Friday, December 11, 2009

Hanukkah: Why Jesus had a dreidel when he was a kid.

I was running some errands this morning and NPR had a program on titled "Hanukkah Lights." I had forgotten that this evening is the beginning of Hanukkah. So I drove over to Fishman's Market & Deli in St. Louis Park. St. Louis Park is heavily populated with Jewish folks, so it makes sense that there would be a kosher market in the hood. I had never been in there before, and had always been curious. So why not?

It reminded me a bit of living in Jerusalem. There were numerous accents being spoken, and lots of guys with yamakas & long black coats. I bought some potato pancakes, tehina and some hanukkah snacks.
The city of S.L.P. used to have a big menorah next to the bridge across Hwy. 100 that they would light up. I didn't see it this year or the last. I hope they didn't take it down out of some P.C. nonsense. It was a part of the tradition of the season and I liked it.

Unless you are jewish you might not know much about hanukkah. So I shall now school you on it. But first I want to point out something that almost no one knows about. Hanukkah is mentioned in the New Testament AND Jesus celebrated it. This would make a lot of sense since he is jewish and grew up in Israel.
In John's Gospel, chapter 10:22 it says "Then came the Feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade." Well guess what? The Feast of the Dedication IS Hanukkah.

For those of you who have only a foggy idea of what it is, Hanukkah (חֲנֻכָּה) also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century B.C. It is observed for eight nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calander, and may occur from late November to late December on the Gregorian calander...which is the one that we use.

The festival is observed by the lighting of candles on the nine-branched Menorah. One additional light for each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. An extra light called a Shamash (Guard) is also lit each night for the purpose of lighting the others, and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The "shamash" symbolically supplies light that may be used for some secular purpose.

The history around all of this goes like this: Around 200 BC Jews lived as an autonomous people in Israel/Judea, which was controlled by the Seleucid king of Syria. (Alexander the Great had conquered everything in the region, and when he kicked the bucket his empire was essentially split into 4 different kingdoms. This was one of them.)
The Jewish people were originally granted religious freedom but after Antiochus IV got the throne in about 175 BC things got bad. Antiochus called himself "Epiphanes" which meant something like "The Magnificent." Others referred to him as "Epimanes," which basically meant "Nut Job." Under his reign, the Temple in Jerusalem was looted, Jews were massacred, and Judaism was effectively outlawed. In 167 BC Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus put up in the Temple. Then they sacrificed pigs on an alter to Zeus.

This was a really, really bad idea. As it turns out, there were plenty of jews who didn't take to kindly to un-clean animals being sacrificed to a pagan god in their sacred temple. So Mattathias, a local priest, and his five sons, led a rebellion against Antiochus. His son Judah became known as Yehuda HaMakabi ("Judah the Hammer"). By 166 BCE Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 BC the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was a success. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted by Judah and his brothers to celebrate this event. After recovering Jerusalem and the Temple, Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, olive oil was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. But there was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.

So there you have it. A whole new holiday was born. Hanukkah is not one of the High Holy ones that Moses instituted, but it's still important. Did God really work a miracle? I don't know. I wasn't there. But He certainly could have because He just does things like that, you know. I choose to believe it happened.
You can read more about it if you pick up a catholic bible. They have some extra books in there that are not considered Holy Scripture, but still have some value. There is a series in there called the Book of Maccabees. You can also pick up a copy of Flavius Josephus' book "The Antiquities of the Jews," which was written shortly after the failure of another jewish revolt in the late 60's AD. (He is also an-extra biblical source on the existence of Jesus.)

I really think that Believers need to know more about Judaism. We tend to look at Christianity through Grecco-Roman eyes. (That mindset is deeply engrained in our Western culture) However, everything biblical springs right out of Jewish culture. I mean for Pete's sake, Jesus IS the promised Jewish Messiah. He will sit on King David's throne and rule forever. So I think we would do well to understand our roots more.

After I post this I am going to put up my little Hanukkah stick-ums on my window. It's my little shout out to a little boy who played with a dreidel up in Nazareth a long time ago. He grew up to make the biggest difference in the whole wide world. OY!

Happy Hanukkah!


P.S. One more word about King David. He is largely responsible for most of the Psalms, and was quite the musician. Bono, of U2, says that King David was the Elvis of the Ancient World. Awesome!

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