It was almost a century and a half since the Greek General Alexander, sometimes called 'The Great' conquered Judea, as well as most of the known world, as far as India in the east. The time of occupation have been hard, some rulers worse than others. The Greek empire was so large that empire has been divided so that Judea was part of the Greek Seleucid Empire, that stretched from Turkey to the Indian borders, with Antioch as it capital. The present emperor is Antiochus IV and life in Judea has been hell on Earth for all Jews living in that kingdom. Antiochus was more than anti-Semitic, he had an irrational hatred of, and despises the Jews. Antiochus has proclaimed laws that makes almost every religious act a crime, and suppress the practice of basic Jewish law. In the year 3877 the King invaded Judea with a huge army and took Jerusalem from the Jews, solders plundered the city and the temple. Our temple was defiled and a law was made to stop the practice of daily offering of sacrifice, that was three and a half years ago. It is now 3880, Antiochus has ordered an altar to the Greek god Zeus to be erected in our Temple. He already banned 'brit milah' (circumcision) and has now ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the sacred altar of the temple. This is the last straw, and many of us are ready to rise up against Antiochus; we have little chance of success, we are not warriors and there are no many of us compared to Antiochus' army. We have to do something, we have endured all of the insults to the Lord so far, and we pray that He will act as He did in times of old.
There is a family here, who have been very vocal against Antiochus, they are Mattathias family, more specifically his sons, Judas, Maccabeus, Jonathan, Apphus, and Simon, Thassi, and Simon's son, John Hyrcanus. The family have constantly defied the laws and held services in their homes and continued traditional Jewish teaching, I have attended myself on occasion. Mattathias is of course a priest of the Lord, so has great sway with our community, it was a surprise, no, more a shock, when Mattathias killed a Jewish man who wanted to comply with Antiochus's order to sacrifice to Zeus. Then, when a Greek official, who was there to enforce the King's law was killed when he tried to intervene and arrest Mattathias. That was what triggered the rebellion.
The whole nation quickly heard what Mattathias had done, and back in his home he called his sons together, “My sons now is the time for our nation to rise up, I have prayed to the Lord and He has told me that He will be faithful to us. Go out my beloved sons and tell Judea that the time has come to raise us against this enemy of the Lord.”
“Do you think that is wise father, we are no match for the Greek army,” asked Apphus.
“Why do you doubt Apphus, my son, remember the armies we faced when Joshua brought into this land and fought many battles with just a hand-full of men,” Mattathias reminded them, “I have the Lord's promise.” The seven sons went out across Judea and prepared the Jewish people. It was by no means a short campaign and Mattathias sadly never sees the eventual victory as he dies in 3881AM.
On the 13th of the month Adar, 3886, the Battle of Adasa took place near Beth-horon, between the Maccabees and the Empire, led by Nicanor. The Maccabee's won the battle, but Nicanor was killed. Despite this victory, a year later Judah Maccabee was defeated and killed, fighting the Empire at Elasa. The following years the Jews fought a gorilla war against the Greeks. In 3883 (164 BC), Judah Maccabee crushed the vastly numerically superior Greeks under Lysias at the Battle of Beth Zur and restored the temple in Jerusalem. The Battle of Beth Horon was fought in 3881 (166 BC) Judah Maccabee had taken command after his father's death, Judah led the growing Jewish army against General Apollonius. The Seleucid army suffered a crushing defeat. The Judeans had a superior knowledge of the terrain, Judah's forces were split, half his army formed small groups who repeatedly ambushed the larger Seleucid force from various directions. Seron, the governor anticipated this and decided to spread his forces out, in order to present a smaller target for the ambushes. The Maccabees showed their better tactical skill and their main force attacked the thinly spread line, which decimated the general's leading unit and even killing Seron himself. With their commander dead, the battle-shocked and discouraged remnants of the Seleucid army took to the hills and fled. This was a crucial victory and led to recapturing the Temple, which is liberated and rededicated (Hanukkah). This happened on 25th day of Kislev (often said to be December). It took until 3905 (142BC) to re-establish the second Jewish Commonwealth, when the Seleucid Greeks recognised Jewish autonomy. Eight years lateer Antiochus VII sets siege to Jerusalem and takes the city, the Jews under John Hyrcanus become subject to the Seleucid Empire but are allowed to maintain their religious autonomy. It was not until 3818 (129 BC) that Antiochus VII dies and Jews throw off the Syrian yoke totally.
Since 25th day of Kislev in 3881 we have celebrated Hanukkah or Chanukah, not because of the battle, but because the Lord made good on His promise and the miracle of the oil. Antiochus VII army had a strength of some 60,000 Seleucid soldiers, whilst our army consisted of around 7000 Jewish rebels we were mostly outnumbered by at least five to one. The Lord's sign, however, was when we rededicated the Temple; the first act after the cleansing and reconsecration, was to light the great Menorah at the entrance. It was found that there was only enough oil for the Menorah to burn for one day. A group were sent south to obtain more oil, but it was a three day journey and it would take two days to purify the oil, then another three day journey back to Jerusalem, and told to make all haste. Meanwhile, Judah it was decided to light the Menorah anyway, an act of faith and trust in the Lord and as a signal to Jewry. The Menorah burned all that day and into the next, I watched in amazement that it was still burning with so little oil. My friend David was in charge of the oil and I went with him to check the level, “It's hardly gone down at all,” he said as he looked at the feed tank that fed the seven lamps. I suggested that the channel may have become blocked, “Then the lamp would be out,” he scolded. After that we kept returning to the Temple steps to see if it was burning, and our visits became more frequent as the days passed. Sometimes David and I just sat and watched the flames for long periods, we were fascinated.
On the morning of the eighth day the lamps were continuing to burn, we checked the oil supply as usual, David reported, “I think it running on smell,” there was so little oil left. We all prayed to the Lord that it would last until the men who went to get the oil got back, and the lamps kept on burning. It was just a hour before dusk when Joseph ben-Lot came running up the Temple steps, “They're here, coming in through the southern gate.” Joseph had not regained his breath before we heard the rumble of the cart coming up the street. We lifted the one of the amphora from the cart and carried it as if it were the Ark itself, to the Menorah, as we lifted it to pour the oil into the tank, the lamps started to splutter, as the last of the oil was consumed. Quickly we poured the new oil in and it made us almost drop the amphora, the seven lamps suddenly flashed, not the normal flash and splutter when there is air in the wick stem, but a flash like lightening. No we didn't drop the oil, t was much too precious for that, I believe it was a final sign from the Lord that the miracle her had wrought had finished. We all fell to our knees and then prostrated ourselves, because we knew we were in the presence of the Lord and that this place, The Temple, was indeed holy ground.
To remind ourselves and our nation of the wonders that the Lord has done for us we decreed that we should evermore celebrate the 25th day of Kislev for all generations. A day when the Lord of Hosts gave us the gift of freedom to worship and the gift of light. He is a lamp unto my feet in this dark world.
Four centuries later the new church of 'The Way' later to become Christianity, converted a feast day to remember the virgin birth of Jesus bar-Joseph. They needed a specific date in the new calendar, many Judaian Christians were already observing Hanukkah, some celebrated in line with the Hebrew calendar, the 25th day of Kislev, others started to use the new Roman calendar, the 25th of the tenth month, December, and maybe, just maybe, Christmas was born. Some still celebrate Hanukkah to the old calendar today, not liking the influence that the pagan feast made on the new day.
© Derek P. Blake, December 2017