Last night marked the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (or Chanukah). What you may not know is the connection between Hanukkah and Catholicism. Namely, the festival of lights celebrates the events of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which Catholics and Orthodox consider Scripture, but Protestants and Jews don’t. I’ll let Professor Jon Levenson, professor of Jewish studies at Harvard Divinity School, do the explaining:
The Roman Catholic tradition honors these Jewish martyrs as saints, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates Aug. 1 as the Feast of the Holy Maccabees. By contrast, in the literature of the Rabbis of the first several centuries of the common era, the story lost its connection to the Maccabean uprising, instead becoming associated with later persecutions by the Romans, which the Rabbis experienced. If the change seems odd, recall that the compositions that first told of these events (the books of Maccabees) were not part of the scriptural canon of rabbinic Judaism. But they were canonical in the Church (and remain so in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions).
And so we encounter another oddity of Hanukkah: Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.
Fascinating stuff. Even more fascinating is the fact that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah (John 10:22). As I’ve argued before, this is a good reason to view 1 and 2 Maccabees as Scripture, since it’s the only potential Scriptural source for the festival.