Three Five Seven – # 234

Three, five, and seven
3    5    7
By Stan Shapiro MD, Grand Lodge Education Officer G.L. of MN

Revealing the truth is like lighting a match, it can bring light or it can set your world on fire.”-Sydney Rogers

How We Determine The Truth

As Masons we search for the truth. However it is easy to be confused about what is the truth because there is a difference between a fact and a truth. Facts are measurable, physical and observable and they do not depend on beliefs. What we believe to be true is based on our previous experience, ideas, philosophy and faith. Therefore what is the truth for one person may not be true for another. In order to find the truth ideally we search for the facts about the situation and then carefully and critically evaluate.

The following example about the Jewish festival of Hanukkah may illustrate how additional information can change what we believe is the truth.

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah is a commemoration of religious freedom after liberation from the rule of the Syrian-Greek Empire ruled by Antiochus IV in about 200 B.C.E.  The Maccabees had led courageous battle for the freedom to worship  God again as their fathers had. Today most Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days because of what they have been told for the about the last 1500 years about the miracle which occurred when the Jews returned to the Temple  and found only enough oil to light the Everlasting Light for 24 hours but instead the light burned for eight days. Some believe that miracle was also proof God had been responsible for the defeat of Antiochus whose army was larger and more powerful.

However the earlier textual sources on Hanukkah indicate another explanation. The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees. These books are not part of the Hebrew Bible; they are part of the apocryphal books in the Catholic Bible which until recent times most Jews did not read.  The First Book of Maccabees (2) compiled in 120 B. C. E. states ” they brought a lamp stand…….. Into the Temple…. and they burned incense on the altar and the temple was filled with light…… for eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar…….Then Judah (Maccabee), his brothers and the entire community of Israel decreed that the days of rededication of the altar should be celebrated with a festival of joy and gladness at the same time every year beginning the 25th of the month of Kislev and lasting of eight days”. (1) the Second Book of Maccabees compiled in  120 B. C. E. states “after they recapture the Temple and the city of Jerusalem and…. After purifying the Temple they made another altar ………. They celebrated joyfully for eight days, just as on Succoth (the festival celebrating the harvest) which they had been unable to celebrate at the Temple and had spent the festival (hiding)…. in the mountains and caves.  That is why they came carrying stalks with branches and ripe fruits and sang hymns of praise to him who had given them the victory that brought about the purification of His Temple. By a vote of the community they decreed that the whole Jewish nation should celebrate these Festival days every year.”(2)  About 600 years later the Babylonian Talmud in about 500 C.E. indicated the Greeks had defiled all of the oil in the Temple and when the Jews returned they found only one jar of oil with the official seal of the high priest which was only enough for 24 hours of light; yet a miracle occurred and when they lit the lamp with it and it burned for eight days. (3) Thus the evidence seems to bear out a far more complicated picture of why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days. Although the miracle of the oil is a more colorful explanation, it was not based on what was reported in the apocryphal books earlier. It seems the real miracle was the defeat of the larger and more powerful Syrian-Greek Army by the Maccabees and their followers.

Does this article change what you believe about why the Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days and/or how what we believe is the truth can change when we find and critically examine new information?

It is important to value the religious freedom in our country and which we practice as Freemasons in contrast to bloodshed the world over in the name of religion or religious freedom.

(1) First Book of Maccabees   4:49-59

(2) Second Book of Maccabees   10:1-8

(3 Babylonian Talmud   Tractate Shabbat 21b

Words to Live By: “Everything we hear is an opinion, and not a fact; Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” –Marcus Aurelius

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Harold E “Phil” Phillips, Jr, PM
Aurora 43, Newburg, WV