Hanukkah: The Rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem
1 Kings chapter 8 records the dedication of Solomon’s temple (the first temple) while Ezra chapter 6 records the dedication of the second temple. According to Ezra 6:16, the leaders of those who returned from exile were responsible for the completion of the temple. The term “dedication” is hanukkah in Aramaic.
The Jewish holiday in December that celebrates the recapture of the temple from the Seleucids and its rededication (165 or 164 BC) is also known as Hanukkah.
It started with The Maccabean Revolt at around 167 BC. Mattathias ben Johanan, an elderly priest, defied the order to offer up an unclean sacrifice to one of the pagan gods. Instead, he killed both the compromising Jew who did offer the sacrifice and the Greek soldier who was there to see that his government’s law was carried out. After this incident, Mattathias fled to the desert with his five sons and there organized a band of rebels. After his death (166? BC), his third son Judah assumed the leadership of these guerrilla warriors. He was nicknamed Maccabee, “the hammer,” (Judah Maccabee) for hammering at the enemy.
Though they were outnumbered by their enemy, the Seleucid army, the Maccabeans achieved remarkable victories. December of 164 BC, three years after Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple, Judah Maccabee cleansed the temple; removed from it the images of Greek gods including the foreign altars and the other despised furnishings of pagan worship, and rededicated the whole of the temple to the Lord. Hence, a new feast was established to commemorate this remarkable deliverance of the Jews from their pagan overlords. This account is recorded in the the Apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees 4:41-61.
Hanukkah was not a required pilgrimage festival, but the eight-day celebration of lights in the temple was beautiful, and many pious Jews from nearby Galilee would come to Jerusalem. Thus, Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights. The holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah. A menorah, the Hebrew word for lamp, has seven branches. It was originally used in the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Menorahs were lit daily, for eight days, using olive oil of the purest quality.
Hanukkah was the next festival after those immediately connected to the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-10:22). It begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and usually falls in November or December. This year’s celebration begins on Thursday, December 10, at sundown and ends on Friday, December 18.
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