Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas? Part 1
Copyright 1994 - 2018 Bill's Bible Basics

Authored By  :
Bill Kochman

Published On :
December 11, 2010

Last Updated :
October 22, 2012


Maccabean Revolts Seleucid Kings And Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Jerusalem Conquered, Temple Defiled And Forced Pagan Worship, The Abomination Of Desolation, Conflict Between The Maccabees Interpretation & Jesus' Words In The Gospels, Destruction Of Jerusalem And Temple In 70 AD By General Titus, Moving Back Time Of Jesus' Life, Incomplete Unclear Historical Records, Debates Amongst Historians, Historians Don't Know Everything, Contributing Factors To Difficulty In Understanding History, Mattathias And The Hasmonean Dynasty, The Maccabees Brothers, Herodean Dynasty Assumes Power Under Roman Rule, Esau & Edom, Jewish Hanukkah - Festival Of Lights - Established In Israel, Alexander The Great, Seleucus Nicator, Seleucids And Syrians, No Mention Of Hanukkah Miracle In The Bible Or In Maccabees, Usages Of Word "Chanukkah", Or Dedication, In Old Testament




If you are a student of Biblical history, you may possibly know that insofar as Jewish history is concerned, the first and second centuries BC coincided with the various Maccabean revolts against the Seleucid kings of Syria. These revolts were instigated in large part when Jewish religious worship in the Temple -- and throughout Israel -- came to an abrupt end, and was replaced by forced Hellenistic idol worship, by Antiochus IV Epiphanes during the mid-2nd Century BC. In the First Book of the Maccabees, after explaining how Antiochus came to power, conquered and destroyed much of Jerusalem, defiled the Temple and stole many sacred things from it, the writer describes how this heathen king then forced the Jews to forsake the God of Israel, and to worship the pagan gods of Greece, as we see here:

"Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that each should give up his customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and feasts, to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they should forget the law and change all the ordinances. 'And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.' In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. And he appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the cities of Judah to offer sacrifice, city by city."
1 Maccabees 1:41-51

Only a few verses later, this same writer informs us of an event which occurred in the Temple at Jerusalem, which some Bible scholars believe may have been a direct fulfillment of a prophecy given to the Prophet Daniel hundreds of years before, concerning the Abomination of Desolation. Consider the following verses:

"Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege upon the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding cities of Judah, and burned incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law which they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Where the book of the covenant was found in the possession of any one, or if any one adhered to the law, the decree of the king condemned him to death. They kept using violence against Israel, against those found month after month in the cities. And on the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar which was upon the altar of burnt offering."
1 Maccabees 1:54-59

In the Book of Daniel, we find the following prophetic verses which, on the surface, appear to be describing the very same events which are written in the First Book of the Maccabees:

"And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate."
Daniel 11:31, KJV


"And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days."
Daniel 12:11-12, KJV


As I said, some Bible scholars and theologians are convinced that Daniel was writing about the events that occurred during the reign of Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, during the Second Century BC. For me personally, as I have briefly mentioned in other articles, the problem I have in embracing this Antiochus interpretation, is that in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus stated the following:

"When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened."
Matthew 24:15-22, KJV


This very same warning by Jesus concerning the Abomination of Desolation is repeated by the writer of the Gospel of Mark, as we see by the following verses:

"But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect's sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days."
Mark 13:14-20, KJV


Now, if we believe that Jesus Christ lived during the early part of the First Century AD, and was crucified around the year 30 AD, then we obviously cannot accept the Antiochus IV Epiphanes interpretation concerning Daniel's prophecy about the Abomination of Desolation. As the previous verses make very plain, Jesus was talking about a future event, and not about a past event which occurred almost two hundred years before His time. As you may know, the other interpretation that is popular amongst Bible scholars and theologians, is that Jesus truly was referring to an event which occurred in His future; that is, an event that occurred some forty years later when Roman forces, led by General Titus -- the son of Emperor Vespasian -- invaded and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. I discuss this topic in a number of other articles.

If, on the other hand, you accept that the Prophet Daniel was prophesying about the defilement of the holy Temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, when his people offered swine and other unclean animals on the altar in the Temple, amongst all of the other evil things that they did, then how do you resolve the obvious conflict with what Jesus stated in the Gospels about the Abomination of Desolation being a future event?

In my mind, if you accept this latter view, there appears to be only one way in which you can bring harmony between what both Daniel and Jesus prophesied, and what the First Book of the Maccabees reports; and that is by suggesting that Jesus lived considerably earlier than what we have supposed during the past two millennia. In other words, we would have to move Jesus' life to the very early part of the Second Century BC, so that His future prophecy concerning the Abomination of Desolation could have been given before the events that were perpetrated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his followers, in the mid-2nd Century BC.

It may surprise you to know, that I personally do not totally reject this scenario as one possibility. After all, just like scientists, historians do not have a perfect understanding of all past events. While they know a lot, they don't understand everything, because the historical record is not as complete as some of them might like for us to think. If you undertake a study of ancient history, you will discover that there are a number of debates regarding who was who, who lived at what time, who ruled at what time, etc. I in fact came across this problem a number of years ago when I was researching all of the Persian kings for my "Kings Of The North And The South" article. Questions of this nature continue to challenge the historians even today.

Such debates amongst historians often result from a lack of physical historical evidence, or from incomplete or unclear historical records, such as clay tablets, parchments, etc., and even from different interpretations of the same data. It also has a lot to do with ancient politics whereby a certain conquering power would often strive to destroy all evidence of the people whom they had conquered, etc. Let's not be too quick to forget that history is often written by the victor; which means that it may be skewed, without us even realizing it.

There's also the problem of different historical leaders being known by different names by different people. It all depends on who was writing about them. For example, some of the names of foreign rulers that are used in the Bible are not the same as those used by secular historians. If, for example, you undertake a study of the Biblical Persian king Ahasuerus, you'll discover that there exists some confusion regarding whether this particular Persian king was Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, Artaxerxes II, Cyaxares I or Cyaxares II.

To make the situation even more confusing, the ancients did not use the same kind of dating system as we do today. For example, while we might say that a particular event occurred in the year 2007, which for us is a fixed point in time that we can easily recognize, an ancient historian might describe a particular event as having occurred in the fourth year of the reign of king so-and-so. For that ancient historian, it was clear to him exactly what time he was referring to, but for historians today, trying to establish exactly when the fourth year of king so-and-so may have occurred can be very difficult, particularly if historical records are unclear or not complete.

So please just remember that historical records aren't always complete or clear, and that historians are not perfect. Their words are not the Word of God, and they can be wrong. While a modern historian may be accurate with some of his dates, just as easily, he could be way off the mark by dozens or hundreds of years with other dates. Regarding how to resolve the issue concerning the prophecies of Daniel and Jesus, the account of the Maccabees, and the Abomination of Desolation, let me just mention that this is something which I personally continue to research. I will have more to say concerning this topic in future articles and series.

At any rate, it was in large part a result of the atrocities which had been committed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, that the Hasmonean Dynasty came to power. The actual Hasmoneans, that is, the Maccabee brothers, were the five sons of Mattathias the Hasmonean. Mattathias was a Jewish priest who, so we are told in the First Book of the Maccabees, led the very first revolt against the Seleucids; that is, against Antiochus IV Epiphanes. According to chapter two, when the officers of Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to Modein -- which was the home town of Mattathias and his sons -- in order to demand that everyone demonstrate their loyalty to Antiochus by making a sacrifice to the pagan gods, Mattathias and his sons refused to do so. In fact, Mattathias killed another Jew who made an attempt to follow the officers' order, as we see by these verses:

"Then the king's officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Modein to make them offer sacrifice. Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled. Then the king's officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: "You are a leader, honored and great in this city, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts." But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: "Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king's words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left." When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice upon the altar in Modein, according to the king's command. When Mattathias saw it, be burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar. At the same time he killed the king's officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, as Phinehas did against Zimri the son of Salu. Then Mattathias cried out in the city with a loud voice, saying: "Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!" And he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the city. Then many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to dwell there, they, their sons, their wives, and their cattle, because evils pressed heavily upon them."
1 Maccabees 2:15-30

As you can see, according to the account in the First Book of the Maccabees, Mattathias and his five sons fled to the hills and were apparently joined by quite a few other Jews who were not about to bow to the unrighteous demands of a heathen king.

