Friday, December 15, 2006

The Shifting Miracle of Chanukka?

Update: I've reanalyzed the topic in light of some data about the composition date of the Hebrew gloss in Megillat Taanit. For the old post, see below.

One's analysis can only be as good as the data that goes into it. I previously analyzed and remixed DovBear's post on Chanukka on the basis of the assumption that the Hebrew gloss on Megillat Taanit dated to the same time as the Aramaic "Mishna" of Megillat Taanit. After reconsidering this dating in the previous post, we now reconsider the issue. Once again we can channel Rabbi Dr. David Berger, who I should note did not make this mistake in his analysis (which should have tipped me off.)

Indeed, of all the references DovBear mentioned as being in the interim 600 years from the incident of Chanukka to the redaction of Talmud, none of them turn out to be in the interim, but rather post-Talmudic. So let us reanalyze the situation with this in mind. Borrowing liberally from my previous post:

The Shifting Miracle of Chanukka?

DovBear recently posted about the changing nature of the miracle of Chanukka, in which it started as military victory and eventually became only the miracle of the cruse of oil. Then he speculated on the reason this occurred.

This is not necessarily so.

Firstly, what does it mean to say that there is no attestation of the miracle of the cruse of oil? This means that in I Maccabees, there is no mention of this miracle. However, what DovBear neglects to mention, but which Rabbi Dr. David Berger does mention (see here) was that there is evidence that there were a number of miracle stories circulating then (found in II Maccabees), none of which are cited by the author of I Maccabees. This is a historiographical point - I Maccabees does not see fit to include miracles. Thus, this is an attempt to argue from absence of evidence, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and in this case, it makes sense that there is an absence of evidence in this book.

Yet II Maccabees does not mention the miracle of the cruse of oil either. Again, this is arguing from absence of evidence, which is difficult given that II Maccabees is an abridgment of five books which we no longer have, and II Maccabees contains much more amazing miracles (e.g. appearance of angels).

Thus, the miracle of the cruse of oil might actually have been a fairly old one, dating even to the time of the Maccabees. Yet there is also the military victory aspect, as well as several other miracles. Saying there was one miracle does not contradict a claim that there was another miracle.

The first attestation we have for this miracle of the cruse of oil is indeed in the Talmud:

מאי חנוכה, דתנו רבנן, בכ"ה בכסליו יומי דחנוכה תמניא אינון, דלא למספד בהון ודלא להתענות בהון (מגילת תענית, משנה כ"ג). שנכנסו יוונים להיכל, טימאו כל השמנים שבהיכל וכשגברה מלכות בית חשמונאי ונצחום,בדקו ולא מצאו אלא פך אחד של שמן, שהיה מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול, ולא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד.נעשה בו נס, והדליקו ממנו שמונה ימים. לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה". (גמרא שבת כא

While we might parse it (and indeed, many appear to do so), "What is Chanukka? The Sages learnt...," as I discussed in the previous post, it may well be that Tno Rabbanan refers only to the Aramaic "Mishna" of Megillat Taanit, and the answer may well be non-Tannaitic.

Of course, that something is first recorded in the Talmud does not necessarily mean that the genesis of the story is just then. It could have been transmitted Orally, or this could be a citation from a no-longer extant source.

For what I think is a good symbolic explanation of the significance of the miracle, see my post on parshablog here.

The next source we consider is the early Geonic midrash from 8th century, Pesikta Rabbati. Citing again from DovBear's post:
"[At Hanukah] we commemorate the dedication of the Temple by the Hasmoneans who fought and defeated the Hellenists, and we kindle lights -- just as when [we] finished the Tabernacle in the Wilderness . . . ." (Pesikta Rabbati, ch. 6)

"Why do we kindle lights on Hanukah? Because when the sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priest, defeated the Hellenists, they entered the Temple and found there eight iron spears. They stuck candles on them and lit them." (Pesikta Rabbati ch. 2)
Thus, we see that the military miracle, and the eight iron spears, and the Chanukkat haBayit. The Chanukkat haBayit reason is that given in both I Maccabees and II Maccabees. (The reason of Succot, found in II Maccabees, will be the subject of another post.)

