Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said that he was Nebuchadnezar, King of Babylon, reincarnated. Many say that Iranian President Mahmoud Achmadinejad is Haman returned. Is it possible that Bashar Assad is connected to Antiochus, the Syrian-Greek bad guy of the Hanukah story? And what's more important, will Syria attack Israel (or will Syria be attacked) during Hanukah?
Crash Course in Jewish History #28 from Aish.com
Alexander's vast empire did not survive his death in 323 BCE, but fragmented into three large chunks centered in Greece, Egypt, and Syria and controlled by his former generals. These three smaller empires were known as:
- Seleucid or Syrian Greece
- Ptolemian or Egyptian Greece
- Macedonian or Greece proper, including the independent city-states of Athens, Sparta, etc.
Initially, Israel falls under the Ptolemies of Egypt. They are generally liberal and open-minded in keeping with the spirit of their capital city of Alexandria which is the world's cultural center.
But this changes in 198 BCE after the Battle of Panias (or Banyas-Tel Dan in northern Israel). After their victory at Panias the Seleucids of Assyria, led by the King, Antiochus III, take over control of Israel from the Ptolemies.
The picture is volatile, however. The next Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, finds himself under a lot of pressure, holding back the Ptolemies and worrying about the rising might of Rome.
He decides that the weak link in his defenses is Israel. Israel is bordered by (1) Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea (from whence the Romans could come), and worst of all, the majority of Jews are not into Greek culture. This situation he now moves to remedy.
...Antiochus IV Epiphanes takes deliberate steps between 169 BCE and 167 BCE to Hellenize the Jews of Israel by attempting to destroy Judaism. The Book of Maccabees calls this period a "reign of terror" and describes its beginnings as:
Not long after this, the king sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their fathers and cease to live by the laws of God, and also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem and call it the temple of Olympian Zeus...(6)
One of the first things that Antiochus does take control of the Temple through influencing the office of the High Priest. He removes the High Priest from his position and replaces him with a Jew that he has in his back pocket. From this point on the High Priesthood becomes, to a large extent, a corrupt institution.
...After he installs his own High Priest, Antiochus tries to dissolve the Jewish calendar.
Antiochus, by this time, understands the Jews very well. To him these people are time obsessed ― they try to make time holy. Destroy time and you destroy the Jews' ability to practice Judaism. Therefore, Antiochus forbids the observance of Shabbat, the observance of the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh), and the observance of the holidays ― Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot.
Next, Antiochus forbids keeping kosher and studying Torah. Torah scrolls are publicly burned, and swine are sacrificed over sacred Jewish books to defile them. Indeed, Antiochus seems obsessed by swine, knowing that this animal is particularly repugnant to the Jews; he even forces the High Priest to institute swine sacrifices in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and also to permit worship there of a whole array of Greek gods. (See 1 Maccabees 1:41-64.)
Lastly, Antiochus forbids circumcision. To the Jews, this is the physical, tangible sign of their covenant with God. And it's the one thing the Greeks ― who worship the perfection of the human body ― find most abhorrent. To them, circumcision is a mutilation.
Jews resist, so Antiochus and his henchmen go about driving the point home in a crude and cruel fashion.
...Women who allowed their sons to be circumcised were killed with their sons tied around their necks. The scholars of Israel were hounded, hunted down and killed. Jews who refused to eat pork or sacrifice hogs were tortured to death ... Even the smallest hamlet in Judah was not safe from the oppression of the Hellenists. The altars to Zeus and other pagan deities were erected in every village, and Jews of every area were forced to participate in the sacrificial services.
This type of religious persecution was, until then, unknown in human history. Up to that time, no one in the ancient world declared war on other people's religions, because the attitude of polytheism was "I'll worship your god, you worship mine. The more gods the merrier."
...In the polytheistic world no one died for their religion. No one, except the Jews...
You can read more here.