Day 282: Antiochus Desecrates the Temple

Introduction to MACCABEAN REVOLT (with Jeff Cavins)

The First Book of Maccabees

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(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)

1 Maccabees 1-16 Of the four books of Maccabees, two are recognized as inspired and are, therefore, included in the canon of the Old Testament; some Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize three or all four of these books as canonical. The two Books of Maccabees differ in their ordering of events, but the essential elements remain the same. They give a history of the struggle of the Jewish people against the oppression they experienced during the last two centuries before the Birth of Christ. They speak about the revolt of the faithful Jews against the blasphemous pagan rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid King of Syria who outlawed the Jewish religion, installed his own high priest, and pillaged and profaned the Temple in Jerusalem. The First Book of Maccabees relates how the Hellenized Jews adopted Greek customs and incorporated many pagan practices. Under these circumstances, the very survival of Judaism was at stake, and much depended on the heroic efforts of faithful Jews like Mattathias and Judas Maccabeus.

Ch 1:1-15 Before his death, Alexander the Great, who had conquered the known world, divided his kingdom among his best officers. Antiochus IV Epiphanes was king of the Syrian region that included the land of Judah. He attempted to transform the region from a strictly Jewish culture into a Hellenized culture as a way of strengthening his own kingdom. When he forbade circumcision and the possession of sacred writings, many Jews acquiesced. (CCC 527, 1150)

Ch 1:10 One hundred and thirty-seventh year: The ancients counted the years from a historical event or the beginning of the reign of a monarch. This figure is based on the founding of the Seleucid dynasty, which took place in 312 BC. Thus, Antiochus IV Epiphanes began his reign in 175 BC.

Ch 1:16-40 Seeking to expand his empire, Antiochus conquered Egypt, and then turned to Jerusalem, where he stole many sacred vessels and furnishings from the Temple. He imposed a tax on the Jews and began to persecute them, killing many. Returning to Jerusalem, he plundered the city and built the Acra citadel, a fortress within the city. From this vantage point the Syrians could control the entrance to the Temple-and thus control its worship-and had a clear view of much of the city and the surrounding region.

Ch 1:41-53 To force unity among his subjects and loyalty to his rule, Antiochus formally imposed Greek customs and pagan worship on all people of his kingdom, effectively making the practice of the Jewish faith illegal and punishable by death. Many of the Jews had already adopted these pagan practices in most instances out of fear. A small number, however, remained faithful to the Jewish Law and practiced their faith in secret.

Ch 1:54-64 The greatest indignity was the profanation of the Temple by installing a statue of Zeus on the Temple altar, which, from the date given, took place on December 8, 167 BC. Throughout Judea the air was filled with the smoke of pagan sacrifices and the burning of confiscated sacred books. Circumcised infants and their mothers were killed with brutality. 

The Book of Sirach

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(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)

Sirach, The Prologue

Also known as Ecclesiasticus (not to be confused with The Book of Ecclesiastes, which is sometimes called the Book of Wisdom), this book was written in Hebrew by Ben Sirach and translated into Greek by his grandson, who appended the explanatory prologue. Sirach is a book that attempts to teach morality and the Law through a combination of loosely poetic proverbs and parables. Scholars have identified five sections in this book, each of which introduces a topic and then exhorts the reader to be faithful to the Law and Commandments. It dates from the second century BC, while Judah was still under Greek rule. Faithful teachers of Judaism emphasized fidelity and loyalty to the Law to protect the Jews from pagan influences and uphold their religious traditions. 

Ch 1:1-30 God is the source of all wisdom; therefore, attainment of wisdom consists in keeping God’s Commandments. The beauty, harmony, and order of creation reveal in a finite way God’s eternal wisdom. This book makes an argument for what today would be called knowing God through “intelligent design.” It is also one of the arguments used by St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century to show that God can be known through the light of human reason. (CCC 31-35)

Ch 1:20 Other ancient authorities add verse 21: “The fear of the Lord drives away sins; and where it abides, it will turn away all anger.”

Ch 1:22 Self-mastery refers to temperance in all of the human passions, including anger and pride. To direct the passions toward choosing good acts, they must be controlled so they serve the dictates of right reason. Unlike nonrational animals, the human being does not act on instinct but makes choices involving the moderation of impulses and appetites. (CCC 1809, 1838, 2290, 2339)

Ch 2:1-18 The author exhorted his readers to consider the example of past generations and how their trust in God preserved them through many trials. Those who humbly trust in God will always find him present, offering his mercy and strength amid trials and tribulations. 

Prepare yourself for temptation: Even Christ himself, because he was fully human, experienced temptation, notably during his retreat into the wilderness. He withstood the temptation because his human will was in total submission to and therefore perfectly aligned with the will of his Father. His example demonstrates that it is possible to overcome temptations by rejecting them promptly and calling upon God for help. (CCC 538-540, 566)

Ch 2:9 Every person has a natural desire for happiness that can only be satisfied by God, the universal good. The indispensable requirement to approach God consists in a life of virtue that is tantamount to fidelity to his Commandments. (CCC 1818)

Ch 3:1-16 Just as parents have a responsibility to raise and educate their children, so do children have an obligation to honor and support their parents. This ought to be done in a spirit of gratitude, returning to one’s parents the sacrifices that they made on the child’s behalf. Such honor of one’s parents is required by the Fourth Commandment. Excerpts from this chapter comprise the First Reading on the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. (CCD 2215-2230; CSDC 135)

Ch 3:17-29 Greek philosophy of the day insisted on reason as the sole arbiter of truth, but observant Jews knew that faith played a strong role as well. Truths of faith, though some go beyond the scope of reason, nevertheless, cannot contradict reason. The mysteries of faith can be penetrated in part by reason, and reason is purified and elevated by divinely revealed truths. Thus, faith and reason complement each other and work in tandem. (CCC 159)

Ch 3:24 Other ancient authorities add verse 25: “If you have no eyes you will be without light; if you lack knowledge do not profess to have it.”

Ch 3:30-31 Almsgiving atones for sin: This should not be taken to mean that a person can “buy” his or her way out of sin through charitable giving. The sense of these verses is that sincere, compassionate, and generous assistance offered to the poor and needy is a very effective penitential act and a stimulus to virtue, which atones for sins. Works of mercy such as almsgiving have always been urged in the laws of Israel. Usually, someone who gives alms generously loves God interiorly and wants to please him. (CCC 1471, 1478-1479, 2447)

(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)

Act 1: The Maccabees Rise of Revolt 

(Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)

Key Event 53: Antiochus Desecrates the Temple (1 Maccabees 1:20-62, 4:43)

The Seleucid king Antiochus IV, who reigns from 175-164 BC, wages a severe persecution against the Jews, demolishing the three key symbols of Jewish identity after the exile: He destroys the city walls (rebuilt by Nehemiah), desecrates the Temple (rebuilt by Zerubbabel), and seeks to eliminate Torah observance (restored under Ezra).

Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven we give you praise and glory. Thank you so much. Thank you for this Word of yours given to us through Maccabees, this Word of yours given to us through Ben Sirach and I’m so grateful, Lord, for your constantly giving us your wisdom, your vision of who you are and what the world is, who you have made us to be, and how you have called us to live in this world. We ask you to please help us to live in this world rightly. Help us to live in this world with wisdom. Help us to walk in this world as your sons and daughters, and walk in your wisdom this day and every day. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”