The Secret History of Hanukkah


Everything your Hebrew school taught you about the miracle of Hanukkah is a lie.

According to the Book of Maccabees, which most scholars believe was written shortly after the Maccabean revolt, Hanukkah was born of another holiday: Sukkot. When the Maccabees finally retook the Temple in the month of Kislev, they decided to celebrate Sukkot, the seven-day pilgrimage holiday which they had missed during their battles with the Greeks. At the end of Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret, an eighth day of celebration. So the Maccabees rededicated the Temple and immediately set out to celebrate for eight days.

If, as many scholars say, that’s the true origin of Hanukkah, then where did we get the story of the oil? Josephus Flavius wrote about Hanukkah 250 years later, and referred to it as the “Holiday of Lights,” connecting light with freedom.

350 years after that, the Talmud tells of Hanukkah, including the miracle of the oil, in three lines. Over time the focus of Hanukkah shifted from the military victory in the Book of Maccabees, to an oily miracle summarized in the Talmud.

But don’t let this news keep you from enjoying latkes, and basking in those pretty lights.

Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

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