While Barack Obama has often been compared to leaders of the past, it’s unlikely anyone has yet associated him with Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Ruler of the Seleucid Empire between 175 and 164 B.C., King Antiochus is best known for the persecution of Jews, and one story from the second book of Maccabees is particularly relevant here. As the passage tells us, the king was bent on forcing a Jewish woman and her seven sons to, of all things, eat pork. The boys resisted and were tortured and killed one by one as their mother, who ultimately was also murdered, looked on. What’s interesting, though, is that while the victims were being faithful to what they believed was divine dietary injunction, there was no Seleucid commandment stating “Thou shalt compel others to dine on swine.” The act of eating such meat was but a trivial matter to Antiochus, yet he nonetheless insisted on imposing his will.
Why would a person do this? It would be for one — or, more likely, a combination — of the following reasons:
• He hates the people in question and simply wants to torment them. Or, perhaps more precisely, he hates what they are and wants to destroy what makes them what they are.
• His ego cannot tolerate being defied.
• He views the beliefs at issue as stupid and takes pleasure in punishing those who dare be so “wrong.” This is a common human motivation.
• He wants to break the cohesiveness — and therefore the resistance — of the target people by forcing them to relinquish the beliefs binding them together.
Of course, while a different factor may be dominant in different situations, and while there is tremendous overlap among them, what’s obvious is that an Antiochan desire is one of hostility.
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