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Medieval Life 103 – History of Hanukkah – Part I of Jewish Festivals

History of Chanukkah

Judaism originated in the land of Israel (also known as Palestine) in the Middle East.    The Jewish people lived about 200 years (539 to 333 B.C.E.)  under Persian Rule.     At this time they had full religious autonomy.     At the end of the 4th century B.C.E. Alexander of Macedonia conquered the Persians.    The Greeks then became the rulers of the world.    This is called the Hellenistic Period in world history. This empire lasted till Alexander’s death and then the empire broke up.     Antiochus IV, became a successor of Alexander and now controlled the region. 

When Antiochus became King of Syria,  there was a great upheaval in the local political situations of the Jews in Palestine.     Antiochus IV felt that one way to make his kingdom more powerful was to fuse all the people in his kingdom in the universal melting pot of Hellenistic culture.     He issued a decree that all people of his empire were to serve Grecian gods.     The Jewish people refused, as they believed in the one invisible God who had given them laws to follow for a good and just life.  

In  175 B.C.E.,  Antiochus IV,  the Syrian King,  insisted that all Jews become Greek and began burning their books and killing anyone who would not bow to Zeus, the chief Greek God.     Antiochus IV erected altars to Zeus everywhere including the Great Temple in Jerusalem. 

In 167 B.C.E., Syrian soldiers came to the village of Modin in Israel to meet with Mattathias, a respected Jewish priest.    The soldiers attempted to coax him and his five sons to come to an altar where they had erected a statue of Zeus.  Mattathias refused. 

However, a villager was tempted by the soldier’s promised of riches and began to bow in front of the altar.     Enraged, Mattathias struck and killed him and the soldier.     Mattathias then tore down the altar and proclaimed,   “Whoever is for God, follow me!”    He and his sons,  called the Maccabees,  which means “hammers”, then planned an revolt against Antiochus’s immense army.

The Maccabees,  consisting of a small group of soldiers,   won victory after victory against the well armed Syrians.   How they won is both a mystery and a miracle. 

The Maccabees on the 25th of Kisler, 165 B.C.E.,  returned to Jerusalem to celebrate but found the Temple in a grave condition.     All the books and candlesticks were gone and blood and dirt was everywhere, as well as pork products and images of Greek gods.

They cleansed the Temple and built a new altar and made new holy vessels.   Then on the five and twentieth day of the ninth month which is called the month Kislev, in the hundred forty and eighth year, they offered sacrifice according to the law upon the new altar of burnt offerings. 

They found there was only one drop of oil left for the Menorah.    The Menorah was a lamp with seven branches, one for each day of the week.    It was supposed to burn continuously.    One drop of oil would only last for one day.    But when they poured the oil into the lamp it burned for not one, but for eight days.    That is why Hanukkah (Chanukkah)  is eight days long.  December 04, 2007* – December 12, 2007  *begins at sunset.

Hanukkah means Feast of Dedication, because the Maccabees rededicated or restored the Temple to what it was supposed to be, a holy place in which to celebrate great days.

The new independent kingdom of the Hasmoneans  lasted less than 100 years before the Romans took over.  It was through this revolt and victory of the Hasmoneans that the Jewish people awakened.     During this period the Jewish people developed new powers and possibilities to exist as a people.

American Jewish Committee expert Steve Bayme speaks about the historical significance of Hanukkah and current interpretations of the Jewish holiday. 

[youtube= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= mk7tnBQhGDU]

Lady Sharon,
Scribe of History for The Knights of the Pain Table

 Visit  the  American Jewish Committee.

Medieval Life 102 – Judaism and Jewish Life in the Middle Ages  Part I


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