Nan Yin – A Historical Perspective

Preserving our ancient Chinese heritage for posterity.

Save Our Chinese Heritage

Text by Koh Sze Wei 

Siong Leng Music Association is the name of the troupe. This is one of the only two Nanyin (Nankuan, Namguan in Taiwan or older Singaporeans) associations in Singapore, and is indeed located along Bukit Pasoh Road. The other is “Chuan Tong Nan Yin She” which is translated to “Traditional Fujian Music Association” which is further down Bukit Pasoh on Teo Hong Road. The later is made up of mainly senior citizens, who play their afternoons away with the sounds of Nanyin in their association every other day, and has a true air of old Nanyin associations. The door of this association is always open, and any strangers are welcomed to sit down and listen to their ancient music. Ability to speak Minnan (Hokkien) dialect seems a must if you want to communicate with the misters there. Siong Leng on the other hand is an…

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Is the Name of Elohim lost to antiquity only to be speculated among men? A discourse – part VI

Previously we learnt that the Hasmonean Dynasty had achieved its full independence in 110 BC. It was, however, short lived. During that time John Hyrcanus succeeded Simon his father as the High Priest and also as ruler of the Jews. At this point the Hasmonean Kingdom slowly departed further from the right path and after him there was successive infighting among the family members which involved murder of their own flesh and blood.

John Hyrcanus had also forcefully converted the Idumeans, i.e. the Edomites, to Judaism. A generation later, one of the converted descendants would later alter the course of the Jewish destiny. It was to be through the progeny of Antipater the Idumean. Antipater later held a high ranking position in the service of Hyrcanus II, a grandson of John Hyrcanus. Through his line, Antipater’s son was to pave way for the Herodian Dynasty that would close the chapter of the Hasmonean Dynasty. Thus, ushering in the seed of the old serpent that would soon bruise the heel of the seed of the woman as foretold in the Book of Genesis:

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15).

The Herodian Dynasty

Herod the Great, born 73 B.C. was the second son of Antipater. His Nabatean mother, Cypros, was the daughter of an Arabian Sheikh. Soon, the era of the Hasmonean dynasty would come to an end and the Herodian era would begin. Thus, it would also mark the beginning of the New Testament period.

Herod was conferred the title “King of Judea” by the Roman Senate. He reigned Judea ruthlessly from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C.  Under his reign he showed no mercy to those whom he feared would betray him. By his schizophrenic rule he demonstrated the spirit of anti-christ which appeared every now and then in the course of Biblical history and will emerge again in full force at the end of age.

Following Jesus’ birth, Herod gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under as recorded in Matthew 2:16. He even killed several members of his own family, including his wife.

Herod had earlier defeated Antigonus II Mattathias, son of Aristobulus II. He then had Antigonus II executed by the Romans in 37 B.C. By his marriage to Mariamme of the Hasmonean royal blood he thus enhanced his legitimacy to the Hasmonean line. Herod was made king of Judea in 40 B.C. by the Roman Senate. However, he did not formally reign the region until he had successfully crushed his last Jewish opponents in 37 B.C.

Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph, was born just a few years before Herod was to die of a prolonged and painful disease on about 4 B.C. The reign of Herod’s terror and tyranny in Judea totaled more than three decades. After Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided by the Romans among three of his children. These three were Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas and Herod Philip.

Thus, Archelaus was appointed ethnarch of the tetrarchy of Judea. Antipas the tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea. And Philip the tetrarch of territories east of the Jordan. Later, Herod Agrippa I of Judea succeeded the Judean Monarchy. According to the Bible, he was struck down by the angel of the Lord and was “eaten by worm” to his death as mentioned in Acts 12. He reigned from 41-44 A.D. followed by Herod Agrippa II of Chalcis who ruled the region in 44 A.D. as mentioned in in Acts 25:13-27 and also in Acts 26.

In Matthew 14:1-12 Herod Antipas was mentioned as the ruler who ordered to have John the Baptist beheaded. He later thought Jesus was John arisen from the dead. This account was also mentioned in Mark 6 and Luke 9. Antipas was also mentioned in Luke 23:7-11 for questioning Jesus and chose not to release him. Instead, he and his court elders “treated him with contempt and mocked him, arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him back to Pilate.” Subsequently, Jesus was put to death on the cross. Thus fulfilling Genesis 3:15 concerning the seed of the serpent bruising the seed of the woman.

During this period when Jesus walked among his people, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes were well established and proliferating. From my earlier discourse we learnt that these three main political and religious factions began to emerge during the Hasmonean rule. There was a fourth but lesser sect which came later, called the Zealots, founded by Judas of Gamala. aka Judas of Galilee, in 6 A.D.

The Pharisees 

The term “Pharisees” was an ancient Greek rendition of Hebrew term pĕrûšîm (פְּרוּשִׁים). Its verbal root is parash (פָּרַשׁ), which means to make distinct. They were the mainstream Jews. In all probability the Pharisees could have originated from the time of Ezra. During the Maccabean period the Pharisaic faction arose in opposition against the usurpation of priesthood by those of non-priestly class, such as Menelaus, who were not descendant of Zadokite line. Later, in the Hasmonean period they opposed the Hasmonean rulers for holding the dual positions of monarchy and priesthood. From historical perspective, it is uncertain whether they also questioned the Zadokite lineage of the Hasmonean family.

The Pharisees held no priestly role but considered themselves to be teacher of the Torah and Oral tradition. They believed in the concept of resurrection, eternal life and judgment. However, Josephus, who claimed to be a Pharisee, suggested that the Pharisees believed in reincarnation.

The Pharisees routinely engaged in scholarly debate concerning religious matter. They were also adept in the interpretation of the written Torah based on oral tradition. This oral tradition was claimed to have stemmed from the Oral Torah which was said to be the oral teaching of Moses as taught to him by Elohim Himself. The Pharisees held the Oral Torah with high regard, even more so than the written Torah. Together with the Sadducees they constituted the members of the Sanhedrin. However, the Pharisees had the support of the masses. Thus, they were also very influential in Judea. Their doctrine and rules of hermeneutics have a very strong impact on every aspect of Jewish life which survives rabbinically even to this day.

Another distinct group closely associated with the Pharisees was a group called the scribes mentioned in Luke 11:44-46. The Encyclopedia Britannica described them as follows:

“In the 1st century, scribes and Pharisees were two largely distinct groups, though presumably some scribes were Pharisees. Scribes had knowledge of the law and could draft legal documents (contracts for marriage, divorce, loans, inheritance, mortgages, the sale of land, and the like). Every village had at least one scribe. Pharisees were members of a party that believed in resurrection and in following legal traditions that were ascribed not to the Bible but to “the traditions of the fathers.” Like the scribes, they were also well-known legal experts: hence the partial overlap of membership of the two groups. It appears from subsequent rabbinic traditions, however, that most Pharisees were small landowners and traders, not professional scribes.”

In Luke 11:44-46 Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees, saying:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.”

Following this, verse 45 also brought out another group called the “lawyers”:

“Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.”

So, who were the lawyers? The lawyers were also scribes who were experts in the interpretation of the law. Many of them were Pharisees but it was not necessary to their office for them to be so. The four Gospels were consistent in highlighting Jesus’ strong opposition against their self-righteousness and their hypocrisy. Specifically, Jesus accused them of putting heavy burden on the common people with their expanded legalism which they would not touch with one of their fingers.

