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New information on Antiochus IV from Babylonian astronomical diaries1

  • M. J. Geller


The second volume of A. Sachs and H. Hunger, Astronomical diaries and related texts from Babylonia (Vienna, 1989) extends from the years 261–165 B.C., and includes further information on Babylonian astronomy, weather patterns, market prices, and historical events during these years, and as such are an invaluable source for Hellenistic history. Of particular historical interest is a group of tablets from Babylon and Sippar which are duplicate reports from 16/17 August–10/11 December, 169 B.C. In addition to the usual astronomical and meteorological data, this report includes brief accounts of contemporary events which potentially alter the historical picture of the reign of Antiochus IV. Although the passage has been known for a long time, and previously cited by Pinches, Eddy, and van der Spek, the new edition by Sachs and Hunger gives the opportunity to reopen the discussion.



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2 cf. Pinches, T. G., The Old Testament in the light of the historical records and legends of Assyria and Babylonia (London, 1903), 553;Eddy, S. K., The King is dead (Lincoln, 1961), 135–6;van der Spek, R. J., ‘The Babylonian city’, apud Kuhrt, A. and Sherwin-White, S., Hellenism in the East (London, 1987), 67–8, van der Spek, R. J., Grondbezit in het Seleucidische Rijk (Amsterdam, 1986), 71–8).

3 Sachs and Hunger, 480.

4 Mørkholm, Otto, Antiochus IV of Syria (Gyldendal, 1966), 93 ff.

5 cf. Ray, J. D., The Archive of Hor (London, 1976), 1819, 127.

6 van der Spek, R. J., ‘Babylonian city’, 68, and idem., Grondbezit, 75.

7 Polybius XXX, 25 ft, cf. Will, E., Histoirepolitique du monde hellénistique (Nancy, 1982), and Merkholm p. 95, n. 25, 97 ff., dating the Festival to 166 B.C. because of Polybius's assertion that Antiochus was ambitious to outdo the Macedonian games of Aemilius Paullus of 168 B.C. Van der, Spek, ‘Babylonian city’ p. 68, n. 18, expresses doubts as to whether Paullus's festivals would have influenced Antiochus. Moreover, the Babylonian diary may be a more reliable witness to events, and the phrase in the Babylonian diary šaltāniš atalluku (No. –168 A 14, cf. AHw 1150b), lit. ‘going about in a lordly manner’ may correspond to the inscription ‘Nicephorus’ ‘victorious’ which appeared on Antiochus's coins minted in Antioch after the First Egyptian campaign (cf. Morkholm, 87, 97 ff).

The other possible justification for the late dating of the Festival of Daphnae is the Greek inscription OGIS 253, cf. Bunge, J. G., Chiron, 6, 1976, 5371, cited and discussed by van der Spek, Grondbezit, 72 f., and ‘Babylonian city’, 67. As van der Spek points out, although Bunge dated this inscription to 166 B.C., and restored the name Daphnae, the evidence is not conclusive.

8 Møkholm, 97, is forced to argue that Antiochus had reason to celebrate his victories after 168 B.C., since his consolidation of Coele–Syria compensated for losing Egypt.

9 CAD, Z 75, McEwan, G. J. P., Priest and temple in Hellenistic Babylonia (Wiesbaden, 1981),27; according to McEwan, the zazakku is an ‘administrative official concerned with taxation’, only known from our diary in Hellenistic cuneiform sources. One might suggest on this basis that the term zazakku corresponds to Greek agoranomos. In Judea, members of the high–priestly family acted as agoranomos, cf. Vermes, G. and Millar, F., Schürer's history of the Jewish people in the age of Jesus Christ (Edinburgh, 1973), I, 140.

10 Treating the word kuzbu as a general term of ‘adornment’ (cf. CAD K 615), rather than as a specific term ‘wig’, as Sachs and Hunger, 476–7, A14'. Eddy, S. K., op. cit., 135–6, regarded this passage as referring to Antiochus's interference with the priesthood, commenting that Antiochus appointed a new high priest over the Esagil–temple who handed over gold to the government.

