Hanukkah, the feast of re-dedication or as its sometimes called the Feast of Dedication is an eight day festival of lights. To understand how this celebration and remembrance came about which begins at sundown, December 12th lasting until sundown Wednesday, December 20th, one must re-visit ancient Middle Eastern history to the time when Alexander the Great ruled the known, ancient world.
In the early 4th Century B.C., the armies of the young Macedonian ruler conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine. But unlike so many conquerors he didn’t subject the locals to cruel and tyrannical treatment and he didn’t tear down their shrines and temples or force conversion upon them to worship the gods he followed. Some Jews forsook the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and took up the pagan beliefs. Many more adopted the Hellenistic culture, the language, customs and the dress of the Greeks, in much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the secular American society.
After Alexander died in 332 B.C., three of his top generals made war among each other over the territories he conquered. When the hostilities ended Antigonus Gonatas controlled the Greek-Macedonian homeland. Seleucus Nicator ruled the area from the Mediterranean Sea to present day India. Ptolemy Soter controlled the area to the south we now call Egypt and the Holy Land.
The decades rolled on and the royal Ptolemic family produced a series of rulers named after the Grecian general. When Ptolemy Epiphanes V, died his son who was to succeed him, Ptolemy Epiphanes VI, was very young, encouraging a Syrian ruler of Greco-Assyrian decent named Antiochus Epiphanes to sense a weakness, inspiring him to invade.
As his army marched toward Egypt in 168 B.C., he sacked Jerusalem, deposing the Temple high priest, Jason, and installing his brother, Menelaus, who was obedient to Epiphanes, in his place. He then moved his army south capturing Memphis. He planned to do the same against Alexandria but the Roman Empire, which considered Egypt its province, threatened war if he didn’t withdraw from Egypt. Ephinanes’ army halted its campaign.
The Romans would continue to back-up the royal Ptolemic line because it was friendly to Rome which needed its wheat. This familial line would eventually produce the beautiful but evil Egyptian famously known as Cleopatra, her relationship with Marc Antony, and their eventual treason against and defeat at Actium.
Soon after his withdrawal from Egypt in 167 B.C., King Ephinanes learned that a rumor had spread that he was dead which led to the overthrow of Menelaus. Enraged, Ephinance turned his army to march on Jerusalem. When it arrived there those loyal to the late Menelaus, opened the city gates for him and Ephinance’s army entered and re-took the city.
He had his army to slaughter over eighty thousand men, women and children over a three day period. He cast at least that many into slavery but his punishment for their rebellion didn’t stop there.
Since he was a pagan, King Epiphanes hated the god of Israel and the Torah (the first five books of the Holy Bible). He began, as predicted by the prophet Daniel 350 years before1 a quest to make Judah into a totally pagan land. He outlawed the observance of the Sabbath and all other religious rites and traditions of the Jewish people. They were forced to worship the Grecian gods. He desecrated the great Temple by slaughtering a pig on its holy altar and showering its blood all over the inside. He sent soldiers into the countryside to villages large and small to force the inhabitants to worship and make sacrifices to his pagan god, Zeus.
The Jews who adopted the pagan practices that Alexander the Great’s conquests had introduced to their forefathers didn’t oppose this oppression. But the traditionalist Jewish people did. Most of them were offended but powerless in small groups but eventually they banded together and rose up in a refusal to submit.
One of their leaders was a man named Mattathias. He was the local priest for his village, Modi’in. When soldiers came there he refused to engage in giving homage to Zeus. He was so firm in his resistance that when a member of his village, who feared the wrath of the soldiers of Ephiphanes encouraged everyone to give homage to Zeus, Mattathias drew his sword and killed him. This act of conviction and courage led him and his five sons, the most famous being Judas (called Maccabeus) into a three year effort to secretly lead a small army of resistance. Other opposition groups joined them defeating and driving the forces of King Epiphanes from Jerusalem. Soon after the Temple was cleansed, rebuilt and rededicated.
According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the re-dedication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the candelabrum in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight, the time needed to prepare and dedicate a fresh supply of it. Thus the eight day festival was officially declared to commemorate this miracle.
These miracles: the defeat of King Epiphanes; the supernatural burning of a day’s worth of oil for eight, and the re-lighting of the Jewish faith practice all came from the hand of the Almighty One. As a tribute and remembrance of these miraculous events our friends in the Jewish faith hold the yearly celebration of Hanakkuh or the Feast of Lights to this day. Even Christ in his earthly walk observed it.3
I hope we Gentiles become more aware of and better honor what our friends in the Jewish faith hold so dear. After all Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. The Holy Bible you hold dear was written by Jews, about Jews, for Jews and Gentiles. The history it describes and the teachings of Yeshua the Christ himself, comes from the perspective of a Jewish culture, history, language and customs. May this new awareness and respect for the Jewish roots of our faith enrich our understanding of His earthly walk, and our relationship with him. May it also shorten the distance between our hearts and those of that special race of people He first declared to be his chosen. Shalom!
2. John 10:22-24
3. John 10:22