Channukah and the Miracle of the Canon

Channukah and the Miracle of the Canon
The Forgotten Maccabean Canonization
By James Scott Trimm

What does the festival of Channukah have to do with our canon of Scripture? Well in a way the celebration of Channukah is, in part, a celebration of the canonization of the Tanak. The Tanak was not canonized all at once by either Rabbinic Judaism or Christianity. It was canonized through time, in stages. The following are the stages of canonization as recorded in Scripture.

Canonization under Moses

The first stage of canonization was the canonization of the Torah by Moshe (Moses). Moshe wrote the five books of the Torah, which are collectively known as “The Torah” or “The Book of the Covenant” and delivered them to the Priests and to the Elders of Israel, as we read in the Torah:

9 And Moshe wrote this Torah, and delivered it unto the cohanim, the sons of Levi–that bore the ark of the covenant of YHWH–and unto all the elders of Yisra’el.
(Deut. 31:9 HRV)

The Torah remained the “canon” of Scripture for the Assembly of Israel for about 400 years during which time Israel worshiped YHWH in a portable Tabernacle.

Canonization under David and Solomon

At the time of David and Solomon there was a shift in the system of worship, so that under Solomon a Temple was built to replace the Tabernacle. By this time also the number of Cohenim (Priests) had multiplied so that through direction from Samuel (1Chron. 9:22) David subdivided the Cohenim and Levitical singers into twenty-four courses that took turns serving in the Temple (1Chron. 24-25). This meant that liturgical materials and other worship information would no longer just be passed from generation to generation, over the generations. As a matter of actual application this information would be transmitted from course to course as they took their turns serving from week to week. This created the need for written liturgy and written information as part of the Temple worship.

Certainly it was at this time that the majority of the Psalms were canonized. It was also at this time that the literary works of Solomon were canonized. We cannot be certain which other books may have received canonical status at this time.

Canonization under King Hezekiah and Isaiah

The next period of canonization was under King Hezekiah and is mentioned in the Talmud (b.Baba Batra 15a). At the beginning of his reign, the Kingdom of Judah faced invasion by Assyria. There was great concern that the Temple would be taken by Assyrians and the official copies of the canonical books stored there might be compromised. Moreover internal apostasy was resulting in idols to foreign gods being set up throughout Judah (2Chron. 31:1). Ahaz (Hezakiah’s predecessor on the throne) had himself apostatized. He had given Temple ornaments to the King of Assyria as a gift, shut up the doors to the Temple, and set up idols to false gods (2Chron. 28:21-25).

It was at this time that the “men of Hezekiah” canonized more of Solomon’s Proverbs (chapters 25-29).

1 These also are proverbs of Shlomo, which the men of Y’chizkiyah, king of Y’hudah copied out.
(Prov. 25:1 HRV)

Also Hezekiah composed new Psalms which were introduced to the Temple worship. As Isaiah writes:

19 The living, the living … he shall praise You, as I do this day; the father to the children shall make known Your truth.
20 YHWH is ready to save me, therefore we will sing songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life, in the House of YHWH.
(Is. 38:19-20 HRV)

At this time Hezekiah’s life had been extended by fifteen years, so these were probably the fifteen “Degree Psalms” or “Psalms of Ascension” (Psalms 120-134) which were read as the Cohenim ascended each of the fifteen steps to the alter.

Canonization under Josiah

Very similar to the canonization under Hezikiah was the canonization under Josiah. The days preceding the reign of Josiah had also been days of great apostasy. Josiah’s reign was preceded by those of Manasseh and Amon:

9 And M’nasheh, made Y’hudah and the inhabitants of Yerushalayim to err, so that they did evil more, than did the nations whom YHWH destroyed before the children of Yisra’el.
22 And he did that which was evil in the sight of YHWH, as did M’nasheh his father. And Amon sacrificed unto all the graven images which M’nasheh his father had made, and served them.
23 And he humbled not himself before YHWH, as M’nasheh his father had humbled himself: but this same Amon became guilty, more and more.
(2Chron. 33:9, 22-23 HRV)

The Temple had become an unused empty edifice.

