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  • Writer's picturejasedh


Below are notes from a teaching Jason presented last year on Hanukkah. He explains the historical background of Hanukkah, 1 and 2 Maccabees and there literary genre, Jesus and Hanukkah in the New Testament and the festival's relevance for today. Enjoy.


I tried so hard to put together a little something about Hanukah without giving people an over the top history lesson. I tried. And I failed, because you can’t grasp Hanukkah without understanding the history. So, we’re just going to go full history today and get us some historical goodness.

So we’re going to start with Alexander the Great, go through the times of the Maccabees and work our way right into the New Testament in John 10.

Ironically – because you’re all expecting me to start with 1 Maccabees - to set the scene, we begin with Daniel 11.

Daniel 11:1–4 (NKJV)

11 “Also in the first year of Darius the Mede, I, even I, stood up to confirm and strengthen him. 2 And now I will tell you the truth: Behold, three more kings will arise in Persia, and the fourth shall be far richer than them all; by his strength, through his riches, he shall stir up all against the realm of Greece. 3 Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will. 4 And when he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken up and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not among his posterity nor according to his dominion with which he ruled; for his kingdom shall be uprooted, even for others besides these.

This is describing the destruction of Persia by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. Alexander is the king that arises, but his kingdom is broken up into 4. These are 4 of his generals who take over the lands conquered by the Greeks.

For us, we have two main contenders we need to be mindful of, Seleucid and Ptolemy. These are Greek generals but their empires, their slices of Alexander’s cake as it where, were subsequently named after them. Thus, we have the Seleucids and the dynasty of Ptolemy.

Alexander in Jerusalem

Now Israel was conquered by Alexander in 332 BC. Despite the conquest of the Greeks, Judaism and the Temple were able to continue under Alexandrian rule, he was a good bloke in that regard and as such, Alexander gets pretty decent wraps by the Jews in our historical memory.

In fact, Josephus tells us of Alexander’s entrance into Jerusalem where he himself read the words of Daniel which prophesied of him.

And when he understood that he was not far from the city, he went out in procession, with the priests and the multitude of the citizens. The procession was venerable, and the manner of it different from that of other nations. It reached to a place called Sapha; which name, translated into Greek, signifies a prospect, for you have thence a prospect both of Jerusalem and of the temple; (330) and when the Phoenicians and the Chaldeans that followed him, thought they should have liberty to plunder the city, and torment the high priest to death, which the king’s displeasure fairly promised them, the very reverse of it happened; (331) for Alexander, when he saw the multitude at a distance, in white garments, while the priests stood clothed with fine linen, and the high priest in purple and scarlet clothing, with his mitre on his head having the golden plate on which the name of God was engraved, he approached by himself, and adored that name, and first saluted the high priest. (332) The Jews also did all together, with one voice, salute Alexander, and encompass him about: whereupon the kings of Syria and the rest were surprised at what Alexander had done, and supposed him disordered in his mind. (333) However, Parmenio alone went up to him, and asked him how it came to pass, that when all others adored him, he should adore the high priest of the Jews? To whom he replied, “I did not adore him, but that God who hath honored him with that high priesthood; (334) for I saw this very person in a dream, in this very habit, when I was at Dios, in Macedonia, who, when I was considering with myself how I might obtain the dominion of Asia, exhorted me to make no delay, but boldly to pass over the sea thither, for that he would conduct my army, and would give me the dominion over the Persians; (335) whence it is, that having seen no other in that habit, and now seeing this person in it, and remembering that vision and the exhortation which I had in my dream, I believe that I bring this army under the divine conduct, and shall therewith conquer Darius, and destroy the power of the Persians, and that all things will succeed according to what is in my own mind.” (336) And when he had said this to Parmenio, and had given the high priest his right hand, the priests ran along by him, and he came into the city; and when he went up into the temple, he offered sacrifice to God, according to the high priest’s direction, and magnificently treated both the high priest and the priests. (337) And when the book of Daniel was showed him, wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended; and as he was then glad, he dismissed the multitude for the present, but the next day he called them to him, and bade them ask what favors they pleased of him: (338) whereupon the high priest desired that they might enjoy the laws of their forefathers, and might pay no tribute on the seventh year. He granted all they desired: and when they entreated him that he would permit the Jews in Babylon and Media to enjoy their own laws also, he willingly promised to do hereafter what they desired: (339) and when he said to the multitude, that if any of them would enlist themselves in his army on this condition, that they should continue under the law of their forefathers, and live according to them, he was willing to take them with him, many were ready to accompany him in his wars. [1]

This incident is also recorded in the Midrash and in the Talmud.

Alexandrian Fan Fiction

****To be honest, it’s a bit of fan fiction for the ruler who was good to the Jews and whose version of ‘empire’ allowed subject people to practice their own religion. In truth, the only evidence, such as that of Josephus, comes hundreds of years after the fact and Israel was well within the hands of Alexander and served no tactical purpose. Alexander does, however, make a famous and militarily unimportant detour in Egypt when he goes to visit the Oracle of Amun in the Siwa wilderness. Here, the literary and archaeological evidence supports this and the reason why Alexander made this trip is because the Oracle of Siwa declared him to be the ‘son of god’ which legitimated Alexandrian rule as a ‘Pharaoh’ of Egypt. He was really not the good bloke later Jewish sources make him out to be and we must be mindful that Josephus’ writing is an apologetic history which is trying to sell good Jewish vibes to the Romans.


At any rate, Alexander dies 11 years after his conquest of Israel. As we have seen, the Kingdom was divided and we were left with Seleucus who got Syria and Ptolemy who got Egypt.