During the Second Temple period, the oral tradition was not recorded in writing. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. this oral tradition was later necessitated and succeeded by written records which were collected and compiled into a compendium sometimes in the 2nd century A.D. At this point the Temple was no longer in existence for their communal worship and gathering. As such religious assembly had to be carried out separately in synagogues located in various regions. Following the destruction of the Temple, the Pharisees were the only sect left standing. However, they were subsequently known simply as the Rabbis for their post-temple contribution that created the Rabbinic literature. Over the course of some three hundred centuries this compendium, collectively known as the Talmud, was extensively studied, discussed, debated and edited by subsequent generations of rabbis in the synagogues.  The Talmud, specifically the Babylonian Talmud, became the authoritative foundation of Rabbinical or Orthodox Judaism that is widely practiced today in the global Jewish community.

The Sadduccees 

The term Sudducees was derived from the Hebrew word Ṣĕdûqîm or Tsĕdûqîm (צְדוּקִים) which is a plural past participle of the root verb ṣādaq or tsädak’ (צָדַק). It means to be righteous. The name Zadok is also derived from this root verb. Thus, Sudducees identified themselves as from the order of Zadok, the priestly class of the descendants of Eleazar. This group came about the same period as the Pharisees during the second century B.C. and was politically active from about 150 B.C. to 70 A.D. Members of this sect were mostly Hellenistic wealthy elites who held priestly role and maintained the Temple. However, not all priests and aristocrats were Sadducees. Contrary to the Pharisees, they don’t believe in resurrection or afterlife. They also reject the Oral tradition or Oral Torah. However, this sect became extinct after the destruction of the Second Temple. Some proposed that Karaite Judaism was the offshoot that stemmed from this sect. Members of Karaite Judaism, however, disputed such notion even though both group rejects the doctrine of Oral tradition.

The Essenes and the Zealots 

Historically, the Essenes also emerged during the second century B.C. The members were known to live a life of simplicity, poverty and abstinence from worldly pleasure. They also abstained from swearing. It is said by scholars that the Essenes were constituted of various groups having similar belief of the mystical and ascetic persuasion. But, except for the legacy of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient artifacts they left behind, this is just a speculation by the scholars since not much was known about this group of people from historical fact, not even from the Rabbinical source despite their centuries of existence. However, the Jewish Encyclopedia has this to say regarding the Essenes:

 “A branch of the Pharisees who conformed to the most rigid rules of Levitical purity while aspiring to the highest degree of holiness. They lived solely by the work of their hands and in a state of communism, devoted their time to study and devotion and to the practice of benevolence, and refrained as far as feasible from conjugal intercourse and sensual pleasures, in order to be initiated into the highest mysteries of heaven and cause the expected Messianic time to come (‘Ab. Zarah ix. 15; Luke ii. 25, 38; xxiii.51).

The Zealots emerged much later after the common era. They were ruthless anti-Roman political rebels. Josephus identifies this group as the fourth sect founded in 6 A.D. by Judas the Galilean who led the Jewish revolt against the Roman in 66 A.D. They were brutal even against their own Jewish brethren and Christians. This group was mercilessly annihilated by the Romans during the subsequent revolt in 70 A.D. that saw the destruction of the Second Temple and the expulsion of the Jews from their Holy Land a few years later.  

The Rabbinical Period 

The Rabbinical period was the continuation of the Pharisaic era following the destruction of the Second Temple. Without the Temple as the center of sacrificial worship and religious exegesis, the Jews in diaspora, and a small remnant that remained, could only carry out the prayer and religious study in the synagogues without the sacrificial ritual.

By 200 A.D. the Oral Law and injunctions were compiled and preserved in written form for posterity. This authoritative compendium and redaction of the Oral Law, known as the Mishnah, and its rabbinical commentary, known as the Gemara, is collectively called the Talmud.

Among the Rabbinical injunction is the Rabbinical prohibition against uttering or pronouncing the Name of Elohim. As we had seen from my previous discourse, the Rabbinical prohibition came about during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the corruption of Hellenized Jews. After the Maccabees revolt the Righteous Jews finally regained the right of Jewish self-rule and freedom of religion from the Greek authority. They subsequently rededicated the Temple and reinstated the Temple worship ritual. They also restored the invocation of the Name of Elohim during this time in the same manner as their forefathers before them.

However, as always, in time some rebellious elements began to stir the pot. As recorded in Barakhot 9:5, the Mishnah in fact not only confirms that in early days there was no prohibition against invoking or uttering the Name of Elohim but it also did exhort the Jews to greet each other in Elohim’s Name to the contrary of what the heretics taught:

“When the heretics corrupted [matters] and said, “there is no world but this one,” they [the Sages] corrected this so that they should say, “From the world and until the [next] world.” And they corrected this, that one shall inquire after the peace of his friend with the Name [of God], as it says, “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the harvesters, ‘God be with you’, and they said to him, ‘God bless you.’” (Ruth 2:4) And it says, “God is with you, great and valorous one.” (Judges 6:12) And it says, “Do not scorn, because your mother is old.” (Proverbs 23:22) And it says, “It is time to do for God, they have broken your Torah.” (Psalm 119:126) Rabbi Nathan says, “’They nullified your Torah’ – because it is time to do for God.””

Let’s examine Ruth 2:4 from KIV Bible, which says:

“And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The LORD be with you. And they answered him, The LORD bless thee.”

Here the “LORD” in all capital letters represents “YHWH” which is the tetragrammaton of the Name of Elohim as recorded in the Masoretic Text. In ancient times the Scriptures were written in consonantal script. That means there was no vowel letter or vowel point represented in the Hebrew alphabet system. The vowel pointing system, with its vocalization and accentuation symbols called the Masorah, came much later sometimes during the period from the 7th to the 10th century A.D.

Therefore, the ancient Hebrews would read the Scripture by recognition and thus supplied the vowel from memory much like the Chinese people who read the Chinese characters by recognition without having any vowels built into the system.  Therefore, the ancient Hebrew would have pronounced the Name of Elohim just as they would pronounce each and every consonantal word in the Scriptures as they read aloud to the masses. The Encyclopedia Judaica also verified the above historical fact. In its entry “God, Names of” (volume 7, page 680), it states:

“At least until the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. this name was regularly pronounced with its proper vowels, as is clear from the Lachish Letters, written shortly before that date.”

The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, published in New York in 1941, volume 5, page 6, article “GOD, NAMES OF” also states as follows:

“The Tetragrammaton or Four-Lettered Name (YHWH), which occurs 6,823 times, is by far the most frequent name of God in the Bible. It is now pronounced ‘Adonai’; but the [Catholic] church father Theodoret records that THE SAMARITANS pronounced it as ‘Iabe adonai’, and Origen transcribes it as ‘Iae’, both pointing to an original vocalization ‘yahveh’.”

In addition, the Talmud records how the Rabbinical prohibition of the Second Temple period came about:

“R. Aha b. Huna raised an objection [from the following]: ‘On the third of Tishri the mention [of God] in bonds was abolished: for the Grecian Government had forbidden the mention of God’s name by the Israelites, and when the Government of the Hasmoneans became strong and defeated them, they ordained that they should mention the name of God even on bonds, and they used to write thus: ‘In the year So-and-so of Johanan, High Priest to the Most High God’, and when the Sages heard of it they said, ‘To-morrow this man will pay his debt and the bond will be thrown on a dunghill’, and they stopped them, and they made that day a feast day.  (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 18b)”

The above Mishnah clearly confirmed the historical account of the Maccabees Revolt following the abomination of Antiochus IV Epiphanes which we had covered during our previous discourse. Thus, in Mishnah  Sanhedrin Chapter 10:1, quoted in part:

“These have no share in the World to Come … Abba Shaul says, also one who utters the Divine name as it is spelled.”

