There a Great Miracle Occurred

Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.

1 Maccabees 4:59

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights that commemorates the re-dedication of the [Second] Temple in Jerusalem after the victory of Judas Maccabeus.

The story of the institution of the holiday is told in the deuterocanonical book of 1 Maccabees 4:52-59, and again in 2 Maccabees 10:1-8, though without the legend that the sanctified oil to use in the lampstand should only have lasted for one night, but miraculously lasted for eight. That story is told in the Talmud, according to My Jewish Learning. The larger story of why the holiday was even needed in the first place is told in the earlier chapters of 1 Maccabees.

World religions texts often tell us that Hanukkah is a “minor holiday” in the Jewish calendar. Its prominence in the contemporary US has a great deal to do with the relentless commercial onslaught of Christmas, and the need for Jewish families to practice a kind of cultural resistance.

There’s some truth to that. But the story of Hanukkah has been a hopeful story of resistance and ultimate victory from its inception: victorious Jewish resistance, victorious popular resistance, and ultimately, victorious faithful resistance to the forces of idolatry, darkness and death [which are ultimately absolutely egalitarian].

Along these lines, check out Yad Vashem’s online exhibition “Hanukkah before, during and after the holocaust”, especially the survivors’ testimony of celebrating Hanukkah in the camps.

And consider the strange history of Judas Maccabaeus, the oratorio by Handel.

Let your light shine.
Happy Hanukkah.

Image:”Pletzl rue des Rosiers Boulangerie Juive Vitrine,” by Utilisateur:Djampa – User:Djampa, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Revised; originally published December 23, 2019.

2 responses to “There a Great Miracle Occurred”

  1. Great holiday insight here. Thanx for feeding my mind.

    For many years now, I have purposely avoided celebrating September 23. (To be honest, I was avoiding it all my life, but only became purposeful about it after studying “the Gospel” with N.T. Wright and the birth narrative of Jesus especially in Luke.

    After discovering the inscription about the “birthday of the god Augustus,” it occurred to me that Caesar’s birthday once was occasion for festive celebrations across the empire. After all, it was called GOSPEL among imperials.

    When looking carefully at Luke’s presentation, it is clear that Jesus rivals Augustus (any Caesar, really) in humility and as a birthday of the God. The heavenly court opens to lowly shepherds and such.

    Your post suggests new and related thoughts to me. IF Hanukkah moves from a minor holiday to a major one BECAUSE of modern imperial commercial forces, then it is being robbed of something. Hijacked by the empire the holidays once resisted.

    I hadn’t thought of that.

    What do I do with that?

    I don’t know. But I am open to ideas.

    At least I have that Sept. 23rd thing down. And I find it a remarkable Coup D’état that two millennia later, no one remembers to celebrate the birthday of Augustus, but that lowly peasant once celebrated only by shepherds and foreigners holds our fascination.

    (A complicated notion, but true enough anyway.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome, Agent X! I didn’t know this about September 23, so thank YOU for passing that on.

      The role of the imperial is thought-provoking indeed. I am socialized enough in “Western Civ” to notice, over and over again, that much as we might bemoan the “Constantinian Compromise,” and think that getting allied with the Roman Empire was a loss for the church – I definitely think this, too, over and over! – still, that whole history is not exactly incidental to the fact that the lowly peasant once celebrated only by shepherds and foreigners holds our fascination. I don’t know what to do with all that, either.

      Liked by 2 people

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