Haaretz reports on a new theory suggesting that the tale of the Maccabees’ response to religious oppression may be about as well-founded as the claim that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq:
Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-163 BC), ruler of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire, was known as an eccentric king. He spent his childhood as a hostage in Rome and ascended to the throne only due to the surprising death of his father and murder of his brother.
When he inherited the kingdom it was already in decline. However, this does not explain the moves that made him infamous to this day – the brutal edicts he issued against the Jews in 167 B.C., forbidding them to practice their religion.
“The reason for Antiochus’ oppression of the Jewish faith, attack on the Temple and prohibition of the Torah precepts is not explained by the existing historic sources,” says Dr. Steven Weitzman, a lecturer of Judaism in the University of Indiana and the author of Surviving Sacrilege: Cultural Persistence in Jewish Antiquity.
Weitzman analyzes the description of the edicts in the Hanukkah tale, and concludes that the story was concocted by the Hasmonean kings as propaganda intended to legitimize their precarious rule. The Hasmoneans used literary tales dating back to ancient Eastern kingdoms as the basis for their story of Antiochus, he says.