MAD KINGS AND MACCABEES: THE FIRST HANUKKAH

Image (5)Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights (also known as the Feast of Dedication) is celebrated with the lighting, over eight days, of the ceremonial menorah: a unique nine-branched candelabrum. The origins of this festival, and the first Hanukkah, are found in the 2nd century BC; when the Jewish people faced and overcame one of the many threats to their cultural and physical existence in their long and storied history.

In 331 BC Alexander the Great marched through Palestine on his way to Egypt; after defeating the Persians at Issus and capturing Phoenician Tyre in the two years previous. A meeting with the Jewish Temple authorities (and even a visit to Jerusalem, complete with sacrifice on the Temple Mount to God) is likely apocryphal. But Judea now became part of the Macedonian Empire. As with most peoples he conquered, Alexander granted the Jews local autonomy, and the right to practice their customs and (most importantly to the Jews) their religion without interference.

However,  following the Wars of the Diadochi that began after Alexander’s untimely death in 323 BC, Judea became a province (“Coele-Syria“) of first the Kingdom of the Ptolemies; and later, after their victory at the Battle of Paneion, the Empire of the Seleucids.

Throughout most of this period of Hellenistic control over Judea, the Jews were left alone to conduct their religious affairs as they wished. However, in 175 BC a new king came to the Seleucid throne; one that would change the relationship between the King and his Jewish subjects, and that between Jews and Hellenism forever. It would lead to a seminal moment in Jewish history, when as a people they stood tall and defended their ancient religion. It would also give the Jews one of their greatest champions: Judah Maccabee, “the Hammer”.

(To continue reading, go here.)

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