Antiochus IV became king of the Seleucid empire centered in Syria during the second century BC. He imposed Hellenistic culture on Judea and transformed worship at the temple in Jerusalem, wrote Michael Lerner of Tikkun magazine.
Many Jews, however, resented the imposition.
“The essence of their now-banned religion was its insistence that there was a single God governing the universe who made possible freedom from oppression,” wrote Lerner.
These Jews formed an army under the leadership of five brothers, the most famous of whom was Judah, also known as Maccabee, which means “hammer.”
“The Maccabees and their followers used guerrilla tactics to win the first national liberation struggle recorded in history,” wrote Lerner. “In 165 BC they retook Jerusalem, purified and rededicated the Temple (chanukah means dedication), and rekindled the eternal light that was to glow therein.”
The Jews wanted to re-light the eternal light in a Jewish house of worship, according to the Story of Chanukah at www.holidays.net. However, the Jews at the temple found enough oil to burn the lamp for only one day. Miraculously, the lamp burned for eight days, not one.
“Jews celebrate Chanukah to mark the victory over the Syrians and the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple,” according to the Story of Chanukah. “The Festival of Lights, Chanukah, lasts for eight days to commemorate the miracle of the oil.”
Lighting the Chanukah menorah is a central custom during the celebration. The menorah holds eight candles–one for each night of Chanukah–plus a ninth, called the shamash, which is used to light the others.
Chanukah, then, is not a “Jewish Christmas.”
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s project coordinator.