Hanukkah or Hanoch-ah: Illuminating the Origins and Trajectory of an Apocalyptic Holiday

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Aton Holzer


An enduring mystery among scholars of classical rabbinic literature is the complete absence of a tractate treating Hanukkah from the Mishnah, the earliest collection of Jewish Oral Law. In this regard, it is singular among festivals with unique extra-sanctuary ritual observances, and the void left by its absence is sufficient enough that the Talmud saw fit to incorporate a ‘mini-tractate’ (Shabbat 20b-23b) to treat its particular halakhot. Various suggestions have been put forth by traditional and academic scholars, but each has its problems.[1] To be sure, the festival itself, or aspects of its observance, are referenced in numerous individual mishnayot,[2] but no separate tractate is devoted to its considerable legal intricacies, which instead receive treatment only in the Talmud―in the second chapter of tractate Shabbat.

However, might there indeed be a tractate ‘dedicated’ to Hanukkah, hiding in plain sight? Perhaps so―and perhaps investigating the background of the Hanukkah event can help us begin to grasp the full import of that which it subtly aims to convey. The curious treatment of Hanukkah in rabbinic literature may lie in hidden references and allusions to the holiday’s origins in an apocalyptic worldview.

I.        Second Temple Origins

The ultimate tractate in the order Mo’ed is Hagigah. At the ‘last minute,’ as it were, before closing the collection of treatises dealing with major and minor festivals, R. Judah the Prince adds a work that in many ways appears to allude to the holiday enacted to commemorate the ascent of the Hasmonean armies to the Temple and their purification of its precincts. Avraham Walfish demonstrates that the three chapters of Hagigah are structured around, and divided evenly between, two themes: the regulations regarding ascent to the Temple (chapters 1 through 2:5) and degrees of ritual purity (2:5-3), culminating in two mishnayot that treat the manner of the purification of the Temple courtyard.[3]

The tractate is peppered with words and themes that ring familiar to students of the Hanukkah story:

  • Near the beginning, the Mishnah declares that one who failed to bring the festival offerings of the Sukkot holiday on the eight days of the festival cannot bring them once the holiday has passed. The Mishnah highlights this scenario as a prime example of “what is crooked cannot be straightened” (Ecclesiastes 1:15); this directly contradicts the initial intent of the Hanukkah holiday as described by 2 Maccabees (1:9)[4] as a delayed Sukkot.
  • Modi’in, the home of the Maccabees, is invoked as a liminal space, one which stands on the border of the area within which merchants are trusted regarding the purity of pottery vessels ( Hagigah 3:5).

  • Nasi, prince, the status assumed by Simon Thassi and his descendants (1 Macc. 14:41), is asserted to properly refer to the preeminent member of the proto-tannaitic zugot, pairs―heads of the Sanhedrin―including Jose b. Joezer, a contemporary of Simon, and Joshua b. Perahyah, a contemporary of John Hyrcanus ( Hagigah 2:2). In fact, the Mishnah enumerates five generations of zugot, representing an alternate locus of authority and thus direct foil for the contemporaneous five generations of Hasmonean kings.

  • Jose b. Joezer, the uncle of Alcimus (Genesis Rabbah 65:22)―the priestly nemesis of Judah the Maccabee (1 Macc. 7:4-50, 9:1-57; 2 Macc. 14)―is designated “the righteous (Hasid) among the priests” ( Hagigah 2:7).

  • There is an unforced reference to a Torah scholar who separates from the Torah ( Hagigah 1:7), perhaps an oblique reference to the banner example of such behavior, John Hyrcanus (cf. Berakhot 29a).

  • There is an unusual degree of indulgence extended to robbers and thieves, such that one mishnah declares such sins inherently reparable ( Hagigah 1:7); another affirms that those who steal and return vessels―or enter the house to collect them in their capacity as tax collectors for foreign governments―are trusted to say that they have not defiled them (m. Hagigah 3:6). The key incidents enumerated as the triggers of the Hasmonean revolt were the pilfering of Temple vessels, by Antiochus himself (1 Macc. 1:20-24) or Jews such as Menelaus (2 Macc. 5:15-16) on behalf of the Seleucid government.

