Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Shifting, Shifting Miracle Of Chanukka?

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.

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