Worship of Zeus and the Olympian deities was a popular religion in the Seleucid period in Syria and Palestine. The Greek mythology made the gods seem almost human, and some of the Seleucid kings considered themselves to be deities, in the tradition of Alexander the Great.
Antiochus IV, son of Antiochus the Great, took upon himself the title Epiphenes, or "god manifest". He promoted the cult of the Olympian Zeus in Syria and Palestine. His father, Antiochus III, was defeated by the Romans at Magnesia in 190 BC. As a provision of the treaty of Apamea, the young Antiochus was among those held hostage in Rome. The Roman Senate insisted that he should be replaced by Demetrius, the son of his older brother, Seleucus IV Philopator. Antiochus went to Athens, where he ran for and won civic office.
In 175 BC Seleucus was assassinated by his first minister, Heleodorus. Antiochus left Athens and sailed to Pergamum in Mysia. The king of Pergamum, Eumenes II, agreed to assist Antiochus to become established as king on the Seleucid throne. Antiochus, in return, would maintain peaceful relations with the Pergamum kingdom. Antiochus initially acted as regent for his infant nephew, but Daniel 11:21 says "he shall come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries."
Eumenes II actively promoted of the worship of Zeus and the other Olympian gods in Pergamum. He built up the great temple complex and library for which the city became famous. This was a major religious center during the Hellenistic period, and second only to Alexandria as a center of learning.
|Reconstruction of the great altar at Pergamum|
The following are customs practiced by the Persians of which I have personal knowledge. They are not wont to establish images or temples or altars at all; indeed, they regard all who do so as fools, and this, in my opinion, is because they do not believe in gods in human form, as the Greeks do. They offer sacrifices to Zeus, going up into the highest mountains and calling the whole circle of the heaven Zeus. They sacrifice, too, to the sun, moon, and earth and fire, water, and winds. These were the sole gods of their worship in the beginning, but they have since learned besides to sacrifice to the Heavenly Aphrodite.On a coin of Septimus Severus, the altar at Pergamum is depicted, covered by a baldachin, or canopy, supported by four columns. [Baldwin Smith; Fig 106]
In Revelation 2:12-13, the city of Pergamum, rather than a subterranean region, is identified as the location of Satan's throne.
Another center of the worship of Zeus was the temple at Olympia in the state of Elis in Peloponnesus. It was here that the Olympic games were held. The temple of Zeus housed a colossal gold and ivory statue of Zeus, made by Pheidias of Athens in the fifth century BC. The statue was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Antiochus IV had a copy of it, with the same dimensions, made for the temple of Apollo at Daphne, near Antioch.
Pausanius provides a description of the statue of Zeus and the temple area at Olympia. Pausanius says a woollen curtain, of eastern design, "adorned with Assyrian weaving and Phoenician purple", was dedicated to Zeus at Olympia by Antiochus IV. Some scholars have speculated that the curtain was one taken from the temple in Jerusalem, when Antiochus plundered its treasures.
Antiochus resumed construction of a great temple of the Olympian Zeus in Athens, that had been begun about 530 BC. The columns were made of Pentelic marble, in the Corinthian style. This enormous structure, the largest temple in Greece, was finally completed by the emperor Hadrian three centuries later, in the 2nd century AD. Its ruins can still be seen.
|Ruins of the Zeus temple in Athens built by Antiochus IV|
|Another view of the Olympieion, Athens, from the SE.|
A temple to Jupiter Capitolinus was built in Antioch, his capital, and its walls were covered with gold, mostly pirated from other eastern temples.
Under Antiochus, several eastern cities were renamed "Antioch." This included Jerusalem, and the title was conferred as a favour or a privilege by the king.