Winter holidays around the world have light as their central theme. So too is the case with Hanukkah where we celebrate the miracle of the olive oil that fueled the Menorah at the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by the Maccabees in 164 B.C.E.
But as you might expect, the story of Hanukkah is a lot more complicated than one might imagine. Getting to that olive oil is a journey through the dissolution Alexander the Great’s empire and the first clash between Greece and Rome. The events in ancient Israel are just a small part of an extended regional war.
In the first chapter The Complicated Hanukkah Story, Alexander the Great’s Empire has split in two and Israel is under the control of the Ptolemaic Empire centered in Egypt. Greek culture had spread throughout the region. But things are still okay for the Jews under the Ptolemys, they were free to practice their religion without restriction.
Part I: The Ptolemaic Empire
The rival Greek empire, the Seleucids, have ambitions. They want to reconstitute the empire of Alexander under their control. They try and fail to conquer Egypt, but later on they succeed in taking over control of Israel. It is at this point that things take a turn for the worse.
Part II: The Seleucid Empire
The Jewish community is fractured with loyalties split between Temples. Antiochus III is succeeded by Antiochus IV who escalates the problem by starting an aggressive campaign of enforced Hellenization.
Part III: Hellenization
Anitochus the IV will not give up on the dream of conquering the Ptolemaic Empire of Egypt. After another attempt, he is thwarted by a growing power in the region – the Romans.
Part IV: Maccabees