CHAPTER 4: HISTORY

      

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Photo by Steven Stern

27. Is there outside corroboration for the story?

      A:  The main source information about the Maccabean Revolt comes from the two Books of the Maccabees (questions #7 and #8). Some scholars consider the Books to have been written as a chronicle of the Hasmonean dynasty (question #25). Other references, as in the Book of the Hasmoneans (question #12) and the Talmud (question #3), use Maccabees I and II as their source materials. There is another source, written by the historian Josephus. He lived well after the events that are recounted in First Maccabees, and based his account on the book, but his inclusion of the story in his Jewish Antiquities (12.7.6-7 316-325) shows its importance and the acceptance of it as historical fact.

28. Who was Josephus?

      A: The Jewish historian Titus Flavius Joseph (c. 37-100 CE) was born in Jerusalem as Yoseph ben Mattisyahu. Even though he originally participated in the first revolt against Rome, he surrendered to the leader of the Roman forces in the Galillee and ingratiated himself with him. When the general became the Roman Emperor Vespasian, he pardoned Josephus, who then took the emperor’s family name Flavius. When Vespasian’s son Titus invaded Jerusalem, Josephus, now a Roman citizen, served as his advisor and translator.

 29. What did Josephus write?

       A:   His first major work was The Jewish War (c. 75 CE), a seven volume history beginning with the story of the Maccabees  and ending with the fall of Jerusalem. It includes the now iconic story of the siege of Masada, when the Jews chose suicide over slavery.

His second major work was Jewish Antiquities (c. 94), a twenty-one volume history of the Jews beginning with creation.

Josephus had two sometimes conflicting motives: one was to curry favor with the Romans so they would look favorably on the Jews; the other was self-aggrandizement, so the Romans would look favorably on him.

30. What did Josephus say about Chanukah?

      A: Although Josephus’ main source was 1 Maccabees 4:36-59, and he follows it fairly faithfully, there are emendations in his account to downplay the importance of the revolt, so as not to anger the Romans.

Josephus’ is the first printed mention of Chanukah as the “Festival of Lights.” His explanation is that the Maccabees brought the Jews out of the darkness of religious oppression to the light of the Torah. He does not make mention of the lighting of the candles during the festival as the origin of the phrase, possibly because he did not want to remind the Romans that the candles represent the Maccabees’ victory over foreign invaders.

31. Is Chanukah mentioned in the Christian Bible?

      A: John 10:22-23: “At that time the Festival of the Dedication (Renewal) took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon.”

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