Antiochus IV Sold the High Priesthood in Jerusalem

Onias III Is Ousted as High Priest, 175 BCE

2 Maccabees 4:7-10 
...​Jason the brother of Onias (III) became High Priest by corrupt means.  He went to see the king (Antiochus IV) and offered him 27,000 pounds of silver with 6,000 more pounds to be paid later...  as soon as Jason took over the office of High Priest, he made the people of Jerusalem change to the Greek way of life.

Menelaus Becomes High Priest, 172 BCE


2 Maccabees 4:23-25
Three years later, Jason sent Menelaus to take some money to the king and to get his decision on several important matters. But when he stood before the king, Menelaus impressed him with his show of authority and offered 22,500 pounds of silver more than Jason had offered for his appointment to the office of High Priest.  As a result Menelaus returned to Jerusalem with papers from the king, confirming him as High Priest.


Menelaus Had Onias III Murdered; Onias IV, the legitimate descendent of Zadok the High Priest, Fled to Egypt

2 Maccabees 4​:31-34
"So the king left Andronicus, one of his high officials, in command, while he hurried off to Cilicia to restore order. Menelaus took advantage of this opportunity and presented Andronicus with some of the gold objects he had removed from the Temple in Jerusalem..​. ​Then Menelaus secretly persuaded Andronicus to kill Onias  (III) ... Andronicus finally lured him away from the safety of the temple and immediately murdered him in cold blood."


In 175 BCE Antiochus IV Sold the High Priesthood in Jerusalem ousting Onias III as High Priest.   
2 Maccabees 4:7-10 
...​Jason the brother of Onias (III) became High Priest by corrupt means.  He went to see the king (Antiochus IV) and offered him 27,000 pounds of silver with 6,000 more pounds to be paid later...    

As soon as Jason took over the office of High Priest, he made the people of Jerusalem change to the Greek way of life. Three years later Menelaus bought himself the position of High Priest and had Onias III Murdered. Onias IV, the legitimate descendent of Zadok the High Priest, Fled to Egypt.   The High Priesthood wasn’t merely a technical position, but one of great holiness. The first criterion was that it could only be given to those from the line of Aharon, the brother of Moses. A study in 2009 by the Division of Biotechnology at the University of Arizona in conjunction with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Rambam Medical Centre confirms that a very specific DNA Y chromosome has been discovered proving the specific priestly lineage. The finding reads: "The extended Cohen Modal Haplotype accounts for almost 30 percent of Cohanim Y chromosomes from both Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities, is virtually absent in non-Jews, and likely traces to a common male ancestor that lived some 3,200 years ago in the Ancient Near East."  
  The second criterion for the High Priest was that he had to have an impeccable character surpassing his peers in wisdom and piety. The position was passed on from father to son. His most important service was entering the Holy of Holies only once a year during the Yom Kippur service and was done with utmost reverential fear, as his life and the future of Israel depended on it.   
During the First Temple period which lasted about 410 years, only eighteen High Priests served.  The first three High Priests of the Second Temple period held the position for 130 years. Once the High Priesthood became corrupted by the Greeks, 300 High Priests died during the remainder of the 420 years the Second Temple stood, most were murdered by their successors or died during their entry into the Holy of Holies. 

Many Jews became seduced by Greek culture, mostly the upper class aligning themselves with the Greek authorities and imitating their ways. Referred to as Hellenists, they sent their children to gymnasiums and reversed their circumcision through a painful procedure called epispasm.   Josephus, Antiquities 12.5.1 "Menelaus, and the sons of Tobias...were desirous to leave the laws of their country and the Jewish way of living... they desired [Antiochus Epiphanes'] permission to build a Gymnasium in Jerusalem...they also hid the circumcision of their genitals; that even when they were naked, they might appear to be Greeks.  Accordingly, they left off all the customs that belonged to their own country and imitated the practices of other nations."    A further fracture appeared that would become a major religious schism to the end of the Second Temple Period. Two students, Zadok and Bysos championed a new form of Judaism under Grecian influence. The followers of Zadok, called the Zadukim or Sadducees rejected the idea of G-d's involvement in man's affairs and denied the immortality of man's soul with a disregard of divine reward and punishment. This stood opposed to the mainstream observant Jews who followed the Perushim, pharisees or rabbis expanding on the Torah and urged the nation to guard the distinction of the Jewish People from other nations and pagan religions. The Sadducees played a key part in the corruption of the Priesthood, acquiring the position through money and murder.

Hellenization of the Jews

Josephus, Antiquities 12.5.1
"Menelaus, and the sons of Tobias...were desirous to leave the laws of their country and the Jewish way of living... they desired [Antiochus Epiphanes'] permission to build a Gymnasium in Jerusalem...they also hid the circumcision of their genitals (epispasm); that even when they were naked they might appear to be Greeks.  Accordingly they left off all the customs that belonged to their own country and imitated the practices of other nations."  

Terracotta Panathenaic Prize Amphora Attributed to the Euphiletos Painter, c. 530 BCE
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Onias IV Flees to Egypt and Builds a Jewish Temple at Leontopolis

Josephus, Antiquities 13.3.1-3
"
But then the son of Onias (III) the High Priest, who was of the same name with his father...    resolved to send to King Ptolemy (VI) and Queen Cleopatra (II), to ask leave of them that he might build a temple in Egypt, like to that at Jerusalem... And  this was their reply. 

"King Ptolemy and Queen Cleopatra, to Onias, send greeting. We have read thy petition; wherein thou desirest leave to be given thee to purge that (Egyptian) temple which is fallen down at Leontopolis... since thou sayest that Isaiah the Prophet foretold this long ago ; we give thee leave to do it; if it may be done according to your law; and so that we may not appear to have at all offended God herein."

So Onias took the place, and built a temple, and an altar to God..."

Onias Papyrus 63, (CPJ 132),164 BCE

"Herodes to Onias (IV) greeting.   King Ptolemy (VI) is well and King Ptolemy the brother and Queen Cleopatra (II) the sister and their children, and their affairs are also as usual; if you also are in good health and all else is in order with you, it would be as we wish; we too are progressing well enough..."

In Antiquities of the Jews 13.3.1-3 Josephus writes that Onias IV who fled to Egypt after the murder of his father, requested from King Ptolemy VI and Queen Cleopatra II to build a temple in Egypt modelled after the Temple in Jerusalem. He mentioned that this was foretold by the prophet Isaiah.   
Isaiah 19:19 "In that day there shall be an altar to the L-rd in the midst of the land of Egypt"  
  Josephus writes that the King and Queen replied favourably: "Since thou sayest that Isaiah the Prophet foretold this long ago; we give thee leave to do it; if it may be done according to your law; and so that we may not appear to have at all offended G-d herein. So Onias took the place, and built a temple, and an altar to G-d..."   
The Onias Papyrus circa 164 BCE that was discovered in the Serapeion near Memphis in the immediate vicinity of Tell el-Yahudiya, confirms correspondence between the parties: "Herodes to Onias (IV) greeting.   King Ptolemy (VI) is well and King Ptolemy the brother and Queen Cleopatra (II) the sister and their children, and their affairs are also as usual;"   
In 1890 the ancient temple was discovered in the City of Leontopolis or referred to by its Egyptian Arabic name Tell el-Yahudiya which means the “Jewish Mound”. The Hebrew colony, who lived there during the 2nd century BCE practiced their national worship and increased even more when refugees from the oppressions of the Seleucid kings in Judea joined. The community flourished for more than three centuries afterward.

1887 Excavation of Tell El-Yahudiyeh at Leontopolis, Photo by Rev. W. MacGregor

The Acra Citadel, 168 BCE

In 168 BCE, the Seleucids built a fortress, "the Acra," overlooking the Temple Mount.  In 2015, its ruins were discovered in the City of David, Jerusalem.

