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    The Scroll of Antiochus – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. What is the Scroll of Antiochus, and why do we not read it in synagogue on Chanukah?

    A. Firstly it must be said that there is nothing about Chanukah anywhere in the Tanach. Nor is there any systematic exposition of the festival in the Mishnah and Talmud. Purim has a whole tractate devoted to it, but not Chanukah. All we find are incidental (though not unimportant) passages, for example a brief explanation of the miracle of the oil (Shab. 23b) and a discussion about the Bet Hillel-Bet Shammai debate concerning the procedure for lighting the Chanukiyyah (Shab. 21b).

    There must have been a deliberate policy of downplaying the Maccabees; the sages felt that the Hasmonean rulers were motivated by political and not religious considerations.

    But some time later a book of 76 verses was produced, describing – with an admixture of folklore – the struggle between Antiochus and the Jews. Known as Megillat Antiochus (the Scroll of Antiochus), Megillat Bet Chashmonai (the Scroll of the Hasmonean House) or Megillah Yevanit (the Greek Scroll), it was believed by Saadia Gaon (10th cent.) to have been written by the five Maccabean brothers, but this is highly unlikely since the scroll refers to the destruction of the Temple which did not happen until 70 CE.

    Others think the scroll was written by the disciples of Hillel and Shammai; it is, however, more probable that it emerged in the 7th century CE but was ascribed to earlier authors in order to give it credibility.

    In the Middle Ages the scroll became popular in some communities, and it was read on Chanukah by Italian, Yemenite and some Sephardi Jews. Few Ashkenazi prayer books contain its text. An exception is the Avodat Yisrael, edited by S Baer in the second half of the 19th century; Baer’s work was the basis of the Singer Siddur which, however, excluded Megillat Antiochus.

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