JASON (second century B.C.E.), high priest. Jason, who adopted this Greek form of his Hebrew name Joshua, was the son of the high priest Simeon II and a brother of *Onias III. According to Josephus he was also the brother of *Menelaus, but it is almost certain, in the light of II Maccabees, that this is inaccurate. The events that occurred at the end of the high priesthood of Onias III undermined his standing in the Seleucid court. Jason exploited the ascent of Antiochus IV to the throne (176 B.C.E.) and his need of money to have his brother deposed and to obtain the high priesthood for himself (175), against the promise of large sums of money. Antiochus also granted him authority to establish in Jerusalem a Hellenist polis whose citizens were selected and registered by Jason himself. Armed with this authority, he established within Jerusalem a city-state called Antiochia, whose citizens he chose from the Hellenized aristocracy of Jerusalem, and erected a gymnasium in the capital. His actions led to a strengthening of Hellenistic culture in the city and to a weakening of the traditional way of life and of religious worship (II Macc. 4:7–15). This policy of Jason and his supporters was the chief cause of the Hasmonean revolt which broke out afterward, and which finally freed Judea from the rule of the Seleucids and gave birth to the Hasmonean dynasty. Jason sent envoys and gifts to Tyre in honor of the festivities to the Tyrean god Heracles. He also welcomed Antiochus when he visited Jerusalem in 174 B.C.E. However, three years later he was dismissed from the high priesthood by the king, and Menelaus, who offered Antiochus a larger sum of money for the office, was appointed in his stead. A few years later, in 168 B.C.E., when a false rumor spread that Antiochus was dead, he attempted to return and seize power in Jerusalem. He was unsuccessful, however, and was compelled to leave the city after instituting a slaughter of the inhabitants. For a while he was imprisoned by the Arabian king, Aretas. His last years were spent wandering from place to place, and he was not buried in the family sepulcher.
II Macc. 4:7–29; 5:5–10; Jos., Ant., 12:238ff.; Schuerer, Hist, 24–26; A. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959), index; S.K. Eddy, The King Is Dead (1961), 206–11.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.