In the Gospel of John we read the following:
Jn 10:22-23 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.1
Which of the Biblical Jewish festivals was the Feast of the Dedication? It turns out it wasn’t a Biblical feast.
The Jewish calendar was marked by three annual pilgrimage festivals:
- Feast of Passover (Heb: “Pesach”) – Dt 16:1-8
- Feast of Weeks (Heb: “Shavuot”)– Dt 16:9-12
- Feast of Tabernacles (Heb: “Sukkot”) (Dt 16:13-15)
These feasts were kept at specific times of the year:
- Passover in the month of Abib – March/April2
- Weeks 50 days later – May/June3
- Tabernacles after the harvest – Sept/Oct4
The Festival of the Dedication given its celebration at wintertime5 can’t have been any of the feasts listed above – it was not a Biblical feast. As any good Study Bible or Bible Dictionary will tell you, the Feast of the Dedication was what is more commonly called Hanukkah, celebrated in December.
The Feast of Hanukkah celebrates the purification and re-consecration (or dedication) of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165/164 BC after its desecration and transformation into a pagan cult centre a few years previous. Under Judas Maccabeus the Jews revolted against their Hellenistic ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, regained the Temple, and rededicated it.6
One legend claims that when the Jews regained the temple they found just enough undefiled oil to keep the lampstand burning for a day, and that by a miracle it burned for 8 days. According to the Babylonian Talmud:
b. Shabb. 21B “For when the Greeks entered the sanctuary, they made all of the oil that was in the sanctuary unclean. But when the rule of the Hasmonean house took hold and they conquered them, they searched but found only a single jar of oil, lying with the seal of the high priest. But that jar had enough oil only for a single day. But there was a miracle done with it, and they lit the lamp with it for eight days. The next year they assigned these days and made them festival days for the recitation of Hallel psalms [Ps. 113–118] and for thanksgiving.”7
These events of the revolt and rededication of the Temple are recorded in the Book of Maccabees and here’s how it summarises the introduction of the feast to the Jewish calendar:
1 Mac 4:59 Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.
So, Christ attended a feast not prescribed in the Bible; a feast that celebrated a miracle that most Christians would not accept; and a feast that celebrated the operation of the Temple, a concept that Christ came to bring to an end. Not only was he in attendance, he was in Solomon’s Porch on the Temple platform – he could hardly have arranged a better view of the Temple and all its activity than from where he was.8
The next verse explains why he was there:
Jn 10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Christ was there because that’s where the people were – and the people wanted to know about Messiah. Even if what was being celebrated was a non-Biblical feast, he was there taking advantage of the opportunity presented.
- All scripture quotes from The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989)
- David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, “Abib,” ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 5.
- Frank H. Gorman Jr., “Weeks, Feast of,” ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1373.
- Timothy P. Jenney, “Tabernacles, Feast of,” ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1270.
- Some see more in this statement than just a description of the time, e.g. “But the thoughtful reader of the Gospel understands that time and temperature notations in John are reflections of the spiritual condition of the persons in the stories.” Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11 (vol. 25A; The New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 337–338.
- Ronald L. Eisenberg, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions (1st ed.; Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2004), 244–246.
- Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (vol. 2; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 85.
- Leen Ritmeyer, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006), 219.