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What was the real Miracle of Hanukkah? An examination of the Historical Sources

13 0 2
03.12.2021

Each of the four main ancient sources on the events of Hanukkah – I Maccabees, II Maccabees, Antiquities of the Jews, and the Talmud – has a different version of the emotionally charged culmination of the first stage of the Hasmonean revolt, the rededication of the Temple by Judah and his followers. Therefore, the exact nature of the miracle of Hanukkah and the reasons for it are viewed differently in each text.

The only primary contemporary sources are the two books of the Maccabees. Hanukkah in Modiin. Photo (c) T. Book, 2021

I Maccabees was written during Hasmonean rule sometime after 135 BCE and was probably commissioned by the ruling family. This book was not included in the Jewish Bible by the Rabbis and became part of the extra-Biblical collection known as the Apocrypha. However, the surviving Greek translation of the book was included in the Christian Bible. The account in I Maccabees does not refer to miracles, mention the name of God (rather the term “He” or “Heaven” are used), or attribute the military victory of the Maccabees to their faith in God. Instead, it is a panegyric for the ruling Maccabee family and extols the military prowess of Judah.

II Maccabees is closer to the biblical style, with its description of direct divine intervention and open miracles. This book was written in Greek for the Jews of the Diaspora by one Jason of Cyrene, of whom nothing is known. It covers the years before the coronation of Antiochus IV in 175 BCE, to Judah’s defeat of the Greek general Nicanor around 164 BCE. The role of religion plays a more important role in this book, and the story of the martyrdom of the seven sons of the Jewish woman, later known as Hannah, receives extensive treatment. Although this is a book about a Jewish story, it is written in the spirit of Hellenistic historiography, whose purpose was to entertain as well as inform the reader.

The first book of Maccabees (I Maccabees 4: 52–59) describes the ceremonies as lasting for eight days:

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Kislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year [of the Seleucid conquest, 164 BCE], they [the Maccabees] rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise.…There was very great gladness among the people, and the reproach of the gentiles was removed. Then Judah and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev.”

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Kislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year [of the Seleucid conquest, 164 BCE], they [the Maccabees] rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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