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The Ptolemies and Seleucids

Unknown author

After the death of Alexander the Great, there were continual power struggles, so by 301 BC, the empire was divided into four major areas controlled by Greek generals:
Macedonia - Cassander
Asia Minor - Lysimachus
Syria - Seleucus
Egypt - Ptolemy

The two areas that interest us as Bible students are those under the Seleucid and Ptolemaic Dynasties. We will look at this intertestmental history in conjunction with Daniel chapter 11.

Ptolemy I (Soter) - (323-282 BC) (Dan 11:5) - Egypt

He began his career as governor of Egypt. He ruled in the name of Alexander's half-brother and Alexander's son, Alexander IV, until both died. In 305, Ptolemy took the title of King of Egypt and ruled Palestine, Southern Syria, and various places in Asia Minor. He founded what was to become a huge library at Alexandria, his capital, and introduced much Greek culture to the nation.

Seleucus I (Nicator = conqueror) - (312 - 281 BC) (Dan 11:5) - Syria

Seleucus was a leading general of Ptolemy. He became the ruler of Syria and Babylon after Alexander's death. In 316 BC, he lost his domain and was forced to flee to Egypt. With the help of Ptolemy he regained Babylon, Media, and Susiana. This marked the beginning of the Seleucid dynasty which lasted until 65 BC. He was the strongest of Alexander the Great's successors.

Antiochus I (Soter) - (293/2-261 BC) (not mentioned in Dan 11) - Syria

The son of Seleucus I. He became known as the greatest founder of cities after Alexander the Great.

Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) -(284-246 BC) (Dan 11:6) - Egypt

He organized the Alexandrian library which his father started. He also settled many Greeks in his capital. Tradition places the translation of the Old Testament into Greek (LXX) during his reign. This reflected the need of the many Jews to have the Scriptures in a language they could understand, and opened the scriptures to the world. Ptolemy II had intermittent conflict with the Seleucids, until he eventually made an alliance with them by giving his daughter Bernice in marriage to Antiochus II of Syria. She and her son were murdered just before Ptolemy's own death.

Antiochus II (Theos) - (261-246 BC) (Dan 11:6) - Syria

Much of this man's life is obscure. He attacked Ptolemy II and regained various parts of Asia Minor and Syria. It was a brilliant political triumph for Ptolemy II when he in 253 BC made a marriage alliance with Antiochus II. Antiochus agreed to marry Bernice, Ptolemy's daughter. He also agreed to get rid of his first wife Laodice with the understanding that the kingdoms of both Egypt and Syria should go to Bernice's son. The marriage was consummated in 252 BC, resulting in peace between the north and the south. This was short lived because both Antiochus and Ptolemy died in 246 BC. The sons did not have the mutual friendship of their fathers.

Ptolemy III (Euergetes = Benefactor) - (246-222 BC) (Dan 11:7-8) - Egypt

Ptolemy III marched north to avenge his sister's death. He was victorious and returned with great spoils of war, including gods taken by the Persians, but did not try to hold or eliminate the rival kingdom. The wealth gained by Ptolemy III enabled him to start temple building on a huge scale. Today, these temples are the finest example of Greek temples in Egypt.

Seleucus II (Callinicus) - (246-226 BC) (Dan 11:9) - Syria

Seleucus II was the son of the deposed queen Laodice. After his marriage to Bernice, Antiochus II returned to Laodice, and she poisoned him in 246 BC. She then named her son Seleucus II as king. Bernice asked her brother Ptolemy III to come to her aid then she and her son were murdered. Ptolemy III came north and plundered Syria and Babylonia. This was the time when Parthia was lost as well as other parts of the Seleucid empire. Seleucus II attacked Egypt, but had little effect. He died of a riding accident.

Seleucus III (Soter) - (226-223 BC) (Dan 11:10) - Syria

He only reigned two years and was killed mysteriously while at war in Asia Minor.

Ptolemy IV (Philopator) - (222-205 BC) (Dan 11:11-12) - Egypt

This man was a pleasure living prince who left much of his government to ministers of the crown. He enlarged his army by recruiting Egyptians for the first time. There was a battle at Raphia in 217, which was a chance for him to show his leadership.

Antiochus III ('The Great') - (222-187 BC) (Dan 11:10-19) - Syria

He was the brother of Seleucus III, who had reigned only two years. It was under Antiochus III that the Jews changed from Egyptian to Syrian control. The Seleucid empire was being fragmented. His task was consolidation, then expansion.

He invaded south, seeking to take Lebanon and Judea. He had many victories, but was utterly defeated at Raphia (Dan 11:10-12). After this defeat he concentrated his warfare in the east, regaining Bactria and Parthia. With the death of Ptolemy IV in 203 (who was followed by his 6 year old son), Antiochus saw his opportunity to take Coele-Syria. In 201 BC he invaded Palestine and after hard fighting took Gaza (Dan 11:13). Having secured Palestine, he turned his attention to the north-west. In 199-198 BC an Egyptian general, at hearing of the absence of Antiochus III invaded Palestine seeking to regain it (Dan 11:14). Antiochus returned and Ptolemy IV was decisively defeated.

From this point on, the Jews came under Seleucid control until Rome took the province in 63 BC. He granted the Jews freedom of religion. Rome at this point was growing in influence. This defeat of Ptolemy's is mentioned in Dan 11:15, the well fortified city is probably Sidon, where Ptolemy's general was finally defeated.