Thus, even with mention of a miracle in the gemara, the Geonim felt free to mention other reasons. Multiple reasons are not mutually exclusive.

Indeed, we then see Megillat Taanit. The Hebrew gloss is apparently post-Talmudic, though exactly when I am not sure. Let us say it is a bit later than Pesikta Rabbati. I don't have enough info at the moment, but it does not really seem to matter to the analysis. We find all three of these reasons side by side, covering different portions of Chanukka:
(In Aramaic) On the 25th of Kislev are eight days during which we may not fast nor deliver eulogies. (In Hebrew) For When the Hellenists entered the Temple, they desecrated all of the oil. And when the Hasmonean dynasty grew and defeated them, they searched but found only one cruse of oil sealed with the stamp of the High Priest, and there was only enough in it to burn for one day. A miracle happened and it burned for eight days. The next year they made these days a fixed annual commemoration ... "Why did the rabbis make Hanukah eight days? Because . . . the Hasmoneans entered the Temple and erected the altar and whitewashed it and repaired all of the ritual utensils. They were kept busy for eight days. And why do we light candles? Because . . . when the Hasmoneans entered the Temple there were eight iron spears in their hands. They covered them with wood and lit candles on them. They did this each of the 8 days."
According to this, the miracle with the cruse of oil is the reason for instituting a fixed annual commemoration. The reason of eight days was that that was how long it took to repair the Temple. The reason for lighting was to reenact what the Chashmonaim did, lighting a special menorah for each of the 8 days.

Does this show a shift in the nature of the miracle? Perhaps, but not away from the military aspect. The shift is from rededication of the Temple (and possibly a Succot tie-in as well, but I will address this in a later post) after their military victory (the the rededication is stresses as the reason for instituting Chanukka) towards the miracle of the cruse of oil when they rededicated the Temple after their military victory, towards rededication of the temple after their military victory coupled with the (potentially highly symbolic) Chashmonaim's lighting of a menorah made of spears in the Temple during this rededication ceremony.

More analysis to come in later posts.

The Old Post

DovBear recently posted about the changing nature of the miracle of Chanukka, in which it started as military victory and eventually became only the miracle of the cruse of oil. Then he speculated on the reason this occurred.

This is just not so, as I noted in the comments there, but I think this deserves its own post.

Firstly, what does it mean to say that there is no attestation of the miracle of the cruse of oil? This means that in I Maccabees, there is no mention of this miracle. However, what DovBear neglects to mention, but which Rabbi Dr. David Berger does mention (see here) was that there is evidence that there were a number of miracle stories circulating then (found in II Maccabees), none of which are cited by the author of I Maccabees. This is a historiographical point - I Maccabees does not see fit to include miracles. Thus, this is an attempt to argue from absence of evidence, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and in this case, it makes sense that there is an absence of evidence in this book.

What he doesn't mention is that there are numerous miracles mentioned in II Maccabees. The dating of this book is a matter of dispute. It is an abridgment of an earlier set of five books, which might have dated to contemporary to the Maccabees, but according to others, later.

Yet II Maccabees does not mention the miracle of the cruse of oil either. Again, this is arguing from absence of evidence, which is difficult given that II Maccabees is an abridgment of five books which we no longer have, and II Maccabees contains much more amazing miracles (e.g. appearance of angels).

Thus, the miracle of the cruse of oil might actually have been a fairly old one, dating even to the time of the Maccabees. Yet there is also the military victory aspect, as well as several other miracles. Saying there was one miracle does not contradict a claim that there was another miracle.

The next attestation we have for this miracle of the cruse of oil is in {update: the Hebrew scholion to} Megillat Taanit, which according to the Talmud was composed by Hananiah ben Hezekiah ben Gurion, a student of Shammai around the first century CE. The Chanukka story occurred around 165 BCE, so this is a span of about 175 years.