These two battle and Israel changes hands multiple times in the ensuing years.

Egypt (Ptolemy) wins rule for about 100ish years but it ends in 198 BC. Throughout this time period, and despite the clear tension between Jew and Greek and the threat of Hellenism, Jews were able to continue the worship of God in the Temple.

Antiochus the Third – the king of the Seleucid empire – is the bloke who reconquers Israel in 198 BCE and it’s when his successor, Antiochus the Fourth, in 168 BC takes power that things start to really heat up.

This is the Antiochus who called himself Antiochus Epiphanes, i.e. god manifest, and is the Antiochus of the Maccabees who starts the persecution of the Jews. After further war with Egypt he sacks Jerusalem and the Temple.

1 Maccabees 1:20–28 (LES)

Antiochus Epiphanes Overtakes the Judeans

20 And Antiochus turned after attacking Egypt in the one hundred and forty-third year, and he went up against Israel and Jerusalem with a fierce army. 21 And he entered the sanctuary in arrogance and took the gold altar and the lampstand for the light, and all its accessories, 22 and the table of presentation and the drink offering cups and the bowls and the golden censers and the veil and the crowns and the golden adornment applied to the face of the temple walls, and he peeled it all off. 23 And he took the gold and silver and the valuable accessories. And he took the hidden treasures that he found. 24 And having taken everything, he departed to his land. And he made a massacre and spoke with great disdain. 25 And there was great mourning in Israel, in all their homes. 26 And the leaders and elders groaned; maidens and young men lost their strength, and the beauty of women disappeared. 27 Every bridegroom took up a lament; she who stayed in the bridal chamber was in mourning. 28 And the land shook, for the inhabitants in it and the whole house of Jacob wore shame.

The Spread of Greek Culture

Under Antiochus Hellenism really started to take hold. The premier location in Jerusalem was no longer the Temple, it was the gymnasiums of Greek culture and it’s during this period that the High Priesthood was a heavily contested office. Some High Priests, seeking the favour of the Greeks Hellenised and encouraged others to do so.

2 Maccabees 4:7–10 (KJV Apoc)

7 …when Antiochus, called Epiphanes, took the kingdom, Jason the brother of Onias laboured underhand to be high priest, 8 Promising unto the king by intercession three hundred and threescore talents of silver, and of another revenue eighty talents: 9 Beside this, he promised to assign an hundred and fifty more, if he might have licence to set him up a place for exercise, and for the training up of youth in the fashions of the heathen, and to write them of Jerusalem by the name of Antiochians. 10 Which when the king had granted, and he had gotten into his hand the rule he forthwith brought his own nation to Greekish fashion.

2 Maccabees 4:13–15 (KJV Apoc)

13 Now such was the height of Greek fashions, and increase of heathenish manners, through the exceeding profaneness of Jason, that ungodly wretch, and no high priest; 14 That the priests had no courage to serve any more at the altar, but despising the temple, and neglecting the sacrifices, hastened to be partakers of the unlawful allowance in the place of exercise, after the game of Discus called them forth; 15 Not setting by the honours of their fathers, but liking the glory of the Grecians best of all.

A Tacitean Aside

We’re about to get to the bit were the oppression of the Jews gets crazy harsh. The influence of Greek culture though will always remind me of Tacitus who wrote about Rome’s invasion and occupation of Britain. Granted, Tacitus is a Roman historian writing a couple hundred years later, but his talk of spreading Roman culture is a relevant parallel to the spread of Greek culture during the Hanukkah period.

Tacitus describes how the Romans enslaved the British people they ruled over and really names what is happening with the spread of Hellenisation.

[Rome’s] object was to accustom [the people] to a life of peace and quiet by the provision of amenities. [Rome] therefore gave official assistance to the building of temples, public squares and good houses. [Rome] educated the sons of the chiefs in the liberal arts, and expressed a preference for British ability as compared to the trained skills of the Gauls. The result was that instead of loathing the Latin language they became eager to speak it effectively. In the same way, our national dress came into favour and the toga was everywhere to be seen. And so the population was gradually led into the demoralizing temptation of arcades, baths and sumptuous banquets. The unsuspecting Britons spoke of such novelties as 'civilization', when in fact they were only a feature of their enslavement.' Tacitus Agricola chapter 21, translated by H. Mattingly, Penguin 1948, 1973

So even the rich hellenised Jews who were doing all right (by their standards) were merely slaves.

Antiochus 4

Back to our period though…

Antiochus 4, rather than allow Judaism to continue throughout the land, actively sought to kill those who practiced it. He outlawed circumcision, study of the Bible, any Torah observance and commanded that people sacrifice to the Greek gods and desecrate the Sabbath. He also commanded that the people sacrifice to himself on his birthday – no doubt as Antiochus ‘god manifest’.

2 Maccabees 6:1–9 (KJV Apoc)

1 Not long after this the king sent an old man of Athens to compel the Jews to depart from the laws of their fathers, and not to live after the laws of God: 2 And to pollute also the temple in Jerusalem, and to call it the temple of Jupiter Olympius; and that in Garizim, of Jupiter the Defender of strangers, as they did desire that dwelt in the place.

3 The coming in of this mischief was sore and grievous to the people: 4 For the temple was filled with riot and revelling by the Gentiles, who dallied with harlots, and had to do with women within the circuit of the holy places, and besides that brought in things that were not lawful. 5 The altar also was filled with profane things, which the law forbiddeth. 6 Neither was it lawful for a man to keep sabbath days or ancient fasts, or to profess himself at all to be a Jew.