The probable turning point of when this restraint to utter the Name of Elohim became a practice in Israel was  pointed out in the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1901. In Volume 11, page 353, it states:

 “SIMEON THE JUST (): High priest. He is identical either with Simeon I. (310-291 or 300-271 b.c.), son of Onias I., and grandson of Jaddua, or with Simeon II. (219-199 b.c.), son of Onias II… After Simeon’s death men ceased to utter the tetragrammaton aloud (Yoma 30b; Tosef Sotah. xiii.).”

This is also verified by another record in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, page 39b, that states:

“…When Simeon the Righteous died, with many indications that such glory was no more enjoyed, his brethren no more dared utter the Ineffable Name…”

Thus, we see that even before Antiochus Epiphanes imposed the prohibition there was a faction of  heretic Jews who were inclined to introduce false doctrine and caused the common Jewish people to practice complete  restraint in vocalizing the Name of Elohim, reserving such  only for the High Priest during worship. In other occasion the Name of Elohim was replaced with the title “Adonai”, which means “My Lords”. But in reference to Elohim of the Israelites the plural form, Lords, is to be rendered singular. That is “My Lord”. On the entry regarding “Adonai” the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia states the following:

“This word occurs in the Masoretic text 315 times by the side of the Tetragram YHWH (310 times preceding and five times succeeding it) and 134 times without it. Originally an appellation of God, the word became a definite title, and when the Tetragram became too holy for utterance Adonai was substituted for it, so that, as a rule, the name written YHWH receives the points of Adonai and is read Adonai, except in cases where Adonai precedes or succeeds it in the text, when it is read Elohim. The vowel-signs e, o, a, given to the Tetragrammaton in the written text, therefore, indicate this pronunciation, Aedonai, while the form Jehovah, introduced by a Christian writer about 1520, rests on a misunderstanding. The translation of YHWH by the word Lord in the King James’s and in other versions is due to the traditional reading of the Tetragrammaton as Adonai, and this can be traced to the oldest translation of the Bible, the Septuagint. About the pronunciation of the Shem ha-Meforash, the ‘distinctive name’ YHWH, there is no authentic information. In the early period of the Second Temple the Name was still in common use, as may be learned from such proper names as Jehohanan, or from liturgical formulas, such as Halelu-Yah. At the beginning of the Hellenistic era, however, the use of the Name was reserved for the Temple. From Sifre to Num. vi. 27, Mishnah Tamid, vii. 2, and Soṭah, vii. 6 it appears that the priests were allowed to pronounce the Name at the benediction only in the Temple; elsewhere they were obliged to use the appellative name (kinnuy) ‘Adonai.’ Philo, too, in referring to it says (‘Life of Moses,’ iii. 11): ‘The four letters may be mentioned or heard only by holy men whose ears and tongues are purified by wisdom, and by no other in any place whatsoever.’ According to Josephus (‘Ant.’ ii. 12, § 4): ‘Moses besought God to impart to him the knowledge of His name and its pronunciation so that he might be able to invoke Him by name at the sacred acts, whereupon God communicated His name, hitherto unknown to any man; and it would be a sin for me to mention it.’ Pronunciation of the Name by the Temple priests also gradually fell into disuse. Tosef., Soṭah, xiii. 8, quoted Menaḥot, 109b, and Yoma, 39b, relates that ‘from the time Simon the Just died [this is the traditional expression for the beginning of the Hellenistic period], the priests refrained from blessing the people with the Name’—in other words, they pronounced it indistinctly, or they mouthed or mumbled it. Thus says Tosef., Ber. vi. 23: Formerly they used to greet each other with the Ineffable Name; when the time of the decline of the study of the Law came, the elders mumbled the Name. Subsequently also the solemn utterance of the Name by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, that ought to have been heard by the priests and the people, according to the Mishnah Yoma, vi. 2, became inaudible or indistinct.”

As we had learnt in my previous discourse, the office of High Priesthood had already been corrupted following the disposal of the High Priest, Onias III. He was disposed and replaced by Jason and later by Menelaus, both Hellenized, through their bribery of the Seleucid king. After the Maccabean Revolt and the passing of Simon, the office of High Priesthood was occupied by Hellenized Hasmonean rulers. It was in this political climate that the prohibition of uttering the Name of Elohim took place. The tradition was thus established that the common Jewish people could use “Adonai” only in prayer. On other occasions they were to use the word “HaShem”, which means “the Name”, to refer to Elohim. Only the High Priest was allowed to pronounce the Name of Elohim on the Day of Atonement in the Holy of Holies.

However, current Jewish people go even further than that. They don’t even pronounce other titles of Elohim or written them as they are spelt. They engage in substitution of letters or syllables. Such that “Adonai” becomes “Adoshem”, “Elohaynu”, which means Our God becomes Elokaynu, and Elohim becomes Elokim. In writing they would not dare write “God” or  “Lord”. Instead, they write “G-d” or “L-rd”.

The rationale given by them for such phobia is that they were taught to demonstrate their enormous respect and reverence to Elohim by not vocalizing His Name, even in praise or worship for fear of what other people might do to abuse the Name in an unholy manner or use if for some magical invocation. But, that’s like arguing that we should not allow the Bible to be circulated or to exist anywhere on earth because of some elements in our society who would abuse the Holy Book or the Words in the Scriptures. Wouldn’t that be ridiculous?

Therefore, they called Elohim’s Name the “Ineffable” or “Unutterable” Name. In effect, whether they meant it or not, they considered Elohim’s Holy Name to be a taboo for the mention. Yet, nowhere in the Bible did Elohim prohibit His people from calling His Name. In fact, the Bible told us otherwise. Everywhere in the Bible, we are told to praise His Holy Name. We read in the Old Testament that the ancient Hebrews and the Israelites often times called upon Elohim’s Name and praise Him in His Name. In Jeremiah 23:26-27, Elohim specifically declared the truth of the matter concerning this Rabbinical prohibition:

“How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; which think to cause my people to forget my Name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my Name for Baal.”

Incidentally, Baal means Lord in the Canaanite tongue. So Elohim is in effect saying that the forefathers of the Jewish people had forgotten His Name in place of the title Lord or Adonai. That’s exactly what has been happening now in the Jewish communities worldwide since the Second Temple period. Of course, there is nothing wrong to address Elohim as the Lord. But, when His Name is specifically written in the Bible, it would be wrong to cover it up as though it is something bad to be avoided at all cost. More so when His people are told to call upon His Name so that He may hear us.

Christians followed the same tradition through the Roman Catholics. Before the Christian era the Name of Elohim had long been made hidden from the common Jewish people by the Pharisaic tradition. In the New Testament, Jesus himself told us in his prayer to Elohim during his last hour that he had revealed the hidden Name of Elohim to his disciples. John 17:6 very clearly states what Jesus said in his prayer to Elohim:

“I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.”

This was not just a passing prayer but an intense dialog with Elohim the Father in which Jesus reiterated that it was Elohim who gave Jesus His Name to gave to his disciples so that the love of Elohim is in them and in His Name his disciple would be one with him and be protected. The significant of those in Christ to know the Name of Elohim is shown in the following verses:

John 17:11 “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own Name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” 

John 17:12 “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy Name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.”