{Update
: Note that like many other things, there is dispute about the date of composition of the Hebrew commentary to the Aramaic in Megillat Taanit. Some date the Hebrew Scholion to Megillat Taanit as Late Medieval, post-Talmudic, in which case it is not pre-Talmudic. The question next up is what is meant by the Tno Rabbanan in the gemara -- just the Aramaic or also the Hebrew explanation. In which case all this needs to be reworked.}

That account reads (inserting the portion DovBear omitted at the start, which mentions the cruse of oil):
(In Aramaic) On the 25th of Kislev are eight days during which we may not fast nor deliver eulogies. (In Hebrew) For When the Hellenists entered the Temple, they desecrated all of the oil. And when the Hasmonean dynasty grew and defeated them, they searched but found only one cruse of oil sealed with the stamp of the High Priest, and there was only enough in it to burn for one day. A miracle happened and it burned for eight days. The next year they made these days a fixed annual commemoration ... "Why did the rabbis make Hanukah eight days? Because . . . the Hasmoneans entered the Temple and erected the altar and whitewashed it and repaired all of the ritual utensils. They were kept busy for eight days. And why do we light candles? Because . . . when the Hasmoneans entered the Temple there were eight iron spears in their hands. They covered them with wood and lit candles on them. They did this each of the 8 days." Thus, there are three accounts side by side, one of which is the miracle of the cruse of oil. These explanations are not mutually exclusive. True, none of these reasons are explicitly "military victory." But it does start "And when the hand of the house of Chashmonaim became strong and they defeated them..."

Now, are we to assume that Hananiah ben Hezekiah ben Gurion just made up all of the explanations in Megillat Taanit? That is quite an allegation to lay upon him, even if one attributes it to various motivations. More likely, he was recording existing accounts, which could have been were either accurate accounts or else embellished as people told over the Chanukka story. It is quite possible he had been told this by someone of the previous generation, and this was well known at the time, and so he recorded it. This would bring the date of the genesis of the cruse of oil story earlier. And it could well have been an oral tradition. Or it could well have been a written tradition. If II Maccabees was an abridgment work composed as late as 60 CE from five other extant books, it is quite possible that Hananiah ben Hezekiah ben Gurion (from around the same time) had access to these same books!

{Update: Once again, this assumed an early date for the Hebrew Scholion.}

The next account we consider is the gemara:
"What is Hanukah? When the Hellenists entered the Temple, they desecrated all of the oil. And when the Hasmonean dynasty grew and defeated them, they searched but found only one cruse of oil sealed with the stamp of the High Priest, and there was only enough in it to burn for one day. A miracle happened and it burned for eight days. The next year they made these days a fixed annual commemoration . . ." (TB Shabbat 21b; also Megillat Taanith ch. 9)
The gemara was redacted by Ravina I, Rav Ashi, and Ravina II, and Ravina II was around 475 CE. Should we date this account to that time? Well, it stated Tno Rabanan, which is used to introduce Tannaitic material, and in fact this is a direct quote from Megillat Taanit. Only the first aspect is mentioned, because at issue was for what miracle was the festival instituted. This is a quotation of an earlier first century account.

Thus, where DovBear says, "The small jug of oil first appears in the Talmud, codified about 600 years after the events of Chanuka. In the interim, a variety of rabbinic stories were told to answer the questions," he is incorrect. The small jug of oil first appears in Megillat Taanit, about 175 years after the events of Chanukka. That is was cited in something redacted much later means nothing, unless he wants to claim that Ravina II made up the brayta. {Update: Or unless the Aramaic is the brayta, which is plausible.} It is the same thing as noting that Tosafot cites this gemara, and then putting the date of composition that much later, in the time of the Tosafists. This would be silly, and this is silly.

{Update: However, as noted above, not necessarily silly. if the Hebrew explanations are later, then the earliest attestation is indeed in the Talmud. This still does not necessarily mean Ravina II, though.}

There are also quotes from Pesikta Rabbati. This he also accidentally assigns to "in the interim" of the 600 years. In fact, Pesikta Rabbati is an early Geonic work, an 8th century midrash. These citations read:
"[At Hanukah] we commemorate the dedication of the Temple by the Hasmoneans who fought and defeated the Hellenists, and we kindle lights -- just as when [we] finished the Tabernacle in the Wilderness . . . ." (Pesikta Rabbati, ch. 6)

"Why do we kindle lights on Hanukah? Because when the sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priest, defeated the Hellenists, they entered the Temple and found there eight iron spears. They stuck candles on them and lit them." (Pesikta Rabbati ch. 2)

Thus, we see that the military miracle, and the eight iron spears, was known to the geonim even though it was not part of the gemara's quote. This is because Ravina and Rav Ashi knew that Megillat Taanit was an extant work, and they did not need to reproduce it in full in the gemara, because others would still have access to it. And we see the geonim did have access to it, and cited it in their midrashic work.

