FESTIVAL OF DEDICATION
[Heb., hhanuk·kahʹ, initiation, dedication].
This observance commemorates the recovery of Jewish independence from Syro-Grecian domination and the rededication to Jehovah of the temple at Jerusalem, which had been desecrated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who called himself The·osʹ E·pi·pha·nesʹ (“God Manifest”). He built an altar on top of the great altar on which the daily burnt offering had formerly been offered. (1 Maccabees 1:54-59, AT) On this occasion (Chislev 25, 168 B.C.E.) he sacrificed swine on the altar and had a broth made of some of the flesh and had it sprinkled all over the temple to show his hatred and contempt for Jehovah, the God of the Jews, and to defile His temple to the utmost. He burned the temple gates, pulled down the priests’ chambers and carried away the golden altar, the table of showbread and the golden lampstand. Later, the temple of Zerubbabel was rededicated to the pagan god Zeus of Olympus.
Two years later Judas Maccabaeus recaptured the city and the temple. The sanctuary was desolate; weeds were growing in the temple courts. Judas tore down the old defiled altar and built a new altar of unhewn stones. Judas had temple vessels made and brought into the temple the altar of incense, the table of showbread and the lampstand. After the temple was purged of defilement the rededication took place on Chislev 25, 165 B.C.E., exactly three years to the day after Antiochus had made his sacrifice on the altar in worship of the pagan god. The daily or continual burnt offerings were renewed.—1 Maccabees 4:36-54; 2 Maccabees 10:1-9, AT.
The very nature of the festival made it a time of great rejoicing. There is some resemblance to the Festival of Booths in the manner of its observance. The celebration lasted eight days from Chislev 25 onward. (1 Maccabees 4:59) There was a great blaze of light in the courts of the temple and all private dwellings were lighted up with decorative lamps. The Talmud refers to it as the “Feast of Illumination.” Later on, some had the practice of displaying eight lamps on the first night and reducing the number on each night by one, others starting with one and increasing to eight. The objective was not solely to illuminate the house within, but so that all on the outside would see the light, for the lamps were placed near doors leading to the street. Accompanying the lighting of the lamps was the singing of songs extolling God the Deliverer of Israel. Josephus says about the initiation of the festival: “They were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XII, chap. VII, par. 7) Laborious work was allowed, as it was not considered a sabbath.
There were two former temple dedications, that of the first temple by Solomon and of the second built by Zerubbabel, that were solemnly celebrated at the time. But there was no anniversary festival in commemoration afterward, as there was of this rededication of the second temple by Judas Maccabaeus. Unlike the three great festivals, which all males were obligated to attend at Jerusalem, the Festival of Dedication could be celebrated in their various cities, as was the case with the Festival of Purim. (Ex. 23:14-17; Esther 9:18-32) Throughout the land they assembled in their synagogues with singing and jubilation, carrying branches of trees, while the synagogues and the private homes were illuminated by the many lights. The Jews celebrate this festival to the present day.
SIGNIFICANCE FOR CHRISTIANS
Jesus visited the temple at the time of the Festival of Dedication during the last winter of his ministry, in 32 C.E. The account reads: “At that time the festival of dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was wintertime, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the colonnade of Solomon.” (John 10:22, 23) Chislev, the ninth month, corresponds to November-December of the Gregorian calendar. It was, of course, common knowledge among the Jews that this festival occurred during wintertime. Consequently, the mention of winter here may have reference to the state of the weather rather than the season as a reason for Jesus’ choice of a sheltered place for his teaching, in the “colonnade of Solomon.” This covered colonnade was on the E side of the outer court of the Gentiles, where many people would gather.—Acts 3:11; 5:12.
There is no direct statement in the inspired Scriptures that Jehovah gave Judas victory and directed his repair of the temple, its refurnishing, the making of utensils, and finally its rededication. Yet, for the prophecies regarding Jesus and his ministry to be fulfilled, and for the Levitical sacrifices to continue until the great sacrifice of God’s Son would be accomplished, the temple had to be standing and its services in operation at the time of the Messiah’s appearance. (John 2:17; Dan. 9:27) Jehovah had used men of foreign nations, such as Cyrus, to carry out certain purposes as regards his worship. (Isa. 45:1) How much more readily might he use a man of his dedicated people, the Jews.
Whatever may be the case, the temple services were observed during the ministry of Jesus Christ. Zerubbabel’s temple had been rebuilt (replaced) more elaborately by Herod. For this reason and due to their dislike of Herod, the Jews usually make mention of only two temples, Solomon’s and Zerubbabel’s. Neither in the words of Jesus nor in any of the writings of his disciples do we find any condemnation of the Festival of Dedication. It is not, however, enjoined on Christians, who are under the new covenant.—Col. 2:16; Gal. 4:10, 11; Heb. 8:6.