Post – Mosaic Festivals
The Feast of the Dedication of the Temple
This feast was called Chanuchah, the dedication of the altar. Josephus the historian called it ‘the feast of lights’ and it was another popular and joyous festival.
It was instituted by Judas Maccabaeus in 164 BC when, after the recovery of Jewish independence from the Syro-Grecian domination, the Temple of Jerusalem was solemnly purified, the old polluted altar removed, its stones put in a separate place on the Temple-mount, and the worship of the Lord restored.
It started on December (Chislev) 25th and last for 8 days. On each day the ‘Hallel’ was sung, the people carried palm and other branches, and there was a grand illumination of the Temple and of all private houses. This bears a striking resemblance to the Feast of Tabernacles, with both of them adopting the same three practices.
Over time, the ancient Church adopted December 25th as that of the birth of our Lord with the Feast of the Dedication of the true Temple – that of the body of Jesus.
The Origin of this Festival
Even in the time of Josephus the real origin of the practice of illuminating the Temple was unknown.
Tradition has it that when in the restored Temple the sacred candlestick was to be lit, only one flagon of oil, sealed with the signet of the high-priest was found to feed the lamps. This was pure oil, but the supply was barely enough for one day, certainly not for eight. But by a miracle the oil increased, and the flagon remained filled for eight days, in memory of which it was ordered to illuminate for the same space of time the Temple and private houses.
The practice differed in its practice between the schools of Hillel and Shammai, but the basics were the same. There is no doubt that Jesus Himself attended the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem. It was this occasion and setting where he said “I and My Father are one.”
This gives it a far deeper significance than the rekindling of the fire on the altar, or even the connection of this feast with that of Tabernacles.
The Feast of Wood-Offering
This took place on the August (Ab) 15th, and was the last of the nine occasions on which offerings of wood were brought for the use of the Temple. For the other 8 occasions the Talmud names certain families that specially possessed this privilege which they had probably received “by lot” at the time of Nehemiah.
The names mentioned in the Mishnah are exactly the same as those in the Book of Ezra.
On August 15th all the people were allowed to bring up wood for an offering, meaning even the ones who were slaves and proselytes.
The other eight seasons where only special families were allowed to bring up wood were:
March or April 1st
the 20th of Thammus, except for the family of David
August 5th , 7th , 10th , and 20th
The reason five of these seasons fell in the month of August was probably because the wood was thought to be in the best condition in that month. The 15th of the month was fixed for the feast probably because at full moon the month was regarded as at its maturity.
According to tradition there were wicked men in places of leadership that prohibited the carrying of wood and firstfruits to Jerusalem. These special and devoted families braved the danger, and on that day secretly introduced wood into the Temple. In acknowledgement of their brave act, the privilege was for ever afterwards conceded to their descendants.
The Wood Used In The Festivals
It was first deposited in an outer chamber where the parts which were worm-eaten or otherwise unfit for the altar was picked out by priests who were disqualified from other ministry. The rest was handed over to the priests who were Levitically qualified for their service, who then stored it in ‘the wood chamber.’
August 15th was observed as a popular and joyous festival. The maidens went dressed in white and danced and sang in the vineyards around Jerusalem, giving the young men an opportunity to select their companions for life.
According to the Talmud, August 15th was the day on which the prohibition was removed which prevented heiresses from marrying out of their own tribes. There is not a significant historical foundation for this belief, though it would have been an extremely significant thing to not have the tribal restrictions as they selected their life partners.