Hercules

HERCULES (̔Ηρακλη̂ς, 2 Macc. 4:19). During the Seleucid period there was an “evangelistic” attempt to turn West Asia to Hel. customs and culture. This was esp. the situation under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (176-164 b.c.) or Antiochus IV who established Gr. educational centers in W Asian cities.

Jason, who changed his name to the Gr. form from the Heb. name Joshua, was able to seize the high priesthood in Jerusalem from his brother Onias III in 175 b.c. by allying himself to Antiochus. To further the Hellenization of the city, Jason obtained the authority to form a Gr. city-state within Jerusalem called Antiochia. He also established a gymnasium in Jerusalem which led to the weakening of Jewish life.

Once every five years games were held in Tyre of Phoenicia in honor of the god Hercules. Jason sent delegates who were citizens of Antiochia (Jerusalem) to represent Jerusalem and to bear silver for the sacrifice of Hercules. However, those who were bearing the tribute felt that this was an evil use of the money, so they spent it instead on shipbuilding (2 Macc. 4:18-20). This would indicate that Jason’s reforms were not as effective in changing Jewish religious life as he thought.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The process of Hellenizing the Jews which began at an earlier date was greatly promoted under nodetitle (175-164 BC). Jason, who supplanted his brother Onias in the office of high priest by promising Antiochus an increase of tribute, aided the movement by setting up under the king’s authority a Greek palaestra for the training of youth in Greek exercises, and by registering the inhabitants of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch (2 Macc 4:8 f). Certain of these Antiochians of Jerusalem Jason sent to Tyre, where games were held every five years in honor of Hercules, that is, the national Tyrian deity Melcart, identified with Baal of Old Testament history. According to Josephus (Ant., VII, v, 3) Hiram, king of Tyre in the days of Solomon, built the temple of Hercules and also of Astarte. Jason s deputies carried 300 drachmas of silver for the sacrifice of Hercules, but they were so ashamed of their commission that they "thought it not right to use the money for any sacrifice" and "on account of present circumstances it went to the equipment of the galleys" (2 Macc 4:18-20).