Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Demetrius

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The name of two Syrian kings mentioned in the Old Testament and two other persons in the New Testament.


1. Demetrius Soter ("Saviour")

So called because he saved the Babylonians from the tyranny of the satrap Heraclides, reigned from 162 to 150 B.C. He was the son of Seleucus Phlopator, and spent his early years as a hostage in Rome, petitioning the Senate in vain for permission to return to his country. With the assistance, however, of his friend, the historian Polybius, he escaped to Tripolis in Phoenicia, formed a party, murdered Antiochus V, his cousin, with Lysias, the chancellor, ascended the throne of the Seleucidae, and was acknowledged by Rome. A Jewish party, dissatisfied with Judas Machabeus, invited Demetrius to interfere in their favour. Demetrius appointed Alcimus as high-priest and sent his general Bacchides with an army in his support. Soon after, as Alcimus' position seemed secure, Bacchides left. As Judas, however, grew stronger, Alcimus again appealed for help. Demetrius sent as general Nicanor, who first tried to capture Judas by strategy, but then met him at Kapharsalama and lost the battle. Nicanor entered Jerusalem, vented his wrath on the priests, and threatened to destroy the Temple. Judas met Nicanor again at Beth-Horon and utterly routed his army. Nicanor fell in the battle (161 B.C.). Two months later Demetrius, for the third time, sent a Syrian army into Palestine under Bacchides, who defeated and slew Judas in the battle of Berea, garrisoned some Jewish towns, and returned. A Syrian army entered Palestine under the same Bacchides for the fourth time in 158 B.C., but the Machabean party had recovered its strength, and a treaty ended the campaign. Meanwhile a pretender had arisen to the Syrian throne in the person of Alexander Balas. Both Demetrius and Alexander were anxious to gain the support of the Jews. Alexander offered to Jonathan Machabeus the purple and a diadem, which he accepted in 153 B.C. Demetrius subsequently offered still greater privileges to the Jews and their leader, but the Jews remained faithful to Alexander. In 150 B.C. Alexander and his allies defeated Demetrius, "who valiantly fought with undaunted courage in the thick of the battle and was slain". (I Mach., vii, ix, x; II Mach., xiv, xv; Justin, XXXV, i.)

2. Demetrius Nikator ("Conqueror")

Son of the above, succeeded four years after the death of his father in gaining the Syrian throne. Jonathan Machabeus, remaining faithful to Alexander unto the end, had opposed the succession of Demetrius II. Demetrius' viceroy, Apollonius, who ruled over Coelesyria, held Joppe and Ashdod for his king, but was driven out and defeated by Jonathan, who destroyed Ashdod and brought a rich booty to Jerusalem. Jonathan tried to throw off the Syurian yoke altogether and besieged the fortress of Jerusalem. Demetrius first cited Jonathan to Ptolemais to answer for his rebellion, relying upon a pro-Syrian party among the Jews; but Jonathan boldly continued the siege of Jerusalem and then, nothing daunted, faced Demetrius at Ptolemais. He demanded an extension of territory and several privileges for the Jews, and supported his demand by costly gifts. Demetrius did not dare to refuse, but agreed to the addition of three Samaritan districts, Ephraim, Lydda, and Ramathaim, to Judea; he freed this extension of Judea from all taxes and confirmed Jonathan in all his dignities. Demetrius had thus escaped further danger from his Jewish vassal but soon after had to encounter Trypho, a former general of Alexander Balas. This man proclaimed Alexander's son Antiochus VI king, though as yet only a boy, and the threatening attitude of the people of Antioch brought the throne of Demetrius II into imminent danger. In his distress he appealed to Jonathan, who sent 3000 men to quell the insurrection at Antioch. Demetrius promised to hand over Jerusalem and some other fortresses of Judea to Jonathan. Jonathan stamped out the revolution at Antioch, but Demetrius did not fulfil his promise. Shortly after, Trypho and Antiochus the Pretender captured Antioch and sought the assistance of Jonathan. As Demetrius II had proved himself faithless, Jonathan left his side and went over to Trypho. In consequence Demetrius gathered an army against Jonathan, to punish his defection, but never risked a battle. Then Trypho had murdered Antiochus VI, Jonathan returned to Demetrius' allegiance. Trypho was finally defeated by the brother of Demetrius, but Demetrius was mad prisoner in a campaign against the Parthians, in whose hands he remained for ten years, the daughter of whose king Mithridates he received in marriage and by whom, under Phraates, he was restored to the Syrian throne after defeating his brother Antiochus Sidetes. He was then persuaded to attack the King of Egypt, Ptolemy Physcon. This caused the rise of another Syrian pretender, Alexander Zabinas, who defeated Demetrius near Damascus. Demetrius fled to Tyre, and on landing was there assassinated in 128 B.C. His wife Cleopatra is said to have been privy to the crime. (I Mach., xiii, 41; x, 67; xiv, 3.)


3. Demetrius of Acts 19:24

Acts 19:24 mentions Demetrius, a silversmith (argyrokopos), who made silver shrines for Diana at Ephesus. These shrines (naous; in D.V. "temples") were probably little silver models either of the temple or of the actual shrine (sacellum) in which the idol was placed, and were used as amulets or objects of piety and souvenirs carried away by thousands of pagan pilgrims. Finding his trade diminished through the spread of Christianity and the decline of heathen worship, he and his fellow-craftsmen caused the uproar against St. Paul as narrated in Acts, loc. cit.


4. Demetrius of III John 5:12

St. John the Apostle, in his Third Epistle (v. 12), praises Demetrius to whom "testimony is given by all, and by the truth itself" and apparently opposes him to Diotrephes, who did not receive St. John, and cast out of the Church those that did (verses 9, 10). Nothing more is known of him. Possibly he was the bearer of the letter.

For Demetrius Soter, see JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, XII, x; XIII, ii; Histories, III, v; XXXI, xii, xix; XXXII, iv; XXXIII, xiv sqql; JUSTIN, Hist. Phil. Lib. XXXIX, i; APPIAN, Syriaca, lxviii. SCHURER, Geschichte des jud. Volk. (4th ed., Leipzig, 1901), I, 216-48; MILMAN, History of the Jews, X, The Asmoneans.

J.P. ARENDZEN