Hebrew U 'Debunks Chanukah Myth'

Hebrew University announces a new study claiming to "debunk" ancient Jewish “myths” about Chanukah. An expert debunks the study right back.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 12:13 PM

Maccabees fighting Zeus
Maccabees fighting Zeus
Israel news photo

Hebrew University in Jerusalem has announced, in honor of the Chanukah holiday currently underway, a new study claiming to “debunk ancient Jewish myths” about the holiday. The apparently startling revelation by Jewish History Professor Doron Mendels is that in the 60s of the second century BCE, the Seleucid Greek kingdom did not force the Jews to Hellenize.

Prof. Mendels concedes that the Greeks forced the Jews to stop observing the Torah’s commandments. He even goes so far as to say that the ultimate result of the Greeks’ decrees was to turn the Jews into idol-worshippers. However, he proclaims, the Greeks did not attempt to Hellenize them – and thus, “there is a significant gap between the symbol-myth-metaphor of Hellenization in the Jewish world through the generations and the historical record preserved from the period itself.”

Opposition to the study's conclusions has come from two directions. Jewish philosophy lecturer Dr. Hagi Ben-Artzi, author of a history on the Chanukah period based on the Books of the Hashmonaim, says the basic premise is not true. “The only historic records we have are the Books of the Hashmonaim and Josephus,” Ben-Artzi told Israel National News, “and they recount brutal acts of force on the part of the Greeks: They tried to force Hana and her seven sons to eat pig meat, killing each of them when they refused; they forced Jews to carry out the Greek sacrifices to Zeus, until Mattathias refused and [led the rebellion]; and there was another priest named Elazar – not the Maccabee – about whom it is also told that they tried to force him to bring sacrifices… There was a massive attempt to integrate them in the Greek culture; that’s what the sources say.”

Another angle of attack takes a more offensive approach. “Who ever said they attempted to Hellenize us?” asks one Hebrew University student, who said he was “infuriated” by the report. “In the Al HaNissim prayer that we recite at least three times a day on Chanukah, we say that they attempted to cause us to forget our Torah and to violate the commandments – to detach us from our Judaism and to expose us to their culture so that we would be attracted to it – but not that they actively attempted to Hellenize us. So what’s the great ‘scoop’ of this study?”

In response, Prof. Mendels told Israel National News, “My main point is to say that the Seuleucids were not missionaries for Hellenism… I don’t know what the university’s headline said, but I have no interest in debunking Chanukah myths.”