Hanukkah may have pagan roots? Seriously? **Updated**

A friend sent me something a couple days ago to mull…  I’ll just put it out here for thought and discussion.

**Please see John McKee’s comment below**

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia’s article on the origins of Hanukkah,

The actual reason for the selection of the twenty-fifth of Kislew by Judas Maccabeus for the dedication of the altar is stated to have been, as mentioned above, that on the very same day three years earlier Antiochus Epiphanes had a pagan altar set up at the altar of burnt offerings in the Temple of Jerusalem and sacrifices offered to his idol (I Macc. i. 41-64; comp. II Macc. vi. 2, where the heathen god is called “Zeus Olympius”). The twenty-fifth of Kislew was accordingly a day sacred also to the heathen before it became a Jewish festival. According to Ewald (“Gesch. des Volkes Israel,” 3d ed., iv. 407)

and Wellhausen (“Israelitische und Jüdische Gesch.” p. 210; comp. Paulus Cassel, “Weihnachten,” pp. 57, 97, and p. lii., notes), it had been celebrated as the winter solstice feast by the Jewish people before it became a historical festival associated with the great Maccabean victory. Regarding the historical data connected with the Ḥanukkah feast see Maccabees; Maccabees, Books of.

Hmmmm….  On the one hand, we know beyond shadow of doubt that it is not a feast listed among the seven in Leviticus 23.  On the other hand, can we definitively say that this is the feast Yeshua was celebrating when Scripture speaks of Him going up for the Feast of Dedication?


About Pete Rambo

Details in 'About' page @ natsab.wordpress.com Basically, husband of one, father of four. Pastor x 11 years, former business and military background. Micro-farmer. Messianic believer in Yeshua haMashiach!
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11 Responses to Hanukkah may have pagan roots? Seriously? **Updated**

  1. Don Cohen says:

    Hi Pete!

    I kind of ‘scratched my head’ a little when I saw this posted by our mutual friend a week or so ago. It seems these days that anything and everything is being slammed with a pagan label. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for truth, but I have to admit that I am getting very weary of seeing the never ending barrage of bashing posts and articles coming from the Messianic / HRM community lately. I don’t want to get into that right now, but would it be so bad to be a little heavier on things positive, rather than always negative (I am not pointing out you or any individual here – just the general situation as I see it). Anyway, I would need to look into the validity of the statements made from the article before I made up my mind how to respond. Never was much into knee-jerk reactions.

    On another note, you mentioned Yeshua as CELEBRATING a/the feast. Where does John state that? All the 2 verses (John 10:22-23) say is that it was the time of the feast of dedication and Yeshua was walking in the temple area. No mention of celebrating anything. At best, we can make an educated guess that he traditionally did celebrate it, and MAY have been there for that purpose. But to read into the text that he was celebrating, simply because John mentions a time, person, and place… not sure that works, although you are certainly not alone in seeing it that way.

    For the sake of those who don’t know me, I am not criticising Pete – at least in the sense that others might. He and I are good friends. This is simply what I would say to him in person if we were together, and I think he’d be good with that – right, Pete?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pete Rambo says:

      That’s right. I always enjoy batting things around with you as you help my sense of balance.

      You are correct on Yeshua, and I did say celebrating. I would find it hard to believe He was present and in the Temple during an event/time that He disagreed with. And, it is important/significant that the Temple was cleansed prior to His coming, right? 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Rob Roy says:

    On the 25th of Kislev you have historical evidence for the desecration of the temple, so it would make sense to have the re-dedication on the same day, no? What’s problematic about Christmas is that we have no historical record of Yeshua’s birth on that day. It would seem that Dec. 25th was selected *because* it was already an established day of pagan worship. So it seems the origins of the two holidays is similar, but actually pretty different when you take a closer look.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. John McKee says:

    I think it would be very well advised to consider the source of the statements equating Chanukah with some Winter solstice rites. When readers see Nineteenth Century German scholars like Julius Wellhausen and his work Israelitische und Jüdische Geschichte referenced as a source, some extreme caution needs to be exhibited. Wellhausen was also one of the main figures behind the JEDP source hypothesis of the Pentateuch, which completely dismissed any sort of Mosaic authorship or oversight for the Torah’s composition. I would seem doubtful that this was taken into consideration, and the Jewish Encyclopedia was just quoted to force a point.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Pete Rambo says:

      Excellent!! Thank you for that info. I was not familiar with the cites. Glad you could point that out.


      Liked by 1 person

      • One would have to wonder why the Jewish Encyclopedia would even cite a source that would be so in question to their basic tenants unless there was some truth to the observation.


      • Pete Rambo says:


        John has another note added as to the reliability of the source. I do find it interesting that a Jewish Encyclopedia would put that much stock in a German source, though I do recognize that this is 1905ish at compilation, not 1945. But the seeds were already very much present.


  4. John McKee says:

    A resource like the Jewish Encyclopedia, and the succeeding Encyclopedia Judaica, is going to be broadly liberal and a compendium of mainly Reform Jewish scholarship. Its entry for Pentateuch, favoring the JEDP documentary hypothesis, is clear enough on this:


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sue in NC says:

    The rabbis have messed up a few things, so perhaps they would have been wiser to switch their day of dedication to the day previous or a week following the desecration of the temple. However, had I been in their ranks at the time, it would have seemed perfectly ‘right’ to rededicate the temple on the anniversary of its desecration. It would have felt like a rebuke of evil, a triumph of godliness, and a challenge to future enemies. Since nothing in the celebration of Hanukkah echoes the ceremonies of the pagan celebration, I can’t see any problem. Instead I rejoice in the way YHVH put it in the hearts of the rabbis to create a celebration that is so analogous to the life and ministry of Y’shua Messiah!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pete Rambo says:

      And I can certainly see that angle. Our observance of Hanukkah, excepting the first year, has always been a very limited mellow focus on the Messiah and the cleansing of the Temple. We definitely do not place the same significance or fervor on that date like we do the majors (Pesach, Shavuot, and the Fall feasts). But is has been a warm time of closeness as we light candles and remember how important a cleansed Temple was to the coming of the Messiah.

      And, it breaks up a loooong stretch from Succoth to Purim and Pesach.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sue in NC says:

        We don’t make a big deal of Hanukkah, either, but we genuinely enjoy the opportunity to reflect on The Light Coming Into the World, to cleanse and re-dedicate ourselves to the things of YHVH, and to acknowledge our obligation to be Lights in a darkened world, like our Shamash Meshiach, Y’shua. If we sensed anything pagan about it, we would drop it like a hot potato, but whenever we have prayed about it, we are consistently comforted that it is simply another opportunity to celebrate our Messiah. Oddly enough, this was the first year that (in our personal experience) someone other than ourselves challenged the holiday – Kinda nice that we had already been down that road.


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