The Real Hanukkah Story

Here is a fairly good video Docu-Drama about the real story of Hanukkah, based on the Books of Maccabees 1 & 2.

It is unfortunate that Jews are rarely exposed directly to the books of Maccabees, as these books are the primary sources for one of the most important chapters in Jewish history: the struggle for independence that led to an independent Hasmonean Jewish state which lasted for ~100 years until the Roman conquest in 63BC. It was the last independent nation state ever to exist in the land of Israel until 1948.

Did you ever wonder why the books of Maccabees are not in the Tanakh? As Prof. Avigdor Shinan explains in The World of Aggadah: during the Second Temple era, there were dozens of books hoping to become part of the canonical Tanakh, and some didn’t make the cut. The book of Maccabees was one of them, along with the Book of Jubilees, Ben Sira, and others. They were given the derogatory name “external books” (sefarim hitzoni’im), and the Mishnah specified that are off-limits to Jews: “One who reads sefarim hitzoni’im…has no place in the world to come” (San. 10:1). In spite of the prohibition, some external books (though not the Books of Maccabees) were found among the dead sea scrolls and at Masada.

1 Maccbees was a Hebrew text written around 120 BC in the land of Israel and translated to Greek as part of the Septuagint project. The Jewish Sages later excluded it from the Jewish Bible Canon to avoid provoking the Romans, but luckily it was preserved as part of the Catholic Apocrypha. It is considered historically accurate, and formed the basis for the writings of Josephus.

2 Maccabees was written in Greek as a letter from the land of Israel to the Jews of Alexandria notifying them of the new holiday of Hannukah and the reason for its celebration. It is, by its own account, a distillation of five other books that have not been preserved. If you think the Greeks were civilized, read 2 Maccabees Ch. 7 for some of the most brutal and disgusting details of human torture ever committed to writing… and if you want to be even more disgusted, try to read the 4th book of Maccabees.

As you may have guessed from the previous paragraph, there are two more books of Maccabees: 3 & 4.

3 Maccabees actually takes place in Egypt at around the same timeframe, which is probably the reason for the name. It is an amazing story of early anti-semitism. It tells of an attempt to exterminate the Jews of Alexandria by jamming them into a stadium and letting loose a herd of drunken Elephants. Eventually, the plan backfires, and there is a happy ending. It is very interesting to read, especially for anyone who thinks that anti-semitism started with Christianity or Islam.

4 Maccabees is, to me, the most fascinating of them all. It combines the horror story of brutal torture against Hannah and her seven sons with a unique philosophical treatise. I plan to write a separate blog on this book and its unique approach to Jewish Theology.

I hope you will take the time to read these important books yourself and make up your own mind regarding the various narratives that have emerged around Hanukkah.