Behind the Scenes of the Hanukkah Story: The Books of the Maccabees

What was behind Antiochus’s decrees? Was Hanukkah really the end of the fight for independence? And what was the difference between Judean and Diaspora views of the Hanukkah story and the Hasmonean revolt?

Last week I  explored these questions through a talk  on the First and Second Books of the Maccabees – two books written in different languages, one in Judea and one in the Diaspora. And here, finally, is the recording!

Be sure to download the source sheets. Keep in mind that this is an informal lecture, so you’ll hear discussion and some background noise.

If you would like to read the entire books, I recommend the New English Translation of the Septuagint for 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, available free online through the University of Pennsylvania NETS site,

Clarification of some important points:

  1. When I talked about the “Return to Zion” as a defining time period for the Hebrew Bible, I meant the entire period, not the very beginning of the return to Jerusalem following the Babylonian Exile. Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were considered the last true prophets, and Malachi speaks of a functioning Temple, so any book traditionally considered to date to the period of the Return to Zion up to the beginning of a functioning Second Temple could “make it in” to the Hebrew Bible.
  2. Second Maccabees has two defining dates: the Alexandrian work seems to have been finished shortly after the Battle of Nicanor in 161 BCE and was not long afterwards abridged by a Diaspora author who put his own stamp on the work. At that stage, 2 Maccabees explained the importance of the Day of Nicanor.  Afterwards, probably shortly after 142, the abridged version was repurposed by someone in Judah to “sell” Chanukah to the Diaspora. This is the person wrote the introductory letter and who inserted the story of Chanukah, i.e. the purification of the Temple, into 2 Maccabees.
  3. 1 Maccabees, on the other hand, could not have been written before the final event it records: the murder of Shimon and Yohanan Hyrkanus’ ascension to the throne in 134 BCE.

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