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What is the 'Feast of the Dedication?'

Did you know…

…that in the story from this week's gospel Jesus is in Jerusalem to celebrate Hanukkah? The text calls it the "Feast of the Dedication," but we know it more commonly today as Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday that takes place each year sometime between late November and mid-December. It was called the feast of the Dedication because it marks the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid empire in 167 BCE in their attempt to take back Jerusalem, and then their subsequent rededication and restoration of the temple. During occupation by outside empires different religious idols had been placed in the temple and the Jewish rituals of sacrifice and observance had been disallowed, but when the Maccabean revolt took back Jerusalem, the idols were removed and rituals were reinstituted in the temple (i.e. rededicated).

The miracle of Hanukkah was not only that the temple was won back and rededicated, but that the one-days-worth of oil that was left to light the temple candles lasted not just through the day, but for 8 straight days. For this reason each of the eighth days of Hanukkah is marked by the lighting of a candle on a menorah. The word "Hanukkah" comes from the Hebrew word חָנַךְ (chanak) which means "to dedicate." This means that at the time of this story, Jesus and his community were remembering not only the miracle of the oil lasting eight days, but the miraculous way that they had freed themselves from oppression and reclaimed something central to their communal life.

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