It’s interesting that the token attempt made by Western society toward multiculturalism is to acknowledge Chanukah alongside Christmas, when Chanukah is essentially a commemoration of a rejection of multiculturalism. Well, there’s more to it than that, but that is a major part of it. Christmas is based on the Roman Sol Invictus, which was an attempt to tie together a whole bunch of different solstice celebrations and the worship of several solar deities. Chanukah, on the other hand, is distinctly Jewish, and more than that celebrates the triumph of traditional Judaism over a more liberal variety. When Judea was under the control of the Greeks, tensions were high between those Jews who wanted to adopt certain aspects of Greek culture and those who wanted to remain insular. The struggle really came to a head when the Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes took a personal role in the proceedings. Exactly why he chose to intervene isn’t entirely clear from what I’ve read and heard about the guy, but it seems that even his fellows thought he was a bit unhinged. Due to his own massive ego, he styled himself “Epiphanes,” which essentially meant he was the manifestation of a god. While this was common in some societies, including the Roman Empire that would soon take over as the major world power, apparently the Greeks of the time didn’t generally go in for it. His contemporaries sometimes called him “Epimanes,” meaning “madman.”
Antiochus was born as Mithridates to Antiochus III, known as “the Great,” sixth ruler of the Seleucid Empire. The founder of the dynasty was Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s generals. Alexander had no legal heir, so the vast territory he conquered was split between his generals after his death, and their descendants proceeded to fight amongst themselves. Antiochus IV managed to obtain the throne due to a combination of assassination and usurpation, which seems to have been pretty typical among the Macedonians of that time. During his reign, he launched a campaign to conquer Egypt, and came fairly close to doing so. With the Romans backing the Egyptians, however, he was forced to retreat, and it was around then that he began forcibly abolishing Jewish religious practices. His most infamous action, widely considered to be the Abomination of Desolation mentioned in the book of Daniel, was when he entered the Temple in Jerusalem, plundered it, and began the sacrifice of pigs to Zeus. Even the Jews who were in favor of adopting Greek culture weren’t all that keen on this, and the residents of Judea were eventually able to overthrow Greek rule. This didn’t happen during the reign of Antiochus, however, as he died rather anticlimactically of disease while leading a campaign against the Parthians. (This, by the way, is not the death that Daniel predicted for him, which is why that book is usually dated to sometime after the Maccabean revolt but before the king’s death.) After his death, the Seleucid Empire became even more fragmented than before, and was never able to retain its former glory.
Anyway, Happy Chanukah!