The Catholic Connection to Hanukkah

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.


  1. Robert,

    You can thank Brandon Vogt for the “Search this Blog” feature. It was his idea. I had no idea it even existed (given the amount of time I spend around computers, I’m really not a technophile).

  2. Robert & Brent,

    For some reason, I can’t find the beginning of that “Eighth Day” conversation, but just in case it wasn’t mentioned, don’t forget the CCC:

    “The eighth day. But for us a new day has dawned: the day of Christ’s Resurrection. The seventh day completes the first creation. The eighth day begins the new creation. Thus, the work of creation culminates in the greater work of redemption. The first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation in Christ, the splendor of which surpasses that of the first creation.” (CCC 349 –


    “Jesus rose from the dead ‘on the first day of the week.’ Because it is the ‘first day,’ the day of Christ’s Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the ‘eighth day’ following the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection. For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day (he kuriake hemera, dies dominica) Sunday.” (CCC 2147 –

    I’ve had some pretty intense encounters with people who insist that worship Sunday is pagan influence, so it’s been very helpful for me to be familiar with the concept of the Lord’s Day as both the First Day and the Eighth Day, representing the New Creation; I’ve seen some people talk about it as something like a step out of our temporal world (which ends with the Sabbath) and into Eternity as well.

    This following article is from an Orthodox point of view, and mentions a few points that may not be completely in line with Catholicism, but describes the Eighth-Day idea very well:

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