This week Jews the world over have been celebrating Hanukkah, the festival of lights. This eight-day celebration is best known for the distinctive nine-armed candelabras that are lit each night after sundown; the potato latkes, which are delicious; and the chocolate gold coins, which are not.
Unlike other Jewish holidays, the origins of Hanukkah are not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Nor is there a lengthy treatise in the Talmud (the writings of ancient rabbis) dedicated to explaining how and why Hanukkah is celebrated in the way that it is. Instead, there’s a comparatively parenthetical reference to it in Tractate Shabbat in which the length, origins, and institution of Hanukkah are described.
The backstory to the celebration is recorded in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. These texts are not canonical for Jews but do form part of the Roman Catholic canon. They tell the story of the revolt of the Jewish people, led by Judas Maccabee and his heirs, against the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV.