This week Jewish families around the globe are celebrating Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and lasts eight days. The word Hanukkah means "dedication" and the holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 165 BC. Because of its Biblical and prophetic importance, we thought it would be appropriate to explore the origin and history of Hanukkah.

Many scholars refer to the 400 years between the Old Testament and the New Testament as "the silent years." However, much of this history was written about in advance by the prophet Daniel. Chapter 11 of the book of Daniel details the breakup of the Greek Empire after the death of Alexander the Great. Alexander’s four generals divided up the empire. Cassander took Macedonia and Greece; Lysimachus took Asia Minor and Thrace; Seleucus took over Syria, Babylon and the east; and, Ptolemy took over Egypt. Since Israel was caught between the territories of Seleucus and Ptolemy, it subsequently was a buffer zone between these two rivals. Daniel also describes the struggles between the Seleucid Empire ("the king of the north") and the Ptolemies ("the king of the south").

After Antiochus IV Epiphanies took over the Seleucid throne he outlawed the keeping of the Torah, persecuted the Jews, and looted the Temple in Jerusalem. In the ultimate act of profanity he then slaughtered a sow on the altar and sprinkled its blood in front of an idol of Zeus in the Holy Place. This desecration of the Temple is referred to in Daniel 11:31 as the "abomination of desolation." The consequent outrage led to the famed Maccabbean revolt, which successively threw off the yoke of the Greek rulers and ushered in the Hasmonean period of Israel’s history. On the third anniversary of the desecration of the Temple, on the 25th of Kislev, 165 BC, the Temple was rededicated. This rededication is celebrated to this very day as Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is mentioned only once in the Bible, John 10:22 simply acknowledges that "…it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter." Most of what we know about Hanukkah comes from the books of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees as well as other rabbinical writings and traditions. Many historians believe that the first Hanukkah lasted eight days because it was a delayed celebration of Sukkot, often called the Feast of Tabernacles, which also lasts for eight days and at the time would have prominently featured the lighting of lamps. However, according to the Talmud, a miracle took place during the rededication of the Temple that accounts for the eight day duration of the feast. The Temple Priests had only one day’s supply of oil, yet the lamps burned for eight days, giving the Priests time to prepare more (this remarkable event is referred to as the miracle of Hanukkah).

Perhaps the most recognizable aspect of Hanukkah is the Menorah. The traditional Hanukkah Menorah has nine branches (it is different from the seven-branch candelabrum found in most synagogues, of which the seven branches are symbolic of the seven days of creation). One candle is lit on each of the eight days of Hanukkah, the ninth candle (called a "shamash" or "servant candle") is used to light the others. Menorahs are traditionally displayed in a window so they can be seen from the outside.

Historically, Hanukkah is considered a minor holiday, primarily because it is not one of the seven feasts described in the Torah (the five books of Moses). However it has been emphasized more in recent years. Hanukkah symbolizes the restoration of Jewish sovereignty, and that idea has taken on new significance with the establishment of the modern state of Israel. Also, because Hanukkah usually occurs in late December, it is sometimes viewed as an alternative to Christmas (especially among Jewish families in the United States and other predominately Christian nations). This trend has been encouraged by retailers who have profited from the sale of greeting cards, wrapping paper, games, music, and other Hanukkah related items.

Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of Hanukkah is its roots in Biblical prophecy. The "abomination of desolation," which lead to the Maccabean Revolt and subsequently the first Hanukkah, was foretold by Daniel. This historical event took on additional prophetic significance two centuries later, when four disciples received a private briefing by Jesus Himself on the Second Coming, in which Jesus alluded to a future reoccurrence of a similar desecration as the key to all end-time prophecy (Matthew 24:15). This repetition of the "abomination of desolation" is the central milestone in the middle of the climactic seven-year period comprising the "70th Week" of Daniel 9. This prophetic event requires the rebuilding of the Temple, the preparations for which have already begun.