Did Archaeologists Just Find Evidence of Hanukkah Stories?

Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

This week marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the “festival of lights.” The holiday commemorates an event during the Maccabean revolt in the second century BCE, when the candelabrum in the Jerusalem Temple miraculously burned for eight days despite only having enough oil for one. But Hanukkah isn’t just about energy efficiency; broadly speaking it celebrates the successful struggle for Jewish independence. Now archaeologists have unearthed the charred remains of a fort destroyed by Jewish rebels more that 2,000 years ago and claim that it offers evidence of the Hanukkah-related rebellion.

In a statement released last week, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced that they had discovered the burned wooden beams and ruins of a fortified Hellenistic structure in the Lachish Forest. The remains of the small 15m (50-foot) x 15m fort were unearthed about an hour’s journey to the southwest of Jerusalem on the summit of a high hill in the Judean foothills. The position of the structure gave it a clear vantage point over the neighboring city of Maresha, the largest Hellenistic center in the area.

Saar Ganor, Vladik Lifshits, and Ahinoam Montagu, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, said that the site “provides tangible evidence of the Hanukkah stories. It appears that we have discovered a building that was part of a fortified line erected by the Hellenistic army commanders to protect the large Hellenistic city of Maresha from a Hasmonean offensive. However, the finds from the site show that the Seleucid defenses were unsuccessful; the building was badly burnt and devastated by the Hasmoneans.”

For the excavators, who were funded by the Kings of Judah Road project and the Jerusalem and Heritage Ministry, the site has important cultural and historical significance. Once excavation and conservation work has been completely, there are plans to open the site to the public. Others also find meaning in the discovery. The Minister of Culture and Sports, Chili Tropper, said in the statement: “The Israel Antiquities Authority’s fascinating new discovery is a classic example of how traditional, well-known and well-loved stories become part of the historical and archaeological record. The building’s excavation reflects the glorious roots of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and brings the Hanukkah stories to life.”

1236597573 High-school students take part in an excavation by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) in Lachish Forest near the southern city of Kiryat Gat, Nov.16, 2021. A Hellenistic fortified structure destroyed and burned by Hasmoneans was uncovered during an IAA excavation in Lachish Forest, in the Judean Shephelah. Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

But does it? The timing of the announcement was clearly calculated to coincide with the Jewish holiday celebrating independence and divine protection, but the chronology is a little off. The archaeologists report that on the basis of finds at the site, they date the destruction of the site to 112 BCE. The Hanukkah story, on the other hand, is traditionally dated to 166 BCE, when Judah “the Hammer” Maccabee, the son of the former priest Mattathias, used guerrilla tactics to drive the Syrian Seleucids from Jerusalem and subsequently cleansed and rededicated the Second Temple.

I say “traditionally” because the origins of Hanukkah are murky. Our earliest literary sources for the events of the Maccabean revolt don’t mention anything about the miracle of oil. Oddly, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, who first refers to a holiday called the “Festival of Lights,” never calls it Hanukkah or explains why it is associated with light. Dr. Catherine Bonesho an assistant professor in Early Judaism at UCLA told The Daily Beast that our sources for the miracle are quite late. After Josephus, she said, “the ritual of lighting lamps does not appear in textual form until the Mishnah (200 CE), nor does the tradition of the miracle of oil appear until the Babylonian Talmud (edited between fifth and seventh centuries CE).”

Even putting aside this complication and accepting the traditional dating for the event, there’s still a substantial gap between the Maccabean revolt (which lasted from 168-160 BCE) and the destruction of the fort in the Lachish Forest. Even taking (as we should) a long view of the rebellion and its aftermath, which continued into the 150s, there’s still something of a gap. As Dr. Robert Cargill, an archaeologist at the University of Iowa told me, “It’s an excellent discovery but it looks like they’re trying a little too hard to fit it into the Hanukkah story.”

The discovery does add support for the scholarly view that much of the impetus for revolt was disagreements between elite Jewish families, who clashed over the extent to which they should be Hellenized. Ideological and religious conflicts between the Maccabees (from which the Hasmonean Dynasty emerged) and other prominent families led to vying for control of the priesthood. Just as the Jewish homeland was treated like a football by foreign powers like the Ptolemies of Egypt and Seleucids of Syria, the power of the priesthood was an important focus in intra-Jewish power struggles.

We can see this in the sources themselves, after a ceasefire between the Syrian general Bacchides and Jonathan (Judah Maccabee’s younger brother) in 160 BCE, 1 Maccabees tells us that “Jonathan settled in Michmash and began to judge the people; and he destroyed the godless out of Israel.” This continuing struggle is one reason that some scholars see the Hanukkah not just as, as Dr. Shayna Zamkanei writes, a “celebration of the restoration of the Second Temple…[but] also a reminder of the dangers of civil war.”

1236597566 Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologist Saar Ganor presents pottery finds at an excavation site in Lachish Forest near the southern city of Kiryat Gat on Nov. 16, 2021. Hellenistic fortified structure destroyed and burned by Hasmoneans was uncovered during an IAA excavation. “The building’s devastation is probably related to the region’s conquest by the Hasmonean leader John Hyrcanus in around 112 BCE,” according to IAA archaeologists. Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

The conflicts between various families and desire to shake free of Syrian control rippled through the subsequent centuries. Even after 160, Paula Fredriksen, the Aurelio professor of scripture emerita at Boston University and a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told me fighting continued as the Hasmoneans continued to gain strength: “The Seleucid fortress in Israel’s Lachish forest… tells the story of the Hasmoneans’ subsequent rise to power. Hasmonean warrior-priests picked off formerly Seleucid territories and incorporated them into a growing Judean kingdom.”

What’s interesting, as Fredriksen writes in her beautiful book When Christians were Jews: The First Generation, is the ways in which international politics plays out both visibly and invisibly in the background. The position of High Priest, she pointed out, had to be filled by someone who could work with the Seleucids. The traditionalist Maccabees might have been victorious in 160 BCE, but for seven years afterwards the priesthood lay empty because they had no strong candidates who could play nice with foreign rulers. It was only after the death of the Syrian monarch Antiochus in 152 BCE that Jonathan became high priest and his political opponents left Jerusalem.

The legacy of the struggles between different Jewish factions, Fredriksen told me, created the opportunity for Roman military intervention almost a century later. In the 60s CE another struggle for the priesthood, this time between Hasmonean brothers, destabilized the region and provided the pretext for Rome and Pompey’s siege of Jerusalem. The irony here, said Fredriksen, is that Roman influence and military might had bubbled in the background of Judean history since the beginning of the Maccabean revolt a century beforehand: “The alliance with Rome that had sponsored Judean independence in 168 BCE eventuated in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE.”

The Lachish fort, therefore, is part of this long history of the Maccabean revolt and the Hasmonean rise to power. Dr. Matthew Novenson, a professor at the University of Edinburgh and author of The Grammar of Messianism, agreed that legacies of these political struggles cast a long shadow over history. “The Hasmoneans were tremendously important not only for purifying the Jerusalem temple (thus providing the occasion for the festival of Hanukkah) and establishing an independent Jewish state” but also for creating a kind of mythology. “By driving the Seleucids out of Judea, they also exercised a folk-hero influence upon later Jewish messianic movements, for instance, in the Jewish-Roman War of 66-70 CE and the Bar Kokhba War of 132-136 CE.” This is what scholar John Gager has called “the myth of the Maccabees” and it contributes to later forms of messianism that optimistically believed that they too could throw off the shackles of foreign domination. Fredriksen agreed, “The growth of Hanukkah as a Jewish holiday is testimony to the principle established by the victorious Maccabean Revolt: while living with diversity, Jews would also guard Jewish tradition, memory, and identity.”

Just because the discovery can’t be tied to the Hanukkah miracle itself doesn’t make the discovery less valuable or less relevant to our understanding of Jewish history. Moreover, as Cargill said, “The region is a fascinating region. It’s a beautiful area of the country and there’s a lot of archaeology evidence left to be uncovered. The team is doing valuable work in the region” and you should still visit if you get a chance.

News Related

OTHER NEWS

SK Innovation shifts to black in Q4

SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) — SK Innovation Co. on Friday reported its fourth-quarter net profit of 163.4 billion won (US$135.7 million), shifting from a loss of 232.6 billion won a ... Read more »

Samsung Card 2021 net income up 38.2 pct to 551.1 bln won

SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) — Samsung Card Co. on Friday reported its 2021 net profit of 551.1 billion won (US$457.5 million), up 38.2 percent from a year earlier. The company ... Read more »

Samsung Card Q4 net profit up 169 pct to 129.4 bln won

SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) — Samsung Card Co. on Friday reported its fourth-quarter net income of 129.4 billion won (US$107.4 million), up 169 percent from a year earlier. The company ... Read more »

(2nd LD) SK hynix Q4 net up 87.5 pct on rising chip demand

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in last 6 paras; ADDS photo)By Woo Jae-yeon SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) — SK hynix Inc., South Korea’s No. 2 chipmaker, on Friday reported strong ... Read more »

What to know about BA.2, the newest Covid omicron variant

It's called the "stealth" variant, but there's nothing particularly stealthy about it. Researchers are working to parse whether it is a new threat. Read more »

S. Korea calls for swift revision of Trump-era steel tariffs

SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s top trade official called on the United States on Friday to swiftly begin talks to revise the Section 232 tariff rules on Seoul’s ... Read more »

Husband, 71, stabbed wife to death then told police after she filed for divorce

Watch: 999 call and arrest footage of murder accused David Maggs A husband stabbed his wife more than 15 times before dialling 999 and confessing to killing her after she ... Read more »

(LEAD) SK hynix Q4 net up 87.5 pct on rising chip demand

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details throughout; ADDS photo)By Woo Jae-yeon SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) — SK hynix Inc., South Korea’s No. 2 chipmaker, on Friday reported strong fourth-quarter earnings, helped ... Read more »

(LEAD) Industrial output grows by most in 11 years in 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details throughout; ADDS photo)By Kim Soo-yeon SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s industrial output increased by the most in 11 years in 2021 due largely ... Read more »

Woman, 28, found dead in flat before neighbour found seriously ill

[Archive Image] A YOUNG woman has been found dead at a flat in Paisley. The 28-year-old's body was discovered at a property on Stock Street on Monday with emergency services ... Read more »

Rishi Sunak fighting hard to stop invoking Article 16, claim Boris Johnson's allies

Rishi Sunak – Stefan Rousseau-WPA Pool/Getty Images Rishi Sunak has been accused of blocking plans to invoke Article 16 by allies of the Prime Minister who say he is a ... Read more »

Industrial output grows by most in 11 years in 2021

By Kim Soo-yeon SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s industrial output increased by the most in 11 years in 2021 due largely to the base effect and robust exports ... Read more »

iPhones rule: Apple delivers earnings blowout despite supply shortage

Apple shook off supply shortages that have curtailed production of iPhones and other popular devices to deliver its most profitable holiday season yet. The results posted Thursday for the final ... Read more »

Microsoft Outlook bug let hackers bypass email security protections

A bug in Microsoft Outlook for Mac allowed malicious actors to use the email service to distribute malware targeting Windows users, cybersecurity researchers have found. Reegun Richard Jayapaul, Lead Threat ... Read more »

Japanese lunar exploration firm Ispace plans first moon landing by private firm

The lunar lander Ispace Inc. will execute the world’s first moon landing by a private company through its unmanned lunar lander, which will be launched by the end of this ... Read more »

SK Chemicals to ramp up production of chemically-recycled PET for food containers

Chemically-recycled (CR) PET SK Chemicals Co. has ramped up its production of chemically-recycled (CR) PET for the food container market, made by chemically decomposing waste plastics to turn them into ... Read more »

Treat your valentine to a Kate Spade purse for 75% off at the Kate Spade Surprise sale now

— Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission. Whether you’re after a trendy handbag that can take you back ... Read more »

Apple's holiday iPhone sales surge despite supply shortages

SAN RAMON, Calif. — Apple shook off supply shortages that have curtailed production of iPhones and other popular devices to deliver its most profitable holiday season yet. The results posted ... Read more »

Save hundreds on a mattresses and shop deals on a ‘lifechanging' pillow at Tempur-Pedic now

— Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission. There’s nothing quite like resting your head on an ultra-comfortable pillow ... Read more »

Boris Johnson tells allies there was no 'ambush with cake' at No 10 lockdown birthday party

Boris Johnson, pictured in Wales on Thursday, told Conor Burns ‘there was no cake’ at the gathering – Carl Recine/Pool Photo via AP Boris Johnson has told allies he could ... Read more »

The civil service fat cats earning more than Boris Johnson

A record number of civil servants are earning more than the Prime Minister, new data has revealed – Leon Neal A record number of civil servants are earning more than ... Read more »

