Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates the ancient miracle of light. It commemorates the holy Maccabees’ rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is unknown when or how the holiday originated, but ancient writings tell tales of its founding. In this article, we’ll explore when Hanukkah first started in order to better understand the holiday going forward.
Hanukkah in the Bible
Legalized by the Maccabees in 164 BC, Hanukkah is closely associated with the Bible in the Books of Maccabees. The Books of Maccabees chronicle a Jewish uprising against Antiochus IV, a Syrian-Greek leader who wanted to assimilate Jews into his empire. After a successful revolt, the Maccabees rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem to the Jewish God.
The Miracle of Light
This event, and its ensuing victory, is commemorated each year on Hanukkah. The story of the Maccabees’ success and victory includes a miracle that symbolizes the holiday: the re-dedicated Temple featured a large, seven-branched Menorah. When the Maccabees lit this Menorah with fresh oil, it burned for eight days despite there being only enough oil to last one! This is known as the miracle of the Menorah and is re-enacted each year on Hanukkah.
Hanukkah in Literature
In addition to the Bible, literature details when and how Hanukkah began. Scholars have identified a number of rabbinic works from the first two centuries CE that reference the holiday.
- The Talmud, or Jewish Law, mentions Hanukkah in several places
- The Midrash, a collection of Hebrew legend, tells stories about the Maccabees and their victory over Antiochus
- The Mishna, a book of Jewish laws, includes a section that explicitly describes the eight-day Hanukkah celebration
Originally, the holiday was celebrated as a one-day festival, on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, to celebrate the first day of the Jewish victory (known as the celebration of the Maccabean Revolt). But soon enough, the holiday gained a place in Jewish life for eight days and nights in order to commemorate the miracle of oil.
In conclusion, Hanukkah first started in 164 BC following a revolt against Syrian-Greek leader Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The holiday was officially added as an eight-day festival in the late part of the second century CE to honor the miracle of light and the Maccabees’ victory. Hanukkah has been a significant part of Jewish life ever since.
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Last update 2023-11-26. Price and product availability may change.