During the battle when Antiochus was seeking to take Palestine, Jews helped him. When Ptolemy's general retook Jerusalem in 200 BC, he laid it waste (Dan 11:14). Palestine was given into Antiochus's control. (Dan 11:16)

Antiochus eventually gave his daughter Cleopatra to Ptolemy V in a marriage alliance. He hoped this would be to his advantage, but she sided with her husband (Dan 11:17)

Antiochus invaded Thrace and Greece (Dan 11:18), where he fought the Romans. They defeated him at Thermopylae in 189 BC. He agreed to give up parts of Asia Minor, much of his military force, and pay a heavy fine. Hostages were taken to Rome until the fine was paid. One of the hostages was Antiochus IV, his son. 3 years later, he died in a rebellion (Dan 11:19).

Ptolemy V (Epiphanes) - (204-180 BC) - Egypt

This king, who started reigning very young, aged about five or six, lost the control of Palestine, as well as his overseas territory. He married Cleopatra, daughter of Antiochus III. He had to deal with revolts in his own kingdom. It was from this king's reign that the Rosetta stone was found. This stone, containing three scripts (Egyptian hieroglyphics, Demotic, and Greek) has been a vital key to deciphering ancient Egyptian script.

Seleucus IV (Philopator) - (187-175 BC) (Dan 11:20) - Syria

He attempted to rob the temple. He was assassinated.

Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) - (175-163 BC) (Dan 11:21-35) - Syria

He was the brother of Seleucus IV. His nephew took his place as hostage in Rome, and he took up the position of chief magistrate in Athens. When he heard that his brother had been murdered, he defeated his brother's murderer (Heliodorus), with the help of the king of Pergamum, and made himself king instead of Seleucus IV's son (Dan 11:21-24)

The kingdom lacked political and financial stability, so to seek to rectify this and bring unity, he started vigorous programs of Hellenisation. One thing he sought to do was push the religion of Olympian Zeus. Because of a bribe, he removed the high priest Onias III and put his brother in his place (Dan 11:22), and eventually had him murdered. He agreed to let Jason be high priest, but when Jason sent Menelaus to Antiochus with the money, Menelaus pledged more money and greater Hellenisation, Antiochus accepted this because it meant getting more money to replenish the depleted funds. Also, with Menelaus as high priest, the Aaronic line was broken (Dan 11:23)

In 170 BC, the advisors of the young Ptolemy suggested he seek to recover Coele-Syria. Antiochus heard of this and went south with a large army (Dan 11:25). He defeated Ptolemy VI and proclaimed himself king at Memphis. An arrangement was made whereby Ptolemy VI should be king in Memphis and Ptolemy VII should be king in Alexandria. His purpose was that the nation of Egypt should be paralysed by the rivalry of the two brothers. Ptolemy VI was apparently helped to defeat by the treachery of his subjects (Dan 11:24)

The two kings, Antiochus IV and Ptolemy, professed friendship, but there was treachery present (Dan 11:27)

After this expedition in Egypt, he heard of trouble in Jerusalem. Menelaus had plundered the temple and the people began to riot. Antiochus took this as a threat to his own authority, and with Menelaus desecrated and plundered the temple, leaving Jerusalem under command of one of his commanders (Dan 11:28)

In the winter of 168-169 the two Ptolemy brothers agreed to unite against Antiochus, their uncle. Antiochus heard of this and marched south, taking Memphis (Dan 11:29).

He then went to take Alexandria, but before he finished this, a Roman representative, Popillius Laenas, whom he had known at Rome, told him to evacuate Egypt. He wanted to consider this, but the legate drew a circle around him and demanded an answer before he left the circle. Having been aware of Roman might due to his time in Rome, he agreed to evacuate. (Dan 11:30)

He was determined to make Palestine stay loyal to him as a buffer state. Considering himself to be Zeus Epiphanes, he ordered a cultic Hellenisation program in Palestine. He sent 22,000 men against Jerusalem on the sabbath and killed many. The city was plundered and burned, women and children were taken as slaves (Dan 11:30-32)

In 167 BC he decided to eliminate the Jewish religion completely by forbidding Jews to obey their laws. He forbade the observance of the Sabbath, festivals, sacrifices and circumcision. The Torah was burned, idolatrous altars were set up and Jews were forced to offer up unclean sacrifices and eat swine flesh.

This all culminated in the infamous deed on Chislev 25 (16 Dec 167 BC) when the temple in Jerusalem as well as the temple on Mt. Gerizim became the place of worship of Olympian Zeus. Swine flesh was offered on an altar erected on the altar of burnt offering. These were held each month on the 25th as this was the birthday of Antiochus IV. Those who agreed to these things were acceptable, others were killed. It was this that sparked off the Maccabean revolution begun at Modein by Mattathias and continued by his son Judas Maccabeus.

Antiochus would have come to crush the revolt but had trouble on his eastern border. So in 165, Lysias, regent of the west took troops to do it instead and to destroy the Jewish race! Judas had a major victory at Emmaus and another one at Bethzur a year later 164 BC. Judas had regained the entire country of Judea and restored the daily sacrifices exactly three years to the day of its desecration. This marked the Jewish feast of Dedication, or Lights. (Dan 11:32b-35)

Antiochus was enraged at hearing of Judas' success. He needed funds so he raided a temple in Elymais, but was unsuccessful and only just escaped with his life. He withdrew and died insane in Persia in the spring/summer 163 BC.

Antiochus' title "Theos Epiphanes" means "the manifest God". If you change one letter to Epimanes, it means "mad man" or "insane".

Ptolemy VI (Philometer) - (180-145 BC) - Egypt

He ascended the throne as a child with his Syrian mother Cleopatra I acting as regent. Onias IV, son of the murdered Onias III fled to Egypt. There with permission of Ptolemy VI he established a local temple at Leontopolis. It was a disused temple which he rebuilt into a rival temple of the one in Jerusalem, and as a religious centre of Hellenistic Judaism.


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