From that time forward, it was a time of guerrilla warfare, violence, assassinations and murder, as the Jews struggled against both the Seleucid forces, and against the encroaching influences of Hellenism. The five Maccabee brothers continued their struggle until Israel and Jerusalem were brought under Roman control in the year 63 BC by Roman General Pompey. With the death of the final Maccabee, the Herodians came to power in Israel, when Herod the Great became the first puppet king of Israel under Roman rule in 37 BC. He was an Idumean; that is to say, he was an Edomite from the land of Edom, which was originally the land of Esau and his descendants, who took it from the Horvites -- or Horims -- as I expain in the series "Nephilim: The Giants Of Genesis". Today ancient Edom forms a part of modern Jordan.

One development during that time period was the establishment of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, or Chanukkah. This Jewish word signifies "dedication" or "consecration". Following the victory of Judah Maccabee -- or Judas Maccabeus -- and his guerrilla army against the forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Jews sanctified and rededicated the Temple that was in Jerusalem. As a matter of clarification, this was the Second Temple which was built under the leadership of Zerubbabel, Nehemiah, Ezra and others, following the Jews' return from their Seventy Years of Babylonian Exile. Jonathan Maccabee became the new high priest following the victory over the Syrians; that is, the Seleucids. The Seleucids derived their name from Seleucus Nicator, who was one of four generals who took over, and then greatly expanded, the Babylonian portion of Alexander the Great's vast empire after Alexander's death. Eventually, the Seleucids power base centered in Syria, which formed the northwestern section of the Seleucid Empire.

According to the Jewish tradition, when the time arrived to light the flame in the Temple in Jerusalem, it was discovered that there was only enough consecrated olive oil to last for one day. However, Jewish tradition states that by a miracle, the oil lasted for eight full days until new consecrated oil could be prepared. This event resulted in Hanukkah -- or the Festival of Lights -- which is celebrated for eight days each Jewish year. This year -- 2010 -- Hanukkah is celebrated from sunset on December 1st to sunset on December 9th. The First and Second Books of the Maccabees tell us the following:

"So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and furnished them with doors. There was very great gladness among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was removed. 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 gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev."
1 Maccabees 4:56-59

"Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; and they tore down the altars which had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts. They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they burned incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence. And when they had done this, they fell prostrate and besought the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes, but that, if they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations. It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Chislev. And they celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the feast of booths, remembering how not long before, during the feast of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. Therefore bearing ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. They decreed by public ordinance and vote that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year. Such then was the end of Antiochus, who was called Epiphanes."
2 Maccabees 10:1-9

Please notice that the previous verses don't actually mention a miracle; which is why I have specifically referred to it as a Jewish tradition. Furthermore, please note that the miracle of Hanukkah is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible either. I will note, however, that there is one verse in the Gospel of John where this feast does appear to be mentioned, without saying anything about a miracle occurring. That verse is the following:

"And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter."
John 10:22, KJV


The word "dedication" is derived from the Greek "egkainia", and means "dedication" or "consecration", which is the same as the Hebrew "chanukkah" in the Old Testament. In fact, my Thayer's Greek lexicon states the following:

----- Begin Quote -----

"In particular the annual feast celebrated eight days beginning in the 25th of Chislev (middle of our December), instituted by Judas Maccabaeus [164 BC] in memory of the cleansing of the temple from the pollution of Antiochus Epiphanes."

----- End Quote -----

You will notice that the verse from the Gospel of John does mention that this feast occurred during the winter months; so again, it may possibly be referring to the Festival of Lights, unless there was another dedication feast in Israel that also occurred during the winter months.

