Summary: Here we enter into some little-known but well-documented history, given in advance by Daniel the Prophet of God. In between the classic days of Greece and the Roman Empire, between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew, lies a great pearl...
3. The Syrian Wars Begin 11:5-10
11:5a “Then the king of the South shall become strong”
He is a boyhood friend of Alexander the Great, son of a Macedonian named Lagus. Taken into Alexander’s army he slowly rises within the ranks, in the general group of the “king’s bodyguards”, then the one and only bodyguard, under which office he captures the
assassin of Darius III on that long march. He is made a general. He is decorated many times, and becomes commander of the Macedonian fleet. He is Ptolemy.
At the death of the mighty conqueror, it is he who suggests at the Babylon council that the satrapies be divided among the generals. Ptolemy is appointed “satrap” of Egypt, using the Persian political division as a starting place. He plants well. His piece of the pie lasts longer than all the rest, until 30 BC.In 321, Ptolemy orders his men to bring Alexander’s body to be buried in Egypt. From this he expects political and even religious advantage. The immediate result is less encouraging. The furious Perdiccas, poised to take over the entire Empire, marches against him, but is de- feated. When the dust settles, Ptolemy has added not only nearby Palestine, but also some northern portions of “Syria”, if only for awhile.
During much of this early period, Ptolemy has allied himself with Antigonus. Later he fears his power and joins men in similar situations to his own, satrap- minded rather than Empire- minded, to defeat Antigonus.
Following in Alexander’s steps at least partially, Ptolemy tries to connect to the Egyp- tians by marrying the daughter of the former Pharaoh. Of course, the most recent “Pharaoh” is none other than Alexander himself, crowned such in 331, shortly before creating Alexandria in his own honor. He never sees this city again, but Ptolemy follows up, and chooses this city over history- laden Memphis as his capital. This, in 320.
Two other women are to add to his power and content. His position is strengthened by marriage to Eurydice, the daughter of Antipater. But his affection seems to lean more to his own half-sister, the much younger Berenice, great granddaughter of the same Antipater. In 290, she becomes Queen of Egypt.
How he is able to fuse his worship of Zeus to the standard gods of Egypt is the story of the cult of Sarapis. In short we say simply that the man was “all things to all men” as a true Alexandrian had to be. The Romans would later follow this let- live policy. Seleucus in the North carried it to even greater extremes.
Before his 40 years of reign end, Ptolemy I has jurisdiction over Libya, Cyrenaica, Ara- bia, parts of Syria, parts of Asia Minor, Cyprus, even a few Greek cities such as Corinth. The first 18 years he is general and satrap, but the last 22 he is “Soter”, Saviour, beginning in 305 when he declares himself king. The title is added in 304 when he is able to “save” the people of Rhodes from Antigonus.
Though defeated by Antigonus in 306, he is generally victorious in battle , and no better example of how easy this could be than this one from Palestine: According to Josephus, his en- try to that land is clothed in deceit. He enters on the Sabbath day, supposedly to offer sacrifice. But soon the city itself is a sacrifice to Zeus, as Ptolemy begins a reign of cruelty in the Holy Land. Though the start is bad, the captives taken to Egypt are raised to the privilege level of Macedonians. Jewish settlers there learn Greek and start a new life.
Alexandria, under this general-turned-Pharaoh, becomes a fountain head of culture, art, and learning. He founds a library and builds a lighthouse, “Pharos”, that becomes one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. And as a historian, Ptolemy details much of Alexander’s cam- paign.
There can be no question that the king of the South, whether measured by war or peace- time, became strong. At his death he is raised to the god level by appreciative Egyptians.
11:5b “as well as one of his princes”
At about the same time as Ptolemy, there rises to power one Seleucus , the son of An- tiochus, a general of Philip II . Seleucus has been one of Alexander’s most trusted generals, and now he takes the side of Perdiccas, who seems to be in line after Alexander, and who is one that might keep Alexander’s ideals. When it becomes obvious that Perdiccas, like all the others,is after only his own power, he joins the group of Diadochi that kills Perdiccas. One of those with whom he now allies himself is Ptolemy, whom he has only recently tried to oust.
In 321, Antipater, the new figurehead of power, appoints Seleucus governor of Babylon and points east. A few years later he is used to head up a campaign against Eumenes, a sup- porter of Perdiccas and his ways. By 316, he leads Eumenes to his execution but has a falling out with Antigonus, and is driven out by him. He is allowed to flee into the care of Ptolemy, as mentioned before. This relationship lasts around 4 years, with Seleucus slowly putting his plans in order, consolidating power bases, making connections. He is certainly not fully comfortable with Ptolemy, but bides his time, waiting for the moment to strike back. He is the one respons i- ble during this time for forging a coalition among Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Cassander, and of course himself. Seleucus is now made one of Ptolemy’s “princes”, or generals, in a war against Demetrius, son of Antigonus.