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by Wayne Blank
Seleucus was the commander who took control of the Syrian region of Alexander's empire, thereby establishing the Seleucid dynasty. Antiochus IV was the eighth of the Seleucid kings, ruling from about 174-164 BC. Antiochus certainly had a very high opinion of himself; he took the name of "Epiphanes," which presumed to have meant "Select of God." Many of the people of his kingdom had a different name for him however - they called him "the madman."
Once again, because of its position at the Crossroads Of The Earth, the land of Israel had been contested between two branches of the former Greek kingdom - the Ptolemies to the south in Egypt (Queen Cleopatra was in later years one of its most famous members), and the Seleucids to the north in Syria. Earlier, Israel was included in the Ptolemaic kingdom. During the reign of King Philadelphus of Egypt, the Jews of Jerusalem provided a translation of the Torah from Hebrew into Greek for the royal library in Alexandria. We know it today as the Septuagint. This benign attitude toward the Jews changed dramatically after the Seleucids took over Israel in 198 B.C.
When he came to power, Antiochus IV soon proved himself to be no friend of the Jews. He mounted an effort to destroy them and all worship of the true God. He had any Jew who would not worship the Greek idols put to death. Praying to God, or observing the Sabbath according to The Fourth of The Ten Commandments were also capital offenses. Mothers found with circumcised infants, according to Jewish law, were killed along with the child. He had many scrolls of the Holy Scriptures burned, although many were very likely saved by being hidden out in the wilderness in a manner similar to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The greatest outrage committed by Antiochus IV occurred in 167 B.C. when he entered the Temple (see Temples) in Jerusalem, erected an altar to the pagan god Zeus, and sacrificed a pig on it. That desecration, dated as the 25th of Kislev according to the Bible Calendar, triggered the Maccabean Revolt by the Hasmoneans (see The Maccabees). Their eventual victory and cleansing of the Temple is still commemorated by Jews today by the annual Festival of Hanukkah.
According to Jewish tradition, at the time of that rededication there was not enough undefiled oil available for the Menorah in the Temple, which was supposed to burn continuously each night. Nevertheless, the single day's supply of oil that remained burned miraculously for eight days, until a fresh supply became available. The eight-day festival was begun in commemoration of the miracle, and has continued right to the present time.