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HAPPY HANUKKAH AND MERRY CHRISTMAS?
Published On : December 11, 2010
Last Updated : December 11, 2010
Books Of Maccabees Not Accepted As Part Of Christian Bible, Books Of Maccabees Not Accepted As Part Of The Hebrew Bible, The Apocrypha, Where Did The Miracle Of Hanukkah Originate? Talmud Mishnah & Gemara, Did Rabbis Invent Hanukkah Miracle?, Hanukkah Miracle Only Mentioned In Gemara Tractate Shabbat, Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War And Antiquities Of The Jews, Josephus' Account Of Festival Of Lights: No Miracle Mentioned, Angelic Visitations And Divine Miracles Throughout The Bible, Scroll Of Antiochus, Inconsistencies And Historical Errors In Megillat Antiochus, Recap Of Problems With The Miracle Story, Jewish Fables, Why Would Rabbis Invent the Hanukkah Miracle? Birth Of Roman Catholic Church, Unbelieving Jews Persecute Early Christians, Gulf Grows Between The Jews & Christians, Jews Forced Out Of Rome By Emperor Claudius While Christians Grow In Influence, Christians Compromise With Rome & Emperor Constantine, Nascent Roman Catholic Church Begins To Exert Its Power And Influence, RCC "Christianizes" Pagan Beliefs, Saturnalia Festival - Winter Solstice - Christmas Compromise, Jesus Not Born On December 25th, Winter Weather in Bethlehem, Jerusalem And the Temple Destroyed, Jews Led Captive To Other Nations By Romans, Was Hanukkah Miracle Inserted Into Gemara To Raise Jewish Morale And To Compete With Saturnalia And The Christian Christmas Celebration?, My Theory, Closing Remarks
Allow me to also remind you that, to my knowledge, the Books of the Maccabees are not considered or recognized as a part of the Christian Canon -- that is, the collection of Divinely Inspired books that form a part of our Bible -- other than in the Roman Catholic Church. The Books of the Maccabees are in fact regarded by quite a number of Christian scholars as what are referred to as apocryphal writings. This is due to their questionable authorship, as well as serious doubts concerning their Divine Inspiration. It is for this reason that they are a part of the Apocrypha and not a part of the Christian Bible.
It may surprise you to know that even though the Festival of Lights -- or Hanukkah -- appears to have originated in the Books of the Maccabees, and even though the four Books of the Maccabees contain quite an abundance of Jewish history, the Jewish rabbinical authorities likewise chose to not include these books as a part of the Hebrew Bible Canon; that is, the Tanakh. Regarding why this is so, several theories have been proposed. One weak theory suggests that perhaps the rabbis of that time had already drawn up an official list of the Books which were to be included in the Tanakh, and for reasons that are not made clear to us, there simply wasn't time to add the Books of the Maccabees to it.
However, if that is the case, then I would ask the following. Hundreds and hundreds of years have passed since that time; so if more recent rabbis who hold positions of authority deem the Books of the Maccabees as truthful, inspired accounts of Jewish history, why haven't they taken the necessary steps to include them in more modern versions of the Tanakh? What is preventing them from doing this? Is it possible that they too doubt the authenticity and Divine Inspiration of these books? If so, what does that say about Hanukkah?
So, if the "miracle" of Hanukkah isn't found anywhere in the Christian Bible, or in the Hebrew Bible, or even in the Books of the Maccabees themselves, then where did it originate? My personal suspicion is that this "miracle" may actually be a human invention of the Jewish rabbis of the Fifth Century AD. This "miracle" appears to find its origin in the Talmud; and more specifically, in the Gemara.
For those of you who aren't familiar with them, the Mishnah and the Gemara are basically compendiums, or collections, of rabbinic thought, opinions and commentary, that both explain and define Jewish Oral Law and expound upon other topics that are important to Orthodox Jews, in written form. Prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. by Roman General Titus, Jewish law was primarily maintained in an oral form. However, after that time, as the years progressed, and with the whole of Jewish society in disarray, the Jewish religious leaders -- the rabbis -- realized that in order to retain the Oral Law and rabbinical opinions in a cohesive form, they had to be written down. Thus, around 200 A.D., or more than three hundred and fifty years after the revolt against the Seleucid kings began, the first compendium, that is, the Mishnah, was redacted by Rabbi Judah haNasi.