7 And in the day of the king’s birth every month they were brought by bitter constraint to eat of the sacrifices; and when the feast of Bacchus was kept, the Jews were compelled to go in procession to Bacchus, carrying ivy. 8 Moreover there went out a decree to the neighbour cities of the heathen, by the suggestion of Ptolemee, against the Jews, that they should observe the same fashions, and be partakers of their sacrifices: 9 And whoso would not conform themselves to the manners of the Gentiles should be put to death…

1 and 2 Maccabees are famous for there accounts of those faithful in Israel who were killed. This includes the infamous story of Hannah who watcher her 7 sons tortured for their refusal to eat pork (i.e. acknowledge the Greek gods) and Eliezar, an old Jewish man, who was likewise murdered.

The narrative of the 7 sons is striking and violent. I feel that it’s worth reading in full but if your easily offended, block your ears.

2 Maccabees 7:1–41 (LES)

The Martyrdom of the Seven Brothers

7 Now it came about that seven brothers with their mother were also arrested, forced by the king to taste of the unlawful swine flesh and being tortured with whips and cords. 2 One of them, acting as representative, said, “Do you delay to ask and learn from us? For we are prepared to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.” 3 Then, becoming angry, the king commanded some to heat pans and cauldrons. 4 And as soon as they were heated, he commanded some to cut out the tongue of the one who was their representative and, after scalping him, to cut off his hands and feet while the rest of the brothers and his mother were watching. 5 After rendering him incapacitated in terms of the rest of himself, the king commanded some to bring him still alive to the fire and to fry him in the pan. And as the smoke from the pan was offered about widely, they were exhorting one another together with their mother to die bravely, speaking thusly, 6 “The Lord God is watching and truly is compassionate to us, just as Moses made quite clear through the song of witness against the people in their presence, saying,

‘And to his servants he will be compassionate.’ ”

7 Now after the first died in this way, they brought the second for mocking and, tearing away the skin of his head with his hair, they began asking, “Will you eat rather than have your body be punished ⌊limb by limb⌋?” 8 But answering in the language of his fathers, he said, “No!” Therefore even this one received torture next like the first. 9 But when he came to his last breath, he said, “You demon! You remove us out of the present life, but the king of the world will raise us, because we die on account of his laws, to an everlasting resurrection of life.”

10 Then, after this, they began abusing the third one and, being ordered, he thrust out his tongue quickly and boldly stretched out his hands. 11 And nobly he said, “He called these from heaven, and on account of his laws, I disregard them, and from him I hope to receive them again.” 12 Therefore the king himself and those with him were amazed at the spirit of the boy, that he made his sufferings as nothing.

13 Now after this one died, they afflicted also the fourth, torturing him in the same way. 14 And being near to death, he said the following: “Those who die as a choice by humans expect from God the hope to be raised up again by him. But there will not be a resurrection to life for you.”

15 And as soon as they brought the fifth brother, they began torturing him. 16 But he, looking toward him, said, “Having authority among humans, though being corruptible, you do what you desire. But do not think our race to have been abandoned by God. 17 Instead, you wait and see! His magnificent strength, how it will torture you and your children!”

18 And after this, they brought the sixth son and, being about to die, he said, “Do not deceive yourself more; for we suffer these things because of our own fault; because we sinned toward our God, things worthy of astonishment have happened. 19 But you, do not suppose yourself to be innocent, for you have attempted to fight against God!”

20 Now the mother was exceedingly good and worthy of a noble memorial. Witnessing seven sons die in the span of one day, she suffered courageously because of her hope in the Lord. 21 And being filled with a noble spirit and stirring up her womanly reasoning with manly fury, she exhorted each of the men in the language of their fathers, saying to them, 22 “I do not know how you appeared in my womb, nor did I give breath and life to you. Also, I did not arrange the elements of each of you. 23 Now then, the creator of the world, the one who formed the family of humanity and who devised the generation of all things, will with mercy restore to you again both your spirit and your life because now you are disregarding yourselves on account of his laws.”

24 But Antiochus, thinking he was being despised and suspecting her reproachful voice, ⌊began exhorting⌋ the youngest, being alive, yet not only with reasons but also with trustworthy oaths both to make him rich and to make him most blessed, even changing from the ways of his fathers; also to hold him as a friend and to entrust him with an office. 25 But because the young man paid absolutely no attention, the king, after summoning the mother, exhorted her to be an adviser of the boy for his salvation. 26 And after he exhorted many things, she agreed to persuade her son. 27 But, leaning over him, scoffing the cruel tyrant, she spoke to her son in their native language as follows: “Son, have pity on me, the one who carried you in the womb nine months and suckled you three years and reared and brought you to this age and sustained you. 28 I beg you, child, look up at the heaven and the earth and, beholding all the things in them, know that God did not make them from things that are. Even the race of humans comes about in this manner. 29 You should not fear this executioner, but becoming worthy of your brothers, accept death so that by his mercy I might receive you again together with your brothers.”

30 Now, while she was speaking, still the young man said, “Why do you wait? I do not obey the command of the king. Rather, I obey the command of the law that was given to our fathers by Moses. 31 But you, having become an inventor of all kinds of wickedness against the Hebrews, you shall ⌊certainly not⌋ escape from the hands of God. 32 For we are suffering on account of our own sins. 33 And if for the sake of reproof and training our living Lord is briefly angered, he will also be reconciled again to his servants. 34 But you, O unholy and most vile of all men, be not exalted in vain, being puffed up by uncertain expectations, calling curses with a hand against the heavenly children. 35 For you have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty, all-watching God. 36 For, now my brothers, those bearing a brief affliction, have fallen heir to everlasting life under God’s covenant, but you, by the judgment of God, will bear the just penalties of pride. 37 But I, just as my brothers, offer up both body and good fortune for the laws of my fathers, calling upon God quickly to be merciful to our nation and with afflictions and scourgings to make you acknowledge that only He is God, 38 because of me and also my brothers to cause the wrath of the Almighty that has come justly upon our whole nation to cease.” 39 Now becoming angry, the king dealt with this one worse than the others, ⌊being embittered⌋ because of his scorn. 40 So then even this one died spotlessly, having trusted completely upon the Lord. 41 And the mother of the sons died last.