Josephus, Antiquities 12.5.4
“... the King (Antiochus IV) came up to Jerusalem… And he burnt the finest parts of the city and, pulling down the walls, built the Acra in the Lower City; for it was high enough to overlook the Temple, and it was for this reason that he fortified it with high walls and towers, and stationed a Macedonian garrison therein.“ 

1 Maccabees 1:33-35
"They ​(the Seleucid forces) then rebuilt the City of David with a great strong wall and strong towers and made this their Citadel ( Greek: Acra).  There they installed a brood of sinners, of renegades, who fortified themselves inside it, storing arms and provisions, and depositing there the loot they had collected from Jerusalem..."

In 168 BCE, Antiochus IV built a fortress called "the Acra," in order to control Jerusalem and monitor activity in the Temple.  Acra in Greek refers to a reinforced citadel.   Josephus, Antiquities 12.5.4“... the King (Antiochus IV) came up to Jerusalem… And he burnt the finest parts of the city and, pulling down the walls, built the Acra in the Lower City; for it was high enough to overlook the Temple, and it was for this reason that he fortified it with high walls and towers, and stationed a Macedonian garrison therein. “   Various writings describe the Acra as a thorn in the flesh of the Jewish inhabitants of the City of David, as Jews who joined the wicked ruler as Hellenists, mocked their fellow "narrow-minded" Jews for "suffering" from their outdated religious traditions.   1 Maccabees 1:33-35"They ​(the Seleucid forces) then rebuilt the City of David with a great strong wall and strong towers and made this their Citadel.  There they installed a brood of sinners, of renegades, who fortified themselves inside it, storing arms and provisions, and depositing there the loot they had collected from Jerusalem..."   In 2015, its ruins were discovered in the City of David, the location of Ancient Jerusalem, placing the Acra south of the Temple Mount, in the center of the City of David, spreading its colossal self over the width of the whole southern hill. Its location severed the Temple Mount from the rest of the city.   The excavation produced bronze arrowheads and ballista stones, numerous coins, ranging in date from the reign of Antiochus IV to that of Antiochus VII testifying to the citadel’s chronology.

Photo by Asaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority 

The Revolt of the Maccabees against the Seleucids, 167 BCE

In 167 BCE, the soldiers of Antiochus IV entered the city of Modin (13 miles northwest of Jerusalem) and ordered Mattathias, a priest, to slay a pig on a pagan altar. Mattathias refused, overturning the altar and slaying the king’s general.

This began the 35 year long Maccabean revolt of Mattathias and his five sons, Judas Maccabeus (Judah Maccabee), Eleazar Avaran, Simon Thassi, John Gaddi and Jonathan Apphus.

Josephus, Antiquities 12.6.2
“But when those that were appointed by the King (Antiochus IV) were come to Modin, that they might compel the Jews to do what they were commanded… Mattathias (father of Judah Maccabee) said... not he nor his sons would leave the religious worship of their country.”

1 Maccabees 2:27
And Mattathias cried throughout the city with a loud voice, saying, Whosoever is zealous of the law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me.

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The religious oppression under the Greeks took a turn in 167 BCE, when the soldiers of Antiochus IV entered the city of Modi'in, 13 miles northwest of Jerusalem, and ordered Mattathias , a priest, to slay a pig on a pagan altar. Mattathias refused, overturning the altar and slaying the king’s general.

This began the 35-year-long Maccabean revolt of Mattathias and his five sons, Judah the Maccabee, Eleazar Avaran, Simon Thassi, John Gaddi, and Jonathan Apphus.

Mattathias’ son Judah’s nickname was Maccabee which means “the Hammer”. Some believe it referred to his ferocity in battle, others say the hammer was his weapon of choice. Maccabee is also the Jewish acronym for "Mi Kamocha Be'eilim Hashem" meaning "Who is like you among the powers, O G-d" which was used as a battle cry amongst the army ranks.

Josephus, Antiquities 12.6.2
“But when those that were appointed by the King (Antiochus IV) were come to Modin, that they might compel the Jews to do what they were commanded… But Mattathias said, “He would not do it: and that if all the other nations would obey the commands of Antiochus, either out of fear, or to please him; yet would not he nor his sons leave the religious worship of their country.”

1 Maccabees 2:27
And Mattathias cried throughout the city with a loud voice, saying, whosoever is zealous of the law, and maintains the covenant, let him follow me!

