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December 124 B.C.E. Hannukah

Tetradrachm of Demetrius IIThe Hasmoneans, for their part, were aware of the goodwill borne to them by most, but not all, Egyptian Jews. They sought to strengthen the ties between the two communities in many ways; for example, by inviting the Egyptian Jews to join them in the celebration of the newly established Feast of Hannukah, to commemorate the consecration of the Temple by Judas Maccabaeus in December 164 B.C.E. A twofold attempt was made to attain this goal, as attested by the preface to the Second Book of Maccabees, couched in the form of a letter from the Jews of Jerusalem to their Egyptian brethren:

2 MACC. 1:1-9

To their brothers, the Jews of Egypt, greeting! Their brothers, the Jews of Jerusalem and the land of Judaea, wish them peace and prosperity! May the Lord shower you with His blessings and may He remember His Covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, His faithful servants. May He confer on you all a heart to adore Him and to do His will generously and unstintingly. May He open your hearts to His Law and His precepts and may He cause peace to prevail. May He answer your prayers, reconcile Himself with you and not abandon you in times of need. This is the prayer that we address to Him, here and at this time. Under the reign of Demetrius II, the year 169 (e.g. 143 B.C.E.), we the Jews, we wrote to you:

“In the distress and the crisis that fell upon us in those years, since Jason and his partisans defected from the Holy Land and from the kingdom, they went as far as to set fire to the great gate of the Temple and to shed innocent blood; then we prayed to the Lord, our prayers were granted, we offered a sacrifice and the finest flour, we lit the lamps and set out the breads.”

And now, we write you to ask you to celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles of the month of Kislev in the year 188.

The Demetrius here alluded to is Demetrius II, the Seleucid king who reigned from 145 to 138, then from 129 to 125 B.C.E. The date of the first message cited in the letter, 169 of the Seleucid era, corresponds to 143/142 B.C.E. By the same reckoning, the date of the letter itself would be 124 B.C.E.; “the Jews of Jerusalem and Judaea” stand for the Jewish ruler and high priest, John Hyrcanus son of Simon the Hasmonean, the second son of Mattathias. The reference to the “Feast of Tabernacles” (Sukkot), which occurs during the month of Tishri (September-October), is either erroneous or should be interpreted as a transposition: the “month of Kislev” (November-December) proves that Hannukah, the Feast of the Consecration, was intended.

Source: Joseph Mélèze Modrzejewski. The Jews of Egypt. (p. 122-124)

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