Chanukah, Antisemitism, & Historical Corroboration


As I write this, Jews once again face an upsurge in antisemitism worldwide, targeting them as individuals as well as their Jew of the Nations…Israel.

Given that it’s not always the case, it’s nonetheless frequently more acceptable–in a post-Auschwitz world–to simply transfer millennial Jew-hatred and prejudice to the sole, minuscule, State that Jews now possess.

While, to any knowledgeable and objective observer, the frequently genocidal sins of Arabism are light years worse than any real or imagined sins of the national liberation movement of the Jewish people (Zionism), it’s just the latter and Israel which gets continuously targeted and vilified by practitioners of the double standard supreme…

Whether in the United Nations and other international forumson “Progressive” campuses, where professors who specialize in using one set of lenses to scrutinize Israel and Zionism, and an entirely different set regarding the rest of the neighborhood usually occupy the bully pulpits of classrooms; in the mainstream mediaand so forth, it has become obvious that anti-Zionism is usually nothing more than antisemitism in disguise.

While criticism aimed at particular policy is fair–as long as the same standards are used for all nations–criticism aimed at the very existence of a viable Jewish State is not. It’s antisemitism…Instead of murdering Jews, the covertly or overtly intended victim is their nation instead.

With that said, and with Chanukah 5780 (2019) fast approaching, what you’re about to see next is something precious to those interested in historical truths–not just wishful thinking, concocted realities, “taqiyya” (“lying for the cause”), religious and theological claims, and so forth…It’s historical corroboration.

Too many of our younger folks (not to mention parents) are simply naive in these matters, and when confronted by hostile instructors, groups, and movements on campus (BDS, Students for Justice in Palestine, J Street U, etc.) either cower or join the increasingly popular anti-Israel (and frequently anti-Semitic) chorus. I am thus asking that readers share this (well-documented) analysis with their children as well.

Chanukah is the first war ever recorded fought largely for religious liberty, and it was waged by the Jewish nation–the one Zionism’s opponents claim never existed.

One (very important) aspect of that nation–besides its unique culture, language, and so forth–indeed included a religious dimension, and there are prominent professors, not just Arab ones, who claim that since Jews are just a religious community, they do not deserve to have a state of their own…

So, what’s the reality here?

For thousands of years, Jews have had a very unique set of religious beliefs and ethical standards which they are supposed to adhere to. Throughout history, one could join the nation of the people of Israel/Judah/Judea by conversion to the religious faith of that people.

The word “Jew” comes from the name Yehudah/Judah, originally the Hebrew tribe named after one of Jacob’s sons and later Judah/Judaea as the land was known in the times of the southern kingdom and the Greeks and Romans. Judaean equals “Jew.”

When Rome suppressed their first major revolt for freedom after 70 CE, it issued thousands of “Iudaea/Judaea Capta” coins that can be seen in museums all over the world today. Judaea was the land, Judaeans/Jews were the people of that land. Open the link below to see a Roman coin of conquest issued after the first major revolt of the Jews (not “Palestinians”) for independence against the conqueror of much of the known world:

Now here’s, perhaps, the confusing part…

As stated above, this particular people also have had a peculiar set of religious beliefsThey worship a totally spiritual G_d, with no physical form, who has demanded that man live by a strong moral code. Humans are judged by their actions–not just expressed beliefs.

The contemporary Roman and Roman-sponsored historians–Tacitus, Dio Cassius, Pliny, Josephus, etc.–living at that time were amused and spoke of this peculiarity in their writings. They had lots more to say about Jews as a people as well. We’ll return to Tacitus later.

The story of Ruth and Naomi in the Hebrew Bible is a moving, beautiful example which illustrates this connection nicely: “Whither thou goest, I shall go, your people will be my people, and their G_d, my G_d.” Note that even here, in the sacred writings of the Jews, people/nationhood is mentioned before religion…perhaps a coincidence, probably not.

Since, in America, we are all (regardless of different faiths) well-versed in the Christmas story, the Judeo portion of our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage deserves more than just the usual potato pancakes, spinning dreidel, oil, and menorah-treatment that we usually give to Chanukah–if even that.

So, let’s now turn the clock back for a better understanding of both the significance of Chanukah and other events as well…

The year was 1887. An Egyptian woman discovered a treasure-trove of over three hundred clay cuneiform tablets that would shake the world of religion and the study of ancient history.

Named for a local Bedouin tribe, the Tel el-Amarna tablets (now in the Berlin and British Museums) were mostly official correspondence between Pharaoh Amenhotep IV–Akhenaten–and his governors and vassals from Canaan, Syria, Babylonia, etc. They date mostly from around 1380 B.C.E. and were written in Akkadian, the language of diplomacy of the era.

