ONIAS, the name of four high priests of the Second Temple period (corresponding to the Hebrew חוֹנְיוֹ).
lived at the end of the fourth century B.C.E. I Maccabees 12:20–23 relates that Areios, king of Sparta, sent a letter to the high priest Onias, claiming that the Spartans and the Jews were brethren being descended from Abraham. Although most scholars consider the high priest referred to was Onias I, and the king, Areios I, who reigned 309–265 B.C.E., they regard the letter itself as unhistorical. There is no sufficient reason, however, to cast doubt upon the essential veracity of the incident, and it is probable that the Areios referred to is Areios I, since Areios II came to the throne about 255 B.C.E. and died while still a child. On the other hand, Onias II was not contemporary with any Areios. According to Josephus (Ant. 12:226–7), the letter was sent to Onias III, the grandson of Onias II, but this is clearly erroneous, since there is no knowledge of a Spartan king named Areios at this time.
son of *Simeon the Just and grandson of Onias I, lived in the second half of the third century B.C.E. According to Josephus (Ant. 12:44) he was a minor when his father died, and his uncle Eleazar officiated for him during his minority. When Eleazar died, another uncle, Manasseh, took his place until Onias was old enough to assume the high priesthood. In his account of Joseph b. Tobiah (ibid., 12:158), Josephus depicts Onias as miserly and foolish, and careless of the dignity of his rank, thereby allowing the rise of Joseph the tax collector. The truth would appear to be otherwise. Onias was involved in the political events connected with the war between Ptolemy III (Euergetes I) and Queen Laodice, the wife and murderess of Antiochus II Theos. Wishing to throw off the yoke of Ptolemaic Egypt, he conspired with the enemies of Ptolemy and refused to pay taxes. Ptolemy threatened to drive the Jews from their land if the tax was not paid. It would appear that Onias was high priest until the close of the second century B.C.E.
a son of Simeon II and grandson of Onias II, knew how to preserve both the religious and secular authority of the house of Onias. This is demonstrated in the quarrel he had with Simeon, the head of the Temple (II Macc. 3:4). Simeon, an important official in the administration of the Temple, demanded from Onias the post of market commissioner (Agoranomos) which Onias refused because the Agoranomos, by virtue of his control over such things as the market, the price of goods, and employment, in effect exercised all real authority in the city. When his demand was rejected, Simeon turned to Apollonius, the commander of the Syrian army, and told him that vast treasures belonging to the king were preserved in the Temple vaults. Apollonius informed Seleucus who sent his chancellor, *Heliodorus to remove the treasure. Heliodorus, however, failed to do so, and having thus lost face, had to leave Jerusalem. Thereafter Onias was hated by the Seleucid ruler who suspected him of having brought about the failure of the mission. When Antiochus IV ascended the throne (175 B.C.E.), Onias was summoned to Antioch, and his brother *Jason was appointed high priest in his place, having apparently promised a large sum of money for the appointment. After three years Jason was displaced by *Menelaus, who obtained the appointment by offering a larger sum. Menelaus, an extreme Hellenizer, brought about a
son of Onias III, was a candidate for the high priesthood after his father's death, but was ousted by *Alcimus. For this reason and because of the edicts of Antiochus, he left Judea, and went to Egypt. The works of Josephus present contradictory traditions (cf. Wars, 1:33; 7:423–4, and Ant., 12:387–8; 13:62). According to The Jewish War, it was Onias III who fled to Egypt because of the persecutions of *Antiochus Epiphanes, whereas according to the Antiquities, it was Onias IV, in the time of Antiochus V Eupator. In about 145 B.C.E., Ptolemy VI Philometer granted Onias authority to build a temple in Leontopolis, the Temple of Onias. The view of Tcherikover that the erection of the temple was a political act, of interest to both Onias and Ptolemy, and that it was intended merely as a local center of worship for the Jewish military settlement is a plausible one. This emerges from the fact that the temple fulfilled no religious function in the Jewish community of Egypt whose loyalties were solely to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Mishnah (Men. 13:10) mentions "the Temple of Onias," emphasizing that it had not the same religious status as the Temple in Jerusalem. Josephus regarded Onias' deed as an act of desecration. The priests of Jerusalem regarded the sacrifices in the Temple of Onias as invalid and refused to recognize the priests and levites who ministered there (Jos., Ant., 13:73; Wars, 7:431). Many Jewish soldiers came to Egypt together with Onias, and, as military settlers, were given land between Memphis and Pelusium by Philometor. This region was known from that time as "the land of Onias." Hilkiah and Hananiah, the sons of Onias, served as commanders in the army of Cleopatra III, and participated in the queen's military campaign in Israel and Syria against Ptolemy Lathyrus. They influenced Cleopatra to such an extent that she desisted from annexing Judea to Egypt (Jos., Ant., 13:284–7, 349, 354–5). In the struggle between Cleopatra and Ptolemy Physcon, after the death of Ptolemy Philometor, Onias and his sons supported the queen (Jos., Apion, 2:50). During the reign of Hyrcanus II the Jews of Onias still retained a certain military importance (Jos., Ant., 14:131–2, and Wars, 1:189 state that Pelusium was taken by force from the garrison army). The Temple of Onias was closed in 73 C.E. by order of *Vespasian.
II Macc. 3:1–4; 5:32–35; A. Buechler, Die Tobiaden und die Oniaden (1899), 74ff.; Schuerer, Hist, 24f., 54, 274; Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 42, 131, 144–7; Klausner, Bayit Sheni, index, S.V. Ḥonyo; F.-M. Abel, Histoire de la Palestine, 1 (1952), 105ff.; A. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959), 138f., 156ff., 172–4, 276ff., 389f.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.