8 Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land, and the house, he sent Shafan the son of Atzalyah, and Ma’aseiyah the governor of the city, and Yoach the son of Yo’achaz the recorder, to repair the House of YHWH his Elohim.
9 And they came to Hilkiyah the cohen gadol, and delivered the money that was brought into the House of Elohim, which the L’vi’im, the keepers of the door, had gathered of the hand of M’nasheh and Efrayim, and of all the remnant of Yisra’el, and of all Y’hudah and Binyamin, and they returned to Yerushalayim.
10 And they delivered it into the hand of the workmen, that had the oversight of the House of YHWH, and the workmen that wrought in the House of YHWH gave it to mend and repair the house:
11 Even to the carpenters and to the builders gave they it, to buy hewn stone, and timber for couplings, and to make beams for the houses, which the kings of Y’hudah had destroyed.
(2Chron. 34:8-11 HRV)

King Josiah ushered in an era of restoration:

25 And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to YHWH with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Torah of Moshe; neither after him arose there any like him.
(2Kn. 23:25 HRV)

3 For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the Elohim of David his father. And in the twelfth year, he began to purge Y’hudah and Yerushalayim from the high places, and the Asherim, and the graven images, and the molten images.
(2Chron. 34:3 HRV)

In the process of restoring the Temple, the original copy of the Torah was discovered:

14 And when they brought out the money that was brought into the House of YHWH, Hilkiyah the cohen, found the Book of the Torah of YHWH given by Moshe.
15 And Hilkiyah answered and said to Shafan the scribe, I have found the Book of the Torah in the House of YHWH. And Hilkiyah delivered the book to Shafan.
16 And Shafan carried the book to the king, and moreover brought back word unto the king, saying, All that was committed to your servants … they do it.
17 And they have poured out the money that was found in the House of YHWH, and have delivered it into the hand of the overseers, and into the hand of the workmen.
18 And Shafan the scribe, told the king, saying, Hilkiyah the cohen has delivered me a book. And Shafan read therein before the king.
19 And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the Torah, that he rent his clothes.
(2Chron. 34:14-19 HRV)

This began a Scripture restoration and a re-establishment of Scripture canon.

Canonization under Ezra and Nehemiah:

Next we come to the period of canonization under Ezra and Nehemiah. This canonization involved a complete editing and redacting of the Tanak. It was at this editing that some editorial comments may have been added. For example the parenthetical comment in Deut. 34:5-6 which seems to have been added for a later audience:

5 So Moshe, the servant of YHWH, died there in the land of Mo’av, according to the word of YHWH.
6 And he was buried in the valley in the land of Mo’av, over against Beit-peor: and no man knows of his sepulcher unto this day.
10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Yisra’el, like unto Moshe, whom YHWH knew face to face,
(Deut. 34:5-6, 10 HRV)

The phrases “and no man knows of his sepulcher unto this day” and “there has not arisen since” are much later additions, probably editorial comments by Ezra.

This editing, redacting and canonization is described in 2Edsras. First Ezra prayed for inspiration to restore the Scriptures:

19: Then answered I before thee, and said,
20: Behold, Lord, I will go, as thou hast commanded me, and reprove the people which are present: but they that shall be born afterward, who shall admonish them? thus the world is set in darkness, and they that dwell therein are without light.
21: For thy law is burnt, therefore no man knoweth the things that are done of thee, or the work that shall begin.
22: But if I have found grace before thee, send the Holy Spirit into me, and I shall write all that hath been done in the world since the beginning, which were written in thy law, that men may find thy path, and that they which will live in the latter days may live.
23: And he answered me, saying, Go thy way, gather the people together, and say unto them, that they seek thee not for forty days.
24: But look thou prepare thee many box trees, and take with thee Sarea, Dabria, Selemia, Ecanus, and Asiel, these five which are ready to write swiftly;
25: And come hither, and I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out, till the things be performed which thou shalt begin to write.
26: And when thou hast done, some things shalt thou publish, and some things shalt thou shew secretly to the wise: to morrow this hour shalt thou begin to write.
(2Esdras 14:19-26)

Then he edited and redacted the Scriptures:

27: Then went I forth, as he commanded, and gathered all the people together, and said,
28: Hear these words, O Israel.
29: Our fathers at the beginning were strangers in Egypt, from whence they were delivered:
30: And received the law of life, which they kept not, which ye also have transgressed after them.
31: Then was the land, even the land of Sion, parted among you by lot: but your fathers, and ye yourselves, have done unrighteousness, and have not kept the ways which the Highest commanded you.
32: And forasmuch as he is a righteous judge, he took from you in time the thing that he had given you.
33: And now are ye here, and your brethren among you.
34: Therefore if so be that ye will subdue your own understanding, and reform your hearts, ye shall be kept alive and after death ye shall obtain mercy.
35: For after death shall the judgment come, when we shall live again: and then shall the names of the righteous be manifest, and the works of the ungodly shall be declared.
36: Let no man therefore come unto me now, nor seek after me these forty days.
37: So I took the five men, as he commanded me, and we went into the field, and remained there.
38: And the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, Esdras, open thy mouth, and drink that I give thee to drink.
39: Then opened I my mouth, and, behold, he reached me a full cup, which was full as it were with water, but the colour of it was like fire.
40: And I took it, and drank: and when I had drunk of it, my heart uttered understanding, and wisdom grew in my breast, for my spirit strengthened my memory:
41: And my mouth was opened, and shut no more.
42: The Highest gave understanding unto the five men, and they wrote the wonderful visions of the night that were told, which they knew not: and they sat forty days, and they wrote in the day, and at night they ate bread.
43: As for me. I spake in the day, and I held not my tongue by night.
44: In forty days they wrote ninety and four books.
45: And it came to pass, when the forty days were filled, that the Highest spake, saying, The first that thou hast written publish openly, that the worthy and unworthy may read it:
46: But keep the seventy last, that thou mayest deliver them only to such as be wise among the people:
47: For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge.
48: And I did so.
(2Esdras 14:27-48 KJV)

