An unfortunate side-effect of Hanukkah approaching is the all too familiar flurry of posts by Christians on social media which include posting Hanukkah Menorahs with Christian messages, adding “Yeshua” and other messianic themes to Hanukkah items, and articles about why Christians should also celebrate the festival of lights. Regarding the latter, the most notable arguments from Christians is their idea of “400 years of silence,” summed up perfectly by a tweet and blogpost authored by Michelle Van Loon:
“I’ve heard preachers say there were 400 years of silence between the last Old Testament prophet and the advent of Jesus as recorded in the N.T. gospels. Chanukah, which begins this Thursday at sundown, reminds us that this is stinkin’ thinkin’.”
Van Loon surmises, as do many Christians, that the “salvation narrative” is that “…and then there was 400 years of silence from God between the conclusion of the Old Testament prophet Malachi’s ministry until the birth of Jesus.”
Van Loon argues that the silence was actually broken by the story of Hanukkah, within the books of Maccabees and discussed later in John 10:22. However, Van Loon makes a critical error, as do any Christians that embrace this “salvation narrative. The distinction between the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and Old Testament is paramount, and lost among far too many of our Christian colleagues. Straight to the point, Malachi is not the last book of the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, the final books of the Tanakh are 1st and 2nd Chronicles. When the Old Testament was translated from a Hebrew manuscript to Greek, the Church leaders rearranged the books of the Bible to fit their theological message, meaning that the prophets were moved to the end to create a smooth transition to their new prophet, Jesus. However, rearranging books does not change history. If we suppose that Malachi was written sometime in the 5th century BCE, and that Jesus was born in beginning of the 1st century CE, that does leave roughly 600 years of “silence.” Except, of course, that a great deal occurred between the 5th century BCE and the 1st century CE, including Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and Daniel, to name a few.
While it is also true that the books of Maccabees were written in between these years of “silence,” the book itself carries with it no stories of miracles, most notably the miracle of the oil lasting 8 days. The imagery of the Hanukkiah, the Hanukkah menorah, was invented by the sages of the Talmud, Shabbat 21b, as the story of Hanukkah within Maccabees (a book not included in the Hebrew Bible canon) was not “Godly” enough. One should then remember that the Talmud was deemed “anti-Christian” and burned by Christians after the 5th century. It seems questionable, then, why Christians would seek to embrace a story written in a book they condemn, in order to connect to a story about Jews fighting against assimilation.
In this “holiday season” when Christmas is all anyone can see, with Hanukkah nativity scenes, Hanukkah Christmas ornaments, messianic invasions and co-opting, it would be wonderful if Christians could focus on their holiday of joy, Christmas, rather than our minor holiday of Hanukkah. The story of the rebellion against the Seleucids and the victory of the Hasmoneans has nothing to do with Jesus, Christmas, or prophets. It is yet another story of Jews fighting off those who would seek to convert us. Unfortunately, the irony is lost upon the Christians who wish to “take our side” and find themselves in the story of the Maccabees, considering the first 1600 years of Christianity’s existence was filled with genocide, torture, forced conversions, and exile for Jews.
For all these reasons, and more, I urge our Christian friends to just let Hanukkah be. You take Christmas, we’ll take Hanukkah. There’s plenty of presents and food to go around.