Some three hundred years later, around 500 A.D., the Gemara, which was an expansion and a clarification of the Mishnah, was likewise redacted. This would have been about six hundred and fifty years after the original events that are described in the pages of the Books of the Maccabees. As I said, together, the Mishnah and the Gemara form the whole Talmud. As I mention in other articles, the most widely used version of the Talmud is the Babylonian Talmud. The Talmud consists of six orders, or primary subject divisions, which are likewise divided into more than sixty tractates. Tractates are more restricted and focus on the rabbis' legal opinions regarding specific topics.
What I find interesting is the fact that the historical origin of Hanukkah, and the laws and traditions that are associated with it, are not even mentioned in the Mishnah. There are just a few brief mentions of this event in the Mishnah. In other words, the Bible does not mention the Hanukkah "miracle"; the Books of the Maccabees -- which are of questionable origin, and of doubtful Divine Inspiration -- likewise don't make any mention of the Hanukkah "miracle"; the Tanakh doesn't mention the "miracle" of Hanukkah; and the Mishnah is silent as well. A few Jewish rabbis have offered theories regarding why the Hanukkah "miracle" is absent from the Mishnah, but it doesn't change the fact that it is not there.
The only place where the "miracle" of Hanukkah appears to be mentioned, is in the Gemara, in Tractate Shabbat Chapter Two, which is entitled "Regulations Concerning The Sabbath And Hanukah Light". As you read the following, keep in mind that this was written about six hundred and fifty years after the alleged events are said to have occurred in the Books of the Maccabees, and that it was written by rabbis who were quite distanced in time from the events, and who weren't firsthand witnesses of the events. An online English version states:
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"What is 'Hanukah? The rabbis taught: "On the twenty-fifth day of Kislev 'Hanukah commences and lasts eight days, on which lamenting (in commemoration of the dead) and fasting are prohibited. When the Hellenists entered the sanctuary, they defiled all the oil that was found there. When the government of the House of Asmoneans prevailed and conquered them, oil was sought (to feed the holy lamp in the sanctuary) and only one vial was found with the seal of the high priest intact. The vial contained sufficient oil for one day only, but a miracle occurred, and it fed the holy lamp eight days in succession. These eight days were the following year established as days of good cheer, on which psalms of praise and acknowledgment (of God's wonders) were to be recited."
----- End Quote -----
As I continued to ponder why the Hanukkah "miracle" was not mentioned until six hundred and fifty years after the event, and in only one authoritative Jewish source for that matter, my research led me to the writings of First Century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus.
As you may know, his most notable works include "The Jewish War" and "Antiquities Of The Jews", which are believed to have been written while Josephus was living in Rome. Being as Josephus lived from 37 AD to about 100 AD, he was a firsthand witness of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans, and other important events of that time period. It is important to note that Josephus also lived considerably closer to the period of the Maccabean revolts than did the rabbinical authors of the Mishnah and the Gemara. In Volume Twelve of his twenty-one volume "Antiquities Of The Jews" -- also known as "Jewish Antiquities" -- which he wrote more than twenty years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, Josephus mentions the Hasmonean victory over the forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Consider the following:
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"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. Judas also rebuilt the walls round about the city, and reared towers of great height against the incursions of enemies, and set guards therein. He also fortified the city Bethsura, that it might serve as a citadel against any distresses that might come from our enemies."
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I would like to call your attention to the fact that, as with the other sources -- including the original source, that is, the Books of the Maccabees -- Josephus made no mention of any miracle occurring during that event. The reason why this fact seems rather unusual to me, is because according to his own writings, amongst other things, Josephus was a Law-observant Jew, as well as a priest from Jerusalem. That being the case, and given his priestly background, I would think that if any miraculous event had actually occurred during that very first Festival of Lights, surely he would have thought it important enough to inform his potential readers about it; yet, he is silent concerning this matter. We must wonder why that is. Is it maybe because it never happened, and was just invented by Jewish rabbis four hundred years after the time of Josephus, and six hundred and fifty years after the time of the Jewish uprising by the Maccabee brothers?
In contrast, the writers of the Christian Bible considered miraculous events important enough to write about them. For example, when Zechariah -- the father of John the Baptist -- had an Angelic Encounter in the Temple as he carried out his priestly duties, someone thought it important enough to write about it. When that very same Angel -- Gabriel -- appeared to Mary prior to the birth of Jesus, someone wrote about that as well. And there are so many other miraculous events described in both the Old and the New Testaments, which testify to the Power of El Shaddai, the Almighty God: Moses and the Burning Bush; the Plagues upon the Egyptians; the parting of the Red Sea; the manna and other miracles in the wilderness; the Angel who appeared to Joshua prior to the fall of Jericho; an Angel who appeared to Samson's parents prior to his birth; the many miracles of Jesus in the Gospels, the Angel-assisted escapes in the Book of Acts, and so many more. As I said, they each testify to the Power of God; so why is the alleged "miracle" of Hanukkah only found in one source, which was written many years after the fact; a source which is not even recognized by the Christian world as being Divinely Inspired?
