As we all know Christmas and Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, generally fall fairly close to each other in December. This year, Hanukkah begins this evening at sundown.
While most Christians know that the Jews are celebrating Hanukkah this season, not all that many know the the story of the festival and the heroic deeds of the Maccabees, the Jewish martyrs who resisted Greek attempts to make them turn away from their ancient faith. Scripture holds that a mother and seven sons chose torture and death rather than renounce their faith. The Maccabees were regarded by the early church as proto-martyrs of the early Christians who died for their faith across the Roman Empire.
In fact, both the Catholic and Orthodox churches even today remember the Maccabean martyrs in their calendars of saints.
In Friday’s The Wall Street Journal, Jon D. Levensen, a Harvard Divinity School professor of Jewish studies and author, writes in his essay — “The Meaning of Hanukkah: A celebration of religious freedom, the holiday fits well with the American political tradition,” that the origins of Hanukkah would have been forgotten in Jewish scholarship and history had it not been for the inclusion of the Book of Maccabees in the Christian Bible.
“And so we encounter another oddity of Hanukkah: Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost,” Levensen writes.
Read Levensen’s interesting essay and even go back and rediscover the Books of Maccabees. It’s good to know that Christians helped save a Jewish feast that makes holy this season for both faiths.