Repression and Resistance
The Seleucid conquest did not, at first, aggravate the situation in Judea; it inhabitants were even granted taxation privileges. However, the political and economic situation of the Seleucid kingdom worsened, because of repeated attacks by the Parthians from the north and the threat of Roman influence from the west. The position in Judea changed accordingly. The Seleucid ruler, following a major defeat by Rome, had to pay a heavy indemnity, and in order to raise the money attempts were made to plunder the treasure stored in the rich temples in the kingdom, including that of Jerusalem.
The relations between the vassal state of Judea and its suzerain a nation, state or ruler that exercises some control over another state but which allows it to retain its own ruler or government deteriorated further with the accession of Antiochus IV Epiphanes to the Selecucid throne in 175 bce. This ruler's main concern was with his southern border with Ptolemaic Egypt, and thus Judea, lying on that border, lay in a strategic position. In an attempt to eradicate the religious uniqueness of Judea he intervened in its internal affairs and deposed the High Priest, Onias, in favour of his brother Jason who had strong Hellenizing tendencies. Efforts were made to wean the Jews away from the monotheistic faith, traditions and ancient cultural patterns, and to convert them to a hellenistic way of life in conformity with the rest of the kingdom. To that end a gymnasium was established in Jerusalem which, it was hoped, would supersede the Temple and substitute the worship of the God for that of the human body.
Within the Jewish people itself a clear division was developing. On one side were ranged the traditionalists, who constituted the great majority of the nation and who were led by an extremist group known as Hassideans or Pietists. Very different views were held by the Hellenists, among whom members of the aristocracy and priesthood were prominent. Ultimately Antiochus forbade the practice of the Jewish religion and any Jew observing the Sabbath or circumcising his son was liable for the death penalty. He likewise forced upon the Jewish population idolatrous rites and forbidden food, particularly swine flesh. the Temple was plundered and desecrated, and renamed for Olympian Zeus.
Contrary to Antiochus' expectations, which were no doubt encouraged by the Hellenists, the majority of the nation remained faithful to its religion and suffered martyrdom for it. Associated with this martyrdom was a growing messianic faith that an unprecedented suffering was near at hand, heralding the downfall of the wicked kingdom and the fulfillment of the prophetic vision of the end of days. What did happen was the successful Hasmonean revolution.
Next Step : The Hasmonean Revolt
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