John 17:26 “And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

So, now the question is: Is the Name of Elohim lost to antiquity only to be speculated among men?

Personally, I don’t think so. I believe it is just hidden by the takanot of the Jewish tradition, i.e. made hidden by the enactment of man-made-laws, i.e. the Rabbinic law. The early Christians writings showed that Elohim’s Name were known and invoked upon by them in their documents. Elohim’s Name became hidden again in the Christian world after Constantine made Christianity the State religion and through the Roman Catholics, the Jewish tradition was observed. Thus, it is now hidden from the people.

In my next discussion, I will present from Biblical source Elohim’s desire for His people regarding His Name. I will also present what I believe to be Elohim’s Name through the Biblical Hebrew Grammar that has been preserved for us to this day by the Masoretes.

Is the Name of Elohim lost to antiquity only to be speculated among men? A discourse – part V

In the previous discourse Judah and Jonathan were both killed. The last surviving son of Mattathias was Shimon.

Shimon (Simon) succeeds Jonathan – semi-autonomy of Hasmonean Kingdom 

In 141/140 BC Shimon, by a resolution, was also recognized as the High Priest and Prince of Israel by an assembly of priests and elders. However, the manner in which the election process was carried out departed from the Jewish custom. Instead it was performed in the Hellenistic fashion. Thus began the newly established Hasmonean kingdom. The Hasmonean Kingdom gained semi-autonomy for the region it controlled and thus remained a province of the Seleucid Empire. Around 139 BC the Roman Senate accorded recognition to the new dynasty. Approximately five years later, in 134/135 BC, Shimon was murdered during a banquet given by his son-in-law, Ptolemy, son of Abubus, who was made governor of the Jericho by the Seleucid king. Shimon’s two sons were also murdered during the banquet. The third son of Shimon was not at the banquet. Sometimes later, Ptolemy then tried to murder Shimon’s third son, John, also known as Hyrcanus or John Hyrcanus (the name “Hyrcanus”, probably referring to the region of Hyrcania on the Caspian Sea, of Old Persian and Sanskrit origin, was a Greek reginal name conferred by the Seleucid king). But the attempt failed.

John Hyrcanus succeeds Shimon – full independence of Hasmonean Kingdom

Around 135 BC John Hyrcanus assumed the official positions his deceased father had held prior to his demise. At this point the Hasmonean Kingdom slowly departed further from the Jewish tradition and also more into self-destructive internal conflicts as each successive generations inclined further into the Hellenistic way. During this time or possibly earlier, the Jewish community was split between two opposing political and religious parties, namely the Pharisee and the Sadducee factions. The Pharisees took issue with the House of Hasmonean on several issues. Among many disputes, the first contending issue was over the legitimacy of Hyrcanus holding both the office of High Priesthood while also filling the role of a ruler. Another issue arose when Hyrcanus looted the Tomb of David for the purpose of paying tribute imposed upon him by the Seleucid king, Antiochus VII Sidetes. The tribute was part of a truce agreement executed  after a siege on Jerusalem during Hyrcanus’ first year. In desecrating the Tomb of David he also violated his obligations as High Priest. Thus, adding to the contentious climate among the Jewish community of his reign.

From 110 BC, the Hasmonean Dynasty became fully independent following the weakening and disintegrating of the Seleucid Empire. Hyrcanus subsequently conquered the neighboring regions of Galilee, Transjordan, Samaria and Idumea (aka Edom). He then forced the Idumeans to convert to Judaism. This caused another contention between Hyrcanus and the Pharisees.

John Hyrcanus was said to have five sons. But only four were recorded. The four named sons were Judah Aristobulus I,  Antigonus I, Alexander Jannaeus and Absalom. He reigned from 134 until his death in 104 BC. Before his death Hyrcanus made an effort to compromise on the dispute over his role as High Priest and ethnarch.  He established a reform effective on his successors. The reformation provided for the separation of the office of High Priest from secular authority. The secular authority was to be succeeded by his wife while the office of High Priest was to go to his eldest son Judah Aristobulus I. However, Aristobulus was not happy about such arrangement.

Judah Aristobulus I usurps power by subversion

Upon Hyrcanus’ death, Aristobulus had his mother and the other three brothers put in prison. He let his mother starved to death so that he could secure the throne for himself. In 103 BC, after only one year of reign, Aristobulus died from a painful illness. His widow subsequently release the three brothers from prison.

Succession of Alexander Jannaeus followed by Salome Alexandra

In 103 BC Alexander Jannaeus succeeded his brother and ruled the Hasmonean dynasty from 103 to 76 BC. During Alexander’s reign, at around 87 BC, 800 Jews were crucified in Jerusalem for rebellion.  Alexander died during the siege of the fortress Ragaba and was succeeded by his wife, Salome Alexandra. Salome then appointed his eldest son, Hyrcanus II, as the High Priest. She also designated him as her successor to the throne. In 67 BC Salome died and Hyrcanus II succeeded her. Thus resuming the dual position of High Priest and ruler.

Succession of Hyrcanus II deposed and restored

But the reign of Hyrcanus II was very short. He was soon deposed by his younger brother, Aristobulus II. Hyrcanus II, however, fought back with the help of the Nabataean king. The civil war dragged on until Rome intervened in 63 BC under Pompey. The result was that Hyrcanus II was restored only as High Priest and Aristobulus II was taken to Rome as prisoner. The civil authority was delegated to Antipater the Idumean under the authority of Rome. The seditious Antipater was actually the one who convinced Hyrcanus II to contend against his brother for his rightful position.

Antigonus Mattathias deposes Hyrcanus II

Hyrcanus II held the position of High Priest for approximately 27 years before he was again deposed of his office in 40 BC by his nephew, Antigonus Mattathias, son of Aristobulus II. This was done with the help of the Parthians. He was taken to Babylonia and lived there for 4 years before being invited back by Herod the Great, aka Herod I when Antigonus was defeated and executed. Later Hyrcanus II was put to death by Herod. Thus ending the Hasmonean Dynasty and the beginning of the Herodian Dynasty.

In part VI I will cover the Herodian period to the time of the Messiah, Yehoshua, who is commonly known as Jesus Christ in the Western world.

Is the Name of Elohim lost to antiquity only to be speculated among men? A discourse – part IV

Previously I covered the event of Maccabee revolt which was precipitated by Antiochus’ attempt to prohibit observant Jews to practice their religion and at the same time compelling them to participate in pagan ritual and to sacrifice pigs to pagan gods following the defilement of the Temple.

The revolt was also brought about by the civil war between the traditionalists headed by Mattityahu (Mattathias) and the Hellenized Jews when the latter attempted to revamp the tradition of Judaism towards the Greek culture.

After Mattathias passed away Judah Maccabeus led the revolt on several battles that eventually defeated the Seleucid forces. When Antiochus unexpectedly passed away during a military campaign against the Parthians his son King Antiochus (V) Eupator reluctantly made peace with Judah and his men during the siege of the Temple in Jerusalem and permitted them to live according to the laws of their fathers so that he could return to Antioch to take care of the state affair against Philip.

Even though there would be more battles to come but meantime the Maccabees had regained control over Jerusalem and the surrounding with freedom to practice the laws and customs of their fathers. Jonathon Maccabee subsequently was installed as the high priest.

