The Hanukkah Story-A bridge between Jews and Christians
Intro: Hanukkah is probably the most widely known Jewish holiday among non-Jews. People are familiar with Hanukkah because it often falls in the Holiday season near Christmas. Many people are familiar with the Hanukkah menorah-which Jewish people put in their windows to celebrate and proclaim their faith. But what is Hanukkah-why do the Jewish people observe this holiday. Joining us today is Rev. Stephen Missick-who has written and illustrated a comic book entitled "The Hammer of God" that tells the Hanukkah story.
Why did you title it "The Hammer of God"?
Because Hanukkah tells the story of Judah Maccabee. In Aramaic Maccabee means "the Hammer." Judah the Hammer fought a battle to win religious freedom for the Jewish people. He had to fight so that the Jewish people could worship God in peace.
So this is a true story? When did it happen?
The story of Hanukkah began 167 years before the birth of Jesus. A Greek tyrant came to power who was named Antiochus Epiphanes. He was a rabid anti-Semite who was determined to eliminate the Jewish people. He made it illegal to possess a copy of the Holy Bible, which of course were on scrolls in those days. It was also illegal to practice Jewish customs such as observing the Sabbath and feastdays such as Passover and Pentecost. It was also a death penalty offense to circumcise a Jewish baby. Any mother who circumcised her infant was put to death with her child.
To top it all off-Antiochus erected a pagan image in the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem and profaned the altar of God by sacrificing a pig upon it.
How did the people react to this?
Some of the people actually went along with it and thought that it represented progress. They believed that assimilation into the Greek way of life was the best way forward. Others were stuck in a profound conflict. They felt that they had to respect authority but on the other hand they couldn't disobey God. Many of these people chose to embrace martyrdom-they embraced death rather than dishonor God.
So, when does Judas Maccabee appear in the story?
Actually, his part really begins with his father Mattithias. The soldiers of Antiochus arrived in the city of Modein-where Mattithias as the village priest. They offered him two choices-worship idols of die. He made a third choice-to fight back. He killed the soldiers and called the people to arms. Mattithias was an elderly man and died a short time after this incident. Mattithias had five sons and two of them especially were talented leaders-these were Judah called Maccabee and his brother Simon called Thassi.
So Hanukkah is basically celebrating a war fought to achieve religious freedom-
That's right. Mattithias and Judah realized that the strategy of embracing martyrdom was only leading to the death of Jews-the only way to save their lives and their culture and way of life was to fight back in self defense.
So, Judah won the war?
He did win religious liberty for the Jews. He was able to liberate the Temple from Greek control and dedicate it to God again. That is what the word Hanukkah means-it is Hebrew and Aramaic for "Dedication." Sometime after that victory-Judah actually died in combat. His brother Simon continued his struggle and it was Simon who won independence for the Jewish people.
What is the connection between Hanukkah and Christianity?
Firstly, because this is one of the Jewish festivals that Jesus observed. According to the Gospel of John Chapter 10-Jesus went to Jerusalem during the winter to observe Hanukkah. This is significant because Hanukkah was a minor Jewish holiday that didn't require pilgrimage to Jerusalem-but Jesus thought it was important enough for him to observe it.
Are there any other connections between Christianity and Hanukkah?
I think that it is significant that it was Christians who preserved the Hanukkah story. For Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, the Book of Maccabees is part of the Old Testament. Protestants view Maccabees as apocryphal. Before the protestant reformation, when Maccabees was part of the Old Testament, Judah Maccabee was looked upon as an Old Testament hero-the way we look upon Abraham, Daniel, or King David today. Most people don't realize this, but in the original King James Bible-the books of Maccabees, along with other apocryphal books, were included between the Old and New Testaments-and that is when these events occurred-during the so-called "silent years" between the Old and New Testaments.
What is the modern significance of Hanukkah?
The story of Hanukkah is extremely relevant for two reasons. First, the issue of religious freedom. We see Christians being persecuted for their beliefs in the Islamic world-even being put to death. And here in America-we see powerful atheistic groups whose goals is to do away with religious freedom-these radical hate-groups include the ACLU, People for the American Way, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. It has gotten so bad that the government has threatened to close down privately owned businesses because the founder believes the Bible-and the government has ordered the Roman Catholic Church to pay for abortions-against the dictates of their church. The other issue is anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, hatred of Jews is alive as well and as dangerous as ever. During World War II we have seen how bad it could get-but its still here.