Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Regarding the Canon, Maccabees, History and Twitter

Yesterday, I introduced some Twitter friends to the possibility that Chanuka is an 8-day celebration because the Hashmonaim modeled their original holiday on Sukkos. This, I pointed out*, is attested to in the Book of Maccabees II 1:8 where we find a quote from a letter sent by the Hashmonaim to other Jews in which they introduce a new holiday called "Sukot b'Kislev":

And now celebrate ye the days of Scenopegia [i.e. Sukos] in the month of Casleu [i.e. Kislev.]

In Maccabees II 10:6-9 an explanation for this designation is provided. After retaking Jerusalem and the temple...:

...they kept eight days with joy, after the manner of the feast of the tabernacles, remembering that not long before they had kept the feast of the tabernacles when they were in the mountains, and in dens like wild beasts. Therefore they now, carried boughs, and green branches, and palms [i.e. lulavim]  for Him that had given them good success in cleansing his place. And they ordained by a common statute, and decree, that all the nation of the Jews should keep those days every year

Today, some friends (notably @mottel) have raised an objection, saying (paraphrased): Maysvai @motel: "Can we rely on Maccabees as a source? Its not in the canon"

I confess to not understanding the objection. Here's how I replied:

I don't understand your [objection's] premise. [The f]act that its not [in the] canon doesn't mean [that] it's lies. [Even the] Torah(!) cites non canon books. (I refer here to the Book of the Wars of the Lord which is a non-canonical book quoted by God in Numbers.) 

I continued:

[The T]almud also cites non-canon books. (Here I have in mind Ben Sira,a non canonical book, beloved by the Rabbis, and thought by scholars to have provided the vocabulary and framework for the Amidah, along with several now-popular aggadic ideas) [The] Aggada [is also to some extent] based on non-canon books. [Jubilees is perhaps the best example but there are dozens of others, including the Testament of Job discussed last week] who says history must come from canon?

This line of argument was picked up by @slerner who said: ...even if [the apocrypha books were] not [written with] ruach hakodesh, [they] can still be historically accurate.

Of course, I think he's right. Points in Macabees favor are that it was written within 100 years of the events it describes, and though the Sages later elected to exclude it from the canon, I'm not aware of any reason they may have provided. Perhaps the objection, simply, was that it was written too close to their own time?  Or perhaps there was no "objection." As S. says on the thread, "Who says it was ever intended to be canonical Scripture? Was Megillas Taanis also excluded?"

Macabees (I mean Chapters 1 and 2; 3 and 4 belong to other eras, and describe other events) was written by a/ believing Jew/s, who was/were attempting to accurately describe a historical event. What principle requires us to dismiss his/their account out of hand? What rule renders their own account of their own history invalid?

(Remember, this isn't a question of theology, where the judgment of the Sages is paramount. This is about history, a discipline in which the Sages confessed no expertise. Additionally, we have Rishonim who expressly give us permission to ignore the Sage's history. All this considered, what exactly do we lose if we choose to  consider the information provided in Maccabees, and admit that it seems like quite a good explanation for the length of the holiday?)

*And let's do our part to bring the geulah by remembering that I first heard about the Sukkos/Chanukah connection from Mis-nagid.

Search for more information about Twitter Torah at 4torah.com.

No comments: