Chanukah (alt. sp. Hanukkah, Januca, etc.) is called in some sources "the Feast/Festival of Dedication," focusing on the military victory and reconsecration of the Holy Temple1 and in others "the Feast/Festival of Lights," focusing on the miracle of the cruse of oil and the lighting of the menorah all eight days of the reconsecration ceremony. It is the latter which is the focus of this treatment.
The prophet Haggai is understood to have foretold Chanukah in one of the oracles in the book bearing his name. The message of this prophecy was that in addition to the current subjugation under Persia, one more nation would subdue the Jews, the Seleucids; but their domination would last only a short time (Rashi). Hashem was thus saying, “During the Seleucid rule, I will cause a major upheaval in the land” — a reference to the Hasmoneans revolt against Antiochus IV and the miracle of Chanukah.
Obviously, the Prophet was speaking about the miraculous military victory. It is often pointed out that the miracle of the oil is not attested in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees (written within about 40 years of the fulfillment), and thus the argument follows that it, perhaps, never happened. It is sometimes (even frequently) argued that there is no mention prior to the Gemara/Talmud, which took written form about the 7th century CE.
Josephus, though not describing the miracle, does refer to the holiday as being called by the Jews "Lights" (phota in the Greek of his text) already in the late 1st century CE.
Megillat Antiochus (“The Scroll of Antiochus”) is an apocryphal work recounting the story of Chanukah and the military victories of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks [Seleucids] in the 2nd century BCE. Composed in Aramaic sometime between the 1st and 5th centuries CE [most scholars opine 2nd or 3rd century], it was translated into Hebrew early on and into Arabic by the prominent 10th-century rabbinic leader Saadiah Gaon. The text was included in several medieval Bibles and prayer books. In some medieval Italian synagogues, the scroll was read publicly on Chanukah, just as the Book of Esther is read on Purim. It still forms part of the liturgy in some Yemenite Jewish communities.2 This seems to be the earliest source with a direct reference to the miracle of the oil. In conjunction with the reference to the name "Lights" in Josephus's Antiquities, however, the validity of the account is far more credible than some commentators want to admit.
Why did the reconsecration need to be eight days in duration? Was it because this was seen as a delayed Sukkot (as many modern sources suggest4) or was there another reason? Sefer Hasmonean II (also called 2nd Maccabees) says it is to be observed for 8 days "like Sukkot" but does not call it a delayed Sukkot.
As the first Temple was solemnized through an eight-day consecration (per Divrei Hayamim beit), it is reasonable to surmise that this rededication of the (second) Temple should follow suit.
Notes and Sources
- 1 Maccabees 4:52-59; 2 Maccabees 10:5-9 (ca. 120 BCE); egkainia (dedication) in the Greek of John 10:22 (Christian Bible, 1st century CE).
- This paragraph is quoted from the description here on Sefaria (online: https://www.sefaria.org/Megillat_Antiochus?tab=contents); present author's inline notes appear in square brackets.
- Greek text of Josephus: Flavius Josephus (Flavii Iosephi opera), Antiquitates Judaicae (B. Niese., ed.; Berlin: Weidmann, 1892).
- E.g., Yechiel Heilprin, Seder Hadorot 3, 622 (early 18th c. CE).