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eTeacherBiblical Official Newsletter
Issue #118 - 12/12
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Eli Dahan

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Chanukah in the Old Testament

After a detailed read, cover-to-cover, of the Hebrew Bible, there’s no sign of Chanukah. The Old Testament ends with Cyrus’ declaration which enabled the Jewish people to return from the exile to Jerusalem in order to build the Second Temple. There are some prophets in the beginning of the Second Temple Period, as well as leaders such as Ezra and Nehemiah, but there's no trace of the story about the victory of the Maccabees over the Assyrians (Greeks).

However, some aspects of the Chanukah story can be found in the Old Testament for sure. First of all, let's understand that the meaning of the word “Chanukah” is inauguration or dedication. In Jewish tradition, Chanukah is the sixth inauguration story. Five others can be found in the Bible, beginning with the creation of the world in Genesis 1. Then there are stories that are related to sacred places, from the inauguration of the Tabernacle in Numbers 7:1, to the first Temple in Psalms 30:1 and the second in Ezra 6:16:

"וַעֲבַדוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּהֲנַיָּא  וְלֵוָיֵא וּשְׁאָר בְּנֵי-גָלוּתָא, חֲנֻכַּת בֵּית-אֱלָהָא דְנָה   בְּחֶדְוָה."

"And the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy."

The Re-building of the wallThe fifth inauguration is found in Nehemiah 12:27. In that episode, the Levites and the Priests (Kohanim) wanted to celebrate the new wall of Jerusalem that helped to protect the city. If you were wondering, the seventh inauguration is slated to be held in the next world (the world to come, generally understood as the Jewish afterlife); the clue for this event can be found in Isaiah 30:26.

Some scholars suggest that the Book of Daniel was written during the Maccabean revolt against the Assyrians, and as such, there are verses in the book that are likely related to the story of Chanukah.

One example is in at the end of Daniel 11, as written:

30 For ships of Kittim shall come against him, and he shall lose heart and withdraw. He shall be enraged and take action against the holy covenant. He shall turn back and pay heed to those who forsake the holy covenant.

31 Forces sent by him shall occupy and profane the temple and fortress. They shall abolish the regular burnt offering and set up the abomination that makes desolate.

 32 He shall seduce with intrigue those who violate the covenant; but the people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action.

ל  וּבָאוּ בוֹ צִיִּים כִּתִּים וְנִכְאָה  וְשָׁב וְזָעַם עַל

   -בְּרִית-קוֹדֶשׁ וְעָשָׂה; וְשָׁב וְיָבֵן, עַל-עֹזְבֵי

   בְּרִית  קֹדֶשׁ.

לא וּזְרֹעִים מִמֶּנּוּ יַעֲמֹדוּ; וְחִלְּלוּ  הַמִּקְדָּשׁ   

    הַמָּעוֹז וְהֵסִירוּ הַתָּמִיד וְנָתְנוּ הַשִּׁקּוּץ

     מְשֹׁמֵם.

לב וּמַרְשִׁיעֵי בְרִית יַחֲנִיף  בַּחֲלַקּוֹת; וְעַם

     יֹדְעֵי אֱלֹהָיו יַחֲזִקוּ וְעָשׂוּ.

 This passage revolves around the people who left the Temple, after they had abandoned the covenant or were forced by the ruling empire to leave it. Those people could be the people that the Book of Maccabees describes.

Another thought as a Biblical Hebrew teacher: One famous story about Chanukah is that of the small jar of oil that was presumed to only be able to last for one day  - the miracle is that the oil lasted for eight days. This story about the oil is also mentioned in the story of Elijah and the widow in 1 Kings 17:10-16. The last sentence of the story reminded me of Chanukah. The jar of oil was sufficient for eight days, enough time to re-purify the Temple; in the story of Elijah, the widow’s jar of oil lasted until God ended the drought, as written:

"The jar of meal was not spent, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which He spoke by Elijah"(1 Kings 17:16)

"כַּד הַקֶּמַח לֹא כָלָתָה, וְצַפַּחַת   הַשֶּׁמֶן לֹא חָסֵר   כִּדְבַר יְהוָה  אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר בְּיַד אֵלִיָּהוּ."

Elijah and the widow

 So, we can surmise that Chanukah actually is found in the Old Testament, if only in small clues and gentle motifs.

I wish you all Happy Chanukah!

Eli

 

 
Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation

 

English

Transcription

Hebrew

Jar

kad

כַּד

The oil

haššemen

הַשֶּׁמֶן

The temple

hammiqdāš

הַמִּקְדָּשׁ

Inauguration of

chănukkat

חֲנֻכַּת

covenant

bərît

בְּרִית

The burnt offering

hattāmîd

הַתָּמִיד

He spoke

dibber

דִּבֶּר

 
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