The Pious High Priest and the Godless and not True High Priest

The Piety of Onias the High Priest

While the Holy City was inhabited in all peace and the laws were observed as perfectly as possible, through the piety of Onias the high priest and his hatred of wickedness, it came about that the kings themselves honored the Holy Place and enhanced the glory of the Temple with the most splendid offerings, even to the extent that Seleucus[1] king of Asia defrayed from his own revenues all the expenses arising out of the sacrificial services.[2]

Jason, the high priest, introduces hellenism

[…], Jason, brother of Onias,[3] usurped the high-priesthood by underhand methods; […]. When the king gave his assent, Jason set about introducing his fellow countrymen to the Greek way of life as soon as he was in power. He suppressed the existing royal concessions to the Jews, granted at the insistence of John, father of that Eupolemus who was later to be sent on the embassy of friendship and alliance with the Romans, and, overthrowing the lawful institutions, introduced new usages contrary to the Law. He went so far as to plant a gymnasium at the very foot of the Citadel, and to fit out the noblest of his cadets in the petasos.[4] Godless wretch that he was and no true high priest, Jason set no bounds to his impiety; indeed the hellenising process reached such a pitch that the priests ceased to show any interest in the services of the altar; scorning the Temple and neglecting the sacrifices, they would hurry to take part in the unlawful exercises on the training ground as soon as the signal was given for the discus. They disdained all that their ancestors had esteemed, and set the highest value on Hellenic honors. But all this brought its own retribution; the very people whose way of life they envied, whom they sought to resemble in everything, proved to be their enemies and executioners. It is no small thing to violate the divine laws, […]

On the occasion of the quinquennial games at Tyre in the presence of the king, the vile Jason sent some Antiochists[5] from Jerusalem as official spectators; these brought with them three hundred silver drachmae for the sacrifice to Hercules. But even those who brought the money thought that it should not be spent on the sacrifice – this would not be right – and decided to reserve it for some other item of expenditure; and so what the sender had intended for the sacrifice to Hercules was in fact applied, at the suggestion of those who brought it, to the construction of triremes.[6]

[1] Seleucus IV, who ruled 186-175 B.C.

[2] 2 M 3:1-4

[3] Joshua, brother of Onias; the change of his name to Jason is evidence of his sympathies with hellenisation.

[4] The hat of Hermes, worn by athletes.

[5] cf. 2 M 4:9-10

[6] 2 M 4:1-20