Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Antiquity of the Week - A Judean Oil Lamp

Since Hanukkah begins at Sundown on December 19th, I thought it would be appropriate to feature a relevant antiquity for the holiday.

This oil lamp dates from the First Century B.C., which is after the time of the Jewish Maccabean revolt against the Hellenic Syrians that is commemorated on Hanukkah (which occured around 165BC).

Judea at the time was occupied by the Syrians, who under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, had ordained that the Jews convert to a Hellenistic style of worship and to acknowledge him as a god. This didn't sit well with the Jews and a revolt for Independence occurred, led by the Maccabbees, who eventually drove the Syrians out and restablished the independence of Israel.

Hanukkah is often called the Festival of lights beacause of the legend of a miracle that occurred during the rededication of the Temple after the Syrains had been beaten by the Maccabees. When the Jews sought to rekindle the menorah in the Temple sanctuary, they found only enough holy oil to last one day, yet miraculously, the small portion of oil burned for eight days – the length of time required to retrieve new purified oil. While this legend seems to have developed long after the Maccabees threw out the Syrians and restored the temple, it is where we get the celebration of the eight days of Hanukkah.

The lamp and many others like it are available for $125 from Harlan J. Berk. Not bad for a piece of history over 2000 years old. As you can guess from the price, there are a lot of these lamps still in existence today and available for the interested collector.

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