DovBear then asks how come this shift occurred from military victory to the miracle of the cruse. I am not convinced that there is any evidence of such a shift, which prompts his speculation into reasons for the shift. After all, the cruse of oil might have occurred in the five books which were abridged into II Maccabees, together with other miracles and significant events. It existed alongside other reasons in Megillat Taanit, and was cited partially by the gemara, but those other reasons continued to exist into Geonic times.

14 comments:

Chaim B. said...

You gave me an idea. The gemara in Yoma (sorry, forgot daf) says that Esther is "sof kol hanisim". The gemara asks what about Chanukah, and answers that the original statement refers to miracles which are recorded in writing. At first glance the answer is strange - Chanukah is recorded in writing, albeit not in a canonized book? But now it makes sense - maybe the gemara itself is acknowledging that the miracle of the oil was never written!

Ben Moshe said...

Shkoyach. Its nice to read someone who can respond to articles like Dovs with courteous informed researched response.
It seems like every other Jewish Blog is seeking to prove the Chazal as either well intentioned ignoramasus lehavdil who either knew little of science or stayed entangled in outmoded scientific theorys such as the origin of germs and the sun/earth revolution etc or they are portryed as scheming haredim out for their own good and aggaradizment lehavdil. I will have to visit here and read more often.
And not to mention the discrediting of the Torahs record of events(documentary hypothesis)

zach said...

The two books of Maccabees are the primarily historical source of the events of Chanukah and they explain what the original celebration was - a delayed Succot. There is no mention of a miracle of candles. Josephus (yeah, I know you don't bring a raiyah from Josephus (unless he agrees with mainstream Orthodox thought!)) is the next historical source, and he also doesn't mention the miracle of the candles.

The Gemara is a non-historical source. Quasi-historical stories in the Gemara are woven with aggadita and medrash, which are often not to be taken literally.

There are a lot of explanations as to why the candles story took hold (e.g., a way to downplay the military success of the Hasmoneans and play up the miraculous, seeing that this dynasty of Kohanim claimed a right to kingship and they eventually became Hellenized!) My own thoughts are that this was a time period in which the Rabbanim knew that they had to institute many decrees and traditions to ensure the continued viability of the Jewish people in galut. It is quite possible that Hananiah ben Hezekiah ben Gurion was simply transmitting such a tradition that never had as its purpose an accurate historical account, but which did have a more priceless objective: turning the memory of an incredible military victory into a sacred myth that would be passed down through the generations.

Ask yourself this simple but important question: why does NOBODY teach the Succot/Chanukah connection in Yeshiva? Why does the Artscroll book on Chanukah discuss the history of the Chanuka story in great detail but ignore this section?

Now I'll tell you the answer. Or rather Rabbi Shimon Schwab will. He said: "Rather than write the history of our forebears, every generation has to put a veil over the human failings of its elders and glorify all the rest which is great and beautiful. That means we have to do without a real history book. We can do without. We do not need realism, we need inspiration from our forefathers in order to pass it on to posterity".

Anonymous said...

Zach, how does your answer respond to your question? Does the sukkot connection reveal "human failings of [our] elders"?

joshwaxman said...

not to mention, the Succot connection has as much to do with military success as any of the three reasons in Megillat Taanit - and in fact, the nes Chanukka of the cruse of oil is introduced as what happened after the Chashmonaim prevailed in military victory.

what reason do you have to cast X as military victory and Y not as that?

