Monday, December 06, 2010

Is this the Holiday of Lights or Dedication? Josephus vs. John

The author of the Gospel of John and Josephus (aka Yosef Ben Matityahu) were contemporaries. Both men lived in the same part of the word at the same time, yet, they employ different names for our December/Kislev holiday. Josephus calls it Lights, while John calls it Dedication.

In this post, I take a guess at their reasons.

First the source material:

Antiquities 7 (completed around 90 ce):
Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights [phôta]  I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us [or "came to light" =phanênai] and that thence was the name given to that festival.
Takeaway points:
  1. Josephus doesn't seem to know why the holiday is called "Lights", so he takes a guess.
  2. His guess has nothing to do with the oil miracle; instead it is based on a pun.
  3. The pun has to do with the restoration of hope, and the returning of rights and privileges presumed lost.
  4. Josephus  seems unaware of the Sukkos rituals, including lulav-taking, that accompanied the first Chanukka, as reported in 2 Maccabees. Nor does he seem to know the 2 Macabbees name for the holiday Sukkot B'kislev, i.e.December Sukkot [="Scenopegia in the month of Casleu"], though that might not have been used after the first year.
John 10:22-23 (published around 80-90 ce):
Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.
Takeaway points:
  1. John is using the same name for the holiday that appears in 1 Maccabees.
  2. He is also using the name for the holiday that appears in Megillat Taanit, and that later appears in Rabbinic works

So is it Lights or Dedication? Read on!

Irresponsible speculation about Josephus and his use of the name Lights

When Antiquities appeared, Josephus was a halacha-following Roman citizen, writing under the patronage of the ruling Falvian dynasty, and the recipient of a Roman pension. It was also around 20 years after the destruction of the Temple. Its possible Josephus thought Romans were misinterpreting Chanukka celebrations as an act of disloyalty, so in his explanation he makes it clear that the holiday and its rituals are not an act of rebellion, that is they aren't an attempt to recreate acts regularly performed in the recently destroyed Temple. By reminding his readers that the restoration of the temple sacrifices "delighted the Jews" he may be making a call for the Romans to restore those privileges in his own day. Calling the holiday "lights" emphasizes the idea that the recently lost liberties should once again "come to light", that is be returned.

Irresponsible speculation about John and his use of the name Dedication

John is the last Gospel, the most overtly anti-Semitic, and the only one believed to have been published after the break between Judaism and Christianity had become obvious. According to some,  it is also the only one of the four that is believed to have appeared after the destruction of the Temple. There is therefore, perhaps a note of irony in John's Chanukka  passage, which reads in full:
Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.
This is one of those anti-Jewish outbursts for which John is notorious. It depicts a group of Jews begging for information about Jesus, followed by the so-called savior's curt, obnoxious, dismissive reply. Putting this event at Chanukka may serve a polemical point. John is the gospel that invents the notion that Jesus replaced the Temple and that his body was in effect a new Temple. In this story John shows us a group of Jews at the holiday of the Temple Dedication who are too blind and too stubborn to recognize the new Temple and "dedicate" it. See? Irony. [I made this up; have no idea if it stands up.]

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