On November 27th the BBC News website’s Magazine section included an article titled “What happens when you cross Thanksgiving with Hanukkah?” by Aidan Lewis.
Readers celebrating Hanukkah may be rather surprised to learn that, according to that article, that they are in fact marking the rededication of the Temple after the “victory of the Maccabees against the Syrians”.
Where did Lewis glean that curious piece of information? It appears to have been taken from the source to which he links in that section of his article: a page titled ‘Hanukkah’ on the BBC Schools website. There, teachers and students seeking information (presumably factual) from a site which is self-promoted as “educational resources from the BBC” are told that:
“The festival reminds Jews of a time over 2500 years ago when Antiochus, a Syrian king, tried to make the Jewish people worship Greek gods. A statue of Antiochus was erected in the Jewish temple and the Jews were ordered to bow down before him. The Ten Commandments forbid Jews to worship statues or idols and so they refused.
A small group of Jews called Maccabees rebelled, and after a three year war they recaptured Jerusalem from the Syrians. But the temple was all but destroyed.”
Whilst the Seleucid Empire – against which the Maccabean revolt was actually directed – did include Syria, Lewis’ description certainly does not reflect the tradition of Hanukkah as a victory over forced Hellenisation. One can only wonder what the Macedonian dynasty to which Antiochus IV Epiphanes belonged would have had to say about being dubbed ‘Syrians’ by the BBC.