Of this time 1 Maccabees elaborates and says;

1 Maccabees 1:39–42 (LES)

39 Her sanctuary was stripped bare like the wilderness; her feasts turned to grief, her Sabbaths to insult, her honor to contempt. 40 According to her glory, her dishonor was multiplied, and her majesty turned to grief.

41 And the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be as one people, 42 and each should abandon his customs. And all the peoples complied according to the word of the king.


1 Maccabees 1:54–57 (LES)

54 And on the fifteenth day of Chislev, on the ⌊one hundred and forty-fifth⌋ year, they built an abomination of desolation on the altar, and in the cities around Judah, they built altars. 55 And at the windows of their houses and in the streets, they burned incense. 56 And the books of the law that they found, they burned with fire, after cutting them up. 57 And where the book of the covenant was found with someone, and if that person should give approval to the law, the decree of the king was, “Execute him.”

We will continue moving through our narrative but as we’ve set the scene with Daniel, you can be right to assume that the events we’re reading of here are indeed prophetic and give us some information on the identity of the future anti-christ.

Daniel prophesied of the abomination of desolation here;

Daniel 11:31–32 (NKJV)

31 And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation. 32 Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.

And Yeshua references the desolation they committed in the Temple in the Gospels;

Matthew 24:15–16 (NKJV)

15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains”.


In 167 BC the Greek army came to a man called Mattathias who was the father of Judah Maccabee and his brothers. Here, rather than sacrifice to the Greek gods Mattathias fights back and starts the Jewish rebellion.

The text says he acts with the zeal of Phineas when he strikes the Greeks down, and just like David he flees to the hills.

The account is found here;

1 Maccabees 2:17–28 (LES)

17 And those from the king responded and said to Mattithiah, saying, “You are a leader and honored and great in this city and supported with sons and brothers. 18 Now come first and act on the command of the king, as all the nations and the rulers of Judah and those remaining in Jerusalem have done, and you and your house will be among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with gold and silver and many gifts.” 19 And Mattithiah answered and said with a great voice, “If all the nations within the house of the king’s rule have obeyed him, each departing from the worship of their fathers and choosing among his commands, 20 yet I and my sons and my brothers will follow in the covenant of our ancestors. 21 Mercy upon us should we discard law and custom! 22 We will not obey the law of the king to leave our worship to the right or the left.”

23 And as he finished speaking these words, a Judean man approached in the sight of everyone to burn incense upon the altar in Modein according to the command of the king. 24 And Mattithiah saw and grew zealous, and his insides trembled, and rage rose from judgment; and, rushing over, he killed him upon the altar. 25 And the man from the king who had forced him to sacrifice, he killed at that moment and tore down the altar. 26 And he was zealous for the law like Phinehas did to Zimri son of Shallum. 27 And Mattithiah shouted in the city with a great voice, saying, “Everyone who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant, come out after me!” 28 And he and his sons fled into the mountains, and they abandoned everything they had in the city.

Having started the rebellion in earnest, Mattathias and is sons win great victories over the Seleucids and their forces grow in number. Mattathias dies of age but he passes the mantel onto his son Judah Maccabee, i.e. Judah the hammer (though scholars don’t seem to agree with this translation of Maccabee). 3 years after the rebellion started, they reconquer and re-dedicate Jerusalem in 164 BC.

The Dedication

This act is where we have the name Hanukkah, which means dedication. It’s not just referring to the nature of Judah and his followers but specifically to the dedication of the altar in the Temple. Famously, re-dedicating the Temple took 8 days just as it did in the book of Exodus and when the Temple was first built.

The account of the re-dedication is here;

1 Maccabees 4:36–58 (LES)

Purification and Dedication of the Temple

36 But Judas and his brothers said, “Look, our enemies are broken. We should go up to cleanse the holy place and to dedicate it.” 37 And the entire army assembled and went up to Mount Zion. 38 And they saw our sanctuary stripped bare and the altar profaned and the gate burned. And in the courtyard, plants were overgrown like in a forest or like on one of the mountains, and the priest’s chamber was torn down. 39 And they tore their robes and mourned with great lamentation and covered themselves with ashes upon their head. 40 And they fell on their face upon the ground, and they sounded the trumpets, giving the signal, and they cried out to heaven. 41 Then Judas ordered men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the holy place.

42 So he selected priests who were blameless, eager for the law, 43 and they cleansed the holy place and removed the stones that defiled it to an unclean place. 44 And they deliberated about the altar for the burnt offering, which was profaned: What should they do with it? 45 And good counsel fell to them to take it down, ⌊lest⌋ it might become for them as a disgrace because the nations defiled it. And they tore down the altar 46 and stored the stones on a mountain temple in a suitable place until a prophet was available to report about them. 47 And they took unhewn stones according to the law and built a new altar just like the previous one. 48 And they rebuilt the holy place and the inside of the temple and sanctified the courtyards. 49 And they made new holy vessels and brought the lampstand and the altar of whole burnt offerings and of incense and the table into the temple. 50 And they burned incense on the altar and kindled the lamps on the lampstand and appeared in the temple. 51 And they put bread loaves on the table and spread out the curtain. And they completed all the work that they had begun.

