At its peak, Antioch was the capital of the Seleucid Empire and was the third largest city in the world, having a population of 500,000 souls.
Greek culture dominated, including its polytheistic religion worshipping Zeus as “king of the gods.” Tyche, the mistress of fortune and luck, was Antioch’s patron goddess.
Antiochean Jews did not live in a separate neighborhood or ghetto, but dwelled alongside their gentile neighbors, mingling with them to a greater degree than in any other city, actively seeking converts among the Greeks. Language was not an obstacle, because all prayer, worship and even the study of Jewish Scripture was done in Greek, not Aramaic or Hebrew.
Although few gentiles submitted to circumcision or fully obeyed the Torah’s dietary rules, nonetheless many worshipped Yahweh, were allowed entrance into the Great House and other synagogues, and were respectfully called “God-fearers” by their Jewish friends (Greek – phoboumenoi ton Theon). This gave the Archon and Council of Elders added political influence with the Emperor.
Circumstances began to deteriorate for the Jews when Antiochus Epiphanes (Antiochus IV) became emperor. A fierce advocate of Greek culture, he viewed Jewish religion to be barbaric and incompatible with “civilized” Hellenic society.
Epiphanes came to power in 175 BC. Seven years after taking the throne, Antiochus desecrated the Jerusalem Temple by placing a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies and sacrificing pigs upon the Temple’s altar. The Emperor abolished Jewish worship, the observance of Sabbaths and festivals, outlawed circumcision and destroyed copies of the Scriptures.
Epiphanes forced Jews to worship Zeus and to eat pork that had been sacrificed to the idol. Those refusing were executed. Anyone who circumcised their newborn son was killed, along with the child.
The Angel of Antioch takes place during Antiochus Epiphanes’ reign – 1100 years after the Prophet Moses and 200 years before the crucifixion of Yeshua Ha’Mashiach (Jesus the Christ).
copyright © 2014 Daniel R. Molyneux