John 10 and Hanukkah

By Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (Commentary on the New Testament on the Basis of the Talmud and Midrash), vol. 2, Das Evangelium nach Markus, Lukas und Johannes und die Apostelgeschichte (The Gospel According to Mark, Luke, and John, and the Acts of the Apostles) (Munich: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1961), p. 539-541.

I translated it as part of my sermon preparation for Easter 4, when the appointed Gospel is John 10:22-30. It will also serve as the starting point for the April 2013 post on my blog Jeshua at Bread for Beggars.

For more information on the authors, click here, here, or here.

If you would prefer a PDF version of this translation (especially for reading the Hebrew), you may download one here.

May the Holy Spirit use what follows to give the Christian readers a better understanding of the Jewish culture, thus bridging more gaps between Christians and religious Jews for the purpose of sharing the only saving gospel of Jesus, and may he use it to give better understanding of the context of Jesus’ Good Shepherd discourse.

Commentary on John 10:22-30

10:22a. The Feast of the Dedication of the Temple was taking place in Jerusalem.

1. The word חֲנוּכָּה, “inauguration,” is rendered ἐγκαινισμός by the translators of the Septuagint in Numbers 7:11; Psalm 30:1; and Ezra 7:7 (= 6:16 in the Hebrew) of the Septuagint, and ἐγκαίνια in Daniel 3:2. — The Feast of the Dedication of the Temple is called “the feast of tabernacles of the month of Kislev” (ἡ σκηνοπηγία τοῦ Χασελεῦ μηνός) in 2 Maccabees 1:9, precisely because it was celebrated like the actual Feast of Tabernacles (2 Macc 10:6f). Josephus calls it Φῶτα, the Festival of Lights, in Antiquities 12, 7, 7. In the rabbinical literature it bears the name חֲנוּכָּה, “Feast of Dedication,” throughout. John translates it ἐγκαίνια.

2. The occasion of the festival was the dedication of the temple on 25 Kislev in 165 BC by Judas Maccabaeus (1 Macc 4:47ff). At that time it was commanded that the festival be celebrated annually for eight days starting on 25 Kislev (1 Macc 4:59). 2 Maccabees 1:1—2:18 contains two letters in which the Egyptian Jews are called upon to celebrate the festival.

Josephus only briefly mentions the Hanukkah festival in Antiquities 12, 7, 7: “So much pleasure did they find in the renewal of their customs [on 25 Kislev, 165 BC] and in unexpectedly obtaining the right to have their own service after so long a time, that they made a law that their descendants should celebrate the restoration of the temple service for eight days. And from that time to the present we observe this festival, which we call the festival of Lights [Φῶτα], giving this name to it, I think, from the fact that the right to worship appeared [φανῆναι, ‘came to light’] to us at a time when we hardly dared hope for it.”1