11 The version of events in 1 Mace. 1: 19 ft. refers only to the results of Antiochus's First Egyptian Campaign, contrasting sharply with description in the Archive of Hor of Antiochus's withdrawal from Egypt in 168 B.C. The straightforward description of events in 1 Mace. I: 19 if. is not necessarily contradicted by 2 Mace. 5: Iff., which records that Judea revolted after Antiochus's defeat in Egypt, which resulted in Antiochus storming Judea and raiding the Temple treasury, presumably for a second time. According to M0rkholm (op. cit., 136), the opportunity to rob the Jerusalem temple treasury first presented itself under the reign of Seleucus IV, when Simon, the prostates of the temple, quarrelled with the high priest Onias III, who had prevented Simon from becoming agoranomos. Consequently Simon had informed the Seleucid satrap of Coele–Syria that extensive treasure of the Jerusalem temple should be confiscated. Seleucus's untimely death in 175 B.C. may have saved the Jerusalem gold and silver on this occasion.

12 Antiochus had unsuccessfully tried to withdraw funds from the temple of Elymais, cf. Mφrkholm, 180.

13 cf. 2 Mace. 4: 32, that Menelaos offered bribes of gold dishes confiscated directly from the Temple treasury. Cf. alsoVermes, G. and Millar, F., Schũre's history, I, 148 ff. The office of high priest in Jerusalem included the collection of lucrative tithes and in effect represented the chief local administrator of Judea under Seleucid rule, and as such corresponded to the office of šatammu in Babylon.

14 cf. M0rkholm, 55–63. One inscription from Delphi, from 168/7, expressly mentions Delphian embassies sent to Antiochus (ibid., 61).

15 Antiochus's actions—both in Babylon and Judea—in confiscating the temple treasuries stands in contrast to those of Seleucus III, who, according to 2 Mace. 3: 2, actually paid for the sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple.

16 Eddy, S. K., The King is dead, 135–6, generally saw the point that similar events were taking place in both Babylon and Judea, and that the confiscation of temple funds from the Esagil–temple paralleled the events leading to the Maccabean Revolt. Eddy, however, misinterpreted one other event mentioned in this same diary, No. –168 A 15'–A 18'. recording the following incident of a robbery of gold from cult images:

‘On the eighth of that month an image of the god Šešgal (?), which was unsuitable for 7[ … ] and made by hill–folk, the name of which was called “god of the Ammamites”, was stripped in a robbery. On the tenth of that month, the thieves who stripped that Šešgal(–statue) were apprehended and caught, and brought across into the temple courtroom. On the 13th day the thieves [were brought] into the temple courtroom, were interrogated on an interrogation rack in front of the administrator of the Esagil and the temple judges, and were convicted. On the same day they were burned.’

Eddy assumed that this robbery was inspired by the Esagil–temple priesthood as a rebellion against Antiochus, and as such, paralleled the more widespread rebellion in Judea. It seems clear, however, that the robbery was reported in the diary because it happened to occur in the month between the appointment of the zazakku and the second withdrawal of temple funds; matters relevant to the Esagil-temple were more likely to be reported in the diaries. Moreover, a similar incident may have occurred under Seleucus III in – 176/f5 (Sachs and Hunger, 426–7), and the fact that the thieves were tried before the temple judges rules out any idea of a priests' rebellion.

The robbery may, however, indicate the weakening of the temple influence, since thieves no longer feared taboos against confiscation of divine property, which may partly reflect the process of Hellenization of this period. Moreover, the problem may have become widespread, since Text 7 of the Demotic Archive of Hor is a letter of complaint to Philometor reporting on abuses of the Ibis cult and neglect of the shrines (Ray, The Archive of Hor, 129); note above all Text 19, an account of a temple investigation into malpractices. Cf. also 2 Mace. 4: 39 reporting thefts from the Jerusalem Temple committed by Lysimachus, brother of the high priest Menelaos.

1 Grateful acknowledgments are due to Dr. R. J. van der Spek for his critique and suggestions, and to Dr. John Ray and Dr. Walter Cockle for advice on evidence from Egypt.

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New information on Antiochus IV from Babylonian astronomical diaries1

  • M. J. Geller


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