Saturday, December 08, 2012

The true meaning of Hanukkah?

Contra this New York Times guest columnist, the true meaning of Hanukkah is not that the Jews resisted the Seleucids (instead of a magic menorah).

Rather, here's some of the truer meanings of Hanukkah:
1. That in Big Religion, like Big Business, luck is as important as anything else. I of course am using luck in the sense of contingency and nothing metaphysical. Had the Maccabees lost one or two battles (entirely possible) or had Rome not told Antiochus Epiphanes to get out of Egypt, thereby triggering events that led to the Maccabee revolt, Judaism might be a "backwater religion" today and Christianity never even have come into existence. (Some other Messianic Jewish cult might have taken its place, though.)

2. It helps to have good scriptwriters. Between the canonical Book of Daniel and the deuterocanonical books of Maccabees, the Maccabeean party within rebelling Jews (did you know that the revolt had factions?) come off smelling like roses. The fact is that the ancestors of the Pharisees were ready to make peace when Jews were guaranteed religious freedom, but the Maccabees insisted on fighting for political freedom, too. That, in turn, probably fueled an impulse toward Messianic Judaism less than a century later, when a Roman, name of Gnaius Pompeius, or Pompey the Great, ended the brief experiment with Jewish political freedom.

3. It helps to have good scriptwriters, part 2. Although we're not sure, it's likely that a fair percentage of Jews in Palestine were comfortable with Hellenizing.

4. It helps to have good scriptwriters, part 3. Again, we're not sure, but a fair amount of Jews of 164 BCE likely held beliefs ascribed to the Sadducees in the Christian New Testament — including that there is no such thing as an immortal soul because it is not mentioned in the Torah (Penteteuch, books of Moses) and that's all the canonical scriptures there are. However, by the time of the turn of the eras, it's clear that, while not yet a fringe position in Judaism, it was certainly moving that direction.

Of course, going back to books such as Haggai and the first part of Zechariah, where a failed early post-exilic revolt against the Persians, at the same time Darius I overthrew Cambyses, gets shoved under the rug, the Tanakh is full of "good" scriptwriting.

And, on another era of Jewish history, the New York Times just gets it wrong in this column, perpetuating a myth.

It's nice that Spain is making an (albeit limited) effort to welcome back Marranos, but most of the "Marranos" in New Mexico and Texas reportedly are NOT crypto-Jews from 500 years ago, but rather, Hispanic converts to Adventist sects of 100-150 years ago. In fact, I believe I first read about that ... in a NYT column!

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