In this picture is the ancient site of the Tomb of the Maccabees, in Modi'in, Israel.

Tomb of the Maccabees, Modi'in, Israel
Israel Antiquities Authority

The Maccabean army was vastly outnumbered by the Greeks in number, equipment, and skill. At first, the Maccabean forces employed guerrilla tactics in the Judean countryside, but over the span of 30 years, the movement developed into a proper army capable of attacking the fortified Seleucid cities. The majority of the battles took place in the foothills leading up to Jerusalem.
Key Battles include:
166 BCE - Battle of Beth Horon
165 BCE - Battle of Emmaus
164 BCE - Battle of Beth Zur
164 BCE – Battle of Temple Mount and the rededication of the Temple, still celebrated today as Hanukkah.
162 BCE - Battle of Beth Zechariah; Eleazar Avaran dies in battle
161 BCE - Battle of Adasa
160 BCE - Battle of Elasa; Judah Maccabee dies in battle
160 BCE - John Gaddi is killed by the sons of Jambri from Medeba
142 BCE - Jonathan Apphus was executed by Diodotus Tryphon at Baskama, east of the Jordan

Mattathias died in battle somewhere in 166 BCE.

Major Battles of the Maccabean Revolt in Judea,
167 to 132 BCE

  • 166 BCE - Battle of Beth Horon
  • 165 BCE - Battle of Emmaus
  • 164 BCE - Battle of Beth Zur
  • 164 BCE - Battle of Temple Mount, Jerusalem (Hanukkah Event)
  • 162 BCE - Battle of Beth Zechariah; Eleazar Avaran dies
  • 161 BCE - Battle of Adasa
  • 160 BCE - Battle of Elasa; Judah Maccabee dies
  • 160 BCE - John Gaddi is killed by the sons of Jambri from Medeba
  • 142 BCE - Jonathan Apphus was executed by Diodotus Tryphon at Baskama, east of the Jordan

Judah Maccabee Purifies the Temple, 164 BCE

In 166 BCE, Mattathias died in battle. His eldest son, Judas, “The Hammer,” (Judah Maccabee) purified and rededicated the Temple, establishing the Festival of Hanukkah on the 25th Day of Kislev, 164 BCE. The word “Hanukkah” derives from the Hebrew word meaning “to dedicate.” 

Josephus, Antiquities 12.7.6-7
“...Judah Maccabee assembled the people and told them that after the many victories
 which God had given them they ought to go up to Jerusalem and purify the Temple and offer the appointed sacrifices. 

 And so Judah and his fellow citizens celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the Temple for eight days, …they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival on account of the restoration of their Temple worship for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights."

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Hasmonean Oil Lamp from the Time of the Maccabees,
Collection of George Blumenthal
Photo by Ardon Bar-Hama

After three years of battle, the Jews were able to retake Jerusalem, except for the Acra fortification. Reaching Temple Mount, they found the Temple disgraced and converted into a pagan sanctuary, riddled with idols, and the altar defiled with pig's blood.   Judah purified and rededicated the Temple on the 25th of Kislev, 164 BCE, and established the Festival of Hanukkah, the Hebrew word meaning "dedication".   

Josephus, Antiquities 12.7.6-7“ And so Judah and his fellow citizens celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the Temple for eight days, …they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival on account of the restoration of their Temple worship for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights."   As referred to by Josephus the festival of Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days.    

The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) sheds light on the reason: "And when the royal Hasmonean House gained the upper hand and vanquished [the Greeks], they searched and found only one flask of oil.... with the High Priest's seal, and it contained only oil to burn for one day. A miracle occurred and it burned for eight days.   The priests used the vial with pure oil to light the candles of the menorah. 

The Seleucids Withdraw, 137-132 BCE

1 Maccabees 14:36
“And in his (Simon’s) time everything prospered in his hands, so that the heathen were expelled from their country, as well as those in the city of David, in Jerusalem, who had made a citadel for themselves…” 

Four of the five brothers fell in battle. Simon, the last brother of the priestly family took up the position of High Priest and continued the battles against Greece. King Demetrius II and Simon finally agreed to a peace treaty in the year 141 BCE. But the Acra still stood, defiantly eclipsing Temple Mount. Simon finally got the upper hand over the wicked stronghold after a long besiegement. It took him another three years to raze the Acra to the ground. The Seleucids finally withdrew sometime between 137-132 BCE. 1 Maccabees 14:36 “And in his (Simon’s) time, everything prospered in his hands, so that the heathen were expelled from their country, as well as those in the city of David, in Jerusalem, who had made a citadel for themselves…”

Drawing by Shalom Kweller, the City of David

Hasmonean Kingdom

The family name of the Hasmonean dynasty originates with the ancestor of the house, whom Josephus Flavius called by the Hellenised form Asamoneus.

Hasmonean Monarchs
Simon Thassi (brother of Judah Maccabee),142-134 BCE
John Hyrcanus I, 134-104 BCE - supported Sadducees
Aristobulus I, 104-103 BCE - supported Sadducees
Alexander Jannaeus, 103-76 BCE - supported Sadducees
Salome Alexandra, 76-67 BCE - supported Pharisees
Hyrcanus II, 67-66 BCE - supported Pharisees
Aristobulus II, 66-63 BCE - supported Sadducees
Mattathias Antigonus, 40-37 BCE - both Pharisees and Sadducees

The Maccabean family is also known as the Hasmoneans.
The family name of the Hasmonean dynasty originates from the ancestor of the house, Hasmon, said to have been the great-grandfather of Mattathias whom Josephus called by the Hellenised form Asamoneus.

With the position of High Priest, Simon, the last of the Maccabees, also took on the title of "Nasi" or prince. Though he didn't refer to himself as King, this delicate distinction wasn't honored by his descendants, who later declared themselves kings.

According to the Torah, priests who come from the Tribe of Levi and specifically the line of Aharon, are not allowed to take up the position of King or vice versa, as Jewish kingship is exclusively dedicated to the line of King David from the tribe of Judah. This mixture of inter-tribal leadership positions became the root of terrible corruption in the Hasmonean family, ultimately leading to their downfall and bringing the Jewish People to ruin.

It also caused most of the later Hasmonean kings to side with the Sadducees, who, corrupted by money and power, shunned most of the Jewish Law to remain in favor with their Grecian and later Roman overlords. 

לְאַחַר שֶׁשָּׁאוּל הַמֶּלֶךְ וּבְנוֹ יְהוֹנָתָן מֵתִים בַּקְּרָב, פּוֹנִים רָאשֵׁי הַשְּׁבָטִים לְדָוִד, שֶׁמָּלַךְ כְּבָר שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וָחֵצִי בְּחֶבְרוֹן. הֵם מְמַנִּים אוֹתוֹ לְמֶלֶךְ עַל הַקּוֹנְפֵדֵרַצְיָה הַשִּׁבְטִית הַמְּאֻחֶדֶת שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל.     

דָּוִד הַמֶּלֶךְ פּוֹנֶה מִיָּד לְכִוּוּן יְרוּשָׁלַיִם, אַחַת הֶעָרִים הָאַחֲרוֹנוֹת שֶׁטֶּרֶם נִכְבְּשָׁה בְּמַהֲלַךְ כִּבּוּשׁ הָאָרֶץ בִּידֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.   דָּוִד בּוֹחֵר בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם מֵאַרְבַּע סִבּוֹת עִקָּרִיּוֹת: מַיִם, בִּטָּחוֹן, אִחוּד וְשִׁלְטוֹן קַרְקָעִי נֵיטְרָלִי, אַךְ חָשׁוּב מֵהַכֹּל, בִּגְלַל הַקְּדוֹשָׁה שֶׁל יְרוּשָׁלַיִם הַטְּבוּעָה בַּמָּקוֹם הַנִּבְחָר, שֶׁבּוֹ יִבָּנֶה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ הָעֲתִידִי.     

לְפָנֶיךָ סִרְטוֹן הַמְּסַפֵּר אֶת הַסִּבּוֹת שֶׁל דָּוִד בְּכִבּוּשׁ הָעִיר.