The amount of oil was only suitable for one day, but it burnt, miraculously, for eight. Outside of the rabbinical world, this is the deepest understanding of the Chanukah celebration, the festival of lights, which most people possess.
The true story of Chanukah is not so innocuous, or magical, nor is it all good news. More so than the Exodus story, the telling of which was banned in some former European colonies, it is a very dangerous idea. Chanukah is, in its most easily accessible formulation, a divinely sanctioned rebellion, an uprising, anti-imperial and anti-relativistic. Those stubborn Jews told the imperial masters of the Ancient Mediterranean that they will not abide with Hellenic culture, their intellectual and material empire. G-d, said the Jews, is the arbiter of Justice, not reason or aesthetics or beauty or Aristotle’s ridiculous notions of happiness, the effects of which the entire world from Macedonia to Indian felt in its truculent, imperious, advance at the tip of Alexander’s sword. Happiness was once a gruesome business. It still is.
The Greeks and the Jews Then
Those centuries were as promising for the advance of culture as were the decades leading to the rise of the Nazi party in Europe. Things were swell, material accessible, plenty of food, high culture on display, mathematics studied in the Lyceum while servants and eunuchs played for the men of “great soul,” Aristotle’s kalokagathia. There was a flourishing debasement of human beings but a sturdy advancement of aesthetic pleasure.
While the Greeks happily indulged the orgiastic and Pagan nonsense of their subjects —the Persians, Indians, Carthaginians, the neo-pharaoh Ptolemy, and, as it happens, those horrid epicycles — the Jews and their notion of objective Truth, emes, a purpose and a beginning, a linear history, Tzedekah and clarity of both intellectual and sensual urges were radically departed from the Greco Eros and Will as power. There was something about those ancient Jews that was a bit off. One G-d, not to be worshiped by reason but by mitzvah and charity and justice, is an idea as abhorrent to the Imperialist as it is to the relativist.
The Imperialist sees nothing about the world which may suggest something exists which is greater than his own power. The relativist can find nothing about the world that suggests that there should be empires or anything true. The Greeks were the empire of relativity. Worship your gods, we will worship ours, and, for that matter, yours as well, and we can trade deities like a set of baseball cards while the mathematicians and sophist train up generations of the ruling class to keep the wine flowing and the music playing.
In ancient Greece, specifically Athens, the way a man achieved wealth was via lawsuits, suing people, and via the state seizing property and redistributing it in cyclical fits of democracy. The law of the polis was never a law of Justice, the rule of law, but of persuasion and reason, in a couple words, soulless and dubious. The Sophists, peripatetic teachers, taught those willing to pay how to make a living off the state. Rhetoric was taught in order that a man may obfuscate the insanity of it all. Work was never rewarded but regarded as a form of enslavement to the rudiments of animal necessity.
Those Hebrews, however, had a book that spoke differently. Avodah, work, was mans way of life. He can sanctify its banality by charity and sacrifice; bringing earth up to heaven and a bit of heaven down to earth. The Hebrew state functioned only to make the work of man the sanctification of G-d. Non-Jews, the Ger, were never considered barbarians as a matter of metaphysical fact to be conquered enslaved and indentured, but equally divine. In those instances where non Jews were regarded as inferior, it was not due to the circumstances of birth but of behavior and culture. The ancient Hebrews, forsaking immediate pleasure for spiritual fulfillment and cultural cohesiveness, found many examples of man gone mad by the images, imaginations, that he had sold himself as truth. The Greeks were just another processional float of the cultural parade.
Greece was a monument to reason, a culture that justified itself by the intellect and the intellect alone. We can bicker about Greek mythology and its inherent fabulous character, but the explanatory motifs served the same purpose as science does today. Myths were accounts of the natural, summer, winter, fall and spring subdued by the myth of Demeter and Persephone. Creation Ex nihilo was so unfathomable that the Greeks refused to fathom it. Instead suggesting that the Universe has existed from eternity to eternity and therefore no explanation of contingency is necessary if only because contingency wasn’t an issue. “The universe is all there is,” as Carl Sagan once languidly put it; believing that he had hit upon a new idea, Sagan at once wrote many books extolling the virtue of the meaninglessness of it all.
Fractures began to appear in Greek thought as myth gave way to philosophy and Aristotle penned some words on Ethics. Happiness, Aristotle declared, is the good end to which all men should strive. Just so. But what made happiness the Good? What made anything the Good? Aristotle could offer no other explanation than that it is in accordance with reason and that reason is a natural faculty exclusive to man. This circular account does nothing to inspire allegiance. And I suspect that Aristotle did not think it Good himself, but from where else could his ethics be derived?
