Hanukkah is a major celebration that is very important to the Church, although the Church is largely ignorant of this season of the Lord. Y’shua is reported honoring this feast in John 10:22, so what is this about? Understanding Hanukkah and its significance for us today requires that first we learn about the Hellenists of ancient Israel, then we can understand the physical and spiritual battles. In 2013 Hanukkah begins at sundown, November 26, the day before Thanksgiving.
There are several references to Hellenists in the New Testament so it is important to understand who they are. The Hellenists of Israel came into being shortly after Alexander the Great overran Israel on his way to Egypt in 332 BC. He was not a ruthless dictator in the countries he conquered but gave each country a great deal of autonomy. What he wanted was taxes and trade, so he had to leave only a relatively small number of troops to maintain the country’s allegiance. Each country had religious freedom, so Israel might not have been greatly affected except that many of its citizens were taken with Greek culture. They liked the affluence, the theater, the games – various aspects of Greek life that were introduced to Israel by the new society.
Those most affected by this were the rich and the powerful. They started to speak Greek instead of Hebrew and to go to the Greek theater and games instead of synagogue or the Temple. They came to be called “Tsadeek” which means Righteous. The Greek spelling of Tsadeek is Sadducee when written in English letters. These people were the Hellenists, only nominally Jewish although they viewed themselves as righteous. In this century people who acted as they did with their conquerors were called collaborators. The High Priests came from the Hellenists and in Y’shua’s day were appointed by the Romans. Valerius Gratus, who preceded Pontius Pilate as procurator, was the first to appoint the High Priest, thus beginning the corrupt practice of political, bribed appointments. The governor, Quirinius, (Lk. 2:2) had to approve as well. The Sadducees were very strict in enforcing laws, while the Pharisees were more merciful. Those calling for Y’shua’s crucifixion in the Gospels were Hellenists, limited by the space of the Praetorium to just 200-300 people, while those who celebrated the Triumphal Entry numbered in the thousands as they lined the mile-long road. The High Priests were Hellenists who bribed the governors for their appointments.
Opposing the Hellenists were the Hasidim, or Pious, also referred to as Lifrot, meaning Broke Away. These included the top students in the yeshivas (schools) who were also known as rabbis. The Hasidim later became known as Parush, meaning self-denying, dissident, seceder, seclusive, sanctimonious. The Greek spelling of Parush is Pharisee when written with English letters. The division and animosity between Pharisees and Sadducees was strong, even though both were represented on the Sanhedrin. How close to the surface this animosity was can be seen in Acts 23:6-10. As a point of information, the present group of Hasidim is not related to the ancient, but rose in Eastern Europe in the 18th century.