Guess what’s repeatedly included in this official correspondence between Pharaoh and his vassals in pre-Israel Canaan and surrounding areas?

Complaints about invasions of the “Habiru”– at least one branch which most likely became associated with the Hebrews.

While there’s some scholarly debate over some details, most agree that the time–with even newer confirmations via excavations in Jericho–fits into the period of Joshua’s conquests of Canaan.

Like many other accounts in the Hebrew Bible, we indeed have good supporting evidence from elsewhere to support the Jews’ own version of these historical events.

Keep in mind that there’s no celebration of Chanukah if Jews weren’t in the land of Israel in the first place. And what makes it even better is that this evidence often comes from those viewing the events from the “other side” of the picture…often the Jews’ enemies. This is no small point…

Historical corroboration is important to any serious scholar. And not many religious texts and accounts can match that found in those of the Jews.

Jumping ahead about eight centuries, Babylon became a powerhouse, and the Jews’ remaining southern kingdom, Judah (together with Benjamin), fell captive to Nebochadnezzar. After the death of King Solomon, his father, King David’s, united kingdom became divided about twenty-nine centuries ago.

Prior to the Babylonian ordeal, the kingdom of the northern tribes, Israel, had fallen to the Assyrians a few centuries earlier, and many of the people became known as “the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.” There are now people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and elsewhere who trace their lineage back to those earlier Israelis/Israelites.

Returning to Babylon, and moving ahead, closer to the time of the Chanukah story, the Jews would next find a hero in--hold onto your seats–an Iranian ruler, Cyrus the Great, who allowed their return to Judah in 539 B.C.E….not exactly the current would-be atomic Ayatollahs’ type, if you get my drift. And again, while the Hebrew Bible gives the Jews’ own account, we also have it from the “other side” as well.

Let’s look at this ancient quote from an Iranian source, The Kurash Prism (The Cyrus Cylinder), courtesy of the Iran Chamber Society and other historical sites…

I am Kurash (Cyrus), King of the World, Great King, Legitimate King, King of Babilani, King of Kiengir and Akkade, King of the four rims of the earth, Son of Kanbujiya…I returned to these sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned them to their habitationsFurthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Kiengir and Akkade whom Nabonidus had brought into Babilani to the anger of the lord of the gods, unharmed, in their former temples, the places which make them happy”…

Here’s the Jews’ own version of this in Ezra 1: 1-8 in the Hebrew Bible (aka, Old Testament)…

“In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: “All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him! Let everyone who has survived, in whatever place he may have dwelt, be assisted by the people of that place with silver, gold, and goods, together with free will offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”


The names of Israel, Judah/Judaea, Hebrew kings, etc. and so forth are also found in the records of the Jews’ ancient neighbors. The Egyptian Pharaoh, Merneptah, left the first non-Biblical record of Israel that has been discovered so far…


There are indeed many examples of this, but the last one I’d like to review for now before tying all of this together with Chanukah is a favorite. It involves the Arab claim that they were the original “Palestinians.” It’s the stuff groups like the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and others spout all the time–while Hebrew useful idiots cheer them on.

Follow carefully…

There was no country nor nation known as “Palestine” during the time of Jesus. The land was known as Judaea, and its inhabitants were Judaeans…Jews.

As mentioned above, Tacitus and Dio Cassius were famous Roman historians who wrote extensively about Judaea’s attempt to remain free from the Soviet Union of its day, the conquering Roman Empire. In another analysis, we saw the renown Islamic scholar, Ibn Khaldun, do likewise centuries later

The prior two historians lived and wrote during, or not long after, the major revolts of the Jews in 66-73 C.E. and 133-135 C.E. NoteThey make no mention of this land being called “Palestine” nor its people “Palestinians.” And they knew the differences between Jews and Arabs as well.

Listen to this quote from Vol. II, Book V, The Works of Tacitus:

“It inflamed Vespasian’s (the Emperor) ire that the Jews were the only nation which had not yet submitted…Titus was appointed by his father to complete the subjugation of Judaea… he commanded three legions in Judaea itself… To these he added the twelfth from Syria and the third and twenty-second from Alexandria… amongst his allies were a band of Arabs, formidable in themselves and harboring towards the Jews the bitter animosity usually subsisting between neighboring nations…”

Observe that the Romans called their Arab allies Arabs…not “Palestinians.” And the Arabs mentioned by the Romans above were outside invaders attacking the Jewish nation which was fighting for its freedom and independence against the conqueror of much of the known world. Putting it bluntly, the Arabs were simply acting like vultures moving in for a portion of the mainly Roman kill…

And again, after the 1st Revolt, Rome issued thousands of Iudaea (Judaea) Capta coins to commemorate its victory. Notice, please… Judaea Capta…not “Palaestina” Capta. Additionally, to celebrate this victory, the Arch of Titus was erected and stands tall in Rome to this very day. We saw a Judea Capta coin in the link above. Here’s one for the Arch of Titus:

Some sixty years later, after Hadrian decided to further desecrate the site of the destroyed Temple of the Jews by erecting a pagan structure there, it was the grandchildren’s turn to take on their mighty pagan conquerors.