52 And they rose early in the morning of the ⌊twenty-fifth⌋ of the ninth month, this is the month Chislev, the ⌊one hundred and forty-eighth⌋ year, 53 and they offered up sacrifices according to the law on the altar for the burnt offerings, the new one that they made. 54 At the season on the day during which the nations defiled it, on that day, they dedicated it with songs and lutes and lyres and with cymbals. 55 And all the people fell on their face and bowed and gave praise to heaven, which had caused them to prosper. 56 And they performed the dedication of the altar for eight days and offered up burnt offerings with celebration and sacrificed the deliverance and thanksgiving sacrifice. 57 And they decorated the ⌊surface⌋ of the temple with gold crowns and small shields and consecrated the gate and the priest’s chamber and fitted them with doors. 58 And an incredibly great celebration took place among the people, and the reproach of the nations was removed.

A later source also explains the reason for Hanukkah;

What is [the reason of] Chanuka? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev [commence] the days of Chanukah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel and thanksgiving.[1]

- Shabbat 21b

And Josephus recounts the events;

Antiquities of the Jews 12.7.323-326;

Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days; and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon: but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them, by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.[5]

We will return to this moment and re-examine it but for now – we’re going to continue with our little history lesson and bring us up to the days of the New Testament.

Be warned though – from here the history gets a little uncomfortable.

Now, years of fighting have passed but all of Israel was not freed from the reign of the Greeks. So Judah continues the fight, he is slain and dies with his honour, and two of his brothers, Jonathan and Simeon continue the fight and usher in a 129 year long reign of Jewish autonomy.

7 years into Jewish sovereignty, the next leader, John Hyrcanus, who was the nephew of Judas Maccabee and now High Priest and leader of Israel, minted his own coins. Doing so in the ancient world was a significant sign of national identity and autonomy.

Hyrcanus’ son, Aristobulus, succeeds him and though he rules for just 1 year, he is the first to officially take the title of King of Israel in this period. Eventually, 26 years after the Jews take control, the Roman Senate formally recognises their independence.

Strife though amongst the Jews started early. In fact, during the time of John Hyrcanus there is a divide between the Hasmoneans and the Pharisees. The Pharisees had their liberal interpretation of the law, they opposed Israel’s military expansion under the Hasmoneans and they disagreed with the combined office of High Priest and King.

The Hasideans

The origin of the Pharisees is actually recorded in 1st and 2nd Maccabees. They were originally called ‘Hasideans’ and were part of the first groups of the Jews who joined Mattatias in the mountains and fought in the rebellion.

1 Maccabees 2:42 (LES)

42 Then there gathered to them a congregation of Hasideans, strong warriors from Israel, all who were devoted to the law.

The Pharisees, later in 2nd Maccabees, and shortly after the re-dedication of the Temple, were the first group to sue for peace with the remaining Greeks. Unlike the Maccabees, they didn’t see the need to fight once Jerusalem and religious observance was restored. Unfortunately, a number of the Hasideans were slaughtered by Hellenised Jews who were with the Greek army. The Pharisees foolishly told themselves that a ‘son of Aaron’ could be trusted and so they were tricked and slaughtered as part of their ‘peace’ negotiations.

1 Maccabees 7:13–17 (LES)

13 and the Hasideans were first among the children of Israel and asked for peace from them, 14 for they said, “A man, a priest from the offspring of Aaron, has come in the army, and he will not wrong us.” 15 And he spoke peaceful words with them and promised them, saying, “We will not seek evil against you and your friends.” 16 And they trusted him, and he seized from them sixty men and killed them on a single day according to the words that were written:

17 “The flesh of your saints and their blood

they poured out around Jerusalem,

and there was no one to bury them.”

Back To History

To their credit, the Pharisees were right. Military expansion wasn’t the best of ideas and they rightly objected to the Hasmoneans who blended the role of King and High Priest.

The Hasideans were proven right in their view when John Hyrcanus and later generations of the Hasmoneans practices forced conversion. John Hyrcanus did this first in his conquest of Idumea where he converted that whole race to Judaism. Such actions were in clear opposition to the law.

Hyracnus’ son, Aristobulous, had a son called Alexander Yannai and these two go on to share the leadership of Israel. These two, around 100 BCE, are openly Sadducean which furthers the conflict with the Pharisees and the internal strife in Israel.

In 93 BC civil war breaks out until 76 BC. The war ends when Salome Alexandra (the wife of Alexander Yannai) succeeds Alexander Yannai to the leadership. Alexandra, unlike her husband, is Pharisaic and she restores Pharisaic laws.

Upon Salome’s passing her two sons take the reigns of Israel and begin their own civil war which would end Jewish sovereignty. At this time, the fools ask for Roman aid to settle their dispute but Rome takes power of Israel.

Josephus recounts this and states;

Because two brothers could not get along, we lost our freedom and liberty to Rome.

20 years pass under Rome and after the fall of the first triumvirate (i.e. the deaths of Pompey and Julius Caesar) a Hasmonean called Mattathias Antigonus takes control of Judea with the help of the Parthians.

3 years passes and Antigonus is killed by Rome, Jerusalem is sacked by Pompey in 63 BC. Shortly later in 44 BC, Rome gives power to Herod, an Idumean who will marry a Hasmonean princess probably to ‘legitimise’ his rule. Herod is Jewish, but he’s from those Idumeans who were forced to convert under the conquest of John Hyrcanus. Herod is infamous for his cruelty. And so the Hashmonay of Israel gives way to the dynasty of Herod who rules throughout the New Testament.

Two Perspectives.

