Antiochus IV FAQ

What was the policy of Antiochus IV trying to accomplish?

A.  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.

Didn't the Greek kings encourage development of science?

A.  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]

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.

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]:

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 philosophy.

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 spell.

[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?

A.  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 alter 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 axis."

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 "philosopher kings." A royal education in hellenistic times included reading Homer and the 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 when 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 destroyed. He was probably only interested in certain questions, such as the account of the creation of the world in Genesis, and whether or not it confirmed his belief in the existence of Zeus, the rigid heaven. He could have learned this simply by asking the high priest, Onias III, who he had detained in Antioch, what the Jewish scriptures said about the heavenly spheres. Anyway, it would have been easy for Antiochus 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 he discovered that the scriptures did not even mention a rigid, rotating heavenly 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 him. Being a hellenistic monarch, he would probably make every effort to defend the Olympic gods once he perceived the creation account in the Jewish holy books as a threat. All the resources of the ancient pagan religion would have supported him. Also the apostate Jews, who believed in the hellenistic geocentric cosmology, no doubt supported him as well, supposing it would be a good idea to bring the Bible up to date and in harmony with the science 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?

A.  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?

A.  The cosmological changes Antiochus ordered in the scriptures were most likely 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 needed to cause the same changes to appear in the Hebrew scrolls to make his alterations stand up.

Antiochus appointed the high priests of the Jews during his reign. The legitimate high priest, Onias, was detained in Antioch, where he had gone to consult the king about disputes in his country between hellenizers and conservatives. First the brother of Onias, Jason, who favored hellenization, 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 temple of Apollo. Both Jason and Menelaus supported the reforms of Antiochus regarding hellenization of the Jews.

During his Egyptian campaign, Antiochus was in collaboration with the Egyptian king Ptolemy Philometor, called the "king of the south." Both kings would probably be interested in the project for revision of the cosmology of the Jewish scriptures. Ptolemy Philometor might have seen it as an opportunity to promote hellenism and to defend the pagan religion. Daniel 11:27-28 says:

And as for the two kings, their minds shall be bent on mischief; they shall speak lies at the same table.
Referring to Antiochus IV, vs 28 says "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 policy of Antiochus probably required that the cosmology contained in sacred writings of the nations be "corrected" so as to conform to the geocentric view with its rigid sky.

However there are still numerous discrepancies between the cosmological passages of the LXX and the Hebrew text. In some cases these help to identify passages where corruptions might have occurred. For example, the LXX version of Jeremiah does not include the statements 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?

A.  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 reforms of Antiochus. The high priests took Greek names; Jews began to give Greek 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 alterations.

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 of Daniel?

A.  We don't know whether or not Antiochus knew about Daniel's prophecy.

Daniel's prophecies are written in a cryptic form, using symbols such as various animals, horns, etc., to represent countries and kingdoms, and so, even if he was aware of them, perhaps their significance was not understood by Antiochus. Furthermore, Daniel was told in Daniel 8:26 to "seal up" the vision. So its meaning was hidden, and was probably not understood by Antiochus, even if he had read it. The last part of the 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 Antiochus 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 is likely that some of the OT scriptures were being translated in that period, 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 Antiochus detained in Antioch until his death. Anyway, Antiochus was evidently somewhat knowledgeable about the Jewish scriptures, or he would not have made such 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 compel 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 the temple of Olympian Zeus, and to call the one in Gerizim the temple of Zeus the Friend of Strangers, as did the people who dwelt in that place. Harsh 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 scriptures. 1 Maccabees 1:51-52 says:
The books of the law which they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Where the book of the covenant was found in the possession of any one, or if any one adhered to the law, the decree of the king condemned him to death.
While Antiochus and his agents were changing the cosmology contained in the scriptural scrolls, other copies were ordered destroyed, ensuring the success of his fraud. Now, suppose Antiochus had also attempted to corrupt Daniel's prophecy in some way favorable to himself, and his version has not survived; his doctored version was probably simply ignored by the Jewish scribes, and became lost.

Where can I find out more about Antiochus IV?

The apocraphal book of Maccabees are available here:

1 Maccabees
2 Maccabees

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

Related FAQs


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