Menelaus

MENELAUS mĕn ə lā’ əs (Μενέλαος). A brother of Simon the Benjamite (2 Macc 4:23; 13:3-8), and according to Josephus, also of Jason and Onias III (Antiq. XII. v.), who was a usurping high priest of the Maccabean era. In the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, when he was sent by the high priest Jason (who had himself undermined Onias) to Antioch (171 b.c.), to carry promised tribute to the king; instead of executing his commission, he offered a higher bid for the high priesthood than Jason and was authorized to supplant Jason (2 Macc 4:23ff.).

Upon Menelaus’ return to Jerusalem, the high priest Jason fled. But Menelaus, failing to pay Antiochus the money, was called to account. Reporting to Antioch, he did more bribing. The not altogether trustworthy Maccabean account tells of Menelaus’ theft of Temple vessels which he offered to Antiochus’ deputy, Andronicus, to murder Onias who had condemned and exposed Menelaus for his sacrilege (2 Macc 4:31ff.). When details of the atrocity were reported to Antiochus, Andronicus was executed; but Menelaus came through unscathed.

The oppression of Lysimachus, a deputy left in Jerusalem by Menelaus, brought on a bloody riot, in which the deputy was mobbed. The news reached Antiochus when he was at Tyre; and the wily Menelaus bribed Ptolemy, an influential courtier, to gain favor for him with the king, the result being acquittal for Menelaus and execution for his accusers (2 Macc 4:39ff.).

The reported death of Antiochus in Egypt brought back the fugitive Jason with allies who forced Menelaus to flee. When the king returned he massacred Jerusalem’s citizens and plundered the Temple with the aid of the scoundrel Menelaus (2 Macc 5). In 162 b.c., apparently no longer high priest, he was condemned by Eupator, his death being as unique as his career was notorious; he was flung from the top of a tower into some ashes below.

Bibliography

2 Maccabees; R. H. Pfeiffer, History of NT Times (1949), 11; J. Bright, History of Israel (1959), 404.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

According to the less likely account of Josephus (Ant., XII, v, 1; XV, iii, 1; XX, x, 3), Menelaus was a brother of Jason and Onias III, and his name was really Onias. But it is very unlikely that there should be two brothers of the same name. The account of 2 Maccabees is more credible--that Menelaus was the brother of the notorious Simon who suggested to the Syrians the plundering of the temple; he was thus of the tribe of Benjamin (2 Macc 4:23; compare with 3:4) and not properly eligible to the high-priesthood. He was entrusted by Jason (171 BC), who had supplanted Onias, with contributions to the king of Syria, nodetitle, and by outbidding Jason in presents he secured the office of high priest for himself (2 Macc 4:23 f), 171 BC. Menelaus returned with "the passion of a cruel tyrant" to Jerusalem, and Jason fled. But as Menelaus failed to pay the promised amount, both he and Sostratus, the governor, were summoned to appear before the king. Lysimachus, the brother of Menelaus, was left at Jerusalem in the meantime as deputy high priest. The king was called from his capital to suppress an insurrection of Tarsus and Mallus. Menelaus took advantage of his absence to win over Andronicus, the king’s deputy, by rich presents stolen from the temple. For this sacrilege Onias III sharply reproved him and fled to a sanctuary, Daphne, near Antioch. Andronicus was then further persuaded by Menelaus to entice Onias from his retreat and murder him (2 Macc 4:34 f)--an act against which both Jews and Greeks protested to the king on his return, and secured deserved punishment for Andronicus. Meanwhile, the oppression of Lysimachus, abetted by Menelaus, caused a bloody insurrection in Jerusalem, in connection with which a Jewish deputation brought an accusation against Menelaus on the occasion of Antiochus’ visit to Tyre. Menelaus bribed Ptolemy, son of Dorymenes, to win over the king to acquit himself and secure the execution of "those hapless men, who, if they had pleaded even before Scythians, would have been discharged uncondemned" (2 Macc 4:39 ff). Menelaus returned in triumph to his office. But Jason, taking advantage of Epiphanes’ absence in Egypt and a false rumor of his death, made a bloody but unsuccessful attempt upon the city, in order to secure his office again; his rival took refuge in the citadel. The king returned in fury, caused a three days’ slaughter of the citizens, rifled the temple with Menelaus as guide, and left him as one of his agents to keep the Jews in subjection (2 Macc 5:1 ff). He appears next and for the last time in the reign of Eupator in 162 BC. Lysias, the king’s chancellor, accused him to the king as the cause of all the troubles in Judea (2 Macc 13:3-8). Eupator caused him to be brought to Berea and there--before, according to 2 Maccabees, loc. cit., or after, according to Josephus, Ant, XII, ix, 7, the invasion of Judea by Eupator and Lysias--to be put to death by being flung from the top of a high tower into the ashes of which it was full--a fitting end for such a wretch.