We will continue our history into the New Testament and John 10. But I’ll acknowledge that today is Hanukkah and I should have perhaps ended with the consecration of the Temple. That is after all, why we are all here.

But history is interesting and as we continue we’ll see how all this informs the nuance of the New Testament.

Now what I have done so far is go through the narrative in a chronological manner. You might have picked up the fact that I have blended multiple sources in doing so. I have quoted 1st and 2nd Maccabees, Josephus and parts of the Talmud. Our sources have spanned 400ish years or so.

As I hope you’ll agree, this is ok to do so. History is never found in one source and we are forced to put the pieces together in order to read its story. But, if we were to truly attempt a historical reconstruction of these events, we have to bring a critical eye to the sources.

As I have said in the past, this includes taking a step back from our sources and asking who wrote these, when were these written and why were they written? A very basic lens we take to historical texts, especially as religious people, is the idea that they all agree with one another and that its fine to combine them into one chronological narrative. Again, this is ok, but it misses and at times misrepresents history. Another lens we take to ancient texts is our western understanding of history. Chronological history is our standard mode and we expect histories to follow this pattern, and to have empirical truth as its highest ideal. Though 1st and 2nd Maccabees are wonderful and reliable histories, these were not written in the style of our day.


So who wrote 1st Maccabees? Well, it was written towards the end of the 2nd century BCE. Not long after the Hashmonay took power. I do not mean to be a party-pooper and I intend no negative views on what it records. But it was essentially written to justify the position of the Hashmoneans who had taken over Israel.

As you might recall, we’ve encountered the Pharisees and Sadducees in this period of history who feature in the ongoing strife of the period.

Well, 1 Maccabees was written by a Sadducee. If not a Sadducee then someone who shares in the beliefs of them. As we know, the Sadducees were the elite who aligned themselves with their own, the leadership of the land. This was the Hashmonay and it was eventually Rome in the days of Yeshua. Notably, the Hashmonay were the ones, in the time of Judah, who sought good relations with Rome, and who later sought for Rome to settle our inner strife. So, that the Sadducees in the New Testament maintain their aristocratic position, were Hellenised and were sympathisers to Rome should surprise no one. They were also very ‘Roman’ in the way they vied and murdered their way into the High Priesthood.

Again, I return to the blending of sources. Doing so conceals the Sadducean nature of the text. Because one of the ways we know of the author is in analysing, with a critical eye, the theology of the text. Besides the clear focus on the glory of the Hashmonay the Sadducean blueprint is notable in its lack of belief in the resurrection. We know this because 1st Maccabees lacks a martyrology (an account of someone been martyred). Don’t misunderstand, it recounts similar events to 2nd Maccabees which includes the Jews death at the hands of Antiochus, in rather confronting ways. You don’t have however the accounts of Hannah and her sons, and similar such martyrologies.

Martyrologies, whilst a record of history which we accept, are also a literary genre. They are typical in that the martys speak and they often speak of their achieving another life and of being resurrected. There is no mention of the resurrection in 1 Maccabees. A very distinct belief system of the Sadducees is that the resurrection did not exist.

In light of the Sadducean nature of the text, we cannot be surprised that the 1 Maccabees reason for Hanukkah is nationalistic. It is because the Hashmonay defeated the oppressors and regained the Temple. There is no mention of the miraculous here, besides that found in the glorious victories of the Hashmonay.


2 Maccabees, written shortly after 1 Maccabees in the second half of the 1st century, is, you guessed it, Pharisaic in nature. It includes the martyrologies, references to the resurrection, prayers for the dead even and references to Judgement Day.

This text is filled with the supernaturally miraculous which is lacking in 1 Maccabees. In it there are ‘appearances’ and visions that come to those who fight bravely for Judaism (2 Macc. 2:21). And in places Angels and even the Lord manifests against His enemies (eg. 2 Macc. 3:24-25). Judas also references the God ‘who works wonders’ (2 Macc. 15:21) which is an idea lacking in 1 Maccabees.

Notably as well, the text of 2nd Maccabees is written to encourage the observance of Hanukkah. Whilst it records the same events in history it was not written for the explicit purpose of honouring and justifying the Hashmonay.

These differences cause us to ask – is there any difference in its account of the central event, the dedication of the temple?

Before we read about the temple purification from 1 Maccabees, now we’ll do it from 2nd Maccabees.

2 Maccabees 10:1–9 (KJV Apoc)

1 Now Maccabeus and his company, the Lord guiding them, recovered the temple and the city: 2 But the altars which the heathen had built in the open street, and also the chapels, they pulled down. 3 And having cleansed the temple they made another altar, and striking stones they took fire out of them, and offered a sacrifice after two years, and set forth incense, and lights, and shewbread. 4 When that was done, they fell flat down, and besought the Lord that they might come no more into such troubles; but if they sinned any more against him, that he himself would chasten them with mercy, and that they might not be delivered unto the blasphemous and barbarous nations. 5 Now upon the same day that the strangers profaned the temple, on the very same day it was cleansed again, even the five and twentieth day of the same month, which is Casleu. 6 And they kept the eight days with gladness, as in the feast of the tabernacles, remembering that not long afore they had held the feast of the tabernacles, when as they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts. 7 Therefore they bare branches, and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang psalms unto him that had given them good success in cleansing his place. 8 They ordained also by a common statute and decree, That every year those days should be kept of the whole nation of the Jews.

9 And this was the end of Antiochus, called Epiphanes.

The difference is that 1 Maccabees just plainly states that they ‘kindled’ the fire in restoring the Temple. In 2 Macc. 10:3 the account mentions that Judah lights a fire with flint so as to burn the sacrifices on the restored altar. Earlier, 2nd Maccabees recalls a miracle of God restoring the fire in the days of Nehemiah (1:20-22), but really, no oil or fire miracle is mentioned.

