What is the Real Story of Hanukkah?

Part 6 of the historically accurate 8 Part Series

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To read the Introduction to this 8 Part series please click below…

Q. Are there other information sources for what happened in this revolt and victory that is celebrated in the holiday of Hanukkah other than the Books of the Maccabee Vol. 1 and 2?

A. The other primary source for the Hasmonean dynasty is the first book of by the Jewish historian , (37–shortly after AD 100). Josephus’ account is the only primary source covering the history of the Hasmonean dynasty during the period of its expansion and independence between 110 to 63 BCE. Notably, Josephus, a , and former general in the Galilee, who survived the of the 1st century, was a Jew who was captured by and cooperated with the Romans, writing his books in Rome, which has caused some to question his impartiality and credibility as a historian.

Q. Why do modern Jewish scholars seem to have so many different perspectives on historical events concerning Judaism?

A. Judaism is a culture of questions and non-definitive answers on many issues and ideas. Much of Jewish history has been formed not only as reaction to oppression from others against Jews but also as an internal struggle between those who see Jewish law as a reflection of a covenant with God and those who sought to reform what they saw as an “antiquated” and “outdated” religion filled with superstitious elements.

This struggle goes all the way back to the struggle between “Hellenized” Jews and those in Jerusalem. Many believe the Hellenized Jews egged on Antiochus IV and instituted the religious reform in Jerusalem. Over the last few centuries, great Jewish scholars may have been influenced by their support or antipathy to various movements and philosophies, including Conservative and Reform Judaism in 19th- and 20th-century Germany, Marxism and Socialism in Poland and Russia.

What’s interesting for me, is that all the secular Jews who celebrate Hanukkah today; the Jews who eat pork products, shellfish, mix dairy with meat, don’t go to shul, marry outside of the faith, and don’t study or even believe in the Torah or Talmud are actually celebrating the wrong side in this fight. They live as the Hellenized Jews lived. They would have been the very people reviled and fought against by the Maccabees. I’m not judging or criticizing them. In fact, in many ways, I am one of them. Still, if you are one of them as well, think about that the next time you spin a dreidle or make some potato Latkes at your next Hanukkah Party.

Q. Does historical research support the Biblical narrative of what happened?

A. According to historical sources, the first book of by Jewish historian (AD 37–c. 100), after ’s successful invasion of was turned back by the intervention of the , Antiochus instead moved to assert strict control over the Seleucid satrapy of and Phoenicia, sacking and its , suppressing Jewish and Samaritan religious and cultural observances, and imposing practices. The ensuing revolt by the Jews (167 BCE) began a period of Jewish independence potentiated by the steady collapse of the Seleucid Empire under attacks from the rising powers of the and the .

Q. How long did the Hasmonean dynasty rule?

A. The Hasmonean was the ruling of and surrounding regions during . Between c. 140 and c. 116 BCE the dynasty ruled semi-autonomously from the in the region of Judea. From 110 BCE, with the disintegrating, the dynasty became fully independent, expanded into the neighboring regions of , , , , and , and took the title “”. Some modern scholars refer to this period as an independent kingdom of . In 63 BCE, the kingdom was conquered by the , broken up, and set up as a Roman . The dynasty had survived for 103 years before yielding to the in 37 BCE. Even then, tried to bolster the legitimacy of his reign by marrying a Hasmonean princess, , and planning to drown the last male Hasmonean heir at his palace.


In Part 7 of this series on Hanukkah, we will explore the relationship between the Jewish State formed by the Hasmonean Dynasty and Imperial Rome.

Author: Lewis Harrison is an Independent Scholar with a passion for history, personal development, self-improvement, and problem-solving. He is the creator of Harrison’s Applied Game Theory.

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