Tuesday, September 21, 2010

There are still two months till Hanukkah, but a new archaeological discovery in Israel provides some additional historical context for that event. Hanukkah commemorates the cleansing of the temple following its desecration at the hands of Antiochus IV Ephiphanes. But the larger context for Hanukkah is the conquest of Alexander the Great and the spread of Hellenism (the Greek language and culture) throughout the areas he conquered. It was Antiochus IV's aggressive attempts to replace Jewish beliefs with Hellenism that brought about the Maccabean revolt led by Mattathias and his sons.

How widespread was the impact of Hellenism prior to the time of the Maccabees? This photo is of a ring discovered in the excavations at Dor, a seaport on Israel's coast between Caesarea and Mount Carmel. The ring is from the fourth- or third-centuries B.C., and the image is of the Greek god Apollo, god of sun, light, music, and song.

The ring helps illustrate the growing influence of Greek culture on the land over a century before the time of the Maccabees. For more information on this find, click on the following link to the University of Haifa, the school sponsoring the dig at Dor.

As we struggle with the impact of culture on belief systems in our day, this discovery can—in a small way—help us place our culture wars within a larger historical context. For nearly 150 years Hellenism made inroads into Jewish life and culture until the time of the Maccabees brought about a religious revival in Israel.

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