Saturday, December 05, 2015

More on the background of Hanukkah

HISTORY: What We Know About the Truth Behind the Hanukkah Story (Ashley Ross, Time Magazine).
In 175 BCE, the land of Israel was part of the Syrian-Greek Empire led by a King named Antiochus IV, also called “Epiphanes,” meaning “the gods’ beloved.” The most commonly cited source for the history of that time is the book First Maccabees, which was written in about 100 BCE, not too long after the events it describes. But [JTS Professor David] Kraemer cautions that, like all books, ancient and modern, it’s got a perspective. According to First Maccabees, religious persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes led the rebels known as Maccabees to take back their temple from the Syrian-Greek Empire. Meanwhile, another book called Second Maccabees has a very different story. According to that version, a group of Jews had been attracted by Hellenistic ways, and it was against that Hellenized leadership that the Maccabees revolted, taking back their temple. And that’s not all.

“We seem to also have eyewitness accounts of the events,” Kraemer says. “It’s a hidden account, the final prophecy of the prophet Daniel, which was written at the time of the Maccabean revolt, so you’ve got some evidence about it but it’s not a direct testimony. It’s very difficult to interpret.”
Some comments. (1) "Epiphanes" means "(a god) manifest," i.e., look at me, I'm a god! The ancients thought this was as crazy as we do. (2) An account of events sixty-plus years after they happened has ample scope for distortion of historical memory. (3) In addition to the Book of Daniel, the Animal Apocalypse (1 Enoch 83-90) was written during the Maccabean revolt. It is equally difficult to interpret. (4) I'm surprised that the article does not make clear that the story about the oil lamp that miraculously burned for eight days, which it mentions, comes in the rabbinic literature, long after the sources discussed here.