Judeo-Christian Studies

The Festivals of Hanukkah and Christmas

3. The Maccabean Revolt 168-165 B.C. (Other scholars: 167-164 B.C.)

Q: What led to the Maccabean Revolt which is the central drama in the Hanukkah Festival?

EDB: When Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided among his generals. Palestine became a bone of contention between two of his successors: the Ptolemies to the south in Egypt, and the Seleucids to the north in Syria. At first Palestine with its Jewish community formed part of the Ptolemaic kingdom. In the reign of King Philadelphus of Egypt (285-246 B.C.), he requested of the Jews of Jerusalem a translation of their Law - the Torah - from Hebrew into Greek for his royal library in Alexandria. The Law and the rest of the Old Testament in the Greek language is known as the Septuagint Version. This was one of the great benefactions to the world, especially to Christianity. The Hebrew Holy Scriptures in the universal language of Greek introduced the God of the Jews to the Gentile world. "More and more pagans viewed the moral, invisible God of the Jews as superior to the immoral, visible gods of the Greeks." (Demont. The Indestructible Jews,' p. 97). And there were many converts to the God of the Jews. (Eban. My People. The Story of the Jews,' p.72).

BUT - when the northern Seleucid Kingdom conquered Palestine in 198 B.C., "a more assertive and missionary Hellenism came to Palestine." (Eban. My People', p. 72).

(1) Greco-Syrian invasion of Palestine: Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.)

About 30 years later, King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-165 B.C.) ignored the God of the Jews, and began a war against the Jewish religion.

(2) Attempt at genocide of the Jewish Nation

All Jews who would not apostatize to Greek idolatry and life-style were murdered on the spot. Prayers, observing the Sabbath, circumcision were forbidden on penalty of death. Many died rather than apostatize. Some Jews yielded to Hellenization.
In all of Israel's history, whether in the Holy Land, or living as captives in foreign countries, there never was an attack made on the religion of the Jews. We are about to discuss the first religious war in history'. (Baron. A Social and Religious History of the Jews.' Vol. 1: Ancient Times, Part I, p. 235).

We may see the Jewish ideology personified in the famous Hasmonean family. The word in the Hebrew is "Hashmonaim". Mattathias ben Yochanan and his five sons were priests who ministered at Jerusalem in the Temple. They are better known as the Maccabees.'

(3) Desecration of the Jerusalem Temple; all-out effort to obliterate Judaism

In their village home in Modi'in, near Jerusalem, they heard that Antiochus had desecrated the House of God by erecting a pagan altar to Zeus, over the altar of Yahveh, and sacrificed swine thereon. The Hasmoneans and the Hasidim - the pious - resisted the pagan infiltration and force to apostatize. Every Jew who would not worship their idols, and live their immoral life-style, was murdered on the spot. Many circumcised children and their mothers were slaughtered. Every available copy of the Holy Scriptures was destroyed. Perhaps some of the Old Testament Scriptures were actually hidden by the Maccabees in the caves of Qumran, which Dead Sea Scrolls' were discovered in 1947.

The desecration of the Jerusalem Temple by Antiochus IV is dated in historic notes on the 25th of the Hebrew month Kislev (Chislev), 168/7 B.C.

(4) First religious war in history' - The Maccabean victory

The Hasmonean family organized a guerrilla-type army. Upon the death of their father, Judah became their leader - a man of the Gideon type and stature. - They "hammered" away at the Greco-Syrian forces, and Judah became known as the Maccabee'. The Hebrew word means "hammer". Their triumph in answer to their prayers and guerrilla strategy resulted in the recapture of the Jerusalem Temple. It was cleansed, refurnished, and rededicated exactly three years to-the-day of its desecration, that is, on the 25th of Kislev, 165/4 B.C. The Hasmonean Dynasty ruled Palestine from 135 to 37 B.C.

The Maccabees ordained the annual Festival of Hanukkah to commemorate their dedication of the altar' and of the Temple.

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