Oh, and how was it that I knew of the Succot connection years before DovBear mentioned it? That typical yeshivot don't teach it probably has a lot to do with the status of sefer Maccabim as part of the New Testament, among seforim Chitzonim, for a similar reason that they do not teach the book of Judith even though it *accords* with something transmitted in the gemara. There are Torah sources that make this connection, though. R' Yonatan Milunel, one of the Baalie Tosafot. Artscroll also comes to the table with a certain approach that may preclude it. Seeing what mis-nagid did with this connection, do you really think Artscroll would open that whole can of worms?

I don't think it is that easy to put such motives to Hananiah ben Hezekiah ben Gurion. Don't get me starting on the whole issue of whether Chazal intended midrashim literally of figuratively -- you can look at my archives to see what I've written about this claim, and how it is way overextended. Claiming figurative interpretations is often a cop-out for saying "I disagree with Chazal," where the person saying this does not want to appear non-frum. I also do not believe that Chazal set out initially to create "sacred myths." This is a jaded view of Chazal's motivations.

However, if you are looking for a symbolic interpretation of the nes chanukka, you can look at the previous post on parshablog.

as to no mention of the miracles of candles in I and II Maccabees, I believe I already addressed this point. Josephus is a another (good) question, but again an argument from absence of evidence.

Soon, I will try to address another question - the absence of the Succot connection in Megillat Taanit, and whether the contradiction is with the nes Chanukka, or with something else there.

joshwaxman said...

Oh, and don't you know that the book of Maccabees was Hashmonean propaganda? For more details, see here.

;)

The same way one can attribute motivations to Chazal, one can attribute motivations to others and call it fiction.

joshwaxman said...

I forgot to mention -- Josephus is about the same time as Megillat Taanit. Both are early 1st century CE.

joshwaxman said...

Also, since you consider I and II Maccabees to be historical sources, to the exclusion of the gemara, which is allegory and fiction mixed with quasi-history, I want to ask you:

It states in II Maccebees, chapter 10, verses 29-30:
"29: When the battle became fierce, there appeared to the enemy from heaven five resplendent men on horses with golden bridles, and they were leading the Jews.
30: Surrounding Maccabeus and protecting him with their own armor and weapons, they kept him from being wounded. And they showered arrows and thunderbolts upon the enemy, so that, confused and blinded, they were thrown into disorder and cut to pieces."

Do you believe that this was historical?

joshwaxman said...

finally, you presumably believe that the connection to Succot was real because it was mentioned in II Maccabees, which contains also this miraculous material of angels coming down and shielding Maccabeus.

What then do you make of the fact that I Maccabees, which omits any mention of miracles, *also* fails to mention a connection to Succot?

If absence of evidence is evidence of absence, then how come I Maccabees makes no mention of the connection to Succot?

Look, I can look at sources critically, and often have in the past on parshablog. Enough that I realize that reading things critically is not (necessarily) the same as reading them cynically.

Anonymous said...

From R' Avigdor Miller:

The genuine tradition of Israel, preserved in the Oral Law, explains the true nature of the Hannukah celebration. "What is Hannukah? (RSHI: For which miracle was it instituted?) The Sages taught .... A miracle took place and they kindled the Menorah from it (from the vessel of oil) for eight days" (Shabbos 21 B).

The miracle of the lights was the central cause of celebration; for the battles were by no means finished, for soon afterward the power went over to the Hellenisers entirely, after the death of Judah the Maccabbee, and the worst part of the Shmad commenced, followed by 25 years of war. It is thus clear that the celebration of Hannukah was not because of any victory, but because of their rejoicing at the demonstration of the Shechinah in their midst.

The episode of the miracle of Hannukah "was not permitted to be written" (Yoma 29 A). It is certain that none of the Sages ever mentioned the book of the Hasmoneans (the book of the Maccabbees); and this book has not been in the hands of our nation throughout the past two millenia. It was illegal for loyal Jews to have any public writings other than the Scriptures. All secular narratives were forbidden as "outside books" (Sefarim Hitzonim) (Sanhedrin 90 A), and no sacred writing other than the 24 books of the Scriptures was permitted. It was forbidden to write even prayer-books (Shabbos 115 B, and there is no mention of a written Mishnah or Talmud until the days of the Rabbanan Savorai, after the last of the Amoraim.

