December 03, 2010
At Mondoweiss, David Shasha discusses the origins and history of the Hanukkah holiday:
[T]he rabbis could not eliminate a holiday which had popular roots among both the Jewish masses and the priestly elite. Hence, they developed a hagiographic tale of a cruse of oil that was found amidst the Temple relics that was the only "pure" oil that could be used to light the Menorah, Hebrew candelabrum; according to the rabbis the oil, a one-day supply, lasted for the eight-day rededication ceremonies...Commenter "bob" links to an article from 2005 on the same subject by James Ponet at Slate:
The story of the cruse of oil knowingly obscured the historical underpinnings of the holiday which, in addition to the Book of Maccabees sources, appears in Josephus' Jewish Antiquities Book 12, Chapter 7. Our historical sources tell us nothing about the cruse of oil but do tell us a good deal about the Maccabees and their war against the Syrians.
Read in its historical context ... the Hanukkah story is really about a revolt against the Hellenized Jews who had fallen madly in love with the sophisticated, globalizing superculture of their day. The Apocrypha's texts make it clear that the battle against Hellenization was in fact a kulturkampf among the Jews themselves...Two narratives then emerge: Hanukkah as a Zionist commemoration of the Maccabean warrior tradition and, simultaneously, Hanukkah as an assimilationist "Jewish Christmas". It seems something of an arduously contradictory burden for a little holiday to bear.
... Armed Hasmonean priests and their comrades from the rural town of Modi'in attacked urban Jews, priests and laity alike, who supported Greek reform, like the gymnasium and new rules for governing commerce. The Hasmoneans imposed, at sword's edge, traditional observance. After years of protracted warfare, the priests established a Hasmonean state that never ceased fighting Jews who disagreed with its rule.