The first readings this week will be taken from the First and Second Books of Maccabees, although the Maccabees themselves will not appear until Thursday. But, lets begin by seeing the place and times for this history.
Today’s reading opens in the year one hundred and thirty seven of the Kingdom of the Greeks. That was actually the year 175 B.C.
Here’s how that came about. Alexander the Great conquered all the Middle East between the years 333and 323 B.C. After his death his empire was divided between three of his chief generals, with Antigonis taking Greece, Ptolemy taking Egypt, and Seleucus taking Syria, Jerusalem and Mesopotamia. Seleucus built a capitol city for himself at Antioch, a hundred and fifty miles north of Jerusalem; and in 312 he declared himself king.
In 177 B. C. the tenth ruler of that dynasty, King Antiochus IV, set about imposing the worship of the Greek gods as the religion of all the peoples of the Middle East. His Gentile subjects readily obeyed, but he had a harder time with the Jews. He won over most of the young men by building them fine gymnasiums.
He next set up a statue of Zeus on the temple’s altar, and he sent troops to every Jewish town where they set up replicas of the Greek gods, forcing the people to worship them with sacrifices of pork, of which they then ate.
That set the stage for the rebellion of the Maccabees.