Chanukah, the Festival of Dedication and the Feast of Lights, recalls historical events that nearly destroyed Judaism in the second century B.C.E. The land of Israel was ruled at the time by the Syrian-Greek heirs of the great empire of Alexander the Great.
The Seleucid dynasty that controlled Palestine and Syria was headed by Antiochus Epiphanes, an ardent Hellenizer who was anxious to spread Greek culture throughout the Middle East and Asia.
When the Hellenizers, backed by a contingent of soldiers, sought to introduce the Hellenistic culture and religion in the small town of Modin near Jerusalem, an aged priest named Mattathias and his five sons proclaimed a full-fledged revolt against the Seleucid rulers and called for the citizens to rise up and expel the polluters of the Temple and Jerusalem.
Under the inspired leadership of his son, Judah Maccabee (“the Hammer”), the Jews rallied their citizens army in 167 B.C.E. Gradually, they overcame the professional and well-armed forces of Antiochus and on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev 165 B.C.E., they finally expelled them from Jerusalem.
The scene they found on the Temple mount was appallingly depressing: The sacred altar had been polluted with swine’s blood and pagan practices had been introduced into Judaism’s holiest site. Accordingly, the liberators set about cleansing the Temple and preparing it for renewed use as a Jewish temple. Finally, after completing the process, an eight-day festival of rededication was proclaimed. Hence, the name “Chanukah,” which means “dedication” or “consecration.”
Legend has it that the victors found a small cruse of undefiled oil sufficient for one day’s use in the lamp of the Temple.
A miracle occurred and the lamp burned for eight days, giving the priests sufficient time to prepare fresh, consecrated oil. Consequently, we light the menorah for eight days of Chanukah and sometimes refer to the holiday as Hag Ha-Urim, the Festival of Lights.
The Wikipedia article on Antiochus seems very different from that in the Jewish Encyclopedia ...