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Jewish Antiquities

This excerpt is from the work of Romano-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37 – 100 CE), in which he describes the eight-day celebration that followed the recapturing of Jerusalem and re-dedication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus. He ordered the Temple to be purified by cleaning and replacing the two altars and the furnishings. Josephus’s details describe the customs for sacrificing in the Temple.

Flavius Josephus
original written in Greek around 94 CE; translated into English in 1895
Book

Josephus, Flavius. Jewish Antiquities Book XII, Chap. 7, numbers 6 and 7, #323, in The Works of Flavius Josephus, translated by William Whiston, A.M. (Auburn and Buffalo: John E. Beardsley. 1895)

Flavius Josephus was a Jew born in Jerusalem when Judea was ruled by the Roman Empire. Written in Greek around 94 CE, this book is a history (not a religious text) about the Jews. This excerpt comes after these historical events: Even after the Persians allowed the Jews to go home and rebuild the Temple, different powerful empires ruled over their land (Israel/Judah/Judea/Palestine). In 168 BCE., Judea was ruled by the Seleucid Empire (Persia). The Seleucid rulers were Hellenistic Greeks. You will learn more about them in a later unit, but for now all you need to know is that they were not Jewish but had their own religion that was polytheistic that is, having many gods, such as Zeus, Apollo, and Athena. The Seleucid king, Antiochus IV (An-TEE-o-kus the fourth) wanted everyone he ruled to give up their old religions and start worshipping the Greek gods. He ordered that the (Second) Temple in Jerusalem would now be a temple to Zeus. Greeks (and some Jews who followed them) made sacrifices to Zeus in the Temple. To the Jews who wanted to keep their own religion, this act polluted the Temple. Under their leader, Judas Maccabeus, some Jews rebelled against the Seleucid Empire. They conquered Jerusalem and took the Temple back. What did they find at the Temple? How did they purify it?

 

Vocabulary

Judas Maccabeus: the leader of the Jews who rebelled against the Hellenistic Seleucids

Antiochus: King Antiochus IV of the Seleucid kingdom. Antiochus and the Seleucids were Hellenistic Greeks who had taken over Persia and Syria after Alexander the Great died. The Seleucids conquered Israel (also called Judea and Palestine) and ruled over the Jews. Antiochus wanted all the people in his kingdom to follow Greek customs. 

purify the Temple: Antiochus’s men had made a sacrifice to a Greek god inside the Temple. That was against the most important law of the Torah, that there was only one God. By the laws of the Torah, the Jews had to purify the Temple by cleaning it; replacing the altars, dishes, and lamps; and offering a proper sacrifice to God before they could use the Temple again.

incense altar: there were separate altars for sacrificing animals and burning incense

the altar [for burnt offerings]: the priests sacrificed animals by killing them on the altar and burning a part of the body. The worshippers and priests ate the rest of the animals.

veils: curtains

candlestick: this is a menorah, a special lampstand with curved branches on both sides to hold multiple lights

omitted: left out

psalms: poetic songs of prayer and praise

intermission: interruption; that is, they hadn’t been able to worship in the temple for a long time

 

Ancient Customs: In this excerpt, Josephus writes that the Jews were happy about “the revival of their customs.” Therefore, Josephus’s book is a good source for the customs of temple worship at the time that he wrote (during the first century CE). He says that they lit candles and made three kinds of offerings on two different altars and one table. For the ancient Jews (and lots of other religions in the ancient world), worship meant offering something to God as a sacrifice. What three things did Jews offer? Then they had a festival. How long did it last? At the festival they ate big meals all together. The people ate the meat from sacrificed animals and the loaves, along with other food. “Pleasures” means that there was probably a lot of wine to drink and entertainment by singers, jugglers, and storytellers. The leader and the priests led the people in “honoring God” by singing hymns (religious songs) and psalms (religious poems sung out loud). 


Modern Customs: You will read about the modern customs of Hanukkah in the next source.

This excerpt is from the work of Romano-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37100 CE), in which he describes the eight-day celebration that followed the recapturing of Jerusalem and re-dedication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus. He ordered the Temple to be purified by cleaning and replacing the two altars and the furnishings. Josephus’s details describe the customs for sacrificing in the Temple. There were three kinds of sacrifices: incense, burned on the incense altar; animals, killed and with part of their bodies burned on the burnt offerings altar; and loaves of bread, placed on the table. Worshippers provided the sacrifices along with their requests, praise, and thanks. Judas Maccabeus established the eight-day annual festival, which is called Ḥanukkah (“dedication” in Hebrew).

After [Judas Maccabeus and the rebel Jews] had beaten the generals of Antiochus’s armies so often, Judas gathered the people together and told them this: because God had given them many victories, they should go to Jerusalem, purify the temple, and offer the required sacrifices. Soon he and all the people came to Jerusalem and found the temple deserted, its gates burned down, and plants growing inside. He and those with him began to cry out in sorrow…. He carefully cleaned out the temple, brought in new dishes, candlestick, table and incense altar, he hung up the veils at the gates and added doors to them. He took down the altar [for burnt offerings] and built a new one… They lighted the candles that were on the candlestick, offered incense on the altar, laid the loaves on the table and offered burnt offerings on the new altar… Now Judas celebrated a festival for restoring the temple sacrifices for eight days and omitted no sort of pleasures. He feasted them on the rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them with hymns and psalms. They were so very glad at the revival of their customs, because after a long time of intermission, they had unexpectedly regained the freedom to worship, that they made it a law for their children and descendants. [The law was] that they should hold a festival for restoration of 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 freedom beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that is why this name was given to that festival.