All historical narrative was contained in the Oral Tradition in the form of carefully-memorized Baraisas, of which a number are found in the Talmud and other compilations, such as Seder Olam and Midrashim; but, like all the Oral Tradition, this had been forbidden to put into writing.

Even Josephtus states: "We do not possess an unlimited number of books among us ... but only the books of the Scriptures" (Contra Apion I, , and he states: "Every one is not permitted of his own accord to be a writer" (ibid. I, 7). Josephus wrote his own books not for the Jews (vid. Jos. Vita 76).

The book of Hasmoneans (including II Hasmoneans) was therefore certainly not composed by any of the Sages or their disciples (who were always the majority of the nation, as testified even by Josephus-Antig. XIII, 10, 5; XIII, 10,6). The narrative of the book of Hasmoneans concludes soon after the period of Jochanan Hyrcanus (I Hasmoneans 17: 25 ). Since it goes no further, it obviously was composed at that time (for if it were merely a chronicle of the Syrian wars, it did not need to include the history of Jochanan Hytcanus). This demonstrates that it was written under the regime of the Sadduccee-Hasmonean rulers, of whom Jochanan Hyrcanus was the first; and the writer was under their dominion.

Because the Sadduccee regime of Jochanan Hyrcanus forbade the practice of all Rabbinic laws and inflicted punishment (in some instances death) upon those who observed these laws (Antiq. XIII, 10, 6), the writer was careful to omit any mention of the Rabbinical law of kindling the Hannukah lamp. He could therefore make no mention of the miracle of the Menorah which the entire nation knew as the occasion for this Rabbinical law.

The practice of Hannukah was not repressed, although it was a Rabbinical edict, for it was the memorial of the glory of the Hasmonean family and the sole justification of their authority. Josephus, who followed the Sadduccee chronicles throughout, also omitted the miracle of the Menorah; but he could not brush off the fact that the entire nation kindled the Hannukah lamps, and he therefore mentions the festival called Lights (Antiq. XII, 7, 7). He gives a lame explanation: "I suppose the reason (for this name of Lights) was because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us" (ibid.).

Despite the attempts of the Sadduccees to suppress the fame of the miracle of the Menorah and the practice of the Mitzvah, the Sages and the nation made every attempt to publicize this miracle; and the universal practice of the people was to kindle the Hannukah lamps at the gates of their homes, in the public thoroughfare (Shabbos 22 A; Bava Kama 62 B).
Anonymous | 12.15.06 - 12:16 am | #

avakesh said...

Thank you. I agree with you. An analysis that comes to similar conclusions but by a different route isposted on avakesh.com

Anonymous said...

The Aruch Hashulchan also discusses the sukos connection as the explanation for the 8 days.

he is medayek that on the miracle of oil it says that on the next year, they set chanuka for 8 days. He says that the original celebration was 8 days sukos, but that there wasn't necessarily going to be a yearly holiday. He thinks that the miracle of oil was taken as a sign that mishamayim hiskimu lo.

The sukos connection is also brought by other fully mainstream achronim.

zach said...

Anonymous said... Zach, how does your answer respond to your question? Does the sukkot connection reveal "human failings of [our] elders"?

I included Rabbi Schwab's entire quote and can understand how it may have led to some confusion. The point was that Rabbi Schwab said that "we do not need a real history book", that "we do not need realism". It serves to emphasize my point that official "Orthodox history" such as historical events described in the Gemara are not to be viewed as accurate accounts of past events. That was never its purpose.

Anonymous said...

This is what I just posted by DB:



The way my rebbi once explained it to me is as follows:

The war on Channukah was between the ideals of the Greeks and the ideals of the Torah.

Yavan (the Greeks) is choshech (darkness). This is because they believed that "man" controls everything and not G-d.

The Torah is ohr (light). The Torah states that G-d created everything and continues to control everything.
אָנֹכִי ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם

The victory on the battlefield could be interpreted by some as a war that was one because ofכֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי עָשָׂה לִי אֶת הַחַיִל הַזֶּה - a victory caused by the prowess of "man" and not because of G-d.

The miracle of the oil, however, can only be interpreted as the work of G-d.

The lesson of Channukah is that Torah is greater than yavan. The miracle of oil proves this, not the victory.

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