THE SEASON OF LIGHTS

BLOG 283 December 14, 2015

We have come to the end of the season of Chanukah. In Israel this festival is always a national holiday season when the eight nights are marked by the lighting of candles. In this time of so much darkness, the flicker of even one candle flame in a stormy night continues to offer hope to the world.

In addition, an important archeological discovery adds a new highlight to the season. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has just announced the discovery of what they believe is the tomb of the Maccabees. The story of Chanukah begins with this ancient family who stood against tyranny and despotism in the year 169 B.C.E..

On the 25th of Kislev (December) in the Jewish calendar that follows the cycles of the moon, the Syrian emperor Antiochus Epiphanes descended on Israel with the deadly intent to enforce the ideals of Greek Hellenism. Having condemned the Jewish rite of circumcision, Antiochus decreed that any family performing a bris (circumcision) would have the father killed, the rabbi performing the ritual killed, the baby killed and tied around the mother’s neck left to petrify. Faithful Jews were smashed under the heel of Antiochus Eiphanes.

In the apocrypha, the books of First and Second Maccabees tells the story of the rebellion led by Judah Maccabee and his sons. Emperor Antiochus had desecrated the Temple by splattering pig’s blood over the high altar on the 25th of Kislev. Three years later the Maccabees won the war and rededicated a cleansed Temple on exactly the same day. Chanukah is the remembrance of how the holy oil that would only last for one day was multiplied and actually endured for eight days. Today, Jews continue to light a candle on each of the eight nights to commemorate the miracle of the enduring light.

The Tomb of the Maccabees was described by Josephus Flavius as located in the ancient city of Modi’in which was believed to be close to the modern Arab city of Al-Midya. Archeologist now proclaim they not only found the site but the ashes of Mattathias Maccabees. The only remaining debate is over exactly what happened at this site and if it was intended to be primarily the burial place of the Maccabees. Whatever the ultimate conclusion, this is a major find from out of the ancient past 2,200 years ago.

We are reminded that when freedom is challenged, it must be defended. The imposing of an alien culture on the prevailing society is an old story that continues with the emergence of the ISIS atrocities. Oppressors are persistent. Darkness is always around us and we must continue to light candles to make sure the light prevails. From the far distant past, we are still reminded that tyranny cannot be allowed to endure. Even when the disadvantaged victims are in the battle to protect the light, they can endure.

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Filed under Israel, Judaism, middle east

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