Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lomo on Chanukah - '09

I was just looking over my Chanukah post from last year, and while it does badly need to be rewritten, the core idea is correct.

One quirky little idea I've been pondering about Chanukah thus far this year is how different the historical reality of those times are from the historical setting I once imagined: when I think Chanukah I usually think Jews against Greeks, and the Greeks being at the height of their empire and having no rivals. In the meantime the reality of Chanukah is far more complex and unexpected than one would imagine: The original "Greek" conquerors weren't even Greeks but Macedonians who despised real Greeks, and the height of Greek culture had passed long ago (people like Aristotle had lived in the First Temple period, well before there was any Greek Empire, and Antiochus VI was one of the last great Seleucid kings).

One also imagines the Persians as having stepped into the historical background long before then, but they were still very much around at this time. The very same Persians who allowed for the Second Temple to initially be constructed, were in fact, Antiochus's main difficulty outside of the Judeans (he actually died waring against the Persians). The funny thing about the people of Iran is that they keep appearing in history under different names: Medes, Parthians, Sassanids etc. And the Romans, whom one thinks of as having thrived later in history were also very active at that time, and even made a pact with the Haasmonean Judeans against the Seleucids and Helenized Judeans. Since it was essentially some sort of civil war among the Judeans themselves, and the Seleucid king only came at the behest of the (Judean) Tobiads, who were at odds with the Onias/Hasmonean party, which represented the majority of the people, and who favored the Seleucid rival, the Egyptian Ptolemaic kingdom (who, after all, were just as Greek as the Seleucids, and were also an impediment to Judah's autonomy, yet was still preferred over the latter). All these historical complications are what make reading the Book of Maccabees so difficult: "We know the story, the oil burnt for eight days. What's all this with Onias and Romans?"!

I wouldn't have posted this since it bears no lesson,'s better than nothing!

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