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December 8, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

Today is the first day of the eight day Hanukkah celebration, beginning last evening at sunset.  Hanukkah is not one of the biblical feasts, but came into being during the four hundred years between the conclusion of Malachi and the beginning of the Gospels.  It was, however, celebrated by Jesus, the record of which may be read in John 10, verses 22 and following.  The story of its origin is also well documented in the two books of the Maccabees which are the most historically reliable books among the fourteen books of the Old Testament Apocrypha.

The story of Hanukkah is the final event in the rebellion of Israel against the persecutions and desecrations of the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes.  The leadership of the revolt was in the hands of a priestly family descended from Hasmon, thus they were called Hasmonians.  One of the five sons of Mattathias, the patriarch of the rebellion, took the nick name “the hammer,” which in Hebrew is “makkevet.”  Thus the name of the clan became the Maccabees.

The revolt began in the year 168 BC.  It ended in 165 BC with the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem which had been defiled by Antiochus, turning it into a temple of the Greek god Zeus and sacrificing swine upon the holy alter.  The alter was rebuilt and rededicated on Kislav 25, 165 BC, exactly three years to the day from its defilement by the Syrians.

The story of Hanukkah, of Dedication, is familiar to most and stands behind the tradition of the Hanukkah menorah which differs from the regular menorah.  The common menorah has seven lights or candles representing the days of creation and the Sabbath.  The word “Sabbath” is an Anglicization of the Hebrew word “Shabbat,” which means seventh.  The Hanukkah menorah has eight lights or candles with an additional candle called the servant candle, or, in Hebrew, the “shammash.”  The servant candle is lit first every evening and then used to light the appropriate number of candles in the menorah according to the number of the days.

The eight days of Hanukkah represent the miracle the oil.  The story goes that when the temple was rededicated the supply of consecrated oil for the lighting of the menorah was only enough for a single day.  It took eight days for the priests to prepare additional oil.  Because of a miracle of heaven, the single day’s supply of oil lasted for eight days until a new supply was available.

Hanukkah comes early this year because the Hebrew calendar is lunar rather than solar.  This means it shifts from year to year.  A program of make-up months is inserted into the calendar to keep it consistent with the solar calendar on a nineteen year cycle.

Remembering the attempts of a pagan dictator to eliminate the Temple and Hellenize Judaism so that Israel is no more seems astonishingly contemporary.    Along with the threats comes the assurance: “He who keeps you will not slumber.  Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand (Psalm 121).”

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ).