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Hanukkah: The Feast of Dedication

by Tim O'Hearn

Of all the many holidays the Jews have instituted after the giving of Torah (the Law), only one is mentioned in the New Testament. No reference is even made to Purim, as described in the book of Esther. Only the Feast of Dedication is mentioned: "At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon." (John 10:22-23) This Festival of Dedication is, in Hebrew, Hanukkah.

After Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided among his four generals. Palestine came under the control of the Seleucids. These rulers tried to Hellenize (make more Greek) the local peoples, with considerable success. Even Judaism was on the verge of disappearing. Then Antiochus IV Epiphanes, possibly by Godís design, made a big mistake. He had the audacity to sacrifice swine on the altar of the temple. A group of rebels, led by Judas Maccabeus succeeded against great odds to drive out the Greeks. In the winter of 165 BC, the Jews cleared the temple of all pagan objects, replaced the profaned altar, and rededicated the temple. Because the Feast of Booths had not been celebrated that year, the priests declared an eight day feast, henceforward called the Feast of Hanukkah (dedication).

Almost 200 years later, when Jesus walked in the Temple at that time, this celebration of release from foreign oppression was still practiced. Judea was again under hated foreign rule. Perhaps that is why the scribes chose this time to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah, whom they expected to deliver them from Roman rule. "So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, `How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.í" (John 10:24)

About another 200 years later, an old legend was written down. According to this legend, at the time of the rededication of the temple only enough holy oil was found to light the menorah (candelabrum) for one day. Miraculously, the old oil lasted the eight days until new oil could be made. Since the time this legend was written down, the holiday is also called the Festival of Lights, and its most notable element is the lighting of a menorah, one additional light on each day of the festival. Whether that miracle occurred is a matter of debate, since the earliest records (the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees) say nothing about it.

Hanukkah begins the evening of December 3rd this year.