Similar to the four Books of the Maccabees, the controversial "Megillat Antiochus" which is likewise known as "The Scroll Of Antiochus" and "The Scroll Of The Hasmoneans, recounts how the Hasmoneans overcame the Seleucid kings and celebrated the very first Hanukkah, or Festival of Lights. It states in part:
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The Hasmoneans entered the sanctuary, rebuilt the gates, closed the breaches, and cleansed the Temple court from the slain and the impurities. They looked for pure olive oil to light the Menorah, and found only one bottle with the seal of the high priest so that they were sure of its purity. Though its quantity seemed sufficient only for one day's lighting, it lasted for eight days owing to the blessing of the God of heaven who had established his name there. Hence, the Hasmoneans and all the Jews alike instituted these eight days as a time of feasting and rejoicing, like any festival prescribed in the Torah, and of kindling lights to commemorate the victories God had given them. Mourning and fasting are forbidden on Hanukkah, except in the case of an individual's vow which must be discharged. Nevertheless, the Hasmoneans did not prohibit work on this holiday.
From that time on the Greek government was stripped of its renown. The Hasmoneans and their descendants ruled for two hundred and six years, until the destruction of the Temple.
And so the Jews everywhere observe this festival for eight days, beginning on the twenty-fifth of Kislev. These days, instituted by priests, Levites and sages of Temple times, shall be celebrated by their descendants forever.
----- End Quote -----
The date of origin of the Megillat Antiochus is said to be between the Second and Fifth Centuries AD, exactly like the Mishnah and the Gemara; however, it was not published for the first time until 1557 in Mantova, Italy. While some Jews do accept the Scroll of Antiochus as being reliable, there are others, such as Jewish author and theologian, Louis Ginzberg, who viewed it as a spurious work which was not only based on unhistorical sources, but which also heavily plagiarized from the First Book of the Maccabees.
While I am by no means an authority on Jewish manuscripts, I would have to concur with Ginzberg's assessment for several reasons. The most obvious reason is that there is a rather glaring historical error in the portion of the scroll which I quoted. The author of this scroll states that the Hasmoneans ruled for two hundred and six years until the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. That claim is factually wrong, and quite simply impossible; because as I noted earlier, Israel and Jerusalem were brought under Roman rule in the year 63 BC by Roman General Pompey. Furthermore, Herod the Great became the first puppet king of Israel under Roman control in 37 BC; and he was an Idumean, and not a Hasmonean. Herod's dynasty, and not the Hasmoneans, was still in power when the Temple was destroyed by General Titus in 70 AD.
More specifically, historians concur that Judah Maccabee, who was the oldest brother, defeated the forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 165 BC. From 165 BC to 63 BC is only one hundred and two years, and not two hundred and six years. While Herod the Great married Mariamne -- a Hasmonean princess -- in order to gain political leverage and legitimacy, he also conspired to have the last male Hasmonean heir drowned in his palace in Jericho. While there was a brief resurgence of the Hasmoneans, it was quickly crushed by the Romans under Mark Antony and Octavian. That led to Herod the Great assuming power in 37 BC. So again, the author of the Scroll of Antiochus is clearly in error when he states that the Hasmoneans ruled Israel for two hundred and six years, right up to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
There are other problems with the account in the controversial Scroll of Antiochus. The fact that it was supposedly written during the same time frame as the Mishnah and the Gemara make it suspect in my view. Let me clarify that it was the Aramaic version that was supposedly written between the 2nd and the 5th Centuries AD. The Hebrew version is dated a few hundred years later during the 7th Century AD. The fact that it uses words such as Menorah, Hanukkah, holiday and Greek government which weren't used by the earlier authors, that is, the authors of the Books of the Maccabees, or by Josephus, also make it seem strange and out of place, and I just sense that the scroll is a fake.
So, when all is said and done, following are the facts which seem to remain regarding the "miracle" of the menorah:
1. Two of the four Books of the Maccabees make mention of the Festival of Lights, but they are absolutely silent regarding any kind of miracle occurring with the menorah.
2. The Jewish rabbis chose not to include the Books of the Maccabees in the official Hebrew Bible Canon, or Tanakh. They could have easily have done so by now, so why haven't they?
3. Most Christian scholars, with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church, likewise reject the Books of the Maccabees as official Canon. That is why they are only included in the Apocrypha.