So our next question is - where then does the tradition for the oil lasting 8 days come from?

Our first hint is in Josephus which we quoted before. Whilst not giving a full account of the alleged miracle Josephus alludes to its existence when he refers to Hanukkah as the festival of lights. It isn’t until much later that the Talmud records the miracle of the oil which miraculously lasted the 8-day consecration. Our narrative history, in line with how we religious tend to handle source texts, just throws it all into the mix and somehow the oil miracle becomes history when it is in fact a much later development.

As we all know – later rabbinic Judaism has its ties with Pharisaism, so it is not a surprise to see the idea of a miracle been recorded in 2nd Maccabees and then later in the Talmud. The common thread between Rabbinic Judaism and the Pharisees is the common belief in miracles.

Now this thread of miracles is our connection to the New Testament.

The New Testament.

John 10 says the following;

John 10:22 (NKJV)

22 Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter.

It seems that most teachings bring it to the New Testament and just about leave it at this one verse. Some say this is just telling us the time, that it tells us nothing about whether or not Jesus kept Hanukkah. Others say, and rightfully so, that this is like being at Times Square on New Years Eve and somehow, you’re not celebrating New Years.

Clearly, the Torah Observant Rabbi is participating in the festival. Take that as points for following in the footsteps of Yeshua if you’re keeping the festival, but the discussion can and should go further.

What is often neglected is the fact that the subsequent confrontation should be understood within the context of Hanukkah. We do this for every other feast. At Passover, the bread is understood as intimately connected to Passover. At Tabernacles, the water is intimately connected to the water drawing ceremony of Tabernacles. At Hanukkah, we apparently have one verse and no implication on the surrounding text. This simply isn’t true and the words that follow should be understood in the Hanukkah context.

Our understanding of miracles and Hanukkah helps us here. Because we’re living under Rome spreading the message of rebellion wasn’t the smart move and so the stressor in NT times was on the miracle of the re-dedication of the Temple. And scholars argue that Josephus’ reference perhaps alludes to an early existence of the oil tradition, if not from the times of Hanukkah itself, but at least in the times of Yeshua.

At any rate Hanukkah is the time of miracles and the liturgy and discussions of the sages at this time substantiates this. During the blessings of Hanukkah the Jews recite;

We kindle these lights on account of the deliverances and the miracels and the wonders which though didst work for our fathers, by means of Hy holy priests.

One cannot use Hanukkah lights for profane purposes because they were specifically;

In order that we may give thanks unto thy name for thy wonders, thy miracles and they deliverances.

And if someone were to see a place where a miracle occurred he was to say;

Blessed is he that wrought miracles for our fathers in the place.

By the time of Yeshua, miracles are to Hanukkah, as Hanukkah is to miracles (not the whole war and rebellion thing).

For this reason, scholars say that the miracles either side of John 10 can be understood as intimately connected to the mention of Yeshua’s arrival at Hanukkah. As Yeshua’s declaration ‘I am the living water’ cannot be understood properly outside of Tabernacles and the water libation, so too the miracles around John 10 are best understood in conjunction with Hanukkah.

In John 9, Yeshua gives sight to the blind man and part of His subsequent discourse, which continues in John 10, are His words on the good shepherd and His sheep. He also disagrees with the Pharisees regarding His identity as Messiah and His divinity.

In John 11 Yeshua gives life to Lazarus.

We’ll focus on two of these things here because Hanukkah context really helps us.

One of the fundamental issues at the time of Hanukkah is that Antiochus claimed to be divine and sought worship of himself. A number of references can be used to demonstrate Antiochus’ divine rhetoric from the books of Maccabees but Daniel also does this.

Daniel 11:36–37 (NKJV)

36 “Then the king shall do according to his own will: he shall exalt and magnify himself above every god, shall speak blasphemies against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the wrath has been accomplished; for what has been determined shall be done. 37 He shall regard neither the God of his fathers nor the desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall exalt himself above them all.

So, it is with Antiochus in mind that we must understand the Pharisees comments in John 10.

John 10:33 (NKJV)

33 The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”

Yeshua’s miracles then invoke the miracles of Hanukkah not just as a general theme but specifically the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection. 2 Maccabees 7, the martyrology of the 7 sons, invokes the resurrection continuously. Some of the son’s last words include;

2 Maccabees 7:9 (KJV Apoc)

9 And when he was at the last gasp, he said, Thou like a fury takest us out of this present life, but the King of the world shall raise us up, who have died for his laws, unto everlasting life.

2 Maccabees 7:13–14 (KJV Apoc)

13 Now when this man was dead also, they tormented and mangled the fourth in like manner. 14 So when he was ready to die he said thus, It is good, being put to death by men, to look for hope from God to be raised up again by him: as for thee, thou shalt have no resurrection to life.

Perhaps most strikingly are the words of their mother when she spoke to her last son who was left alive.

2 Maccabees 7:27–29 (KJV Apoc)

27 But she bowing herself toward him, laughing the cruel tyrant to scorn, spake in her country language on this manner; O my son, have pity upon me that bare thee nine months in my womb, and gave thee suck three years, and nourished thee, and brought thee up unto this age, and endured the troubles of education. 28 I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind made likewise. 29 Fear not this tormentor, but, being worthy of thy brethren, take thy death that I may receive thee again in mercy with thy brethren.

