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William Shepard

Antiochus Epiphanes

Antiochus, the king of Syria, mentioned in the last chapter, was surnamed Epiphanes, or the Illustrious, though by some people he was called Epimanes, or the Madman. He succeeded his brother Seleucus on the throne of Syria. Seleucus had been a friend of Ptolemy Epiphanes, and during the reigns of these two monarchs the kingdoms of Syria and Egypt had been at peace with each other. But Ptolemy Epiphanes had died shortly before Seleucus, and his son, Ptolemy Philometor, who succeeded him, was only about twelve years of age. Antiochus thought that he would be able to conquer Egypt on account of the youth of its new king, and he made war against Ptolemy Philometor. He took several cities, and made haste to Alexandria, in hopes of taking it by siege and subduing Ptolemy, who reigned there. But the Romans, who were at this time a mighty nation, sent word to Antiochus that if he did not withdraw from Egypt they would raise a great army and come to the assistance of Ptolemy. And, as Antiochus was afraid of the Romans, he obeyed them at once, and retreated out of Egypt.

Now at this time the affairs of Jerusalem were in great confusion; for the high-priest, Onias III, had died, leaving a son who was too young to take the sacred office. Two of the brothers of Onias had fought among themselves for the high-priesthood. One of these brothers was named Jesus, a name which he had changed to Jason. The other had originally been called Onias also, but had changed his name to Menelaus. Some of the people had taken sides with Jason and others with Menelaus, but Jason had at last succeeded in driving his brother from the kingdom; so Menelaus with several of his friends had fled to Antiochus, and offered him their services if he would lead an army against the Jews. This happened while Antiochus was preparing for his expedition into Egypt; and when the Romans forced him to leave that country he at once marched against Jerusalem. He took it without difficulty, for the friends of Menelaus opened the gates to him; and he slew many of the opposite party, and plundered the city, after which he returned to Syria. Menelaus was allowed to remain high-priest, but two foreign officers were made governors of Judea and Samaria.

Two years afterwards Antiochus returned to Jerusalem with his army, and, having again been admitted within its walls, he treated the inhabitants with great cruelty, not even sparing those that had let him into the city. He killed a number of persons who were known to be friends of Ptolemy, and plundered their houses, as well as the houses of all the other wealthy men. He carried away the treasures in the temple, and put a stop to the sacrifices, and he placed an idol in the temple, and ordered the people to bow down to it and worship it. The altar he polluted by offering up swine on it, well knowing that these animals were considered unclean by the Jews, and that it was against the law of Moses even to eat of their flesh. He also obliged the Jews to do many other unlawful and wicked things, and those who refused to obey him were put to death in cruel ways.