Greek translation of the book of Daniel existed at the time. While it
likely that some of the OT scriptures were being translated in that
probably in Alexandria, we don't know precisely when the book of Daniel
was translated into Greek.
Antiochus may have been shown the book of Daniel and the prophecies
that refer to him, perhaps by Onias, the high priest of the Jews who
detained in Antioch until his death. Anyway, Antiochus was evidently
knowledgeable about the Jewish scriptures, or he would not have made
specific decrees, directed against the law of Moses, as related in 2
Maccabees 6:1-3, & vs 6:
Not long after this, the king sent an Athenian senator to
the Jews to forsake the laws of their fathers and cease to live by the
laws of God, and also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem and call it
temple of Olympian Zeus, and to call the one in Gerizim the temple of
the Friend of Strangers, as did the people who dwelt in that place.
and utterly grievous was the onslaught of evil.... A man could neither
keep the sabbath, nor observe the feasts of his fathers, nor so much as
confess himself to be a Jew.
His hellenization program included a decree to outlaw possession of the
Maccabees 1:51-52 says:
The books of the law which they found they tore to pieces
burned with fire. Where the book of the covenant was found in the
of any one, or if any one adhered to the law, the decree of the king
him to death.
While Antiochus and his agents were changing the cosmology contained in
the scriptural scrolls, other copies were ordered destroyed, ensuring
success of his fraud. Now, suppose Antiochus had also attempted to
Daniel's prophecy in some way favorable to himself, and his version has
not survived; his doctored version was probably simply ignored by the
scribes, and became lost.
Where can I find out more about Antiochus IV?
The apocraphal book of Maccabees are available here:
These chapters from E.R. Bevan's House
of Seleucus provide information on Antiochus IV.
Antiochus IV in Egypt
Antiochus and the Jews
Antiochus the God Manifest
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