What’s the Real Story of Hanukkah?

Our friends over at Obit are taking a super-revisionist approach to the Hanukkah story:

Some time ago, a group of fanatics grew irritated and agitated by the lack of zeal demonstrated by some of their co-religionists, many of them wealthy and educated. A number of these non-zealots were assimilating at a fast pace into modern culture, becoming almost indistinguishable from the elite group that ran it.

These non-zealots began dressing like the elite, naming their children after beefcake warriors rather than famished holy prophets, adopting the religion of the dominant group—and the next thing you knew, one of their assimilated number was slaughtered right in a house of worship because he was praying to an elite deity the zealots didn’t acknowledge. After that there was a zealot revolution, with special emphasis on forcibly circumcising those men whose parents had neglected to do so, and also destroying various offending elite altars. This was followed by a long dismal siege, during which the fruitcakes—I mean the ultra-religious guys—won.

It goes on. But then, after the author has her way with this “wannabe holiday” that little American Jewish kids look forward to bragging about every winter, there’s a comment that tells the story differently (or see Jess’ blog post from yesterday). It comes from a rabbi in Chevy Chase, Maryland:

It is a dishonest article.  No integrity.  It is clear that the Syrian Greeks sent their forces into Judea to force convert the people from Judaism to the pagan faith of the Syrian monarch, Antiochus.  The lives of the people were threatened if they did not give up their faith.  They had already lost national independence but held onto Judaism as their religion.  A small group of guerilla fighters organized, inspired the population, and defeated the vastly more numerous and better armed Syrian forces.  Because they had to fight for months they missed the celebration of Sukkot, the most popular holy day in that era.  Sukkot was celebrated for 8 days.  So when the fighting stopped they celebrated for 8 days in the manner of Sukkot.  They also rededicated the Temple.  Those two events got combined into Chanukah, which means dedication.

What do you think? Who’s right? What’s the true story behind the dreidel?

You might also try taking a look at the account of the early historian Josephus, in his Wars of the Jews.