And the last son goes on to say;

2 Maccabees 7:30–38 (KJV Apoc)

30 .., the young man said, Whom wait ye for? I will not obey the king’s commandment: but I will obey the commandment of the law that was given unto our fathers by Moses. 31 And thou, that hast been the author of all mischief against the Hebrews, shalt not escape the hands of God. 32 For we suffer because of our sins. 33 And though the living Lord be angry with us a little while for our chastening and correction, yet shall he be at one again with his servants. 34 But thou, O godless man, and of all other most wicked, be not lifted up without a cause, nor puffed up with uncertain hopes, lifting up thy hand against the servants of God: 35 For thou hast not yet escaped the judgment of Almighty God, who seeth all things. 36 For our brethren, who now have suffered a short pain, are dead under God’s covenant of everlasting life: but thou, through the judgment of God, shalt receive just punishment for thy pride. 37 But I, as my brethren, offer up my body and life for the laws of our fathers, beseeching God that he would speedily be merciful unto our nation; and that thou by torments and plagues mayest confess, that he alone is God; 38 And that in me and my brethren the wrath of the Almighty, which is justly brought upon our nation, may cease.

Now that is your context for John 10:25-30;

John 10:25–30 (NKJV)

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.”

One of the points and connections that 2 Maccabees makes is also relevant for us now. For 2nd Maccabees, the death of the seven sons is immediately followed by the victories of Judas Maccabee.

2 Maccabees 7:41–8:4 (KJV Apoc)

41 Last of all after the sons the mother died.

42 Let this be enough now to have spoken concerning the idolatrous feasts, and the extreme tortures.

Chapter 8

1 Then Judas Maccabeus, and they that were with him, went privily into the towns, and called their kinsfolks together, and took unto them all such as continued in the Jews’ religion, and assembled about six thousand men. 2 And they called upon the Lord, that he would look upon the people that was trodden down of all; and also pity the temple profaned of ungodly men; 3 And that he would have compassion upon the city, sore defaced, and ready to be made even with the ground; and hear the blood that cried unto him, 4 And remember the wicked slaughter of harmless infants, and the blasphemies committed against his name; and that he would shew his hatred against the wicked.

The point though that is been made is that the resurrection which Maccabees speaks of for people also applies to the nation of Israel. Restoring the temple of God is many things, but 2nd Maccabees wants us to make this connection. Restoring Israel is resurrecting Israel. Yeshua’s resurrection of Lazarus then is an extension of not only God’s goodness, but also a display of His power and promise to restore Israel.

It seems fitting to read at least part of that miracle.

John 11:32–44 (NKJV)

32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. 34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?”

They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”

37 And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”

Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”

The Actual Question

All of this discussion is well and good. But I confess, I’ve not spent a minute answering the actual important questions about Hanukkah.

What does it actually mean to us today?


I think one of the simple answers is in seeing the contrasting views of 1st and 2nd Maccabees as complementary. Doing so teaches us a basic lesson that there is a time to fight. Sometimes more so with our hands and sometimes more so with our prayers (but always both).

Or there’s just the simple and amazing example laid before us in the martyologies and in the determination of men like Judah Maccabee. Live for God without compromise.

And there’s the challenge this poses for us. Would we give up? Would we even consider being like one of the 7 sons?

Another Reason

One lesson though which really sticks out to me is that God wants a unified Israel – and Hanukkah is a stark reminder that we need to be unified.

We see this idea clearly in 2nd Maccabees because it’s a book which opens with a letter written by Jews within Israel to the Jews who live in Egypt. The book opens with;

2 Maccabees 1:1–6 (KJV Apoc)

1 The brethren, the Jews that be at Jerusalem and in the land of Judea, wish unto the brethren, the Jews that are throughout Egypt health and peace:

2 God be gracious unto you, and remember his covenant that he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, his faithful servants; 3 And give you all an heart to serve him, and to do his will, with a good courage and a willing mind; 4 And open your hearts in his law and commandments, and send you peace, 5 And hear your prayers, and be at one with you, and never forsake you in time of trouble. 6 And now we be here praying for you.

The letter goes on to explain that the Jews in Israel are about to keep the festival of Hanukkah.

2 Maccabees 2:16 – 18

Since, therefore, we are about to celebrate the purification, we write to you. Will you therefore please keep the days? It is God who has saved all his people, and has returned the inheritance to all, and the kingship and the priesthood and the consecration, as he promised through the law. For we have hope in God that he will soon have mercy on us and will gather us from everywhere under heaven into his holy place, for he has rescued us from great evils and has purified the place.

What becomes so interesting and apparent in 2nd Maccabees is that the Jews in Israel, living with a dedicated Temple still don’t believe that the restoration has occurred. Not while there are Israelites living outside the land, some in enslavement. So even in Israel, under Israeli government, they are seeking restoration for all of Israel.

In the first chapter the Jews of Israel mention that the fire they used to consecrate the temple came from Nehemiah and they quote the prayer they say priests spoke when they restored the Temple in Nehemiah’s time. I want to read that prayer and leave it there. It so perfectly captures the message of Hanukkah and alludes to its true message.

God is not done with Israel yet.

(2 Macc 1 :25-29)

O Lord, Lord God, Creator of all things, you are awe-inspiring and strong and just and merciful, you alone are king and are kind, you alone are bountiful, you alone are just and almighty and eternal. You rescue Israel from every evil; you chose the ancestors and consecrated them. Accept this sacrifice on behalf of all your people Israel and preserve your portion and make it holy. Gather together our scattered people, set free those who are slaves among the gentiles, look on those who are rejected and despised, and let the gentiles know that you are our God. Punish those who oppress and are insolent with pride. Plant your people in your holy place, as Moses promised.

[1] Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: complete and unabridged (p. 307). Peabody: Hendrickson.



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