Notice that this canon is described as consisting of twenty-four books. Many of the books we know of in the Tanak were originally parts of single books (like 1st and 2nd Samuel) and many books were collected into a group often thought of as a single “book”. There is great debate over how the books were anciently reckoned to reach a canon of 24 books (or as some other sources prescribe, 22 books) but the following is a proposal:

1. The Torah (the Book of the Covenant)
2. Joshua
3. Judges
4. The Book of Kingdoms (Samuel and Kings)
5. Isaiah
6. Jeremiah
7. Ezekiel
8. The Minor Prophets
10. Psalms
11. Proverbs
12. Wisdom of Solomon
13. Job
14. Song of Songs
15. Ruth
16. Lamentations
17. Esther
18. Daniel
19. 2Esdras
20. Tobit
22. Baruch
23. Letter of Jeremiah
24. Ezra/Nehemiah/Chronicles (including 1stEsdras)

The Book of Enoch would have likely been one of the seventy “secret” books and the other six books of the Apocrypha were canonized later. The number seventy connected to the “secret books” is interesting, because 70 is the gematria of the Hebrew word SOD (meaning “hidden, secret, mystical).

Nehemiah followed up on this, gathering these books into an official “library” (the word “Bible” literally refers to a library):

13 The same things are reported in the records and in the memoirs
of Nehemiah, and also that he founded a library and collected
the books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of
David, the letters of the kings about votive offerings.
(2Macc. 2:13 RSV)

Canonization under Judas Maccabee

The final canonization of the Tanak took place under Judas Maccabee and the Gerusia (Assembly of Elders in his day) his successors. This is a “lost” period of canonization forgotten by many who list the canonization under Ezra and Nehemiah is “final”.

The time leading up to this canonization was also a time of great apostasy, as we read in 1st Maccabees:

11: In those days went there out of Israel wicked men, who persuaded many, saying, Let us go and make a covenant with the heathen that are round about us: for since we departed from them we have had much sorrow.
12: So this device pleased them well.
13: Then certain of the people were so forward herein, that they went to the king, who gave them licence to do after the ordinances of the heathen:
14: Whereupon they built a place of exercise at Jerusalem according to the customs of the heathen:
15: And made themselves uncircumcised, and forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen, and were sold to do mischief.
(1Macc. 1:11-15 KJV)

At this time the High Priesthood was purchased by Jason who drove the apostasy forward, as we read in 2nd Maccabees:

7: But after the death of Seleucus, when Antiochus, called Epiphanes, took the kingdom, Jason the brother of Onias laboured underhand to be high priest,
8: Promising unto the king by intercession three hundred and threescore talents of silver, and of another revenue eighty talents:
9: Beside this, he promised to assign an hundred and fifty more, if he might have licence to set him up a place for exercise, and for the training up of youth in the fashions of the heathen, and to write them of Jerusalem by the name of Antiochians.
10: Which when the king had granted, and he had gotten into his hand the rule he forthwith brought his own nation to Greekish fashion.
11: And the royal privileges granted of special favour to the Jews by the means of John the father of Eupolemus, who went ambassador to Rome for amity and aid, he took away; and putting down the governments which were according to the law, he brought up new customs against the law:
12: For he built gladly a place of exercise under the tower itself, and brought the chief young men under his subjection, and made them wear a hat.
13: Now such was the height of Greek fashions, and increase of heathenish manners, through the exceeding profaneness of Jason, that ungodly wretch, and no high priest;
(2Macc. 4:1-22 KJV).