More detailed accounts about the festival are available in the rabbinical literature. Megillat Ta‘anit 9: “The twenty-fifth of the same month [i.e. Kislev, roughly equivalent to December] is the day of the dedication of the temple, eight days long, during which no public mourning observance may be held. When the Greeks entered the temple by force, they defiled all the oil in the temple. But when the hand of the Hasmoneans grew strong and they overcame the Greeks, they made a search and found only one flask [of oil] in the safekeeping of the high priest that was not defiled. But there was only enough [oil] to light [the holy lampstand] for one day. Then there was a miracle with the oil, so that the lampstand kept burning for eight days from it. The next year those eight days were appointed as festival days. And on what basis was the Hanukkah festival celebrated for eight days? Was not the consecration festival that Moses observed in the wilderness only observed for seven days, as it says in Leviticus 8:33: ‘You should not leave the entrance of the tent of revelation for seven days’? See also Numbers 7:12: ‘The one who brought his offering on the first day…’; and on the seventh day Ephraim brought their offering (vs. 48). And we find the same thing with the dedication festival that Solomon observed; he only observed it for seven days. See 2 Chronicles 7:9: ‘They celebrated the dedication of the altar for seven days and the festival lasted seven days.’ So on what basis did they celebrate this dedication festival [on 25 Kislev, 165 BC] for eight days? In the days when Greece was ruling the Hasmoneans went into the temple and built the altar and covered it with lime and prepared the worship utensils for it. They were occupied with this for eight days. [Thus the eight days of the dedication corresponded to these eight days]. And on what basis did they ordain the kindling of the lights? When the Hasmoneans went into the temple at the time when Greece was ruling, they had seven iron spears in their hands, which they covered with firewood, in order to light the lamps. [Covering the spears with firewood was supposed to prevent the pure oil from becoming unclean; see the commentary ad loc.] On what basis did they decide to recite the entire Hallel [Ps 113-118; see at Mt 21:9, p. 845]? Because every time God includes them in an act of deliverance, the Israelites come before him with the Hallel, with song, with praise and thanks, as it says in Ezra 3:11: ‘They sang with praising [בהלל] and commending of the Lord, that he is good.’ The rule for Hanukkah is one light for every man and his household. Those who are zealous say one light for every single person. Those who are extremely zealous say as the School of Shammai does: ‘On the first day eight lights are kindled and thereafter they are gradually reduced [by one light each day].’ But the School of Hillel said: ‘One the first day one light is kindled and thereafter they are progressively increased [by one light each day].’ There were two elders in Sidon; one followed the School of Shammai and the other the School of Hillel. The one gave a reason for the way he did it, the other for the way he did it. The one [the Shammaite] said, ‘It corresponds to the bulls of the Feast of Tabernacles [whose number decreased every day; see Numbers 29:13ff].’ The other said, ‘One goes higher in holiness rather than lower.’ The rule is to kindle the lights from when the sun goes down until the foot [of man] has disappeared from the street. The rule is also to place the light outside by the door of the house. If someone lives in an upper chamber, he places it in the opening of the window nearest the public area [such as a street or square]. If one is afraid of those who will ridicule him [?], he places it inside by the door of the house. In times of danger [of persecution], it is sufficient to place it on the table.” — This tradition is imparted in several Baraithas and furnished with observations by later men in Shabbath 21b.See also Soferim 20 and Pesikta Rabbati 2 at the beginning. • JT Sukkah 3:4 Gemara: “How do they say a blessing over the Hanukkah light? Rab [† 247] said, ‘Blessed [are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe!] [He] has sanctified us by his commandments and commanded us to kindle the light of Hanukkah.’”3 The same is found in Shabbath 23a.4Rosh Hashanah 18a Mishnah: “There are six new moons to report which messengers go forth [from Jerusalem to the diaspora] [to broadcast when the month will begin, for the purpose of establishing the festival days to be celebrated in a given month:] [the new moon] of Nisan on account of Passover, of Ab on account of the fast [on 9 Ab], of Elul on account of New Year, of Tishri for the adjustment of the festivals, of Kislev on account of Hanukkah, and of Adar on account of Purim. When the temple stood, they used also to go forth to report Iyar on account of the lesser Passover [s. Numbers 9:1-14].5Ta‘anith 15b Mishnah: “We do not ordain upon the community a fast on New Moon, on Hanukkah, or on Purim, but if they had already begun [a series of fasts and one of these festive days intervened] they do not interrupt [their fasts]; this is the opinion of Rabban Gamaliel [c. 90]. R. Meir [c. 150] said: Even though R. Gamaliel is of the opinion that the [fasts] should not be interrupted he yet agrees that they should not complete their fasts [i.e. that they should cease with it before end of the day]. And the same applies to the ninth of Ab should it fall on a Friday.6Mo‘ed Katan 28b Mishnah: “On the days of New Moon, of Hanukkah and of Purim they may raise a wail and clap [their hands in grief]. Neither on the former [during the festival week] nor on the latter occasions [those just mentioned] do they chant a dirge [antiphonally]. After [the dead] has been interred they neither raise a wail nor clap [their hands in grief].” Cf. also Megillat Ta‘anit 9 above, at the beginning. • Megillah 30b Mishnah: “On Hanukkah [during the service] we read the section of [the dedication of the altar by] the princes [Numbers 7:1ff].”7*Soferim 18 §2: “On Hanukkah [the Levites sang], ‘I will exalt you, O Lord’ [Psalm 30], [during the temple service].” • Shabbath 23a: “R. Joshua b. Levi [c. 250] said: The [precept of the] Hanukkah lamp is obligatory upon women, for they too were concerned in that miracle.”8Baba Kamma 62b Mishnah: “If while a camel laden with flax was passing through a public thoroughfare [such as a street or square] the flax got into a shop and caught fire by coming in contact with the shopkeeper’s candle, and set alight the whole building [בִּירָה, lit. ‘castle’], the owner of the camel would be liable. If, however, the shopkeeper left his candle outside [his shop], he would be liable. R. Judah [c. 150] says: If it was a Hanukkah candle the shopkeeper would not be liable [since the regular place for that was outside in front of the house; s. Megillat Ta‘anit 9 above].9Baba Kamma 62b: “Rabina [I, † c. 420] said in the name of Raba [† 352]: From the statement of R. Judah we can learn that it is ordained to place the Hanukkah candle within ten handbreadths [from the ground]. For if you assume [that it can be placed even] above ten handbreadths, why did R. Judah say that in the case of a Hanukkah candle there would be exemption? One could answer back to him: ‘He [the shopkeeper] should have placed it above the reach of the camel and its rider?’ Does this therefore not prove that it is ordained to place it within the [first] ten handbreadths?”10 The same is said in Shabbath 21b.11 • Midrash on Esther 1:16 (56b): “The wife of Trajan – may his bones be dashed to pieces! – gave birth on a 9 Ab, and all the Israelites were mourning [over the destruction of the temple]. The child died on Hanukkah. Then the Israelites said, ‘Should we kindle the lights or not?’ They said, ‘We will kindle them, and whatever may happen to us, let it happen.’ They kindled the lights. Then someone went and maligned them to Trajan’s wife, ‘Those Jews mourned when you gave birth, and when your child died they kindled their lights!’ She sent and wrote to her husband: ‘Instead of subjugating the barbarians, come and subjugate these Jews, who have rebelled against you.’ [Then follows the report about Trajan’s revenge.]” — Parallel passages: JT Sukkah 5:1 Gemara;12 Midrash on Lamentations 4:19 (77a); Midrash on Esther 1:1 (80b).

10:22b. It was winter.

“[The second] half of Kislev, Tebeth, and [the first] half [of] Shebat [thus from roughly December 15 to February 15] are the winter months [חורף].” See Baba Mezi‘a 106b.13

10:23. In Solomon’s Colonnade.

See at Acts 3:11.

10:30. I and the Father are one.

Cf. the passages at John 10:33b. See also at Matthew 26:65, p. 1017.


1 Josephus: Jewish Antiquities, Books XII-XIV, trans. Ralph Marcus (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957), p. 168,169.

2 Soncino ed., 91-93

3 Neusner ed., 65, alt.

4 Soncino ed., 99

5 Ibid., 73

6 Ibid., 72

7 Ibid., 186-187

* According to Megillah 31a, Zechariah 2:13ff served as the haftarah [i.e. the portion of the Prophets read immediately after the reading of the Torah in the morning services on Sabbaths, feast-days, and on 9 Ab, and in the afternoon services on fast-days] on account of Zechariah 4:2ff, and 1 Kings 7:40ff on the second Sabbath, should it occur, on account of 1 Kings 7:49.

8 Soncino ed., 98

9 Ibid., 361

10 Ibid., 361-362

11 Ibid., 93

12 Neusner ed., 103

13 Soncino ed., 608

About redbrickparsonage
Red Brick Parsonage is operated by a confessional Lutheran pastor serving in the South of the U.S.A.

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