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November 2019 – History in Perspective: Hanukkah & the Dead Sea Scrolls

During the two centuries before the Maccabean revolt (168-164 B.C.E) Greek culture had challenged traditional Jewish ways of life.  Greek replaced the local language and Jews began interpreting Jewish tradition to remake Judaism into a subculture of the Greeks.

Close to the end of the second century B.C.E., Greek culture attempted to transform the Jerusalem priesthood.  That event set the stage for the Maccabean revolt. Antiochus IV Epiphanes sold the office of high priest to Jason, the highest bidder.  Later the right to live according to the Torah, granted by Antiochus III was rescinded and Jews became second-class citizens in their own country.  Foreign idolatrous worship was introduced into the Jerusalem Temple in December of 167 B.C.E. Shabbat and festivals were violated. Circumcision outlawed.  The laws of Kashrut were not observed and the penalty for violating these ordinances was death.

Under Judah the Maccabee (hammer), the Jewish armies defeated the Seleucid generals.  In December of 164 B.C.E., Judah and his men took Jerusalem and on the 25th of Kislev, they purified the Temple and reorganized the sacrificial system.  Judaism was restored to the nation. And a late celebration of the Festival of Sukkot was observed.  That celebration is Hanukkah which commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that for several years the Hasmoneans fought the Hellenized Jews, with the passing of time, the same Hasmoneans, who were looked upon as reformers, became Hellenized themselves.  They gave power to one of the different Jewish sects like the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Each sect sought to control the temporal powers that gave one sect or another the right to determine how the priests would minister in the Temple.  Each group responded differently to Hellenistic influences. The result of the ferment era would eventually determine the future of Judaism.

Two thousand years of silence have passed, the Dead Sea sect and its writings have been rediscovered in what is known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The first one discovered was the Qumran cave 1 in 1947. While some sects were accommodating to the new order in various ways, this Dead Sea group decided they had to leave Jerusalem in order to continue their unique way of life.  The Dead Sea sect and its origins are to be traced back and associated with the Hellenistic reform, the Maccabean revolt and Hanukkah.

The celebration of Hanukkah every year should help us remember historical facts which have been corroborated and supported with archeological findings.  Our history is palpable in archeological discoveries and our celebrations bring back the valiant spirit of our ancestors.

Hag Urim Sameach!

Happy Hanukkah to you and your family.  May you celebrate the festival of lights and dedication to our ancestral Maccabean past.