The Hasmonean Dynasty

The Hasmonean dynasty had its root from Mattityahu (Mattathias) the Hasmonean who started the Maccabee revolt during Antiochus IV Epiphanes’ effort to eradicate Judaism. The kingdom was establish later down the line.

Having obtained many military successes against the Seleucids, the Maccabees became very ambitious. Their original purpose of revolt to end religious oppression had now turned into a desire to continue the battle for gaining other nearby lands and engaging in forceful religious conversion. The latter action, which was a departure from Jewish custom, would soon come back to haunt the Jews dearly when one of the descendants of the Idumeans, who were forcefully converted to Judaism, became a ruthless and schizophrenic ruler of the Jews known as Herod the Great almost a century later.

Following Judah’s death in a battle in 160 BC and numerous battles and raids following thereafter, including the alliance with the Romans, Jonathan, who now also took command of the Maccabee force, was killed by Diodotus Tryphon in 142 BC while being held captive as a result of Diodotus’ entrapment. The  last remaining son of Mattathias, Shimon (Simon) Maccabee, succeeded him in their ongoing battles against the gentiles and the Hellenized Jews.

To be continued…


Note: 1/31/1015 edited for brevity.

The Melody of Spring

1 Apr 2014 potsticker 131

Ah…! The Melody of Spring!

The Musical Sound from Heavenly Peace!

Do I see the coming of Maiden Spring?

Chiming Bells!

Of Holy Bliss upon the earth does dwell!

Bells of Hymns!

Do I hear a concert from within?

Was I charmed? Was that whims?

Do I smell the aroma of early Spring?

Rosy Air!

Of flooding

Sunshines upon the Vastness there!

There I see 

Birds of paradise, feathers of wings…

Do I feel the gentle caress of chilly winds?

But, beauty unlike Beauty is —

That glamour allures

So do our eyes deceive…

Where on earth —

Life’s sorrows and savories,

Like winds,

Will always meet.

Tingling Breeze

But for an instance

My stress relieved.

Have I forgotten just how sweet life can be?

Ah! Valley of Silence, O Wonders of God

How I wonder about You

And how I wish to return to You in Christ’s Righteousness

And in harmony and everlasting…


Without even ever fear!

Shan Lim

Is the Name of Elohim lost to antiquity only to be speculated among men? A discourse – part III

In part II of my article I covered the history of the Jewish people in Judea from the Babylonian period to the end of the Seleucid persecution when Antiochus IV Epiphanes died in 163 BC while fighting a war against the Parthians in the east. During the reign of Antiochus, observant Jews were persecuted and their religious practice was outlawed. The priesthood was made a political position according to men’s will instead of by divine authority through a priestly order as ordained by Elohim.

Also, Hellenized Jews were part of the problems in corrupting and undermining the Jewish tradition of the fathers. This is what the book of Maccabees had to say:

In those days lawless men came forth from Israel, and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles round about us, for since we separated from them many evils have come upon us.”

[1 Mac. 1:11.]

Prelude to Maccabean Revolt

The most grievous unholy act against the observant Jews, however,  was the wanton desecration of the Temple by decree of Antiochus that foment unrest among the observant Jews which eventually led to the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid oppressors.

he Maccabean Revolt was a religious war against religious persecution imposed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes upon the faithful servants of Elohim, prohibiting their worship of YHWH Elohim in place of pagan idol worshiping which the Seleucid king did in great defilement of the Temple. It was also a civil war pitting orthodox Jews against Hellenized Jews who willingly joined the reformist campaign and played a significant role in the moral decay and corruption of the Jewish people by supplanting the Jewish faith and tradition in favor of Greek culture and ideology. Thus, violence was perpetrated against those who did not comply and much bloodshed was committed against Elohim’s people.

The revolt lasted from 167 to 160 BC.

According to the Book of Maccabees, there was at that time a kohen Jew whose name was Mattityahu (Mattathias) ben Yohanan (John), the son of Simeon, the son of Asamoneus (Hasmoneus of Judea, chronicled by Josephus, possibly not a direct line but from distant ancestor as some Jewish source put it, which later gave rise to the Hasmonean dynasty).

Mattathias was from a priestly class of the order of Joarib, who moved from Jerusalem to settle in a small town called Modein.  He was the elder of the town. He had five sons:

 1. Yohanan (John) surnamed Gaddi,

2. Shimon (Simon) called Thassi,

3. Yehudah (Judah) called Maccabeus,

4. Eleazar called Avaran and

5. Yonathan (Jonathan) called Apphus.

 Meaning of Maccabee

Therefore the name Maccabee (Hebrew מכבים) was derived from Judah Maccabeus, which means “hammer” in Hebrew. It is also a Hebrew acronym for “mi kamokha ba’alim YHWH” מִֽי־כָמֹכָה בָּֽאֵלִם יְהוָה which was taken from the first part of the verse in Exodus 15:11 which said:

 “Who is like unto thee Lord YHWH”

The conflict started when Antiochus sent his soldiers under the command of Apelles to go forth to Modein to set up an alter to the heathen idol for worship and to compel Mattathias, notable Jewish elder of the city, to set an example for the people to offer pig sacrifice to the pagan god. The Book of Maccabees recounted the following:

When Mattathias heard that the Temple was defiled and blasphemies against God was being committed in Judah and Jerusalem he and his sons rent their clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned greatly.

But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.”

When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice upon the altar in Modein, according to the king’s command.

When Mattathias saw it, be burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar. At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, as Phinehas did against Zimri the son of Salu.

Then Mattathias cried out in the city with a loud voice, saying: “Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!”

And he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the city.

[1Mac. 2:19-28.]

Martyrs perish on Sabbath for their faith

Many righteous Jews, who were persecuted for their religious belief, also refused to submit to the king’s decree. They fled to the wilderness and hide in caves.  Many were slaughtered, including women and children, when they were besieged by the king’s army in their desert hideout and were reluctant to fight back nor barricade the entrance of their caves on account of Sabbath. According to the Books of Maccabees, a thousand Jewish men, women and children were burnt and perished in their caves on that day.

When Mattathias and his men heard of their sacrifice, they mourned for their loss deeply and decided that they would fight back against every man who came to attack them on the Sabbath day. Thus began the seven year Maccabean guerrilla warfare. And therefore Mattathias and his followers fought against their enemies. Later a company of Hasideans, a religious ascetic sect whom the Book of Maccabees referred to as mighty warriors of Israel came to join them. They struck down the uncircumcised and the Hellenized Jews who betrayed the laws of their fathers. And they tore down the pagan alters and circumcised all the uncircumcised boys they found within the borders.

The Maccabean Revolt led by Judah

In 166 BC (146th year of the Seleucid era), Mattathias passed away of old age and his son, Judah Maccabeus, succeeded him as leader of the Maccabee revolt. Earlier in 167 BC Judah had just defeated the Governor of Samaria, Appollonius, who was dispatched to link up with the Seleucid forces from Jerusalem to fight Judah’s men at northern part of Samaria in what is called the Battle of Wadi Haramia.

Appolonius was killed in that battle and his men, including the much larger Syrian troops, were destroyed. .

Following up with the Battle of Wadi Haramia, Judah and his fellow men fought another battle in 166 BC with the Seleucid force under the command of Governor Seron in the Battle of Beth Horon. In the battle Seron was killed and the Seleucid army took off hastily  in defeat.

