Judeo-Christian Studies

The Festivals of Hanukkah and Christmas

2. Historic background: The Hellenistic (Greek) Period (334-146 B.C.)

(1) Conquests of Alexander the Great

Q: Would you relate the historic event which created the Festival of Hanukkah?

EDB:The conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C. brought Palestine into the Greco-Macedonian Empire in 332 B.C. As a pupil of Aristotle from his youth, Alexander imbibed Greek culture and life-style. In all his conquered domains, from the Ionian Sea to the borders of northern India, he introduced Hellenist culture with the Greek language. Hellenism was a combination of learning, idolatry and immorality, as the loyal Jews viewed it. As the new ideology infiltrated Jewish communities, the orthodox Jews found themselves in conflict even with their own people who were attracted to, and even embraced, Greek life-style.

Q: Would you contrast the difference between the ideology of the Jewish nation and that of the Greeks?

EDB:The Jews from their very beginning were called to be a priestly nation and a witness of Yahveh, Creator of the universe and Maker of mankind, to all the other nations of the world. Their Constitution was given to them at Mount Sinai. We read in the second book of the Bible, Exodus, chapter 19:

The LORD said to Moses: "This is what you are to say to the House of Jacob and what you are to tell the House of Israel . . Although the whole earth is Mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (vs. 3 to 6 NIV)
Later in the history of Israel, the Sovereign of the universe recalled the nation to her commission as the LORD'S witnesses to the Gentiles' - the Hebrew word is Goiim'. We read from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah in the 8th century B.C., chapter 43 -
"But now, this is what the LORD says - He who created you, 0 Jacob, and He who formed you, 0 Israel. All the nations (Hebrew, kol-haGoiim' - all the Gentiles) gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of them foretold this and proclaimed to us former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, It is true'."
But there is silence! No other nation on earth has had a special and oral revelation from the Creator of mankind. God left humanity with a general revelation of Himself in conscience, nature, and history. The Epistle to the Romans in the New Testament deals with that matter very clearly. But to the Jewish people God gave a special revelation of Himself, His laws, and His mighty acts, so that they could qualify as His witnesses and teach the nations of the world about the moral, just, and holy character of the Creator. And teach the world about the nature and purposes of the true and living God for mankind.

We continue reading from Isaiah, chapter 43 -

"You (Israel) are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I AM HE. Before Me no god was formed, nor will there be one after Me. I, even I, AM the LORD, and apart from Me there is no Saviour . . I AM the LORD, your Holy One, Israel's Creator, your King." (NIV)
Q: It is a known fact that the Jewish nation is also called the Messianic nation'. Let us discuss this aspect.

EDB: The Sovereign of the universe ordained Israel to be the bearer of the Messiah - the universal Redeemer. The Prophet Isaiah gave the Word of God to the nation, and this we read in chapter 9:

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and He shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end. He will reign on David's throne . . forever." (NIV) (9;6-7. Heb. Bible, vs. 5-6)
With regard to "David's throne" within the messianic nation, Israel, the royal family of the ancient King David, was set apart by divine decree to be the family from whom the Messiah would emerge (II Samuel chapter 7). The promise of God to King David about 1,000 B.C. is certified as made good by the opening words of the New Testament: Matthew chapter one, verse one - "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David . . "
Further, the Eternal One declared His unique attitude toward the city of Jerusalem and the Temple there -

The Second Book of Chronicles in the Hebrew Bible chapter 6, verse 6, and chapter 7, verse 16 read:

"But now I have chosen Jerusalem for My Name to be there, and I have chosen David to rule My people Israel.

I have chosen and consecrated this house (Temple) so that My Name may be there forever. My eyes and My heart shall always be there."
This divine affirmation is what makes Jerusalem the Holy City' and the Temple as the House of God'.
And through Isaiah, God's Word declares:
"My House shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." (Isaiah 56:7)
So we see that the hope of mankind's survival was destined to be involved with the nation Israel, the family of King David, the Holy City and the Jerusalem Temple. When Jesus frequented the Temple, there was an occasion when He displayed His zeal for the House of God, and passionately declared;
"My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. . ." (Mark 11:17)
EDB:About 400 years before the ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem, the last prophet in the Old Testament predicted that the Messiah would "come to His Temple" as the "Messenger of the (new) covenant" (Malachi 3:1), foretold by the prophet Jeremiah about 200 years earlier (Jeremiah 31:31).

(2) Influence of Hellenism

Q: How seriously did the new ideology of Hellenism affect those sacred concepts of the Jewish people?

EDB: Let me give you a picture of the three powerful methods of Hellenization: - The gymnasium' was the vehicle of education. The Greek word gumnadzo' (gumnazw) means to exercise naked'. Here knowledge and athletics were combined. Greek boys and young men wore no clothes during the games. Sacred prostitution and homosexuality were taught as the noblest form of love. (Max I. Demont. The Indestructible Jews,' p. 95)

Secondly, Greek ecumenism provided every conquered people with the right of universal citizenship within the Greek Empire. Race, color, creed and geographic discrimination disappeared when one became a convert to Hellenism. Intermarriage and proselytism resulted from assimilation.

Thirdly, a fifth-column' penetration of Greek philosophy and science attracted also some of the liberal-minded Jewish youth to Platonic thought, Aristotelian logic, and Euclidean science.

Israel was called to separatism, as a priestly and holy nation. Her relationship to other nations, by God's commission of her, was as witnesses' to the true and living God. The orthodox loyal element in Jewry eventually had to fight their own brethren, as well as the infiltration of the foreigners' ways.

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