And Antiochus Epiphanies profaned the Temple, not just shutting it down, but polluting it and making it into a temple for false gods. And banned the Torah, seeking to destroy every copy, and forbidding ownership of a copy of the Torah on pain of death:

54 Now the fifteenth day of the month Kislev, in the hundred forty and fifth year, they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars throughout the cities of Juda on every side;
55: And burnt incense at the doors of their houses, and in the streets.
56: And when they had rent in pieces the books of the law which they found, they burnt them with fire.
57: And whosoever was found with any the book of the testament, or if any committed to the law, the king’s commandment was, that they should put him to death.
(1Macc 1:54 KJV)

1: Not long after this the king sent an old man of Athens to compel the Jews to depart from the laws of their fathers, and not to live after the laws of God:
2: And to pollute also the temple in Jerusalem, and to call it the temple of Jupiter Olympius; and that in Garizim, of Jupiter the Defender of strangers, as they did desire that dwelt in the place.
3: The coming in of this mischief was sore and grievous to the people:
4: For the temple was filled with riot and revelling by the Gentiles, who dallied with harlots, and had to do with women within the circuit of the holy places, and besides that brought in things that were not lawful.
5: The altar also was filled with profane things, which the law forbiddeth.
6: Neither was it lawful for a man to keep sabbath days or ancient fasts, or to profess himself at all to be a Jew.
(2Macc. 6:1-6 KJV)

Judas Maccabee and his men defeated Antiochus Epiphanies and rededicated the Temple:

1: Now Maccabeus and his company, the Lord guiding them, recovered the temple and the city:
2: But the altars which the heathen had built in the open street, and also the chapels, they pulled down.
3: And having cleansed the temple they made another altar, and striking stones they took fire out of them, and offered a sacrifice after two years, and set forth incense, and lights, and shewbread.
4: When that was done, they fell flat down, and besought the Lord that they might come no more into such troubles; but if they sinned any more against him, that he himself would chasten them with mercy, and that they might not be delivered unto the blasphemous and barbarous nations.
(2Macc. 10:1-4 KJV)

The Talmud records the event this way:

For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils in it, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they [the Maccabees] searched and found only one cruse of oil which possessed the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient oil for only one day’s lighting; yet a miracle occurred there and they lit [the lamp] for eight days.
(b.Shabbat 21b)

At this time, just Judas Maccabee and his men underwent a time of restoration and Temple dedication very much like those of the previous periods of canonization. In fact the preface of 2nd Maccabees includes a letter from the Gerusia (Assembly of Elders) to the Jews in Alexandria Egypt:

13 The same things are reported in the records and in the memoirs
of Nehemiah, and also that he founded a library and collected
the books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of
David, the letters of the kings about votive offerings.
14 In the same way Judas also collected all the books that had
been lost on account of the war which had come upon us,
and are in our possession.
15 So if you have need of them, send people to get them for you.
(2Macc. 2:13-15 RSV)

The context of this letter indicates that 2nd Maccabees is being sent to the Jews in Alexandria as part of this Maccabean Canon. It was during this period of canonization that books which were written after the time of Ezra would have been first canonized. These includes books like:

Ben Sira – Written about the time of Alexander the Great.
1st Maccabees (which was not finished until the reign of John Hycranus)
2nd Maccabees (lifetime of Judas)

3rd Maccabees (around 217 BCE – probably provided by the Alexandrian Jews as part of the exchange of books implied in the letter above)
4th Maccabees (lifetime of Judas)
Book of Judith (lifetime of Judas)

It was also probably during this editing, redacting and canonization that final touches were added to the book of Nehemiah in which the names and genealogies of priestly families are given which reach all the way to the time of Alexander the Great (Neh. 12:11, 22; see Josephus Antiquities 11:7:2).

Why did the Gerusia wrap up their canonization with the beginning of the reign of John Hycranus? Possibly because he was the first Hasmonian ruler that was not one of the original sons of Mattithias. But most likely it was because he began as a Pharisee but apostatized to Sadduceeism (Josephus; Ant. 13:10:5-6). At this time the Gerusia probably split into the political Sanhedrin headed by the High Priest and dominated by Sadducees (this is the one that convicted Yeshua) and the Pharisaic Sanhedrin which was headed by such men as Hillel and his decedents who were not Priests at all.

The Maccabeean canon was later rejected by Rabbinic Judaism, possibly out of a disapproval of the later Hasmonian dynasty. For this same reason Channukah was almost unmentioned in the Mishna, and only briefly discussed in the Talmud, in which the shift is away from the military victory itself, and toward the miracle of the oil. The Books of the Maccabees were removed from the canon, and in fact a move was made to restore the pre-Maccabean canon of Ezra in its place.

Emergency Alert!

We must raise $500 by the end of the day tomorrow (Monday 12/9/2019)

Donations can be sent by paypal to

Donations can also be made out to “Nazarene Judaism” and sent to:

Nazarene Judaism
PO Box 471
Hurst, TX 76053

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *