JERUSALEM.- The Israel Museum unveiled today a unique 2,200-year-old stele (inscribed stone block) that provides new insight into the dramatic story of Heliodorus and the Temple in Jerusalem, as related in the Second Book of Maccabees.
The Heliodorus stele is one of the most important and revealing Hellenistic inscriptions from Israel, said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. It contextualizes the Second Book of Maccabees and provides an independent and authentic source for an important episode in the history leading up to the Maccabean Revolt, whose victorious conclusion is celebrated each year during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.
The newly deciphered stele presents new information about Heliodorus, who, according to the Second Book of Maccabees, received orders to seize the treasure in the Temple in Jerusalem, but was driven from the sanctuary by the miraculous appearance of a fearsome horseman accompanied by two mighty youths.
This presentation marks the first public display of the Heliodorus stele, which is on extended loan to the Museum from Michael and Judy Steinhardt of New York. The stele documents a correspondence in ancient Greek between Heliodorus and King Seleucus IV, ruler of the Seleucid Empire from 187 to 175 BCE, who was succeeded by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (best known from the story of Hanukkah). In his letter, King Seleucus announces the appointment of an administrator to oversee the sanctuaries within the province that included the Land of Israel.
The appointment of an overseer of the sanctuaries including the Temple in Jerusalem was intended to bring the province into line with the rest of the Seleucid Empire. This position included authority over the sanctuaries revenues and, above all, taxes due to the king. It is likely, however, that the Jews regarded this appointment as an infringement of Jewish religious autonomy.
This episode may have foreshadowed events yet to come. Less than ten years later (169/8 BCE), a new Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and his armies would enter Jerusalem, massacre its inhabitants, rob the Temple treasury, and desecrate the Holy of Holies. Thus the new appointment, recorded on the stele, appears to mark the beginning of Greek/Seleucid interference in Jewish religious affairs, which eventually led to the outbreak of the Maccabean revolt in 167 BCE.
The Heliodorus stele is part of a special display, curated by David Mevorah, Curator of Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Archaeology, entitled Royal Correspondence on Stone The Overseer of the Sanctuaries. On view through June 2007, this presentation also includes another Hellenistic stele from the royal administration of the Seleucid Empire the Hefzibah stele part of the Museums permanent archaeological holdings.
The writings on the Heliodorus stele have been deciphered and interpreted by Professor Hannah Cotton-Paltiel of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Professor Michael Woerrle of the Commission for Ancient History and Epigraphy at the German Archaeological Institute in Munich. Analysis of the stones patina by Professor Yuvel Goren of Tel Aviv University suggests that the stele most likely came from the lowlands between the Judaean hills and the Mediterranean coast.