The one bright spot in the political history of this period is the reign of the high priest Simon, known as the Just. He appears to have devoted himself to developing, so far as was in his power, the interests and resources of the Palestinian Jews and to have lifted the temple service to a state of magnificence that received the unqualified commendation of Jesus, the son of Sirach.
VI. Conquest of Palestine by the Seleucids in 311 B.C. Seleucus Nikanor transferred the western capital of his empire, known as Syria (a shortened form of the ancient name Assyria), to Antioch, near the northeastern end of the Mediterranean. This city was situated at the point where the Orontes breaks through the Lebanons and where the great roads from the Euphrates and Coele-Syria converge and run westward to its seaport, Seleucia. It was built in the midst of a fertile valley, partly on an island in the river and partly on its northern bank. Not having natural defences, the city depended for protection upon its broad, encompassing walls. To this new capital was attracted a diverse native, Greek, and Jewish population. By virtue of its strategic position and its commercial and political importance, it soon became one of the great cities of the eastern Mediterranean. It occupied the natural site on the eastern Mediterranean seaboard for the capital of a great empire. Shut in by the sea on the west and the desert on the east, Syria’s natural line of expansion was north and south. Not until 198 B.C., however, under the rule of Antiochus the Great, did it secure permanent control of Palestine. The degenerate house of the Ptolemies made several ineffectual attempts to win back their lost province, but henceforth Palestine remained under the rule of Syria. The personal attractions of Antiochus the Great, the specious promises which he made, and disgust because of the corrupt rule of Egypt inclined the Jews of Palestine to welcome this change of rulers. The court at Antioch, however, soon became almost as corrupt as that of Egypt, and the Jews were the victims of the greed and caprice of the Syrian despots. Meantime the insidious Greek culture and vices were influencing and largely undermining the character of the Jewish rulers. Judaism was unconsciously facing a supreme crisis in its history.
[Sidenote: Pr. 1:2-6]
That men may learn wisdom and instruction,
May understand intelligent discourses,
May receive instruction in wise conduct,
In justice, judgment and equity;
That discretion may be given to the inexperienced,
To the youth knowledge and a purpose;
That the wise man may hear and increase in learning,
And the intelligent man may receive counsel,
That he may understand proverb and parable,
The words of the wise and their riddles.