4. There is only one verse in the entire King James Version of the Bible which seems to be referring to Hanukkah, but it likewise makes no mention of a Hanukkah "miracle". The verse is John 10:22.
5. There are only two sources which specifically mention the Hanukkah "miracle": the Jewish Gemara, which isn't recognized by Christians as inspired Canon, and is only the opinion of the Jewish rabbis, and the Scroll of Antiochus, which is of even more doubtful origin and reliability.
In light of all of this evidence, or perhaps better said, a lack of convincing evidence, it seems to me that the Hanukkah "miracle" story may have possibly been invented by the Jewish rabbis at least six hundred and fifty years after the actual Maccabean revolts had occurred. Perhaps one of those rabbis decided that adding a small "miracle" to the account of the Festival of Lights that is found in the commentaries in the Gemara, would make the story more interesting. Who knows. If this is the case -- and I cannot prove that it is -- wouldn't this be considered one of those "Jewish fables" that some of the Apostles warned us against? Consider these verses:
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
Colossians 2:8, KJV
"Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do."
1 Timothy 1:4, KJV
"But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness."
1 Timothy 4:7, KJV
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."
2 Timothy 4:3-4, KJV
"Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth."
Titus 1:14, KJV
"For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty."
2 Peter 1:16, KJV
If my theory is correct, and certain Jewish rabbis invented the story of the Hanukkah "miracle" hundreds of years after the events had actually taken place, and inserted it into the rabbinic commentaries of the Gemara, why would they do this? While I can't provide you with a definitive answer, I would like to put forth a speculation for your consideration. As I sat here pondering this issue, I began to think about other important historical events that were occurring at the very time that the Mishnah and the Gemara were being redacted. As it turns out, 200 AD to 500 AD were the formative years of the early Roman Catholic Church.
If there is one thing that the Scriptures make rather clear, both in the Gospels, as well as in the Book of Acts, and in some of the Epistles, it is that from the foundation of our Christian faith, the unbelieving Jews were a constant source of trouble and persecution. We know that they persecuted and ultimately murdered Jesus by proxy through Roman hands. We know that they then immediately proceeded to persecute and kill the early Apostles and Disciples as well. All of this is covered in other articles that I have written. Please avail yourself of them.
As the centuries passed, the gulf that existed between the unbelieving Jews and the Christians continued to grow. When the Early Christians began to cool off, and eventually made the mistake of compromising with Rome, this only caused the hostilities and the animosity between Christians and Jews to grow all the more. Ultimately, some of the Christians became influential people in Rome, while quite often -- as during the reign of Emperor Claudius Nero -- the Jews were told to get out of town, as we see by this verse:
"And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; [because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:] and came unto them."
Acts 18:2, KJV
Once the pact was made with Emperor Constantine in the Fourth Century, the Roman Catholic Church began to grow powerful and to exert its influence over the masses. As I have mentioned before, one way in which the nascent Roman Catholic Church exerted influence over the masses, and attracted the heathen to its doors, was by "Christianizing" certain pagan beliefs and customs. In fact, the Roman church continues to use this tactic to this very day, except now it is called ecumenism.
At any rate, there is one very popular Roman festival that we are interested in. Known as Saturnalia, it received its name from the Roman god of agriculture and harvest, Saturn. While this festival was in progress, the roles of master and slave were reversed, moral restrictions were loosened to a degree, and the rules of etiquette were also ignored. Saturnalia was a one-day festival initially. It occurred on December 17th. However, eventually, it was extended so that it lasted for a full week; that is, from December 17th to December 23rd, so that it actually engulfed the Winter Solstice on December 21st.
As I mentioned a moment ago, it is a historical fact that in order to increase its size, power and influence, the early Roman Catholic Church began to so-called "Christianize" some of the beliefs and customs of the heathen people that it had begun to absorb. It's my personal belief -- and that of many other Christians as well -- that this is exactly what it did with the Saturnalia festival. It turned Saturnalia into a Christian holy day.
In other words, just as the Winter Solstice on December 21st marks the day when the Sun resumes its northerly course, and begins to bring longer and warmer days, and the hope of new life to the frozen countries of the northern hemisphere, the Roman Catholic Church chose to give the Saturnalia festival, and the Winter Solstice, a new "Christianized" meaning, when it introduced the birth of the Son of God on December 25th, who would likewise bring hope and new life to the world -- Eternal Life -- even though the Bible makes it rather clear that Jesus was most certainly not born anywhere near that time of year, as this verse from the Gospel of Luke reveals:
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night."
Luke 2:8, KJV
Jewish shepherds simply do not abide in the field, with their grazing flocks, in the middle of the cold, dead winter, when there is nothing on the ground for their herds to eat. At the very least, the weather would have been very cold and very rainy on December 25th in the land of Israel. The flocks and the shepherds would have been indoors; at least in a cave or a barn. To validate this point, consider the following info I extracted from the www.bethlehem-city.org website:
----- Begin Quote -----
Winter lasts for three months, from mid-December to mid-March, and can be severe . . . Summer temperatures reach 35* centigrade and in the winter temperature may drop to Zero . . . The rainy season starts in the second half of autumn (mid-October) and continues until the end of April. Heavy rain is, however, limited to fewer than 50 days, with around 70% of the rain falling during November to February . . . Bethlehem receives an average of seven hours of sunshine a day during the winter and thirteen hours during the summer . . . Average temperatures range from 9-18* C in winter and 26- 30* C in summer.
----- End Quote -----
While some Westerners automatically equate the Winter season with heavy snowfall, please note that due to its subtropical climate, snow is very rare in Israel, and is usually limited to the area near Mount Hermon in the northern Golan Heights. However, due to the hilly topography of the region of Judea, some of the higher elevations -- such as Jerusalem -- also receive at least one snowfall each year. Being as Bethlehem is located only five miles south of Jerusalem, I assume that it likewise receives snowfall occasionally as well. So what we see then is that Bethlehem -- the birthplace of Jesus -- experiences a cold, rainy season which lasts from the middle of December to the middle of March; during which time there is very limited sunlight, and temperatures can drop to 0* C.
This weather is certainly not conducive to shepherding flocks at night, outside, during the Winter season. What we are able to conclude then, is that Luke 2:8 is referring to some other time of year, and that is when Jesus was really born; which nullifies and exposes the worldly deception of Jesus Christ being born on Christmas day, December 25th. If you would like to learn more about the pagan origin of the annual Christmas celebration, please take the time to view the information that is found in the "Christmas - Its Pagan Origin" section of the following page on the Endtime Prophecy Net website:
Having now explained this error, let's return to the Jews. So think about this. The Romans had their Winter Solstice festival of Saturnalia from December 17th to December 23rd. The Christians had their Christmas on December 25th, thanks to the deception of the power-hungry Roman Catholic Church. But what about the Jews? At that time in history, the Jews were still in recovery mode from the total destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, which had been the very center of their form of worship. To make matters worse, the Romans chose to disperse the Jews throughout their empire, exactly as Jesus had told His Disciples it would happen, as we see by these verses. Please note the words that I have placed in upper case:
"And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, AND SHALL BE LED AWAY CAPTIVE INTO ALL NATIONS: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."
Luke 21:20-24, KJV
In short, their way of life had been totally destroyed. They were emotionally, mentally and spiritually devastated. Their morale was at an all-time low. They were outcasts in foreign lands, and were shunned by many. That being the case, I have this suspicion that perhaps the rabbis of that time may have gotten together, and decided to do something in order to try to lift the morale of their people. What if they purposely chose to introduce the eight-day "miracle" of the menorah in the Festival of Lights story at the time that the Gemara was redacted, so as to give it a "magical", mystical quality, just like Christmas?
In other words, those Jews needed something to compete with the joyous occasion of both the Roman's Saturnalia festival, and the Christian's Christmas celebration. Think about it. Without the eight-day "miracle" of the menorah, the account that is told in the Books of the Maccabees really amounts to nothing but a bloody war story. However, once the "miracle" of the menorah is added to it, it suddenly becomes something much more than that. It becomes an awe-inspiring story, and it suggests that God was vindicating the Jews through their so-called "miracle". But if that is truly the case, then why did God utterly destroy their hypocritical religious system some two hundred and thirty-five years later in 70 AD, just as Jesus himself said would happen?
So again, perhaps adding this "miracle" to the Festival of Lights -- or Hanukkah -- was the Jewish response to the popularity of the joyous Roman Saturnalia, as well as the joyous, but bogus, Christmas celebration that was promoted by the Roman Catholic Church. What do you think?
Allow me to reiterate that this is simply my personal theory and speculation, which I obviously cannot prove one way or the other; but it is interesting food for thought. Unless you can provide me with a convincing explanation regarding why no miracle is mentioned in the Books of the Maccabees, or in the writings of Josephus, and why both Christians and Jews reject the Books of the Maccabees as Divinely Inspired text, I will stick with my theory. With these words, I will bring another article to a close. I trust that you have enjoyed it, and perhaps learned something from it as well.