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Hanukkah Series: Origins of Hanukkah

Hello again! Previously on the Hanukkah Series, I announced I would share general and basic information about this amazing winter festival. Throughout the week, leading up to Hanukkah that is near, I will share insights on Hanukkah I would've normally posted in the format of a Twitter thread, but there is only so much you can put in a thread without spamming the Twitter feed... So here I am. Enjoy your stay. In this blog entry, I will cover the origins of Hanukkah and its story. Let us begin!



ORIGINS OF HANUKKAH

First, let's cover the meaning of the name for this festival. The Hebrew word "Hanukkah" means 'to inaugurate or to dedicate.' This is in recognition to the Maccabean revolt and the rededication of the ancient temple. The story on which Hanukkah is based, is told in the first and second book of Maccabees. In the New Testament, Apostle John writes that during the festival of Hanukkah, Yeshua was walking in the temple area. Historical context helps us understand why Apostle John mentioned Hanukkah and Yeshua's presence during that festival. Historical references to Hanukkah come later. The historian Josephus Flavius mentions a “festival of lights,” the name by which Hanukkah is known by today.



PAGAN ORIGINS?

Hanukkah is always held during the darkest days of the year, during the Hebrew month of Kislev. Around this time of year, pagan religions celebrate the rebirth of the sun god. Hanukkah however, has no connection to these religions and their practices at this time of year. Since Jews were unable to celebrate the holy day of Sukkot at its proper time in early autumn, the Maccabees decided that Sukkot should be celebrated once they rededicated the Temple, which they did. Since Sukkot lasts seven days, this became the timeframe adopted for Hanukkah. This festival is modeled after and has its origins in Abba's appointed times, this entire festival is about God’s victory over paganism. Which brings us to the story of Hanukkah...



THE STORY

In the year 168 B.C.E., the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes sent his soldiers to Jerusalem. The Syrians desecrated the Temple, the holiest place for Jews at that time. Antiochus also abolished the practices of Jews, prohibiting the observance of Shabbat, the holy days, as well as circumcision. Altars and idols were set up for the worship of Greek idol, and he offered Jews two options: conversion or death. On the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in 168 B.C.E., the Temple was renamed for the Greek idol Zeus. A movement, led by a priestly family known as the Maccabees, developed against Antiochus. The head of the family was Mattathias, an elderly man. His son, Judah, became the military leader of the movement. Despite being outnumbered, Judah Maccabee and his fighters miraculously won two major battles, routing the Syrians. The Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to liberate it. They entered the Temple and cleared it of the idols placed there by the Syrians. This was a three-year campaign of cleansing the temple. Judah and his followers built a new altar, which he dedicated in the month of Kislev, in 139 B.C.E.


For more information, feel free to read 1 and 2 Maccabees. I provided these in the underlined links above. This is entirely a telling of history and the events which lead to the Hanukkah miracle, a topic I will talk about soon on my blog! I hope this short, yet simple blog post helps my readers in their learning and observance of Hanukkah. Until next time, shalom, shalom!