The Fifth Candle: Only I Get To Say Who I Am

In the ancient world, it was common for empires to conquer lands and grow their religions.  Empire building is about maximization not minimization. When one people are consumed by another, their culture and gods are added to the existing dominant culture.  There would be some repackaging involved but, in essence, the conquered gods are still recognizable. It’s actually very practical. A conquered people are less likely to rebel if they feel they have not been disconnected from their faith or their gods.

The problem with the Jewish people was that you can’t add more gods to a monotheistic faith.  When Antiochus marched into the Temple in Jerusalem, he put an image of Zeus into the Temple (granted it looked like Antiochus but no one said heads of invading empires were humble).  Adding Zeus to the Temple is a typical way of growing the pagan pantheon of gods: the more the merrier.

It is baffling to foreign empires that this bothers Jews.  It seemed to work with other conquered peoples, why were we being so difficult?  This problem arises each and every time. It happens with Antiochus and it will happen with the Romans.  They truly believed they were saving us from our primitive, myopic view of the world. It is the age old story of the dominant and powerful people believing they must save the native, primitive and backward people.

In fact, some Hellenistic concepts did make their way into Judaism because we decided which concepts enhanced our perspectives.  We decided what fit our fundamental identities and then brought them in through a Jewish lens.

Hanukkah is about celebrating the right to self-define.

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