Antiochus III’s Edict(s) to Jerusalem: Between Imperial Stress and Local Agency | A Symposium

Harvard Faculty Club, 20 Quincy Street,, Cambridge, MA 02138

Rotem Avneri Meir and Julia Rhyder (co-organizers)

Harvard University, April 20–21, 2023

The first decades of Seleucid rule in Judea are strikingly quiet in comparison to the tumultuous events of the 160s BCE. Some suggest that, during these decades, antagonism towards foreign rule brewed, eventually leading to the Maccabean revolt. Alternatively, other scholars have suggested that the initial decades of the second century manifested fruitful cooperation with, and integration of local Judean elites within the imperial system, and that it was only with Antiochus IV that the relations between the Jews and Seleucids broke down.

This symposium engages with this debate by bringing together leading scholars in the study of Hellenistic Judea and the Seleucid world more broadly to review two key pieces of evidence that relate to the first decades of Seleucid rule in the southern Levant during the reign of king Antiochus III. These are two edicts issued by the Seleucid king regarding Jerusalem, and which are preserved in Josephus’s Antiquities book 12 (§§ 138–146). These two, likely authentic, documents originate in the aftermath of the fifth Syrian war that saw the Seleucids take over Coele Syria and Phoenicia, including Judea. In the decrees, the Seleucid king provides benefactions and ordinances for the city of Jerusalem, its inhabitants, its temple, and its staff. These decrees therefore provide a unique testimony for the political, social, economic, and cultic factors that shaped the beginning of Seleucid rule in Judea.

The proposed symposium aims

  • to map the topics arising from the decrees and needing attention, as well as those areas of agreement and disagreement between scholars engaged in the study of Seleucid Judea and Hellenistic Judaism;
  • to bridge the gap between the dichotomies of resistance to and cooperation with empire, or independence and subordination, in the array of possible Judean responses to Seleucid imperial rule;
  • to identify and discuss ways in which these documents may improve our understanding not only of Judean politics but also of economics and religion in the late third and early second century, and the “temple-centered” nature of the Judean polity in the Hellenistic era.

To pursue these aims, the symposium will focus on three general issues:

  • How can the documents preserved in Antiquities 12.138–146 serve as a historical source for the study of the late third and early second century? How do we distinguish between documentary and literary evidence in the case of this dossier? And more broadly, how might we establish the relationship between literary depiction and lived realities in Hellenistic Judea?
  • What were the changes between Ptolemaic and Seleucid rule over Judea to which the decrees point? Were they structural changes in policy or rather changes in personnel? And how did local elites in Jerusalem react to this change?
  • What is the link between the first and second decrees in Antiquities 12? What might we learn from this evidence about the priorities of the priestly and non-priestly elites of Jerusalem in negotiating with imperial powers? And how might the focus of the second decree on the temple relate to the growing concerns with purity in Second Temple literature more broadly?

The symposium will seek to answer these questions within the context of a comparative study of local communities under imperial rule in the eastern Mediterranean and Near East in Hellenistic times. This comparison will be helpful in determining points of difference, but perhaps even more importantly, similarity in Jewish reactions to foreign rule when compared to those of other groups within the Hellenistic world.

The main output of this symposium will be a special issue published in a leading journal.


Thursday April 20

12pm–1:30pm: Lunch with speakers

1:30pm: Welcome

(David Stern, Center for Jewish Studies, Harvard University)

1:35pm–1:45pm: Introduction

(Rotem Avneri Meir, University of Helsinki, and Julia Rhyder, Harvard University)

1:45–2:45: The Decree Between Documentary and Literary Evidence

(Boris Chrubasik, University of Toronto)

2:45pm–3:15pm: Break

3:15pm–4:15pm: The Social Structures of Judea in Early Hellenistic Times

(Sylvie Honigman, Tel Aviv University)

4:15pm–5:15pm: City and Empire: The Space of Jerusalem and Antiochus’s Decree

(Paul Kosmin, Harvard University)

6pm: Dinner for speakers, hosts, and CJS guests

Friday April 21

9am–10am: Imperial and Local Elites in the Decree

(Rotem Avneri Meir)

10am–10:15am: Break

10:15am–11:15am: Purity, Cult, and Empire: The Proclamation Concerning the Temple in Jerusalem

(Julia Rhyder)

11:15am–12:15pm: On the Pathway to Revolt? The Decree in the Perspective of the Long Second Century

(Anthea Portier-Young, Duke Divinity School)

12:30pm Lunch provided