Hanukkah–Seleucids–Antiochus IV

12 12 2009

This week is the celebration of Hanukkah.  Students are often surprised when I point them to the Gospel of John and Jesus’ coming into the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Hanukkah.  In John’s Gospel (10:22),  it is called the “feast of Rededication in Jerusalem.”  [Aside:  It is interesting that most translation call this event the feast of Dedication while DBAG suggests “Rededication.” Goodspeed’s translation is one of the few to use Rededication]. Of course, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas.  Hanukkah is the celebration of the rededication of the Temple after the successful uprising of the Judeans under the leadership of the Maccabees against the Seleucids.  (See 1 Macc 4:36-39, 2 Macc 16:1-8 and Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, 12, 316 and following).  The Maccabean Revolt, and the eventual independence of Judea, took place at a very opportune time since it came around the time of Antiochus IV’s death.  The Selecuid empire passed to a boy-king Antiochus V (164-162 CE), the son of Antiochus the IV; he was only nine years of age when he began to rule.

During the Maccabean Revolt, no coins were minted by the Judeans, but coins still played a role in the propaganda experienced by the Judeans.  Antiochus IV (175-164 BCE) coinage is a perfect example of what would have been of grave concern to pious Judeans.  Several of his coins could illustrate this point, but perhaps the one below illustrates well its odious nature.  The coin itself is a fairly large and heavy bronze and is a typical example.

On the obverse of the coin is the head of Zeus/Serapis.  On the reverse is a standing eagle.  The Greek inscription reads BAΣIΛEΩΣ / ANTIOXOY / ΘEOY / EΠIΦANOY and would translate something like of “King Antiochus – Manifest of god.”

On some of Antiochus’ coins, he is portrayed as wearing a diadem, a symbol of his kingly status.  The small bronze coin below is also serrated like an old pop bottle top.

The sensibilities of the Judeans would have been stirred by both the images and the claim of divine status.

Following their liberation from the Seleucids, the Judeans did imitate other independent kingdoms by also minting their own coinage.  However, the ruling Judean elites selected non-offensive symbols for the coins.

For an excellent website with numerous examples of coins from the Seleucid period, you can click on the following link:  Seleucids.

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