Chanukah in Hebrew, is Dec. 25 Kislev on the Jewish calendar. It is based on the feats of the Maccabees’ revolt as recorded in “The First Book of Maccabees.”
In summary, when Alexander the Great conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine he allowed locals a certain degree of autonomy to continue the celebration of their religion. Under such benevolence locals took on certain Greek customs. Visitors to modern Israel will even find some red haired Jews who are descendants from intermarried couples of the time. Some of Jesus’ disciples had Greek names which were common in Galilee.
A Greek tyrant, Antiochus IV who came into power a century later oppressed the Jews and profaned their Temple. He had a superiority complex calling himself Antiochus Epiphanies, meaning the most high god. He replaced the Hebrew priests with Hellenistic priests. He blasphemously required pigs to be offered on the Jewish Temple altar.
An elderly Jewish priest, Mattathias the Hasmonean, was killed in his resistance to the degradation. His son Judah and his brothers took up the cause of the revolt against the Seleucid Greek government.
These resistance fighters used guerilla tactics to drive out the suppressors.
Hanukkah is a celebration of several factors. One is considered a fulfillment proclamation of the prophet Zachariah who wrote, “Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit.” The military victory is considered a spiritual occurrence.
After the costly victory the people undertook the cleansing of their profaned Temple on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in the year 165 BC. The Talmud, a sacred book of the Jews, records the miracle of a one day supply of the scarce pure oil of the Temple burning eight days until more pure oil arrived.
Today in commemorating the event one candle is lighted each night until all eight are lighted. They are placed in an area where they can easily be seen in obedience to the command to “publicize the miracle.”
The eight-branch menorah is the modern symbol of the event and is often used as a symbol for Israel. It is associated with religious freedom.
I have always admired the Maccabees and the story of their heroism so much that once when my wife and I visited Israel by ourselves we set out to find their graves. Our seasoned guide didn’t know where to begin to find them and had difficulty finding directions from other guides. Ultimately we found them in a forest with little marking. Now their graves are better marked.
Portions of Psalm 113 to 118, known as the Hallel, are sung during the celebration. People of various faiths or no faith would find enjoyment in joining with the Jewish community in reading them. Happy Chanukah!
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church.