Please also notice that where the word "chanukkah" is used in the Old Testament, it is not referring to the events of the Second Century BC surrounding the Maccabees. Rather, in the Book of Numbers, it is referring to the dedication of the altar during the time of Moses and the Tabernacle, as we see by these verses:

"This was the dedication of the altar, in the day when it was anointed, by the princes of Israel: twelve chargers of silver, twelve silver bowls, twelve spoons of gold: Each charger of silver weighing an hundred and thirty shekels, each bowl seventy: all the silver vessels weighed two thousand and four hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary: The golden spoons were twelve, full of incense, weighing ten shekels apiece, after the shekel of the sanctuary: all the gold of the spoons was an hundred and twenty shekels. All the oxen for the burnt offering were twelve bullocks, the rams twelve, the lambs of the first year twelve, with their meat offering: and the kids of the goats for sin offering twelve. And all the oxen for the sacrifice of the peace offerings were twenty and four bullocks, the rams sixty, the he goats sixty, the lambs of the first year sixty. This was the dedication of the altar, after that it was anointed."
Numbers 7:84-88, KJV


In the Second Book of Chronicles, the word "chanukkah" is used to refer to the seven-day dedication of the altar that Solomon observed once the construction of the First Temple had been completed. We are informed that in addition to this dedication, there was also a seven-day feast, for a total of fourteen full days. The Scriptures tell us that these events began on the eighth day, and concluded on the twenty-third day, when Solomon sent everyone back to their tents, as we see here:

"Also at the same time Solomon kept the feast seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great congregation, from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of Egypt. And in the eighth day they made a solemn assembly: for they kept the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days. And on the three and twentieth day of the seventh month he sent the people away into their tents, glad and merry in heart for the goodness that the LORD had shewed unto David, and to Solomon, and to Israel his people."
2 Chronicles 7:8-10, KJV


We can be certain that these feasts do not correspond to the Festival of Lights for two main reasons. First, they lasted for a total of fourteen days; and second, they occurred in the seventh month, which is Tishri, which corresponds to the civil calendar months of September-October. In contrast, the Festival of Lights occurs during the ninth Jewish month of Kislev which corresponds to the civil calendar months of November-December.

The next dedication we find in the Old Testament occurs in the Book of Ezra, where we find the Jews who have returned from the Babylonian Exile, dedicating the Second Temple. We are told that they completed the Temple on the third day of the twelfth month of Adar -- which corresponds to the civil calendar months of February-March -- and that they observed the Passover feast on the fourteenth day of the first month -- or Nissan -- which is March-April on the civil calendar, as we see here:

"And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy, And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses. And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month."
Ezra 6:15-19, KJV


Again we see by the months involved that this could not be a celebration of the Festival of Lights, which occurs during the ninth Jewish month of Kislev in the winter time.

In the Book of Nehemiah, we also discover some verses which discuss the dedication ceremony of the walls of Jerusalem. As you may recall, these walls had previously had been destroyed by the forces of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. In the sixth chapter, we learn that the wall repairs were completed on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Elul. This is the sixth month on the Jewish calendar which corresponds to the civil calendar months of August-September. This again demonstrates that this event had nothing to do with the Festival of Lights; that is, Hanukkah. Please consider the following verses:

"So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days."
Nehemiah 6:15, KJV


"And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps. And the sons of the singers gathered themselves together, both out of the plain country round about Jerusalem, and from the villages of Netophathi; Also from the house of Gilgal, and out of the fields of Geba and Azmaveth: for the singers had builded them villages round about Jerusalem. And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall."
Nehemiah 12:27-30, KJV


There are two other places in the Old Testament where the Hebrew word "chanukkah" -- or dedication -- is found. The first is in a brief description of Psalm 30, as we see by this verse:

"[A Psalm and Song at the dedication of the house of David.] I will extol thee, O LORD; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me."
Psalms 30:1, KJV


Finally, the last place were the word "dedication" is found is in the Book of Daniel; and it concerns the huge image of gold that Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar set up in the plain of Dura. Obviously, this event had absolutely nothing to do with the first Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah, or with the Maccabean brothers. Consider these verses:

"Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up."
Daniel 3:1-3, KJV


What we see then is that while the Hebrew word "chanukkah" is used a number of times throughout the Old Testament, in not a single case is it ever referring to the Hasmoneans and the Festival of Lights. How could it, when all of the events that I just shared with you occurred many centuries prior to the time of the Maccabee brothers? In short, there exists only one very short verse in the entire Bible, which suggests a possible reference to Hanukkah, and that is John 10:22; but even that lone verse makes absolutely no mention of a miracle occurring on Hanukkah.

Please go to part two for the conclusion of this article.

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