Nowhere. In the Beginning G-d created the Heavens and the Earth, explained the Hebrews. The Greeks had created and sold themselves a philosophy that could not achieve the heavy lifting they required. The subconscious doubt circulating around the assumptions of Greek philosophy became visceral sores upon interaction with the Jews and their declaration of transcendental purpose and linear time. Anti-Semitism is a function of a society’s inability to cope with its own failings, either intellectually or morally. This is not an opinion, but a fact. That the target is always the Jews is because they are the whistle blowers of history, either morally or intellectually. When humans fail morally, the Jews stand as representative of a moral order and, as we all know, the messenger is always the first to be killed. Furthermore, when mankind starts tinkering with odious and detrimental philosophies, cynicism, asceticism, relativism and nihilism, the Jews stand representative of order, purpose and humility. In the ancient world, the rejection of terms was often signaled by the messengers being killed and the corpses being sent back to the soliciting party. In the case of the Jews, they are the messengers of G-d and their slaughter was the Greek rejection of His terms.
It is the confluence of both the particularism of the Jewish people and the universalism of the Jewish message which many find detestable, not the least of whom being the Greeks. The Jews can’t justify themselves rationally, and their message is not rational either. It is a message of life, the respect of it, and, as Aristotle showed, there is no rational argument to be made in its defense. It’s either a faithful belief or an aesthetic sense.
The Greeks were universalists too. Functioning pragmatically, the Greek universe, as it happened, revolved around the Greeks. The individual was either a Greek or a barbarian. As the cosmologies of the pre-Socratics proved infertile, Greek thought began to focus more sharply on the Greek himself. Socrates bothered not with cosmology but with men and behavior, the state, and the question of who should rule. Less than a century later, the Greek decided that he should rule.
As the incoherence of Greek philosophy began to become apparent, a dripping angst of concern with inferiority became a deluge of violence and self aggrandizement. The Greeks had dispensed functionally with their myths, the Homeric gods. In their stead, rationalism pervaded. Rationalism prevailing does not mean that reason was the conduit by which it was achieved. It was more of a system of belief in reason itself. However, a crisis occurred. Much in the same manner that a crises cast positivism to the dustbin in the middle of the twentieth century, it became apparent that statements about reason weren’t rationally grounded themselves, but merely axiomatic. They were again back to the Homeric gods.
The modern study of history, when not enmeshed in the functional illiteracy of materialism, sometimes revisits the old theories of the surge and retreat of societies, the idea that ideology creates historical events. But what rarely gets explained is what generally occurs when a society fails in a particular ideology. It is not always the case that society just descends and begins a downward spiral. Often, a society begins to expand like a dying star before implosion, inflating its collective ego in reaction to the failure of its cultural program. In the case of the Greeks, the ego inflated rapidly. A culture that worshiped reason failed to justify any of its precepts rationally and thus set about a program of pragmatic empiricism. If reason was not to cast its countenance upon the Greeks, the Greeks would themselves create an empire in which empirical facts about Greek greatness could hardly be denied. By the end of his conquests, Alexander thought himself a god. Greek rationality gave way to Greek relativism and pragmatism. These two aspects of Greek life had been in conflict for some time, but with Alexander, the latter prevailed decidedly. Reacting in the same manner that any civilization does to a crises, the Greeks started killing Jews.
Antiochus set to killing Jews that practiced their Judaism, desecrating holy sites and erecting idols in Jerusalem. These were the first salvos of the war between meaning and materialism. As stated above, the main aggravation for the Greeks was the concept of the Supra-rational, the unseen, and the illogical, or, not-logical, dictates of Jewish worship. While the Greeks understood exactly why they put pennies in the eyes of the dead, the Jews could not explain why they tied phylacteries –- and thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes –- other than that the book says so and that they are suppose to be a sign of something. Nor could be explained the prohibition against eating pork, mixing milk and meat or linens and wool.
The killing of Jews was a direct result of the Jewish inability to explain their existence in either mythological or rational terms. The Greeks could easily abide a culture that has one god, but they couldn’t abide a culture that says that the one god is the G-d, for the idea of a G-d of everything, a Ruler of a contingent Universe, left the Greeks mere transient shadows upon the wall of the caves. For a people that liked to think of themselves as gods, this was unacceptable.
To be terse, a great revolt occurred. There was bloodshed. Close quarters combat made it a gruesome affair. People were disemboweled by sword and left bleeding amongst fields and the cobblestone streets of Jerusalem. There was screaming and great lamentations over the dead. Representatives of every segment of society were subject to the horror.
And then the temple was rededicated and a great miracle occurred, a godly sanctification of the violence that had ensued. This event does not comport with modern sensibilities. G-d had intervened and shown his blessing for a violent conflagration, showing that our modern conceptions of peace for the sake of peace and peace alone is as suicidal and as empty as the rule of the Greeks over Jerusalem. G-d does not sanctify pacifism in the face of tyranny. .
The Greeks Now
Hitler once wrote:
“Providence has ordained that I should be the greatest liberator of humanity. I am freeing man from the restraints of an intelligence that has taken charge, from the dirty and degrading self-mortification of a false vision called conscience and morality, and from the demands of a freedom and independence which only a very few can bear.”