The result of the struggle of this tiny nation for its freedom was, perhaps, as predictable as that which would have occurred had Lithuania taken on the Soviet Union during its heyday of power. Unfortunately, two thousand years later, today, Jews are still in that same struggle.

Here’s Dio Cassius…

580,000 men were slain, nearly the whole of Judaea made desolate. Many Romans, moreover, perished in this war (the Bar Kochba Revolt, 133-135 C.E.). Therefore, Hadrian, in writing to the senate, did not employ the opening phrase commonly affected by the emperors,  I and the legions are in health.’”

The Emperor was so enraged that, in the words of the late esteemed modern historian, Bernard Lewis… Hadrian made a determined attempt to stamp out the embers not only of the revolt but also of Jewish nationhood and statehood…obliterating its Jewish identity.

Wishing to end, once and for all, Jewish hopes, Hadrian renamed the land itself from Judaea to “Syria Palaestina”—Palestine–after the Jews’ historic enemies, the Philistines. The latter were a non-Semitic “Sea People” from the islands near Crete. Prior to this time, the coastal region around Gaza was also geographically referred to by the Greeks by that name.


And finally, let’s connect this all to Chanukah.

Back in the ’70s, while doing graduate work at the Kevorkian Center For Near Eastern Studies (a consortium of Princeton, Columbia, and New York Universities at that time based at N.Y.U’s Washington Square campus), I had the privilege of having Dr. F.E. Peters as one of my professors. A leading expert of the ancient Near East, one of his specialties was ancient Greece.

Peters’s The Harvest Of Hellenism largely supports the Jews’ own accounts of their struggle for independence against their latest conqueror, the Seleucid Greek successors to Alexander the Great based in Syria. After the latter’s death, his generals fought for the pieces of the pie. Ptolemy wound up with one of the other main prizes, Egypt.

Follow these scattered quotes from Professor Peters, who devoted a good portion of this over 800-page book to the same subject found in the Jews’ own writings in the First and Second Books of Maccabees:

“The Seleucids, like all other Hellenistic monarchs, with the exception of the Macedonian Antigonids, were worshiped as gods…Jew and Hellene clashed on the issue of conduct…Hellenism could allow almost any eccentricity in private behavior…however…the polis found it difficult to accept a large-scale and public refusal to share in its life and rites.”

Whatever else may or may not have happened in Judaea during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanies (“the god made manifest”), and while Professor Peters takes issue with some aspects of the Jews’ own accounts, both he and Jewish tradition agree that the clash he himself wrote about inevitably led, as mentioned earlier, to the first war ever fought–at least in part–over religious freedom.

Proclaiming yourself a god among pagans was one thing. Other peoples could just add Antiochus onto a long list.

But to do this with Jews, whose religion teaches that no man–regardless of how great–could be divine was explosive. Add to this Antiochus’s efforts to squash their attempt to retain their own way of life and religious practices, and the revolt of the Maccabees–the story of Chanukah–became inevitable.

Here’s the Roman historian, Tacitus (Volume II, Book V), once again, a few centuries after the Maccabean revolt, on the same subject, writing after the Jews next took on the mighty Roman Empire in its heyday of power…

The Jews acknowledge one God only, and conceive of him by the mind alone, condemning, as impious, all who, with perishable materials, wrought into the human shape, form representations of the Deity. That Being, they say, is above all, and everlasting, neither susceptible of likeness nor subject to decay. In consequence, they allow no resemblance of Him in their city, much less in their temples. In this way they do not flatter their kings, nor show their respect for their Caesars.

That above passage, by the way, involving the issue of the deification of man, explains the real schism between Judaism and Christianity today as well.


At a time when Israel, the much vilified Jew of the Nations–which was making history and causing a revolution in religion, ethics, and morality millennia before most other peoples even made their historical debuts–still has to fight for its right to take its place among those newcomers on the world scene, the story of Chanukah and its message of re-dedication remains as important today as it was when Judah the Hammer (the “Maccabee”) and his brothers took on their mighty pagan rulers over two thousand years ago.

This year, Chanukah will begin on December 22nd, right before Christmas. It’s date on the Western calendar changes each year since it depends on the lunar Hebrew calendar instead.

While it may be a bit early, let’s hope that this holiday season will be the start of a better, much more tolerant, and peaceful year for all mankind–and the rest of this amazing world as well…