Hanukkah is one of the best known Jewish holidays. Non-Jews often think of it as the "Jewish Christmas", but few know the history and significance of the holiday.
In the year 175 BC Antiochus Epiphanes (Antiochus IV) murdered his brother and seized the Seleucid Empire’s throne. A fierce advocate of Greek culture, including its worship of many gods and goddesses, Antiochus viewed the Jewish religion to be barbaric and incompatible with “civilized” Hellenic society.
Epiphanes oppressed the Jews severely. He massacred many, desecrated the Jerusalem Temple by placing a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies, and sacrificed pigs (an unclean animal according to the Torah) upon its altar.
Antiochus abolished worship of Yahweh, the observance of Sabbaths, Jewish festivals, circumcision and destroyed copies of the Scriptures. Epiphanes forced Jews to worship Zeus and to eat pork that had been sacrificed to the idol. Those refusing were executed. Anyone who circumcised their newborn son was killed, along with the child.
It was under this extreme religious persecution that the Judeans revolted against Seleucid rule.
When the Jerusalem Temple was cleansed and rededicated to the worship of Yahweh, little oil remained that had not been defiled by the Greek oppressors. Oil was necessary to burn in the large holy lamp, called the Menorah, which stood in the Temple’s sanctuary. The Menorah was supposed to burn continuously and throughout the night, but there was only enough oil for a single day. Miraculously the Menorah continued to burn for 8-days, until additional oil could be prepared and consecrated.
Passover shares similarities with Hanukkah. Both holidays celebrate the Jewish people's deliverance from persecution and the restoration of Hebrew identity, a reoccurring theme throughout Jewish history. Oppression and hatred of God’s people has been continuous. But the Children of Israel have been saved from genocide even in the darkest of circumstances. Although 6-million Jews tragically perished in the Nazi Holocaust during World War II, Hitler's plans to wipe out the Jewish race did not succeed.
Light overcoming darkness is an underlying theme of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Hanukkah is celebrated at the time of year when night is longest and darkness seems pervasive. But a few days later the hours of light begin to lengthen. Spring is coming, when life will be renewed and restored.
The story surrounding Hanukkah has significance for us today. It is a reminder that although darkness, depression and evil may seem to surround us on all sides, goodness is greater than evil, and darkness is overcome by the smallest of lights.
To read more about the circumstances prior to the events creating Hanukkah, and Antiochus Epiphanies' persecution, read THE ANGEL OF ANTIOCH. To find a library near you that has a copy, go to WorldCat.org - or ANGEL may be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore. To find out more go to www.angelofa.com