The Hanukkah Story
by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners
I was amazed to see that when I did a search of the blog that we only had one article that referenced Hanukkah. In an attempt to rectify this, I decided to set out to share the story of the Hanukkah celebration. I believe that it ties in with Freemasonry because it involves the history of the Second Temple.
In 175 BCE. Antiochus IV becomes the ruler of the Seleucid Empire. This empire began in 323 BCE, with the death of Alexander the Great. Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander's generals, became the leader of a very large and culturally diverse empire, although the main cultural influence was Greek, and he expanded the territory and established his dynasty. Seleucus' son, Antiochus I along with his son Antiochus II fought against the Egyptian emperor, Ptolemy II, as well as the Celts, who threatened their borders. Antiochus III, son of Antiochus II, expanded the empire to include parts of Judea and Syria (which had been part of the Ptolemic Empire).
By the end of Antiochus III's reign, he had lost Greece to the Roman Empire at the battle of Thermopylae in 191 BCE (not to be confused with the stand of the 300 Spartans against the Persians that took place in 480 BCE) and subsequent defeats against the Roman Army and Navy, he had lost Asia Minor and he was forced to sue for Peace. As a result of the Treaty of Apamea, Antiochus III was forced to abandon all of his empire north and west of the Taurus Mountains, pay Rome tribute and have members of his family held as political hostages. Consequently, with his military power waning, the outlying provinces of his empire began to reassert their independence. Antiochus III mounted a new military expedition in Luristan (which is now part of Iran), where he was killed while pillaging a temple in 187 BCE.
Upon the death of Antiochus III, his son, Seleucus IV Philopator, became ruler of the Seleucid empire. His brother Antiochus IV was held as a hostage in Rome as part of the Treaty of Apamea. Antiochus IV later was released in exchange for his nephew and heir to the empire, Demetrius I Soter. Upon the assassination of his brother in 175 BCE, Antiochus through political maneuvering, usurped the Throne and became ruler of the Seleucid Empire. While his father, Antiochus III was friendly towards the Jewish people, Antiochus IV was not. At the time, Jerusalem was part of the Ptolemic empire. In 168 BCE, Antiochus IV attacked the Empire, and conquered Jerusalem. In an attempt to unite his empire under Hellenistic customs and religions, he replaced the High Priest of the Temple with a political ally, Joshua, who changed his name to the Hellenic name: Jason.
Jason encouraged the practice of Hellenistic culture at the temple, including the building of a gymnasium, where men exercised in the nude; as well as using temple funds to help Antiochus IV's war effort. Things turned worse when Jason's messenger to Antiochus IV, Menelaus who was carrying the temple funds, convinced Antiochus IV to replace Jason with him. He promised Antiochus IV an increase of funds from the Temple. While he was away, Menelaus, appointed his brother, Lysimachus, as High Priest. Lysimachus stole several religious artifacts from the Temple, which led to riots by the Jewish populace.
As a result of the strife, Antiochus IV, outlawed the practice of Judaism, including circumcision, Torah study, and kashrut (the obeying of Jewish dietary laws). He erected an altar to Zeus in the Temple, stripped it of its remaining holy objects, and ordered the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) in the Temple.
In 167 BCE, after the altar to Zeus was erected, according to the Books of the Maccabees, a group of Hellenistic officers sent by Antiochus IV came to Mattathias, who was a popular Jewish leader. The officers offered him political benefits to continue to desecrate the Temple with further sacrifices to Zeus. Mattathias refused, and in the melee that followed, he killed a Jewish collaborator and one of the envoys of the emperor. He then fled into the mountains with his friends and his five sons (John, Simon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah).
For the next three years, Mattathias and his sons led a series of battles against the Seleucid army. At first, they mainly fought guerilla actions, but over time, they began to organize a true army, and made strategic alliances with Sparta and later Rome. Judah, one of Mattathias sons, was given the name Yehuda HaMakabi or Maccabee meaning "The Hammer", a reference to his ability to destroy his enemies. In 164 BCE, the Maccabees retook Jerusalem and the Temple.
When the Maccabees and their followers retook the Temple, they reinstituted Jewish law and purified the Temple. A new altar was built, and new sacred vessels were crafted. One of the most important ways to rededicate the Temple was the lighting of the Menorah, or seven-branched candelabra, which was to remain lit all night, every night. Ordinary oil could not be used for this purpose, as according to Talmudic law, only purified, blessed and properly sealed oil could be used. Only one flask of this oil was remaining in the Temple. The Jews lit the menorah, knowing that they only had enough oil to keep the lamp lit for a single night. According to 1 Maccabees, the oil miraculously burned for eight full nights until a new supply of holy oil could be delivered. This miracle led to the creation of the eight-day Hannukah or "festival of lights".
Modern scholars believe that rather than battling the Seleucid Empire, that the Maccabees and their followers were fighting against Hellenized Jews. They believe that Antiochus IV was intervening in a Jewish civil war on the side of the Hellenists, who had been a majority group and force in the Seleucid empire.
To our Jewish brethren, Chag sameach!
WB Darin A. Lahners is our Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s also a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine, and a grade one (Zelator) in the S.C.R.I.F. Prairieland College in Illinois. He is also a Fellow of the Illinois Lodge of Research. He was presented with the Torok Award from the Illinois Lodge of Research in 2021. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.