Hanukkah: The Festival of Light -- By: Gordon Franz

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 11:4 (Fall 1998)
Article: Hanukkah: The Festival of Light
Author: Gordon Franz


Hanukkah: The Festival of Light

Gordon Franz

As a young boy, I remember well the excitement as the Christmas season approached. There was snow on the ground, sleigh riding, Christmas trees and caroling, manger scenes and eggnog. Yet I also remember another holiday which my Jewish friends celebrated about the same time—Hanukkah. In elementary school they would play with their dreidels and tell about the presents they received the previous night. I must confess my greedy jealousy. They got presents for eight nights and we only got them on Christmas morning!

This year our Jewish friends will commence celebrating Hannukkah from sundown on December 13 until sundown on the 21st. Families will gather together to exchange presents and also to light a new candle each night on their nine branch candelabrum.

The Origin of Hanukkah

Hanukkah is a festival which commemorates the purification and rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus on Kislev 25, 164 BC (usually in December). Three years prior, Antiochus IV, the Seleucid (Syrian) king, defiled the Temple by erecting an idol to Baal Shamen (Zeus), sacrificing a pig on the altar and proclaiming himself to be a god. Some of the coins he minted had his features on the face of Zeus along with the word “Epiphanes” meaning “the God Manifest.” He also decreed that Torah (the Law of God) could not be studied under penalty of death, circumcision was forbidden and the Sabbath was not to be kept. This brought an internal struggle within Judaism out in the open. On the one hand there were the observant Jews who wanted to keep Torah, and on the other, the Hellenized Jews who wanted to assimilate into the Greek culture around them and become “born again” Greeks!

Antiochus sent troops from village to village with a statue of himself ordering people to bow down to it. One day they arrived in the village of Modein. An elderly man stepped forward to comply with the order, but an observant priest, Mattathias of the Hasmonean family, thrust him through with a spear and also killed one of the Seleucid soldiers. Thus began the Maccabean Revolt. Mattathias, his five sons, and others fled into the Gophna Hills and conducted a guerrilla war against the Seleucids for three years. Finally, Jerusalem was liberated. Yet the Temple was defiled. The history of this revolt is found in 1 Maccabees 1 and 4 and 2 Macabees 6 and 10.

The Rabbis recount the miracle of Hanukkah in these terms,

On Kislev 25 begin the Hanukka days, eight of the...

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