Antiochus IV: From Divine to Madman

In the time between the two testaments of the Bible, the Land of Israel was slotted between the Seleucids and Ptolemies, the former of which finally took control 198 BCE. In the not so quiet year of 175 BCE, Antiochus IV, son of Antiochus the Great (222–187 BCE), ascended the throne of the then known “civilized” world, after the assassination of his brother Seleucus; a throne which rightly belonged to Demetrius, his nephew. Antiochus was an eccentric leader, to say the least. He took the name Antiochus IV Epiphanes (
Antíochos D’ ho Epiphanḗs) literally “god manifest.” But despite his divine self-appointment, he was also a self-proclaimed man of the people, often taking baths in the public bathhouse among the so-called unwashed masses.  His eccentricities earned him the name Antiochus “Epimanes” (“The Mad One”), a word play on his divine title “Epiphanes.” His narcissistic behavior earned him another nickname in Jewish sources – “the wicked one.” He could captivate the common people with his appearance of geniality, but in reality proved to be a forbidding despot with contempt for those who would not submit to his will.1

His interactions with the Jewish people were not as friendly as his father’s. He quickly decided to outlaw the Sabbath and circumcision, and defile the Temple.2 Jewish resistance to his Hellenization attempts only spurred him on. When false reports reached the Jews that Antiochus was killed in Egypt, they revolted and tried to take Jerusalem but this revolt was not as successful as that of the Maccabees:

When these happenings were reported to the king [Antiochus], he thought that Judea was in revolt. Raging like a wild animal, he set out from Egypt and took Jerusalem by storm. He ordered his soldiers to cut down without mercy those whom they met and to slay those who took refuge in their houses. There was a massacre of young and old, a killing of women and children, a slaughter of virgins and infants. In the space of three days, eighty thousand were lost, forty thousand meeting a violent death, and the same number being sold into slavery. (2 Maccabees 5:11–14)

Antiochus decided that he was going to make sure that the Jewish people would become Hellenized one way or another. He began by putting his own priest into power. He quickly outlawed the observance of Sabbaths, festivals, and new moons. He also wanted to make sure that Jews could not study their holy books nor keep kosher. He sent a delegation with troops to add insult to injury – to force the Jews to sacrifice a pig to the Greek gods. 

The Greeks troops came to Modi’in and demanded that the Jews there sacrifice a pig to the Greek gods. Mattathias, the priest, refused but a Hellenized Jew loyal to Antiochus decided to do it. Mattathias killed him and the Greek official with him. After two decades the Maccabees forced the Seleucids from the Land of Israel. Antiochus was dead and his successor gave the Jews independence. Mitchell Bard states, “In the year 142 BCE, after more than 500 years of subjugation, the Jews were again masters of their own fate.”3

Antiochus IV ruled the Jews from 175 to 164 BCE and if he had succeeded in his nefarious plan to stamp out Judaism, the Hebrew language, culture, biblical heritage and religion, many Jewish people would have been wiped off the map of history. If this had happened, then how could a Jewish Savior possibly have been born from the House of David (a Jewish king), in Bethlehem (a Jewish town), to Mary (a Jewish virgin)?



1. See

2. This was done by by erecting an altar to the god Zeus, allowing the sacrifice of pigs, and opening the shrine to non-Jews. See:

3. Mitchell G. Bard, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict. 4th Edition. NY: Alpha Books, 2008. As quoted on