Lysias invades Judea while Antiochus sought wealth in Persia

When Antiochus heard the news he was very angry by the disgraceful defeats of his supposedly well trained and well equipped large armies to a small bunch of untrained and ill-equipped peasant rebels. So, he was about to muster together his soldiers and mercenaries to go to Judea about the beginning of spring when he realized his coffers were running low.

At that time, Antiochus had wanted to collect unpaid tax revenues from the wealth of Elam (Elymais or Elamaise in Graecized form) in Persia which was a city rich with gold and silver. The Seleucid-Parthian relationship had been a series of frequent cat and mouse struggles between a conqueror and its vassal state since the beginning of the Seleucid Empire. So Antiochus set out in an expedition to invade the Parthians that same year.

Antiochus therefore left his state affair of the Southern Syria and guardianship of his son, who was still a minor, to his general and governor of Syria, known as Lysias, before heading to Persia. He also instructed Lysias to invade Judea, enslave its people and utterly destroy Jerusalem and the whole nation.

This military campaign commissioned by Lysias took place the same year in 166 BC. and was the third and much larger Seleucid military expedition thus far against the Maccabees known as the Battle of Emmaus.

Lysias, acting as regent, sent out a large contingent of forty thousand Seleucid infantry and seven thousand cavalry to Emmaus commanded by Syrian-Seleucid generals: Ptolemy, son of Dorymenes, Nicanor and Gorgias. They also brought along slave traders for slave trading as they were very sure of defeating the Maccabees and the whole Judea.

But, as we can see from history, time and again, Elohim’s hand was at play at every turn in this historical event concerning the Maccabees. And against all odds, Judah and his men were able to defeat the Seleucid forces once again.

Confounded by reports of the great defeat of the Seleucid army against Judah the next year Lysias mustered sixty thousand select group of foot soldiers and five thousand cavalry to subdue Judas and his force. They battled out in Beth-zur where Judah had just ten thousand men and lacking in equipment and training. For their lacking they were able to make up in spirit and in their strength through fasting and earnest prayers to Elohim. Yet, once again, by the grace of Elohim, the Seleucid army was sorely defeated. So Lysias counted his loss then returned to Antioch to prepare for yet another invasion with plan for even a much larger army and mercenaries.

Purification and Rededication of the Temple

Acknowledging Divine intervention for his many victories against the Seleucid military power, Judah assembled his people and  turned back to Jerusalem to cleanse the Temple and to rededicate it. When they saw the Sanctuary laid in desolation with the altar profaned, the priests’ chambers in ruin, gates burnt and bushes sprang up in courts as in a thicket the men rent their clothes and mourned greatly.

Then they went to work to purify the Sanctuary and to remove defiled stones to an unclean place while a detail of men was sent to fight against the enemy in the citadel to keep them at bay. They then built a new altar with unhewn stones as the law required. They also rebuilt the Sanctuary and the interior of the Temple and consecrated the courts. They then brought in the table, a makeshift lamp stand (for the original gold menorah was melted down by the Greek invaders) and the altar of incense and made new holy vessels for worship. They then finished all the work that had to be done.

They subsequently found one vial of pure lamp oil in the Temple with the seal still intact. They used the oil they just found to light the menorah and, lo behold, the menorah stayed lit for eight days until they were able to press fresh olive oil for the Temple. Thus, Judas and his people purified the Temple and rededicated it early in the morning on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Levitical Law of Sacrifices and Offerings. This event took place in the 148th year of the Seleucid era. This event and the date according to the Hebrew calendar set forth the annual celebration of the eight days of Hanukkah, which is observed by the Jewish people to this day

Death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Meantime Antiochus was defeated in Persia. He heard news of his defeats also in Judea. In despondency. Antiochus fell ill and died in 163 BC on the 149th Seleucid era in Persia during his military campaign against Parthia. On his death bed Antiochus made Philip, his close friend, a guardian to all his kingdom on behalf of his minor son so that he could bring the child up to become a king.

Upon hearing that Antiochus had passed away, Lysias took in his custody Antiochus’ son, whom he had brought up as a boy, and set him up as the next king and named the boy Antiochus (V) Eupator.

According to the account in 1 Maccabees the Gentiles in the surrounding were angry at Judah and his people when they found out that the altar had been rebuilt and the Sanctuary rededicated to the Elohim of the Jewish people. And so there was fighting going on between the Gentiles and the Jewish people in diverse places. They were eventually defeated by Judah and his men.

Then the garrison in the citadel, with the renegade Jews, kept inflicting harm against the Jews in the Sanctuary. In response, Judah assembled his people and besieged the citadel. While the citadel was under attack by Judah’s force, some escaped to seek help from the young king.

Antiochus V Eupator besieges the Temple

King Antiochus (V) Eupator then set forth with Lysias commanding one hundred thousand foot soldiers, twenty thousand horsemen and thirty-two war elephants. They came to Idumea and encamped at Beth-zur to wage war against Judah and his men. The battle then moved to Beth-zechariah. It was in this battle that Judah’s younger brother, Eleazar, called Avaran, was crushed to death by an elephant which he stabbed during the fierce battle for he mistakenly thought the king was on the beast.

While, owing to the scarcity of foods in the store being that it was the seventh year and the land being not ploughed, the inhabitants of Beth-zur finally made peace with the king on the security of oaths that they should suffer no hard treatment.

Meanwhile, Judah had retreated to Jerusalem where he and a few of his men were prepared to endure a siege as long as they could in the Temple. For it being the sabbatical year of the land what little food that was left in the storage had quickly ran out. Then, yet again, by the stroke of Divine intervention, Lysias and the king received news that Philip was on his way with his armed forces from Persia to Antioch to seize control of the government.

Reluctant peace offered by Eupator

Lysias then advised the king to come to term and make peace with the Jews and all their nation and to allow them to live by their laws as they did before so that they can return to Antioch and take care of their internal state affair.

And thus the king came to peaceful term with Judah and his men and permitted them to live according to the laws of their fathers. Before the king left for Antioch he had his soldiers tore down the fortified walls of Mount Zion to the ground and then he gathered his troops and returned to Antioch. This event took place in the 150th year of the Seleucid era.

I will continue further development into the Maccabees to the Hasmonean and the Herodian dynasties in my next article. Meantime, may Elohim keep you and bless you.


Update: 04/01/2014 – 1) Apparently there is a discrepancy in the dates corresponding to the Seleucid years and historical dates from different sources, e.g the date Antiochus IV died. Here’s the  explanation from the source as provided below:

Two different uses were made of the Seleucid years:

  1. The natives of the empire used the Babylonian calendar, in which the new year falls on 1 Nisanu (3 April in 311 BC), so in this system year 1 of the Seleucid era corresponds roughly to April 311 BC to March 310 BC. This included the Jews, who call it theEra of Contracts. It is used in the Jewish historical book, now “deuterocanonical”, 1 Maccabees, in 6:20, 7:1, 9:3, 10:1, etc.[4]
  2. The Macedonian court adopted the Babylonian calendar (substituting the Macedonian month names) but reckoned the new year to be in the autumn (the exact date is unknown). In this system year 1 of the Seleucid era corresponds to the period from autumn 312 BC to summer 311 BC. By the seventh century AD / tenth AG, the west Syrian Christians settled on 1 October-to-30 September.[5] Jews, however, reckon the start of each new Seleucid year with the lunar month Tishri.

These differences in the beginning of the year mean that dates may differ by one. Bickerman gives this example:

For instance, the restoration of the temple of Jerusalem by Judas Maccabaeus, approximately 15 December 164 BC, fell in the year 148 of the Seleucid Era according to Jewish (and Babylonian) calculation, but in the year 149 for the court.[6]\

2) Added sub-heading for ease of reading.

Is the Name of Elohim lost to antiquity only to be speculated among men? A discourse – part II

In my previous article, part I, I mentioned that Elohim did reveal to us in the Old Testament his personal Name: YHWH. But, according to Jewish tradition, as we were told, the Tiberian scribes, who developed the diacritic points, were said to refrain themselves from not verbalizing Elohim’s sacred Name out of reverence and as proactive measure against cause for potential blasphemy. But, did this tradition arise out of genuine spirit of reverence and concern or was there a more sinister root stemming from men’s rebellion against YHWH Elohim?

Is the prohibition against verbalizing Elohim’s Name according to the teaching of Elohim’s Words in the Bible? And more importantly in all things, what is the will of Elohim concerning His people of knowing His Name?

In this part II of my article I am going to bring readers back in time to the era of the Babylonian invasion to the Seleucid Empire to trace back the history of this tradition of prohibition against verbalizing Elohim’s Name.

The Babylonian Period

Around 597 BC king Nebuchadnezzar began the siege of Jerusalem. By 586 BC Jerusalem was razed to the ground and the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian invaders. As a result, the Jews were exiled to Babylon. Thus ending almost one thousand years of the First Temple period of ancient Israel when the Israelite Monarchs reigned the land as mentioned in the Books of Samuel and Kings. This tumultuous period leading up to the impending banishment from their homeland brought about the prophetic warning by the latter three prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It also brought about rampant appearance of false prophets who, by deception of their own heart, caused Elohim’s people to forget Elohim’s Name.

The Persian Period

Around 539 BC the Babylonians were defeated by the Persian King, Cyrus the Great. According to the Bible, in the first year of Cyrus (ca. 538/537 BC) the Persian king made a proclamation allowing exiled Jews of Babylon to return to Jerusalem and subsequently to rebuilt the Temple (ca. 515 BC). This was the period of the rebuilding of Jerusalem as mentioned in the Bible by prophets Nehemiah and Ezra.

The Hellenistic Period

The Achaemenid Empire came to an end in ca. 334 BC when Alexander the Great rose to power and conquered the entire Persian Empire.

After the death of Alexandra the Great in 323 BC the Greek Empire was divided up into four power blocs, namely, the Seleucid Empire, the Ptolemaic Empire, the Antigonid Empire that ruled Macedonia and Greece and the Attalid Empire that ruled Asia Minor before being incorporated as part of the Antigonid Emipire. However, the two larger Empires, the Seleucid and the Ptolemaic, are the ones that concerned us here due to their political and cultural influence on the Jewish history in Palestine.

Geographically, Judea was wedged between the Seleucid Empire based in Syria to the North and the Ptolemaic Empire based in Egypt to the South. As such, it was in a strategic  position in a thug of war for control where the fortune of war was shifted back and forth between the two great powers.

In 312 – 305 BC, Judea was ruled by the Ptolemaic Empire. By 200- 198  BC it was under the control of the Syrian Seleucid king, Antiochus III.

Era of Antiochus IV Epiphanes

According to Josephus, Antiochus III allowed the Jews to live “according to the law of their forefathers.” However, his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who reigned the Seleucid Empire from 175 BC to 164 BC wasn’t at all accommodating to the conservative and religiously observant Jews. In fact, he actively interfered with the religious practice of the Jewish people and was one of the most vicious persecutor of the observant Jews. He was the first king who had proclaimed himself to be the god and had the nation’s coins minted to read: “King Antiochus…God made visible”.

When Antiochus IV Epiphanes (ca. 215-164 BC) ascended the throne the High Priest in Jerusalem at the time was Onias III. Onias was  a pious Jew of the priestly class. He was in the hereditary line of Aaronite priests elected according to the Mosaic order of priesthood instituted by Elohim. Onias was a strong critic against the hellenization of the Jewish people by the growing influence of Antiochus’ anti-Judaism policy. Also at the same time, a group of urban upper class Jews, such as the Tobiads, were very keen supporters of Hellenization that began during the time of Alexander the Great. Their inclination to embrace Greek culture in repudiation of their Jewish root was probably in part driven by the economic and political reasons. Also, the Greek culture was considered far more advanced than any other cultures in the conquered lands and Greek language was the preferred language of that time much like English language is the preferred language of international trade and commerce of our day.

The religious and political climates among the Jewish people during that time were widely divided among various factions composing of the conservatives and religious Jews on one hand and the liberals  and the Hellenized secular Jews on the other hand. Also, during the Second Temple period four major religious sects began to appear on the political and religious scene. They were the Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes and the Zealots. It was during this period that the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written.

Then, there was also contention between Jews who favored the rule under the Selucid Empire and those who favored the Ptolemaic Empire.

Jason bribes Antiochus for High Priesthood.

Then came a Hellenized Jew by the name of Jason, whose Hebrew name was Yeshua or Yehoshua (Joshua), who petitioned the Seleucid king with bribery to become the High Priest in place of Onias.  Jason was said to be the brother of Onias but with Greek outlook. Antiochus was always in need of financial resources in his ongoing wars with the Ptolemaic Empire and therefore was too eager to oblige.

Here’s the account of Jason according to 2 Maccabees:

“When Seleucus died and Antiochus who was called Epiphanes succeeded to the kingdom, Jason the brother of Onias obtained the high priesthood by corruption, promising the king at an interview three hundred and sixty talents of silver and, from another source of revenue, eighty talents.

In addition to this he promised to pay one hundred and fifty more if permission were given to establish by his authority a gymnasium and a body of youth for it, and to enrol (sic) the men of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch.

When the king assented and Jason came to office, he at once shifted his countrymen over to the Greek way of life.”

[2 Mac. 4:7-10 ]

When Jason became the High Priest in 175 BC (175-172 BC), he built a Greek Gymnasium in Jerusalem and a Greek style city called Antioch which was named after the Seleucid king. He then instituted Greek culture to transform the Jewish tradition while ignoring the ordinance instituted by Antiochus’ father, Antiochus III, that allowed the Jews to live according to the Torah of their forefathers.

Here’s what 2 Maccabees recorded:

“When the king assented and Jason came to office, he at once shifted his countrymen over to the Greek way of life.

He set aside the existing royal concessions to the Jews, secured through John the father of Eupolemus, who went on the mission to establish friendship and alliance with the Romans; and he destroyed the lawful ways of living and introduced new customs contrary to the law.

For with alacrity he founded a gymnasium right under the citadel, and he induced the noblest of the young men to wear the Greek hat.

There was such an extreme of Hellenization and increase in the adoption of foreign ways because of the surpassing wickedness of Jason, who was ungodly and no high priest, that the priests were no longer intent upon their service at the altar. Despising the sanctuary and neglecting the sacrifices, they hastened to take part in the unlawful proceedings in the wrestling arena after the call to the discus, disdaining the honors prized by their fathers and putting the highest value upon Greek forms of prestige.”

[2 Mac. 4:7-15]

Menelaus subverts Jason for High Priesthood

Meanwhile, another ambitious Hellenized Jew,  whose name was Menelaus, went behind Jason’s back  and offered Antiochus a much higher bribe plus a proposal to Hellenize the Jews by force so as to persuade Antiochus to replace Jason, whom he thought wasn’t radical enough in his policy of Hellenization, and as such, to institute him as the High Priest.

Menelaus, being not of the priestly class and never was a priest of any order, also aspired to be the High Priest for political reason. Thus, for the first time during the Second Temple period the office of the High Priest became a political position that could be sold and transferred to the highest bidder.

When Menelaus, with support from wealth aristocrats,  became the High Priest (ca. 171-161 BC. died 162 BC), Jason retreated to Jordan for refuge. Menelaus then connived with his brother, Lysimachus, to have the sacred vessels in the Temple taken so that he could fulfill his obligation to pay off the bribery he promised to Antiochus.

Upon hearing of the Temple treasure plundering, Onias came out publicly to accuse Menelaus of wrong doing. Fearing a formal complaint going forth from Onias to the Seleucid king, Menelaus had him killed by the hands of Andronicus, a lieutenant of the Seleucid king. The Temple plunder continued which led to a violent revolt in which Lysimachus, being appointed deputy to Menelaus while the latter was in Antioch, was killed. Menelaus then accused his enemies of being pro-Ptolemaic persuasion and thus had them sentenced to death.

Meanwhile, in his effort to reform the Jews, Menelaus sought to liberalize the Mosaic laws by incorporating Greek education and their way of life into the Jewish culture. Menelaus even suggested that the Greek god Zeus was the same Elohim of the Jewish patriarchs.

Humiliated Antiochus sacks Jerusalem

When Antiochus was campaigning a war in Egypt (ca. 169-168 BC) and was rumored to have been killed, Jason took the opportunity to conquer Jerusalem. Menelaus was either driven out to sought refuge at the citadel or, according to some sources, was locked up in Acra.

Meanwhile, Antiochus was humiliated by the Romans to leave Egypt. Upon hearing that Jason had revolted against him, he took his army and marched against Jerusalem with great furious as recounted by Josephus:

“King Antiochus returning out of Egypt for fear of the Romans, made an expedition against the city Jerusalem; and when he was there, in the hundred and forty-third year of the kingdom of the Seleucidse, he took the city without fighting, those of his own party opening the gates to him. And when he had gotten possession of Jerusalem, he slew many of the opposite party; and when he had plundered it of a great deal of money, he returned to Antioch.”

[The works of Josephus Flavius: Antiquities of the Jews, 5:3]

The account was also reported in 2 Maccabees:

“When news of what had happened reached the king, he took it to mean that Judea was in revolt. So, raging inwardly, he left Egypt and took the city by storm.

And he commanded his soldiers to cut down relentlessly every one they met and to slay those who went into the houses.

Then there was killing of young and old, destruction of boys, women, and children, and slaughter of virgins and infants.

Within the total of three days eighty thousand were destroyed, forty thousand in hand-to-hand fighting; and as many were sold into slavery as were slain.

Not content with this, Antiochus dared to enter the most holy temple in all the world, guided by Menelaus, who had become a traitor both to the laws and to his country.

He took the holy vessels with his polluted hands, and swept away with profane hands the votive offerings which other kings had made to enhance the glory and honor of the place.”

[2 Mac. 5:11-16]

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Menelaus regained his high priesthood and Jason fled to Asia Minor (ca. 170 BC).

At this point, Antiochus became relentless in his persecution of the faithful Jews and their Jewish belief. As such, he enacted series of anti-Judaism decrees against the Jewish customs and annulled the laws of their forefathers. Having regained the position of high priesthood, Menelaus was said to have invigorated Antiochus in his anti-Jewish policy in order to fulfill his radical agenda of transforming the Jewish tradition in conformity to Greek culture.

Judaism outlawed by Antiochus

Thus, from 167 BC the practice of Jewish religion in Jerusalem and in Judea was outlawed. The decrees set forth the following prohibitions and requirements:

1. prohibition on male circumcision

2. prohibition against keeping the Sabbath

3. prohibition against observing the feasts or Jewish holidays of their fathers

4. prohibition against confessing oneself as a Jew

5. prohibition against vocalizing Elohim’s Name aloud

5. mandatory requirement for sacrifices be made to Greek deities

6. required that Antiochus IV be worshiped as the god Zeus

7. required that the image of Zeus be placed in the Temple at Jerusalem

8. required that pig be sacrificed and become part of new Jewish diet

9. required that ritual prostitution was to be instituted

10. required participation in new pagan cult

The decree was carried out through brutal torture on those who refused to comply. The Jewish Temple was rededicated to the Greek deity, Zeus. The image of Zeus was then placed on the altar with all the Jewish temple vessels removed and replaced with pagan worship vessels.

The persecution of the pious Jews and their worship of Elohim committed by the Seleucid king and the Hellenized Jews lasted for about three years. During this period the faithful Jews engaged in guerrilla warfare under Judah, who was also called Maccabeus, to wage wars against the reign of terror. This is known as the Maccabees revolt.

Finally, the retreat of the Syrian forces came about when Antiochus died in 163 BC while fighting fruitlessly against the Parthians in the east. This allowed Judas to successfully settle an agreement with the successor, Antiochus V Eupator, in which Jewish Temple was officially returned to the hands of the traditional Jews (ca.162 BC).

I will continue the Jewish history from the Maccabees revolt to the Hasmonean period in part III.

Meantime, Happy Thanksgiving!


Update: 03/10/2014 – 1)  10th paragraph 3rd line, grammatical error: “who reign” corrected to “who reigned”; 2) whole paragraph position switch, previously located at 15th paragraph switched to current 23rd paragraph position for flow of connected idea.

Update: 03/25/2014 – Under the heading “The Hellenistic Period” the first paragraph “The Achaemenid Empire, led by Alexander the Great, came to an end in ca. 334 BCE when Alexander the Great rose to power and conquered the entire Persian Empire” should read, “The Achaemenid Empire came to an end in ca. 334 BCE when Alexander the Great rose to power…” Error regretted.

Update: 03/31/14 – ) Apparently there is a discrepancy in the dates corresponding to the Seleucid years and historical dates from different sources, e.g the date Antiochus IV died. Here’s the  explanation from the source as provided below:

Two different uses were made of the Seleucid years:

  1. The natives of the empire used the Babylonian calendar, in which the new year falls on 1 Nisanu (3 April in 311 BC), so in this system year 1 of the Seleucid era corresponds roughly to April 311 BC to March 310 BC. This included the Jews, who call it theEra of Contracts. It is used in the Jewish historical book, now “deuterocanonical”, 1 Maccabees, in 6:20, 7:1, 9:3, 10:1, etc.[4]
  2. The Macedonian court adopted the Babylonian calendar (substituting the Macedonian month names) but reckoned the new year to be in the autumn (the exact date is unknown). In this system year 1 of the Seleucid era corresponds to the period from autumn 312 BC to summer 311 BC. By the seventh century AD / tenth AG, the west Syrian Christians settled on 1 October-to-30 September.[5] Jews, however, reckon the start of each new Seleucid year with the lunar month Tishri.

These differences in the beginning of the year mean that dates may differ by one. Bickerman gives this example:

For instance, the restoration of the temple of Jerusalem by Judas Maccabaeus, approximately 15 December 164 BC, fell in the year 148 of the Seleucid Era according to Jewish (and Babylonian) calculation, but in the year 149 for the court.[6]\