Sunday, November 28, 2004

Where I Learn Some Jewish History

I've been reading Antichrist by Bernard McGinn and near the beginning of the book, McGinn discusses some historical figures who have been portrayed as possible Antichrists, including Antiochus IV. McGinn goes on to account the story of the Maccabees - how Antiochus persecuted the Jews, including erecting a temple to Zeus in the middle of their temple and how they subsequently revolted and overthrew his tyranny. But at the end of this account, McGinn adds the final sentence, "The persecutor himself had died a few weeks earlier." (27).

So I went and looked it up, not realizing the Revolt of the Maccabees is the event that led to Chanukah. The site I cite states:

"...the holiday of Chanukah celebrates:
the defeat of Antiochus"

This was all sounding sort of strange - there's a major Jewish holiday to celebrate defeating a king who was already dead? I though at first it was some sort of Jewish irony, but Wikipedia finally set me straight - he wasn't dead yet when the revolt started, he was simply sending armies from afar and only died later when he started to personally march on the Maccabees, and the real significance was the foundation of Israel (for one hundred years) and the establishment of a royal line (the Hasmoneans), though the first of the links above notes:

"The Maccabees' successful revolt against Antiochus' antisemitic persecution was ended about a hundred years later by their own self-destruction. Their downfall was due to greedy family members who wanted the country for themselves."

Now I know that instead of a dreidel, I can get Mean Mr. Mustard an Antiochus IV doll to burn in effigy on the 25th of Kislev (pretty much Christmas - note that some believe Christ was actually born on this anniversary of the founding of Israel) - it's good to have options.

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