Monday, December 10, 2012

Chag Urim or Chanukka?

Earlier, a young haredi gentleman on my Twitter feed let it be known that newfangled holiday greetings make him mad. But his lights (ha!) there are only two proper ways to to say hello to someone on Chanuka. "What the hell is Chag urim??" he said. "why isn’t Chanukah sameach or freilichin Chanukah enough lol."

There is an irony in his preference. Two thousand years ago, two writers mentioned Hannuka. The Jewish writer called it Lights, while the Christian writer referred to it as Dedication.

The Christian Writer
Writing in around 70CE the author of the Gospel of John told-over a maase shehoya about Jesus and the disbelieving Jews*:
Then came the Festival of Dedication [i.e. Hanukkah] 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. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” --- NIV
*Of course Jesus would have recognized no distinction between himself and "the Jews". The fact that John makes such a distinction provides us with a clue about the book's date, and also about its author's attitude towards Jews.  

In this darling little tale, John's Jews are doubting Jesus, who denounces his opponents as disbelievers. The story, I speculated here, is set at Hanukkah time to make a polemical point. By the time John wrote his book the body of Jesus, which offered atonement and salvation, was understood by Christians to be the "new Temple." In John's story, we see a group of Jews at the holiday of the Temple Dedication who are too blind and too stubborn to recognize and dedicate this "new" Temple. 

The Jewish Writer

Though Hanukkah, the name for the holiday that John uses, appears in 1 Maccabees, Megilat Tannit and later Rabbinic works, it wasn't the only holiday name in use. According to Josephus, a halacha-following Jew who wrote at around the same time,  the Jews he knew called the holiday  "Phota" or "Lights" 
...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. - Antiquities 7
Interestingly, Josephus does not seem to know the reason for the name "Lights", suggesting he was unaware of the miracle of the lamp.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Work won't kill but worry will.

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