  • The last mishnah in the tractate deals with the purification of various Temple vessels, and it ends by singling out the altars as unique among vessels in not requiring purification―precisely the opposite of the decision of the Hasmoneans regarding the defiled Temple altar (1 Macc. 4:44-46).

This tractate, which appears to call to mind Hanukkah and Hasmoneans in so many ways, nonetheless omits or subverts any reference to them or their holiday. Why?

The central chapter of the tractate (chapter 2) begins with a discussion―unrelated to the themes of the tractate―that emerges as a tangent from the final mishnah of the previous one:

They may not expound upon the subject of forbidden relations in the presence of three.
Nor the work of creation in the presence of two.
Nor [the work of] the chariot in the presence of one, unless he is a sage and understands of his own knowledge.
Whoever speculates upon four things, it would have been better had he not come into the world: (1) what is above, (2) what is beneath, (3) what came before, and (4) what came after.
And whoever takes no thought for the honor of his creator [kevod kono], it would have been better had he not come into the world.[5]

Daniel Boyarin has noted that the precise referent of “what is above, what is beneath, what came before, and what came after” appears to be 1 Enoch 60:11: “And the other angel who went with me and showed me what is hidden told what is first and last in the heaven in the height, and beneath the earth in the abyss, and at the ends of heaven and on the foundation of heaven.”[6] The subsequent line of the Mishnah, moreover, calls to mind Nedarim 32b, which condemns Melchizedek for disrespecting God―he is the one biblical figure who refers to God as koneh (Genesis 14:19). Melchizedek is another important figure in Enochic literature. A polemic against key features of the Enochic literature opens the center of the tractate.

What are we to make of this?

1 Enoch―found in multiple Dead Sea Scroll fragments in its original Aramaic but preserved in its (relative) entirety only in the liturgical language of the Ethiopic church―is a collection of (at least) five works dating from different periods all within the Second Temple era. Based on the enigmatic passage of Enoch (Hanokh) in Genesis 5:22-24, the Enochic narratives center around the antediluvian Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam. He is enlisted in the divine battle against fallen angels who have taken human wives and thus populated the world with terrible giant monsters; their physical bodies are destroyed in the flood, leaving demons. Enoch is given a tour of the heavens, where comprehensive astronomical knowledge and parables regarding the grand sweep of history are revealed to him―both replete with their angelological correlates―and he himself is enthroned as the angelic “son of man,” a divine deputy entrusted with bringing about the apocalyptic eschaton. Continuity with―or reference to―Enoch is seen in numerous Aramaic works found at Qumran.

The ideological landscape in the province of Judea prior to the Maccabean revolt has long been a mystery, but the collection of the Dead Sea Scrolls has helped to reconstruct the intellectual milieu that prevailed in these generations. About 130 Aramaic texts have been recovered at Qumran, representing a discrete scribal movement that began in the late Persian period and ended with the Maccabean revolt―which saw an ostensibly nationalistically motivated scribal transition to Hebrew.

These texts tend to be heavily apocalyptic. Apocalypticism is generally defined as a genre of revelatory literature; its narratives incorporate revelation to a human by an otherworldly being, which reveals an eschatological salvation and a supernatural world.[7] Jewish apocalyptic eschatology embraces not merely the fate of the world, but also that of the dead.

Within the biblical canon, the lone representative of this genre is the Book of Daniel. The book alternates between Hebrew and Aramaic and is divided into two parts: (1) tales of Daniel and his companions interpreting dreams and divine messages, submitting to martyrdom, experiencing miracles, and evoking royal praise for the God of Israel in the courts of Babylonian and Median kings, and (2) visions of the succession of empires culminating in the apocalyptic eschaton and the resurrection. A broader category of “Danielic literature,” narratives drawing on the Book of Daniel, appears to have existed in Second Temple times, some of which are preserved in the Septuagint and several fragmentary Dead Sea Scroll texts.

In several ways, Daniel stands in marked contrast to the more anterior collection of apocalyptic works, the aforementioned Enochic literature. While the themes of apocalyptic, Israelite dominion, resurrection, and angelic transformation are shared, several other themes are not:

  1. Where Daniel is a relatively recent figure for Second Temple Jews―an exilic Jew who struggles with uncertainty and is enlightened by means of intervening angelic revelation―Enoch is a supremely confident ancestor-turned-angel from near the dawn of history, a forefather of all living men to whom all the secrets of the universe are laid plain, and his message is universal, even if only the children of Abraham have preserved it.[8]

  2. Torah―the Mosaic law―is central in Daniel, and he and his compatriots place themselves in jeopardy to keep it, whether avoiding violation of dietary laws or rejecting idolatry, or even in order to pray. In contrast, Torah law is barely an afterthought in Enoch, and it is the titular figure―and not Moses―who reveals essential wisdom to mankind.

  3. In Daniel, as in Tanakh from Genesis forward, the source of evil is human failing; in Enoch, it is the supernal demonic born of angelic rebellion.[9]

  4. In Enoch, or at least in its later portions, the Second Temple is understood as corrupt from the outset, never having become a home for the Divine, and its destruction and replacement is envisioned; in Daniel, that sanctuary’s sanctity is a given, and the central crises of both parts arise from its defilement.[10]

  5. In Daniel, “one as a son of man” (7:13-14) apparently refers to the archangel Michael, who will rise to fight for the Jews against the angelic princes of the nations in the eschaton. For Enoch, the referent is Enoch himself as a sort of divinized messiah.

  6. The apocalypses of Daniel and Enoch proceed differently: contrary to the passive, purely moral resistance of martyrs in Daniel, the Antiochus figure in Enoch is met with active force led by a horned sheep from among the Jewish flock.

To be sure, there is evidence of literary cross-fertilization between the two traditions. But the differences remain sufficiently significant to demarcate two distinct apocalyptic parties.

The Second Temple sects known to us from Josephus―Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes―emerge only after the Maccabean revolt. Several theories assign Danielic and Enochic literature to divergent schools of thought among Jews prior to the Maccabean revolt, both of which remain distinct from more establishmentarian, non-apocalyptic Zadokites responsible for the wisdom literature like Ben Sira. It is suggested that they represent two factions within a larger pietist Hasidean group described in several places in the Books of Maccabees.[11]

Given this background, is it possible to identify from which textual group, if any, the Hasmonean revolt emerged?

II. Apocalypticism in the Book of Maccabees

The solution cannot come from a straightforward reading of 1 and 2 Maccabees, as their composition dates from a generation or two after the revolt, and the books do not necessarily fully capture the mindset of those involved. Also, both are written as court histories, and both shape the narrative of events to fit the ideological and political needs of their Hasmonean royal patrons.[12] Instead, we will offer a more subtle reading of these texts, uncovering what these works tell us without intending to.

Gerbern Oegema assesses all of the written evidence and concludes that the Maccabean revolt was indeed an apocalyptic movement, less on the basis of the Books of Maccabees themselves than on other contemporaneous apocalypses.[13] Nevertheless, a close reading of the Second Book of Maccabees reveals that an apocalyptic worldview was held by a plurality of its participants.

First, the book bears several references to the immortality of the soul as well as the coming resurrection of the dead―both key features of apocalyptic literature―which are absent from contemporaneous apocrypha. These are invoked by several of the seven young martyrs (2 Macc. chapter 7), the gruesome noble suicide of Razis (14:46), and as justification for Judas’s efforts toward expiation on behalf of the dead (12:43-44).

However, there may be evidence from within the book that the resurrection was not simply part of the belief system of the participants in the revolt, but it was an event that was anticipated in the near term. In the context of the celebration of the purification of the Temple precincts, we read (10:7): “Therefore, holding ivy-wreathed wands and harvest branches as well as palm fronds, they offered up hymns to Him who succeeded in having His own place be purified.” The book, written after the events, frames this as part of a belated celebration of the Sukkot holiday. However, the palm frond is significant in the Greco-Roman world as a symbol of victory over death―i.e., resurrection―and features prominently as markers of Jewish burials from the Roman period, part of a complex of shofar, menorah, etrog and lulav, all of which are laden with symbolism with regard to the anticipated resurrection.[14]

The Greek word for ivy-wreathed wands, thyrsoi, is more generally connected to the rites of Dionysus, a Greek deity associated with resurrection. The use of the term certainly suggests that the procession was more than a simple hoshana-cycle; it was a popular act with an eye toward evoking the next phase of “realized eschatology,” the resurrection that immediately follows divine salvation in the apocalypses, including both Enoch and Daniel.

Contemporaneous evidence is scarce, but another possible hint may come from Psalm 30. The superscription, “a song for the dedication of the house,” appears to be appended to what seems to be an individual psalm of thanksgiving for salvation―and even some traditional scholars such as Elhanan Samet place the superscription to the Hasmonean period.[15] This would situate the psalm as the one adopted as an anthem for the Hasmonean rededication of the Temple, and indeed later Jewish sources (tractate Soferim 18, Pesikta Rabbati, Midrash Shoher Tov) connect this psalm to the Maccabees. The psalm is one of the few references to resurrection in biblical literature: “O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave.” In the imagery of the psalm, weeping at night is transformed into joy in the morning; mourning is turned to dancing, sackcloth to joy. This psalm seems to aptly capture the hoped-for next stage for those assembled at the Temple on 25 Kislev, 164 B.C.E.

III. The Nature of the Apocalypse: Daniel or Enoch

If the revolt was apocalyptic, of what sort was it―Danielic or Enochic?

1 Maccabees explicitly mentions Daniel and his compatriots (2:59-60), and 2 Maccabees (chapters 6-7) champions martyrs―and Jewish martyrdom indeed finds its origin in the stories of Daniel.[16] However, the composition of these books dates at least a generation hence; also, the option of martyrdom is explicitly rejected by the Hasmonean fighters (1 Macc. 2:40-41). As far as the events themselves, some clues seem to favor an Enochic influence:

  1. Judas divides his army into four (2 Macc. 8:21-23). This is unusual, given that in Tanakh armies are typically divided into three; and if the aim was to divide the armies according to the number of brothers, 1 Maccabees informs us that there were five. However, the notion of a celestial army divided into four, under the command of four archangels, appears numerous times in 1 Enoch, including some of its oldest sections―in chapters 10, 40, and 82.

  2. Prominent among the sins of the giants in Enoch is cannibalism (7:4). In 2 Maccabees (7:3-5) Antiochus dismembers and fries the first son in a manner that is described as “in the Scythian manner”―Scythians being barbarians who eat human flesh (Herodotus, The Histories, book 4).

  3. The choice of the name “Hanukkah”―dedication, or initiation, as opposed to ‘purification’―for the Hasmonean activity at the Temple precincts seems to imply that the event represented the inauguration of a previously unconsecrated Second Temple. This may simply reflect the necessity of a Temple foundation narrative for the dynasty’s political legitimacy,[17] but its framing as dedication―rather than rededication―is congruent with how the pre-Hasmonean Second Temple is treated, specifically in the Enoch traditions.

  4. The timing of the dedication has several possible significances both from contemporaneous[18] and biblical[19] perspectives, but the 25th of Kislev also approximates the winter solstice, which has special significance in Enoch as the day when the sun completes its passage through six gates and returns to the first gate (72:25-27). The celestial leader of the winter season, who rises on the solstice, is known as Narel, candle of God (82:13).

  5. The Zadokite-Oniad high priest who serves after the Hanukkah event, Alcimus, is vilified in both Books of Maccabees. Judas opposes him, and indeed the Hasmoneans ultimately see fit to suspend the Zadokite line of high priests entirely and assume the high priesthood themselves. This is congruent with 1 Enoch 89:73, which characterizes the service of the entire prior part of the Second Temple period as corrupt―“…but all the bread on it was polluted and not pure”―as well as later Enoch traditions which award the eschatological priesthood to Melchizedek.

  6. The lack of interest of the triumphant Maccabees in appointing a Davidic king is readily understood in light of the Enoch traditions. For the Enoch traditions, the leader in the eschaton will be the son of man, Enoch himself (71:14, 90:31). If this, like the resurrection, did not materialize―if Enoch did not come to sit on his throne after the purification of the Temple precincts―then there would need to be temporary arrangements “until the coming of a prophet,” a refrain in 1 Maccabees (4:46, 14:41).

These Enochic features may perhaps be traceable to the origins of this literature. Annette Yoshiko Reed proposes[20] that the Enoch literature emerges in a particular milieu in the early years of the Hellenistic period. Greek paideia―the curricular aim at educating citizens in totalizing knowledge―generated numerous works, often by local priests, aimed at asserting the greater antiquity of their own civilizations’ claims to totalizing knowledge.

Against this background comes Enoch. In Aramaic―a language fit for “a wide Israelite audience, in diverse geographic locations”[21]―emerges a work that places the secrets of astronomy, cosmology, meteorology, history, and angelology and demonology (essentially, medicine) with an unbroken chain of Jewish scribal succession tracing itself back to an antediluvian ancestor who became an angel, one which is in constant contact with angels.

By reasserting Jewish scribal importance, the book serves as a powerful polemic both against the imperial ideologies of the pharaohs in Ptolemaic Egypt and the Nebuchadnezzars in Seleucid East. On a more granular level, the content of the book implicitly polemicizes against the Greeks―against the bloody wars of the diadochi, in the form of the fighting by and among the giants themselves. It explicitly polemicizes against the 360-day Egyptian calendar (82:5-6) by adaptation of Babylonian sources. And it polemicizes against the Babylonians, who claimed antediluvian origins for Mesopotamian knowledge―and indeed, the entire enterprise of competing for greater antiquity of one’s indigenous tradition―by linking astrology, metallurgy, magic, and other claimed innovations with the fallen watchers, who brought violence and irreparable corruption to the peoples of the world (8:1-4).

The triumphalist Enochic literature was likely a great help in encouraging Jewish pride among Jews scattered along the far reaches of the Hellenistic empires as well as within Judea. However, in the hands of revolutionaries, Enoch could―and did―become the basis for military and political overreach. If the reigning powers are on par with the antediluvian giants corrupting the world, it is a sin to accept overtures to peace; Enochic logic compelled Judas to persist beyond Hanukkah, beyond restoration of a proper high priest, until Seleucid presence itself was rolled up―at perhaps too high a cost in blood and treasure.

The logic of Judean supremacy, of the triumphant Israelite archangel of the eschaton, perhaps drove John Hyrcanus to his campaigns of conquest and forcible proselytization in Samaria and Idumea. Eventually, the Hasmoneans themselves were cast as the villains of Enochic eschatology, and the Teacher of Righteousness decamped to the desert with followers of those writings to await the next redeemer; the Hasmoneans were left to turn to the anti-apocalyptic Sadducees.[22]

The book of Daniel is of a very different nature―it predicts the ultimate Jewish triumph; but, in the face of persecution, it stresses moral resistance. It models the possibility of living and contributing under foreign domination―albeit with a component of resistance―and shows sympathy and compassion to even one of the greatest villains in Jewish history, Nebuchadnezzar II. Daniel himself models a sense of humility, in contrast to Enoch’s self-assuredness.

Perhaps it was the Danielic group among Judas’s followers that flocked to Alcimus after victory had been achieved―after the Temple’s pollution had been cleansed, the priesthood restored, and the oppressor, Antiochus IV, had met his gruesome death. The promised fifth empire would come, but in “a time, and times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25); but for now, Michael’s people had escaped (12:1), and that was good enough. It is not surprising that two generations on, when the limits of Enoch ideology were reached, the authors of 1 and 2 Maccabees preferred to cite Daniel.

IV. Bringing Hanukkah Back In

After the catastrophic failures of three revolts built upon the template of the Hasmonean one―culminating in one led by a self-declared ‘Nasi’ with a particular concern for palm fronds (Bar Kokhba)[23]―and the adaptation of Enochic ideas into a competing religion venerating a new ‘son of man,’ R. Yehudah ha-Nasi stakes out pride of place for a different line of succession. This one is not a secret, primordial scribal succession informed by angels, but a succession list for an oral law, the more steady and authentically indigenous tradition.

Pirkei Avot 1:1 answers those Jews who would prefer to enumerate as the fathers Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Levi, Qahat, Amram, and any other pre-Mosaic link in the scribal chain whose newly revealed text would upend established practice of generations.[24] R. Yehudah ha-Nasi enumerates zekenim but not soferim in his line of succession. In the prior generation of Tannaim, R. Eliezer is excommunicated for evoking a heavenly voice (Bava Metzia 59b); angelic revelation, even authentic, is banished from the realm of normative Jewish decision-making.

In concert, Hanukkah, the holiday of Enochic Judaism, is banished from the Mishnah.

However, the Babylonian Amoraim are far removed, both in time and place, from the Nerva-Antonine dynasty and the Enoch-fueled zealots who inflamed them―and in circumstances similar to the early second commonwealth, a displaced minority, in which the shot of Jewish pride offered by Enoch was again harmless―and indeed, reworked Enochic material finds its way into the Talmud, in its treatment of the very mishnah that proscribes it!

In the land of Israel, the details of the events of the Maccabean wars had been so thoroughly repressed that its paytanim throughout the Byzantine period had to focus either on related biblical themes or on reconstructing the skeleton of a narrative from bits and scraps.[25] The situation in Babylon was different; in the tenth century, as part of an anti-Karaite polemic, Saadia Gaon published Megillat Antiochus, an abbreviated and modified but martyrology-heavy version of the Hanukkah story that likely originated many centuries earlier.

Not many piyyutim have come to us from late antique Babylonia. However, once Megillat Antiochus (and Sefer Yosippon) was disseminated, martyrological themes became frequent in Hanukkah piyyutim; a notable early European example is the tenth-century work of Joseph bar Solomon of Carcassonne, Odekha Ki Anafta Bi.

Even in al ha-nissim, likely formulated in geonic Babylonia, we may find a nod to the martyrs. The litany culminates in praise of God for the kiddush Hashem―sanctification of the Name, a rabbinic synonym for martyrdom―He has wrought in His world, alongside the great salvation and redemption He accomplished for His people. In some early versions, the al ha-nissim ‘heading’ of praise for God’s miracles, redemption, mighty deeds, and saving acts culminates in nehamot, consolations.[26]

Back in the Greco-Roman Jewish world, the memory of the Maccabean martyrs is already evident in the first-century work 4 Maccabees, which is an expanded meditation upon the martyrdoms of Eleazer and the woman and her seven sons. Furthermore, a recent excavation of the floor of the synagogue in Huqoq unearthed an elephant mosaic panel which may depict Maccabean martyrs seated in an arcade, each with a lighted oil lamp over his head.[27] The oil lamp and niches for oil lamps are respectively prominent among grave goods and structural features dating back to First Temple times, perhaps to fight the darkness of Sheol. And the palm branch decorative motif, ubiquitous on oil lamps from the Hasmonean period forward, appears to pair the hope for resurrection with the symbolism of the lit lamp. If the Hanukkah candles serve as commemoration of, or prayer for the resurrection of, the “Maccabean martyrs,” it is readily understood why―like lamps of the dead (Berakhot 53a) and indeed all grave goods (Sanhedrin 47b)―Hanukkah candles are forbidden from benefit (Shabbat 21b).

In the Bavli, Hanukkah is returned to the order of Mo’ed―not in the last tractate, Hagigah, but the very first one, Shabbat.

V. Hanukkah’s New Meaning

With the apocalyptic vision in mind, perhaps the Talmud’s choice for the key Hanukkah narrative sheds light on a lost theme that the rabbis wished to reclaim for the Talmudic “canon.”

