🔼The name Hanukkah: Summary
- Inauguration, Dedication
- From the root חנך (hnk), to inaugurate or train.
🔼The name Hanukkah in the Bible
The name Hanukkah doesn't actually appear in the Bible although in John 10:22 it's referred to as the feast of εγκαινια (egkainia), literally meaning renewal.
Hanukkah is the name of the feast that commemorates the victory of Judas Maccabee over the Seleucids (= Greeks who ruled post-Alexander Persia and environs, including Palestine) in 165 BC. The Seleucids had outlawed Judaism, were persecuting and murdering Jews, and king Antiochus IV Epiphanes had seen fit to turn the temple of YHWH into a shrine for Zeus, complete with an altar dedicated to Zeus. After the Maccabean revolt, the temple was cleansed and rededicated and Israel became an autonomous kingdom for the first time in centuries. This new kingdom was lost to the Romans, but when Jesus began to speak of his kingdom, the initial association of his audience was to an armed revolt on a par with that of the Maccabees.
The festival of Hanukkah is not simply a celebration of a military victory of eons ago. It ties into the rest of Scriptures by two main strands of symbolism:
First of all, Hanukkah commemorates the ongoing effort of all of us to remove falsehoods from the Holy Place and replace it by adherence to God's Law (1 Peter 2:5). Note that the name Maccabee means Hammer, and although hammers may be used to create the temple's utensils (Exodus 25:18, 1 Kings 6:35, Nehemiah 10:2), hammers may not be used to hew the temple's stones (1 Kings 6:7) and that includes the stones of the altar.
The apocryphal book of First Maccabees tells the story of the Maccabean restoration. "They pulled down the altar [dedicated to Zeus] and stored away the stones in a suitable place on the temple hill, until there should arise a prophet to give decision about them. They took unhewn stones, as the Law directs, and built a new altar on the model of the previous one" (1 Maccabees 4:45b-47).
Whether the prophet Daniel had accurately predicted this particular pagan altar or whether this altar was a manifestation of a greater inevitability can't be said with certainty, but Jesus refers to an abomination that causes desolation, spoken of by Daniel (Matthew 24:15, Daniel 9:27 and 11:31, and note that Daniel's use of the title Messiah does not necessarily refer to Jesus Christ but may refer to any king, including those of the Hasmonean, that is Maccabean, dynasty). The gospels of Mark and Luke convey the same or a similar passage, which they, quite tellingly, prologize with the disciples admiring the stones of the temple (Mark 13:1, Luke 21:5). Jesus' famous response also seems to include a reply to the Maccabean question on what to do with the stones of the demolished old altar: they will be joined by the stones of the to be entirely demolished temple (Matthew 13:2). No matter how careful people construct their new temple, it will always be a continuation of the old one. "Something greater than the temple is here," said Jesus (Matthew 12:6).
Jesus goes on to speak of the sun, the moon and the stars (Matthew 13:24-25), which brings us to the second symbolic strand:
According to Josephus, Hanukkah was initially known as the Feast of Lights and he supposed it was called that way because of the achieved "liberty beyond our hopes" (Antiquities XII.7.7.323). The truth is probably a touch more subtle. In 2 Maccabees 1:18 we are told that the people celebrated the temple's purification in honor of the fire which appeared to Nehemiah. The legend had it that just prior to the exile, priests hid the fire of the altar in a dry well. When seventy years later Nehemiah searched for it, he found not a fire but a thick liquid. This liquid was poured onto the restored altar and combusted when the sun came out. A remnant of the liquid was poured out over some other stones, combusted again, but burned out when the fire on the altar outshone it (2 Maccabees 1:32).
The common Hebrew word for lights, however, is מאור (ma'or), from the verb אור ('or):
The verb אור ('or) means to be light or to give light; to shine. This verb's primary derivative is the expectable noun אור ('or), meaning light. The 'metaphor' that relates light to wisdom may not be a metaphor, or at least not to the ancients. In our article on the verb נהר (nahar), meaning both to flow and to shine, we show that the ancients had a surprisingly solid grasp of Relativity Theory.
Hanukkah was originally called the Feast of Lights, not because of regained liberty and also not because of Nehemiah's combustible liquid, but because it commemorated the fourth creation day, the Day of Lights. Daniel tied the abomination that causes desolation to (a) seven weeks (Daniel 9:25), and (b) the middle of the week (Daniel 9:27) and also said, "those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 11:3).
From its very beginning, the feast of Hanukkah lasted eight days (1 Maccabees 4:56), and eight days is the age at which a baby-boy is circumcised (Luke 2:21). Eight days ostentatiously surpasses one week and marks the beginning of a new era of creation. If we then recall that Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, is celebrated seven weeks after Passover, we may surmise that only very few witnesses of the flames that appeared on the disciples (Acts 2:3) did not tie this event to the Day of Lights, the purification of the temple and the great commission to reach all people under the heavens with Truth (Genesis 12:3, Zechariah 8:23, Matthew 28:19).
🔼Etymology of the name Hanukkah
The name Hanukkah is the same as the feminine noun חנכה (hanukka), meaning dedication, from the verb חנך (hanak):
The root חנך (hnk) deals with the beginning of discernment, which is the beginning of wisdom: discernment via taste, which is the first discernment and thus mode of wisdom a baby learns (hence the many Biblical metaphors that equate wisdom with food or milk).
The noun חך (hek) means mouth as the seat of taste (the more common word for mouth, namely פה, peh, emphasizes the mouth as orifice). From the noun חך (hek) comes the verb חנך (hanak), to "mouth," i.e. to inaugurate, train or dedicate. Likewise, adjective חניך (hanik) means trained or experienced. Noun חנכה (hanukka) means dedication.
Noun חכה (hakka) describes a fishing hook, or a hook that grabs a prey's jaw, or rather a prey's sense of taste. Perhaps accidentally similar, but perhaps not, the verb חכה (haka) means to wait or await for, and particularly to wait for sustenance. Often this verb's object is the Creator, or the sustaining insight in the Laws of the Creator.
The name Hanukkah is commonly understood to mean Dedication, but where our word dedication primarily conveys a devotion or consecration, the Hebrew word hanukka primarily describes a new beginning, or the initiation into a wholly renewed situation. As such our name means New Beginning or Initiation.