The Attempt on the Temple Treasury   Leave a comment

Above:  Coin of King Seleucus IV Philopator

Image in the Public Domain





2 Maccabees 3:1-4:6

4 Maccabees 3:19-4:14


Onias III, High Priest (In Office 196-175 B.C.E.)

Seleucus IV Philopator (Reigned 187-175 B.C.E.)


Onias III was the son of and successor to High Priest Simon II “the Just” (in office 219-196 B.C.E.).  I read and wrote about Simon II “the Just” when I read the Third Book of the Maccabees (the one with no Maccabees) for this weblog.  The germane passages were 3 Maccabees 2:1-20 and Sirach 50:1-24.  He had to contend with an invasion of the Temple, too.

Now I digress to recall the story of notorious American bank robber Willie Sutton (1901-1980).  His explanation for why he robbed banks was,

Because that’s where the money is.

Back to the Books of the Maccabees….

Above:  Map Showing the Seleucid Empire, 188 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

The Seleucid treasury was in need of replenishment.  The empire had lost most of Asia Minor after 198 B.C.E.  Furthermore, the Treaty of Apamea (188 B.C.E.) had imposed indemnities on the Seleucid Empire.  The overblown reports of riches in the Temple treasure in Jerusalem attracted the attention of King Seleucus IV Philopator (not Nicator, contrary to 4 Maccabees 3:20.)  King Seleucus I Nicator reigned from 305/304 to 281/280 B.C.E.

2 Maccabees 3:1 overstates the case; Jerusalem did not enjoy “unbroken peace and prosperity” during the tenure of High Priest Onias III.  There was no such peace and prosperity, even apart from the events that Simon the Temple administrator set in motion with his lie.  The city was relatively quiet during the years of Onias III’s tenure, though.  In reality, Onias III, like the rest of his nation, was struck literally and politically, between the Ptolemaic Empire (based in Egypt) and the Seleucid Empire (based in Syria).  The High Priest, initially pro-Seleucid, switched his political allegiances to the Ptolemaic Empire.  Simon the Temple administrator was pro-Seleucid, though.

The story of God repulsing invaders from the Temple fits a motif about the sovereignty of God.  One may recall a similar event in 3 Maccabees 1:8-2:24, complete with divine punishment of King Ptolemy IV Philopator (reigned 221-203 B.C.E.).  One may also notice a similarity to the story of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and a military force invading a pagan temple in 2 Maccabees 1:13-17.  In that account, though the priests defended the temple.  Either way, invading temples was a bad idea.

Onias III was a good and pious man.  Simon the Temple administrator was not.  After the failed raid on the Temple treasury.  Heliodorus turned on his master; he assassinated Seleucus IV Philopator in 175 B.C.E.  Onias III sought to appeal for help to Seleucus IV Philopator, but the High Priest arrived after the assassination.  

The Revised English Bible (1989) expresses the difficult situation immediately prior to the assassination well:

[Onias III] saw that unless the king intervened there could be no peace in the public affairs, nor would Simon be stopped in his mad course.

–2 Maccabees 4:6

Antiochus IV Epiphanes was the new king.  That was bad news.  And Onias III lost his job.  Jason, born Joshua, was the new High Priest.  Matters had become worse.

The name of Jason (the High Priest) has come up already.  The Epitomist referred to Jason in 2 Maccabees 1:7-8.

We are about to read the story of that perfidious priest.





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