The Jew, Hitler declared, was the progenitor and disseminator of this particular disease. The Greeks of antiquity felt the same. They didn’t want any limitations on their power, either physical or metaphysical. So Greek metaphysics embolden Greek tyranny, and, as it happens, Nazi metaphysics, in a moment of recursion, looked back to the Greeks and Romans for martial inspiration. This is not a coincidence.
Nietzsche had said a few decades earlier that “God is dead, and we killed him.” He was referring to the resurgence of reason and its ultimate failure, culminating in a relativism of “beyond good and evil” and Nietzschean Superman. God having been murdered by 19th century philosophy, it is also not a coincidence that the 20th brought with it an attempt to remove all the evidence of his former life. The Jews were the fingerprints at the crime scene that had to be removed in order that progress away from conscience and morality could continue.
Thankfully, this program failed, and, by a miracle of history with few antecedents and yet to be repeated, 3 years after the murder of 6,000,000 Jews, Israel declared its independence, returning and rededicating the land of Israel to a time and circumstance that had not existed for 2000 years.
But the story has not ended and the Greeks still wish to erect idols in Jerusalem. The Greeks have escaped the entropy of history and have been preserved in the amber of the world community, a neo-pagan organization which cherishes attrition over peace and dedicates a great deal of its time to chastising a country of 6,000,000 Jews. Israel, as the only surviving nation state, is a thorn in the side of an internationalizing program that has decided, much like the idealized state of the Greeks, that it is the arbiter of truth and justice and that there is no power or belief greater than its own. The liberal ideologues, like the Greeks, think themselves gods. Moral and cultural relativism is the means by which power is centralized. The calculus is brutal, if there are no moral truths then there are no moral restrictions, and this allows unprecedented power to those who make a decent living off the erected idols of a peace process. Tributes, benedictions and libations are energetically offered up every time a Jew defends himself.
Supporters of the Jewish state continuously and energetically point out that the people with whom the international community has decided that the Jews must negotiate with are the most evil and tyrannous group of individuals on the planet. The Muslim world rightfully deserves to be exposed for all its depravity and hate, but the likelihood of this tactic working is small, for this presupposes that the international community is ignorant of the depths of evil which grips the Muslim world. Nobody could be so ignorant.
Instead, the new Greeks acknowledge Muslim insanity and explain it by reference to colonialism or other things equally idiotic. The western Greeks worship reason and believe that man is inherently good and that he only lashes out in anger when accosted – they fail, however, to ever account for the accoster. Thus, Muslims hate Israel because Israel did something to them. The Muslim Greek, inversely, believes in power and nothing but power and will continue Jew killing until the Jews are gone. The western world is the rational Greek, and the Muslim world is the Greek of Antiochus, acting as the henchmen and executioner for the rational Greek.
Alan Dershowitz has argued that hatred of the Jews and their state is irrational, that it is just “classic antisemitism” as he terms it. I contend that Dershowitz is wrong. The “classic antisemitism” was a faithfully rational enterprise. It worked by a series of subconscious movements which Hitler, as shown above, finally penned: morality is the enemy of humanity or power, the Jews are the disseminators of morality, and therefore the Jews are the enemies of humanity and international peace. Peace, the rational Greeks say, would be achievable if only we could eliminate such concepts as justice which limit its implementation and such strictures as clear moral dictates of right and wrong. It doesn’t matter, they say to themselves, that the Muslim world kills people en mass daily because this can be contained and we can still benefit from the cheap oil that exudes and drips off Islamic rapiers.
The recent vote by the U.N to recognize Palestine as a state is confirmation of this situation. For years the Palestinians have been attacking Israel, brutally killing civilians, abducting soldiers, disemboweling them, and teaching in their U.N. funded schools that the Jews are evil and deserving of such a fate. Everyone knows this is happening. No one is denying the facts, but they are rationalizing them. And as the western Greek continues to rationalize, the Muslim Greek continues to spread its empire of hate.
Rededicating the Temple
This situation is untenable. Peace will not come in our time and we should end our addiction to the notion that peace is an ideal. A world in which truth and justice is sacrificed for the sake of peace is, ironically, always to be in a state of war, and we should never fall prey to false promise of peace.
Chanukah is holiday which commemorates G-d’s commemoration of a military victory over the tyranny of relativism and nihilism. The message of the Jews is what contains society, keeping it from over inflating itself such as it did with the Greeks of antiquity. A cursory glance of the moral landscape and modern culture reveals to those who can see that the western Greek is again over inflated, soon to implode. Into that vacuum may come the Muslim Greek, if we allow him entrance. But the western Greek is spending a great deal of time convincing us that we don’t need to look around. “Keep your head down,” he demands, “the shadows on the cave wall are real.”
A shiny idol has been erected in Jerusalem, a city soon to be divided and taken from the Jews again. Where are our modern Maccabees?