The themes of creatio ex nihilo and resurrection quite often come as an inseparable dyad both in early Christian and rabbinic literature.[28] The likely origin is seen to be 2 Maccabees 7:28-29―though spontaneous divine creation, whether ex nihilo or ex materia, appears explicitly as a pair with resurrection both in the Elijah cycle and the Elisha cycle. In both, a woman is granted a miracle, in which oil (and in Elijah’s case, flour) does not cease to be poured from the jug, and then the son of a woman dies and is resurrected (1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4). The pairing of the themes of miraculous sustenance and resurrection arguably recur elsewhere, if far less explicitly (e.g., Ezekiel 36 and 37; Genesis 21, 22, 43, and 45).

Against this matrix, the origin story that the Talmud presents for Hanukkah gains new meaning:

What is Hanukkah? The Sages taught [in Megillat Taanit:] On the 25th of Kislev, the days of Hanukkah are eight. One may not eulogize on them, and one may not fast on them. When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary. And when the Hasmonean monarchy overcame and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was placed with the seal of the high priest. And there was [oil] there to light [the Temple menorah] for only one day. A miracle occurred, and they lit from it for eight days. The next year [they] instituted and made them holidays with hallel and thanksgiving. (Shabbat 21b)

As is often the Talmud’s way with matters of theology, left unsaid is the logical conclusion: if the miracle of Hanukkah is that of spontaneous divine creation, of Elijah’s cruse and Elisha’s jug, then Hanukkah is―indeed, remains―the prelude to resurrection. The hopes of the Danielic martyrs were not in vain; if the martyrs and righteous fallen did not awake in 164 B.C.E., Hanukkah would be observed each year, year after year, until finally:

…Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt; and they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. (Daniel 12:2-3)

[1] For a treatment of traditional sources addressing this question, see Eliezer Brodt, The Chanukah Omission. For a recent academic treatment, see Moshe Benovitz, “‘Until the Feet of the Tarmoda’i are Gone’: The Hanukkah Light in Palestine during the Tannaitic and Amoraic Periods,” in Torah Lishma: Essays in Jewish Studies in Honor of Professor Shamma Friedman, eds. David Golinkin, Moshe Benovitz, Daniel Sperber, Menachem Schmelzer, and Mordechai Akiva Friedman (Ramat Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan University Press, 2007), 39-78 [Hebrew].

[2] Bikkurim 1:6, Rosh Hashanah 1:3, Ta’anit 2:1 and 4:5, Megillah 3:4 and 3:6, Mo’ed Katan 3:9, Bava Kamma 6:6.

[3] Avraham Walfish, “The Literary Method of Redaction in Mishnah Based on Tractate Rosh Hashanah” (PhD diss., The Hebrew University, 2001), 293.

[4] References to 1 and 2 Maccabees throughout this article are taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which displays slight inconsistencies from the text displayed on Sefaria. The Sefaria connections may be off by one or two verses from those cited here.

[5] Translation by Joshua Kulp, archived here.

[6] Daniel Boyarin, “The Talmudic Apocalypse: Ḥagigah, Chapter 2,” in Wisdom Poured Out Like Water: Essays in Honor of Gabriele Boccaccini, eds. J. Harold Ellens, Isaac W. Oliver, Jason von Ehrenkrook, James Waddell, and Jason M. Zurawski  (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2018), 541-555.

[7] John J. Collins, “Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre,” Semeia 14 (1979): 9. See discussion in John J. Collins, “What is Apocalyptic Literature?” in The Oxford Handbook of Apocalyptic Literature, ed. John J. Collins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 1-16.

[8] This distinction is highlighted by Annette Yoshiko Reed in her Demons, Angels and Writing in Ancient Judaism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 201-203.

[9] Ida Fröhlich, “Origins of Evil in Genesis and the Apocalyptic Traditions,” in Apocalyptic Thinking in Early Judaism: Engaging with John Collins’ The Apocalyptic Imagination, eds. Sidnie White Crawford and Cecilia Wassen (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 141-159.

[10] Greg Goswell, “The Temple Theme in the Book of Daniel,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 55, no. 3 (2012): 509-520.

[11] Pieter M. Venter, “Daniel and Enoch: Two Different Reactions,” HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 53, no. 1/2 (1997): 68-91.

[12] Sylvie Honigman, Tales of High Priests and Taxes: The Books of the Maccabees and the Judean Rebellion against Antiochus IV (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2014), 2-3.

[13] Gebern S. Oegema, “Was the Maccabean Revolt an Apocalyptic Movement?” in The Seleucid and Hasmonean Periods and the Apocalyptic Worldview, eds. Lester L. Grabbe, Gabriele Boccaccini, and Jason M. Zurawski (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 69-87. See also Lorenzo DiTommaso, “Response to Oegema,” ibid., 88-94, and John Kampen, “Response to Oegema,” ibid., 95-101.

[14] Naomi Liran Frisch, Etrog of the Heart: Essay on the Four Species (Tel Aviv: Resling, 2016), 87-154 [Hebrew].

[15] Elhanan Samet, Studies in the Book of Psalms (Rishon Le-Zion, Israel: Yediot Sefarim, 2012), 108 [Hebrew]. See also Nahum Sarna, On the Book of Psalms (New York: Schocken, 1993), 149.

[16] Jan Willem van Henten, “Early Jewish and Christian Martyrdom,” in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Christian Martyrdom, ed. Paul Middleton (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2020), 72-87.

[17] Honigman, Tales, 95-118.

[18] James C. VanderKam, “Hanukkah: Its Timing and Significance According to 1 and 2 Maccabees,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 1, no. 1 (1987): 23-40.

[19] Yoel Bin-Nun, “Yom Yisud Heikhal Hashem,” Megadim 12 (1991): 49-97.

[20] Reed, Demons, Angels and Writing.

[21] Daniel Machiela, “Situating the Aramaic Texts from Qumran: Reconsidering Their Language and Socio-Historical Settings,” in  Apocalyptic Thinking in Early Judaism: Engaging with John Collins’ The Apocalyptic Imagination, eds. Sidnie White Crawford and Cecilia Wassen (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 88-109.

[22] The Enochic-Essene hypothesis is advanced by Gabriele Boccaccini and is endorsed by a plurality of scholars but remains controversial. See Enoch and Qumran Origins: New Light on a Forgotten Connection, ed. Gabriele Boccaccini (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), part 5 (325-433).

[23] Yigael Yadin, “The Newly-Found Bar Kochba Letters,” Gazette  7, no. 1 (1961): 158-162.

[24] In time, Enoch-Metatron and the heavenly explorations of the Enoch literature would find their way back into Jewish tradition, in 3 Enoch and the Hekhalot literature, but with significant theological alterations, and with the proper “Avot” recognized―the protagonists having become the tannaitic rabbis themselves. See Lawrence Schiffman, “3 Enoch and the Enoch Tradition,” in Enoch and Qumran Origins: New Light on a Forgotten Connection, ed. Gabriele Boccaccini (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 152-161.

[25] Shulamit Elizur, “Piyyutei Hanukkah: Semel Mul Re’aliyah,” in Yemei Beit Hashmonai, eds. David Amit and Hanan Eshel  (Jerusalem: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, 1995), 303-310 [Hebrew].

[26] See Stefan Reif, Problems with Prayers (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2006), 291-313.

[27] See discussion of Nina Braginskaya’s view in Rina Talgam, “An Illustration of the Third Book of Maccabees in a Late-Antique Galilean Synagogue?” Journal of Roman Archaeology 31 (2018): 513-523; the view is shared by Matthew Grey, in Jodi Magness et al., “The Huqoq Excavation Project: 2014–2017 Interim Report,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 380, no. 1 (2018): 61-131.

[28] Markus Bockmuehl, “Creatio ex nihilo in Palestinian Judaism and early Christianity,” Scottish Journal of Theology 65, no. 3 (2012): 253-270; Creation ex nihilo: Origins, Development, Contemporary Challenges, eds. Gary A. Anderson and Markus Bockmuehl (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017), 5.

Aton Holzer is Director of the Mohs Surgery Clinic in the Department of Dermatology at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and is an assistant editor of the recent RCA Siddur Avodat HaLev.