In the 2nd century BC a “mad king” threatened to extinguish the Jewish religion and obliterate the Jew’s unique identity. A champion arose, David-like, to challenge the Seleucid Goliath and defend his people: Judah Maccabee: “The Hammer”! His struggle freed the Jewish people and gave us a lasting legacy, celebrated by the Festival of Light: Hanukkah.
For Antiochus, fourth of that name to rule the Seleucid Empire, and self-named Epiphanes; the only way to unite the disparate peoples of his vast domain was through the promotion of Hellenism as the universal culture of the empire. A true zealot in the cause of Hellenism, Antiochus founded (or reorganized) Hellenic cities throughout the lands under his rule; and engaged in a vast building program of temples and public buildings.
Close at hand to the center of his kingdom in norther Syria lay Judea; home to the Jews. A long disputed border province between his lands and the rival kingdom of the Ptolemies in Egypt, Coele-Syria (“Hollow Syria”, ancient Palestine) was too important strategically to be allowed to defy his edicts, and the Jews maintain their unique religion and culture.
Coin of Antiochus IV, with victory-bearing Zeus on the reverse. Zeus was the deity Antiochus identified with his reign; making the Olympian king the chief god of the Seleucid Empire
For years, Antiochus had patronized the ruling party in Jerusalem that embraced Hellenism. Menelaus, the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem and defacto chief magistrate of the Jews towed the royal line and promoted Antiochus’ policies. However, he was venal and corrupt, and used his position to embezzle from the Temple treasury. Wildly unpopular even among many of the Jewish Hellenized-elites, a revolt against his rule had erupted in 168-167 BC; at the very time when Antiochus, campaigning in Egypt, needed stability in this province which lay between his army and home. The rebels in Jerusalem drove Menelaus into hiding and slaughtered many of his adherents. But Antiochus, hearing of this in Egypt, was told that the rebellion were not just against the corrupt Menelaus; but, falsely, against Seleucid rule.
Returning from Egypt after his humiliation by the Romans at Eleusis, Antiochus entered Jerusalem and chastised the city….