5 Ways Artificial Intelligence Is Radically Transforming Creativity in Business

Amid rapidly changing technology, many people still associate artificial intelligence (AI) with science-fiction dystopias. But in reality, AI has become an integral part of our daily lives. We now rely on ... Read more »

How the Metaverse Projects Reality in a Virtual Environment

Up to this point, Web3 has fallen short of establishing a user-owned internet through the incorporation of physical characteristics like scarcity, uniqueness and personal ownership. We should be able to own ... Read more »

Instagram and TikTok pull ads from startup Cerebral linking ADHD to obesity

One ad featured images of a woman eating junk food and linked ADHD to obesity. Read more »

Dozens who attended Downing Street parties can pay fines instead of being interviewed by police

Boris Johnson Attendees at Downing Street parties will receive letters from the police offering them the chance to pay a fine rather than be interviewed by officers, it has emerged. ... Read more »

Mother with MS dies of Covid after being wrongly told by doctor she couldn't get vaccine, family claims

A healthy Californian mother-of-three living with multiple sclerosis died from Covid-19 after being told by her healthcare provider she should not be vaccinated against the virus, her family claims. Attorneys ... Read more »

Former royal police officer rejects claim that Prince Andrew was not close with Ghislaine Maxwell, says she had special access to palace

Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell together at Royal Ascot, June 22, 2000.Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images In court documents released Wednesday, Prince Andrew's lawyers denied he was close ... Read more »

Harry Potter given trigger warning as university warns students of 'difficult' content

JK Rowling – Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images A university has added a trigger warning to its English course covering Harry Potter, telling students it could lead to “difficult conversations ... Read more »

Woman who stepped in front of cars to ask for money is banned from begging

Clare Munn A SOUTHAMPTON woman who stepped out in front of cars to ask for money has been banned from begging. Clare Munn, of Ellwood Avenue, Southampton, has been given ... Read more »

Shop our favorite Target deals right now for savings of up to 50% on kitchen and home

— Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission. Need help refreshing your home? Target’s lineup of epic home deals ... Read more »

That's claw-some! Rare white-clawed crayfish is rediscovered at a nature reserve in Hampshire where it was thought to have died out 30 years ago

White-clawed crayfish have declined by around 70 per cent since the 1970sThis is due to pollution, habitat loss and the introduction of non-native crayfish Experts discovered a group of the crustaceans in Hampshire this week  Read more »

Feline fat: Nearly HALF of Britain's pet cats are now obese, with more than 54,000 suffering from diabetes, vets warn

The Royal Veterinary College is recruiting diabetic cats for a new dietary trialOwners in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and London are soughtThe trial involves 12 weeks on a special cat food followed by a year's follow-upOne participating cat was able to stop insulin treatment after just 3.5 weeks  Read more »

iOS 15.4 beta reveals Face ID that works with masked faces

Apple’s next iOS 15 update might make it possible to unlock your phone without taking off your mask. iOS 15.4 beta, released to developers on Thursday, shows the new security ... Read more »

Save $150 on this powerful Dyson ball vacuum at Best Buy today

— Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission. When it comes to vacuums, Dyson rarely disappoints. We’ve tested a ... Read more »

These critical security bugs put Linux servers at risk of attack

Researchers have discovered that Control Web Panel (CWP), a popular web hosting management software, carried with it two flaws which, when chained together, lead to a remote code execution (RCE) ... Read more »

Save hundreds on Kate Spade purses ahead of Valentine's Day

— Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission. One way to your beloved’s heart is with a thoughtful gift ... Read more »

Theory: We're running out of time if we ever want to meet aliens

It seems like just yesterday the dinosaurs were frolicking about the canyons of Pangaea, living their last few oblivious moments before an asteroid changed everything. You don’t really notice it ... Read more »

‘Not just about Ukraine': Why Romania is one of Kiev's strongest supporters in Russia dispute

Romanian presidential honour guard soldiers march during a military ceremony held to mark Romania’s Little Union Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Memorial in Bucharest (EPA) The crisis ... Read more »

White House tells agencies to sign up to Zero Trust security plans

The White House has told government agencies to get signed up to zero-trust security practices in a bid to boost its online protection/ A memo from the Office of Management ... Read more »

SpaceX targeting second booster landing at Cape Canaveral, but weather downgraded

Space Force calculations show a downgraded forecast for SpaceX’s next launch from Cape Canaveral on Thursday, a mission that will include sonic booms as the Falcon 9 booster returns to ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic