While it could be maintained that if the book of Esther is read on Purim, Maccabees should be the biblical reading on Chanuka, a simple technical explanation for the book’s omission would focus on its having been excluded from the Jewish canon. It would hardly make sense to those in charge of developing Jewish ritual to make central to the observance of a particular holiday a book that was rejected from inclusion in TaNaCh. Various hypotheses are advanced by scholars concerning why, although included in the biblical canon of Christian denominations, Maccabees, like other books contained in the Apocrypha, was excluded by the Jewish canonizers. A conjecture that parallels the Talmud’s extremely minimal treatment of Chanuka is based upon the apparent Rabbinic criticism of the family of Matityahu, who despite being Kohanim, functioned as rulers over the Jewish people, a role reserved for the members of the tribe of Yehuda, rather than those from Levi from whom the Priests descended. Rabbinic animus for this dynasty is textually reflected in three areas, according to the scholar Shmuel Safrai, in his essay, “ChaZaL VeChag HaChanuka”: (http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/kitveyet/mahanaim/hasal.htm )
a) the books of Maccabees, even I Maccabees, were preserved in Greek rather than Hebrew,
b) neither is there a Masechet dedicated to the laws of Chanuka nor do they appear directly in any part of the Mishna; even in the Gemora, extremely little discussion of Chanuka takes place,
c) when on Shabbat 21b the question “What is Chanuka?” is posed, the Talmud’s answer focusses upon the discovery of a single cruse of uncontaminated oil that miraculously provided sufficient fuel for the Menora to remain lit for eight days, rather than the stirring and courageous military victory by the Chashmonaim.
Since the book of Maccabees presents the events from the perspective of the heroism and dedication of the Chashmanaim, it stands to reason that those who found fault with some aspects of the family’s conduct, particularly following the victorious campaign against the Syrian-Greeks, would look to lower their profile during the Chanuka celebration.
The basic answer to this question is that the Book of Maccabees is not part of the Hebrew Bible. It is considered Apocrypha, or ancient texts that are outside of the Biblical Cannon. Only Biblical texts are read ritually as Scripture during the holiday service and for Jews, the Book of Maccabees is not a Biblical text. The reason the Book of Maccabees (which are actually two separate books) were not included in the Cannon is a matter of scholarly debate. For instance, according to one well-supported theory, these books were the latest chronologically and were considered to have been written after the age of prophets had concluded. Regardless, traditionally the Book of Maccabees has not been considered a sacred book even while it holds great historical value.
While the books of the Maccabees are of Jewish origin, they are not part of the Jewish ‘canon’ – that collection of ancient Jewish works that are accepted as sacred and authoritative that we call the Bible. The books of the Maccabees, however, are part of an extra-Biblical collection of Jewish ancient works known as Apocrypha. There is much speculation among scholars as to why certain works became part of the Biblical canon and others did not. Whatever the reasons, the fact is these works, including the books of the Maccabees, were excluded and fell out of use in the Jewish community, although they were preserved in Christian communities.
Even though the books of the Maccabees were not part of the Biblical canon, the celebration of Hanukah was a popular holiday. For a variety of reasons, the Rabbis were not big fans of the Hasmoneans (the family name of the heroes of the Hanukah story, Maccabee being a nickname), and wanted to downplay the emphasis on the secular, military aspect of the holiday. So the Rabbis of Talmud created the story of the one-day supply of oil lasting eight days as a way of injecting a miraculous element into an otherwise secular holiday, to shift the focus away from glorification of the Hasmoneans and toward glorification of God. (Talmud Shabbat 21b). It is this story that became the well-known, widely taught raison d’etre for Hanukah and remains so to this day.
There is an ancient work, known as the scroll of Antiochus, which was written in Talmudic times in Aramaic, and later translated into Hebrew, Arabic, and other languages. It was a collection of stories about the Maccabees, the legend of the oil from the Talmud Shabbat 21b, and other legends that sprang up about the story of Hanukah. It was read during Hanukah in different communities between the ninth and twentieth centuries (A Megillah for Hanukah? By Rabbi David Golinkin http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Hanukkah/In_the_Community/Hanukkah_Scroll.shtml) Perhaps the time has come to revive this custom, not to read the Scroll of Antiochus, but rather to read and study the books of the Maccabees and ground our Hanukah celebration in the historical context and meaning that was its origin.
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