delanceyplace.com 1/11/10 - hanukkah
In today's excerpt - Alexander the Great had conquered Jerusalem, but had allowed the Jews to continue their religion. However, when Alexander died and his kingdom was divided among his generals the kingdom that inherited Jerusalem in this division, called the Seleucid kingdom, reversed his policy and attempted to eradicate Judaism:
"[After Alexander] fashionable Greek influence became pervasive among the Jews. A gymnasium in the Greek style was built in Jerusalem near the temple, and faithful Jews began to see their traditions and customs eroding, sometimes quite drastically. An example of the former would be the behavior of Antiochus IV, king of the Seleucids, who thought to eradicate Judaism. Pigs were to be sacrificed in the temple to Greek gods. Daniel had warned about this ruler, calling his actions the abomination of desolation. ... The decision of Antiochus to make war on faithful Jews was a spark: 'On his return from the conquest of Egypt, in the year [169 BC], Antiochus marched with a strong force against Israel and Jerusalem. In his arrogance he entered the temple and carried off the golden altar, the lamp-stand with all its equipment .. and took them all with him when he left for his own country' (I Macc. 1:20-24 NEB). Not content with insulting their religion, the king then declared that the Jews must abandon it. ... The penalty for resisting his decree was death.
"The revolt was led by a priestly family, the Hasmoneans, beginning with Mattathias. He killed a Jew who was about to offer a compromised sacrifice, and then he killed the officer presiding over the affair. He and his sons took to the hills and began to wage a campaign against the Gentiles. After Mattathias died, the guerrilla campaign was taken over by his son Judas Maccabeus. He fought so ably that he liberated Jerusalem and cleansed and rededicated the temple, profaned as it had been by Antiochus.
They celebrated the rededication of the altar for eight days; there was great rejoicing as they brought burnt-offerings and sacrificed peace-offerings and thank-offerings. ...There was great merry-making among the people, and the disgrace brought on them by the Gentiles was removed. Then Judas, his brothers, and the whole congregation of Israel decreed that the rededication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness at the same season each year for eight days. (I Macc. 4:56-59 NEB)
"This was the basis for celebrating Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights. Although it is not one of the feasts required by the law of Moses (as with Purim, established in the book of Esther), the celebration has taken deep root."