Hellenization and Hanukkah

Today is the final day of the Jewish Hanukkah celebration, also known as the Festival of Lights.

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes.  It is a winter festival, mentioned in the New Testament: ‘it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem, and it was winter’ John 10:22.

In the narrative that accompanies the eight festival days of Hanukkah, the subject of Hellenization often arises.   This refers to the spread of Greek culture and thought throughout the Greek empire following the rapid and extensive conquests of Middle Eastern countries by Alexander the Great.  After him, Antiochus Epiphanes enforced Hellenization upon the Jews in Israel, which some accepted and others such as the Maccabees resisted.

What is not so well known is the reverse effect – the influence of Jewish and Christian thought on the Greek world, which continues to this day.

This is seen in the names of the days of the week in the Greek language.  Just like the creation account in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, where the days of the week are called Day One, Two, Three, etc., the Greek days of the week for Monday to Thursday are called Day Two, Three, Four and Five.

So what about the other days?  Day One in ancient Greece used to be called hemera heliou, the day of the Sun, but in modern Greece it is called Κυριακή, Kuriake, the Lord’s Day!

Saturday is called Σάββατο, Sabbato, Sabbath, the same as the seventh day in the Jewish week.

So what about Friday?   It is called Παρασκευή, Paraskeue, Preparation.   This is the same name as the Jewish Friday before the Passover.  Christians will recognise this from the New Testament:

“It was the Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath” Mark 15:42.

So the Greek language to the present day has Jewish and Christian concepts replacing its ancient terminology for the days of the week.  This is reverse Hellenization.

This confirms that the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified on Friday, the Preparation day before the Sabbath, and that “the Lord’s Day” in Rev 1:10 is the first day of the week, which Christ taught His disciples to use as their weekly assembly day, as a weekly commemoration of His resurrection from the dead on the first day of the week.  Just as the seventh-day Sabbath commemorated God’s Rest after the work of Creation, the eighth-day Christian Sabbath commemorates His Rest after the work of Atonement and Redemption.  The Christian Sabbath is the weekly remembrance of Christ’s resurrection, with more biblical basis than the annual celebration of Easter.




4 thoughts on “Hellenization and Hanukkah

  1. Colin Mansfield

    Hi Donald,
    the Greeks were entranced with the Hebrew language, its ordered script of 1-22 glyphs, its superior inbuilt numeric system and its phonetic to symbol efficiency. Most people don’t realise that large parts of the Torah (and other parts of other books) are written in poetry. Also there is an esoteric, arithmetical nature (Gementria) of word additions e.g: numerically > father + mother = child.
    So what was known as the Jewish alephbeth became to the Greeks the source of their alphabet, more letters were added, to become later our Anglicised 1-26 letter alphabet.
    Fortunately for us, Ptolemy ordered a Greek translation of the then OT to add to his Alexandrian Library, which involved 70 scholars to translate and compile the Hebrew into Greek (the Septuagint). This version was assumed to be the “Bible” as used by Lord Jesus during his 33 years on Earth.
    Kind regards,
    Colin Mansfield.

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  2. Patrick

    Your reference to Jewish Sabbath is baffling, the Sabbath was made at creation, before there was even a Jew. The Lords day you mention in Revelation 1:10 does no where refer to Sunday.
    An easy explanation can be found in the verse itself.
    1) who is the Lord? Philippians 4:23 New International Version (NIV)

    The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
    Jesus Christ is the Lord!

    2) what is the Lord’s day? Mark 2:27, 28
    ” The Sabbath was made for man, I am the Lord of the Sabbath” said Jesus Himself.

    3)In the new heaven and earth we will be keeping the seventh day Sabbath also
    Isaiah 66 the Lord tells us.

    Ps. Sorry no apostate Sunday or Muslim Friday will be in the new earth and even on this earth God had always had a people to maintain his Commandments and precepts in every generation.
    God bless you all.

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    1. Colin Mansfield

      Hi Patrick,
      the answer is easier than that:
      Sunday is/was/marked as the day of the Resurrected Christ, Easter Sunday. In most Churches Denominations all Sundays are Feast Days ~ starting from this first One.
      Without this special Sunday there would be no Apostles running around preaching the Good News, nor churches built, just a long neglected tomb in Jerusalem to a mere prophet.
      Colin Mansfield.

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    2. Donald

      Patrick,

      My use of Jewish Sabbath was an attempt to identify, contextualise and distinguish the seventh-day Sabbath from the Christian Sabbath in the weekend of Jesus’ resurrection Jn 19:31. I agree that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, ‘the Sabbath was made for man’ Mk 2:27, and that Jewish Sabbath is not otherwise helpful and is misleading. I have altered the blogpost to reflect this. It is because Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath Mk 2:28 and Lk 6:5 that He authorised the change of its celebration from the seventh-day Sabbath to the eighth-day Sabbath or Christian Sabbath on the first day of the week.

      Every blessing in your Bible study.

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