Antioch in Judea: A Clash of Values
From the violent clash of two civilizations, Judaism and Greek Hellenism, emerged the holiday Chanukah, which Jews still celebrate worldwide. But the festive lights dawned only after the dark reign of Antiochus IV. The ruthless Seleucid ruler drowned Jerusalem in the blood of innocents and violated the Second Temple, in his determination to Hellenize the Holy City. If not for the dedication of one Judas Maccabee, the Jewish faith might have perished then forever.
A conflict of ideologies had been kindled in Jerusalem, between those who opposed and those who sought to embrace Hellenism. Many Jews believed that Hellenism was a perfect vehicle for Judaic ideas, while others, in contrast, saw the Greek lifestyle and philosophies as entirely contrary to their heritage. This heated debate led to the emergence of political factions who were violently opposed to one another, and vied for mastery over Jerusalem and the Temple.
The Tyranny of Antiochus, The Triumph of Chanukah
But the major impact of Greek culture in Jerusalem began to be felt only when Judea was again conquered, this time by the Seleucid dynasty. In order to crush the political opposition to Hellenism, the Seleucid king Antiochus deliberately defiled the Temple. He broke down the walls that separated the Temple from the rest of Jerusalem, plundered the Temple treasury and its vessels, and planted a sacred grove in the sanctuary. He also built a fortress that overlooked the Temple Mount, called the Akra, which housed his Greek soldiers and Hellenized Jews, and where the Greek gods were worshiped.
Antiochus issued edicts against the practice of Judaism that were extreme and unprecedented. Mothers who circumcised their sons were flung from Jerusalem’s walls to their deaths. A ninety year-old man named Eliezar was executed for his refusal to eat pork. Martyrdom became commonplace, though perhaps the most famous was that of Hannah and her seven sons, who were killed one by one before her eyes before she herself was killed.
Judas the Hasmonean, nicknamed Judas Maccabee (“the hammer-headed”), led a rebellion against the king, a bloody war which would see all manner of intrigues and destruction before its end. The war was emblematic of a larger triumph, that of spirituality over materialism, a spirituality which is still honored by the lights of Chanukah.