The Christian connection to Hanukkah

The Christian connection to Hanukkah December 21, 2011

Tony Spence over at the CNS blog draws our attention to this intriguing piece in the Wall Street Journal, which finds Christian parallels to the Jewish celebration that begins tonight:

The Christian parallels lie…with Good Friday and the story of Jesus’s acceptance of his suffering and sacrificial death. In both the Jewish and the Christian stories, the death of the heroes, grievous though it is, is not the end: It is the prelude to a miraculous vindication and a glorious restoration.

The Roman Catholic tradition honors these Jewish martyrs as saints, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates Aug. 1 as the Feast of the Holy Maccabees. By contrast, in the literature of the Rabbis of the first several centuries of the common era, the story lost its connection to the Maccabean uprising, instead becoming associated with later persecutions by the Romans, which the Rabbis experienced. If the change seems odd, recall that the compositions that first told of these events (the books of Maccabees) were not part of the scriptural canon of rabbinic Judaism. But they were canonical in the Church (and remain so in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions).

And so we encounter another oddity of Hanukkah: Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.

Read it all.

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5 responses to “The Christian connection to Hanukkah”

  1. On a darker note, there is a Christian connection to the reason so many Hanukkah menorahs use tiny birthday-cake sized candles. During the centuries when Jews living in “Christendom” were bound by restrictive rules, menorah candles were not permitted to be taller or wider than the vigil candles burned in Catholic churches. Still, the light shines in the darkness for both of us, thanks be to God.

  2. When I once rather puckishly referred to Tenebrae candles as “a backward menorah” I learned the interesting fact that some among some Jews the custom is to light all the candles on the first night of Hanukkah and then light one fewer candle on each successive night.

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