Megillat Antiochus

Megillat Antiochus (Hebrew: מגילת אנטיוכוס - "The Scroll of Antiochus"; also "Megillat Ha-Ḥashmonaim", "Megillat Hanukkah", or "Megillat Yevanit") recounts the story of Hanukkah and the history of the victory of the Maccabees (or Hasmoneans) over the Seleucid Empire.

Early texts of the work exist in both Aramaic and Hebrew, but the Hebrew version is a literal translation from the Aramaic original. In 1557 it was first published in Mantua, in northern Italy. The Hebrew text, with an English translation, can be found in the Siddur of Philip Birnbaum. The first known printed text is found in a Siddur from Salonika, then part of the Ottoman Empire, which was published in 1568. The original Aramaic text can also be found in old Yemenite Baladi-rite Prayer Book from the 17th century.[1]

There are several theories as to the work's authorship. Some scholars date Megillat Antiochus to somewhere between the 2nd and 5th centuries, with the greater likelihood of it being composed in the 2nd Century.[2] The scroll is first mentioned by Simeon Kayyara (ca. 743 CE) in Halakhot Gedolot,[3] wherein he claims that the scroll was compiled by the "elders of the School of Shammai and the elders School of Hillel."[4] Another opinion is that of Saadia Gaon (882‒942 CE) who holds that the Scroll of Antiochus was composed in the Chaldaic (Aramaic) language by the Hasmonaeans themselves, and entitled Megillat Bayt Ḥashmonai.[5] He translated it into Arabic in the 9th Century. Hakham Moses Gaster argued for a 1st-century BCE date.[6] Louis Ginzberg, writing in the Jewish Encyclopedia, indicates that this scroll is a "spurious work" based on "unhistorical sources," with the exception of its citations taken from certain passages from First Book of the Maccabees.[7] Nevertheless, it was held in very high esteem by Saadia Gaon, Nissim ben Jacob, and others, while a passage contained therein is still used to determine the date of the Second Temple's building, based on Jewish chronology (see Excursus: "Chronology in the Scroll of Antiochus")

During the Middle Ages, Megillat Antiochus was read in the Italian synagogues on Hanukkah just as the Book of Esther is read on Purim. The Mahzor of the Kaffa Rite from the year 1735 gives the order to read the Megillat Antiochus in the Mincha of Shabbat Hanukkah.[8] It still forms part of the liturgy of the Yemenite Jews: some Baladi rite congregations had it as a custom to read the scroll to the older students during Hanukkah.

The Books of the Maccabees are entirely different from this work. These books are relatively lengthy, and of the four books only the first two deal with the activities of Matithiyahu the Hasmonaean (Mattathias) and his sons in general, and of Judah, who is called Maccabee in particular. The rest of the books bear this name because other heroic deeds are recounted there, but have nothing to do with Judah the Maccabee and his brothers. Moreover, 1-4 Maccabees survives only in Greek. 1 Maccabees was probably originally composed in Hebrew; the other three books of the Maccabees were originally written in Greek .

Megillat Antiochus concludes with the following words:

“...After this, the sons of Israel went up to the Temple and rebuilt its gates and purified the Temple from the dead bodies and from the defilement. And they sought after pure olive oil to light the lamps therewith, but could not find any, except one bowl that was sealed with the signet ring of the High Priest from the days of Samuel the prophet and they knew that it was pure. There was in it [enough oil] to light [the lamps therewith] for one day, but the God of heaven whose name dwells there put therein his blessing and they were able to light from it eight days. Therefore, the sons of Ḥashmonai made this covenant and took upon themselves a solemn vow, they and the sons of Israel, all of them, to publish amongst the sons of Israel, [to the end] that they might observe these eight days of joy and honour, as the days of the feasts written in [the book of] the Law; [even] to light in them so as to make known to those who come after them that their God wrought for them salvation from heaven. In them, it is not permitted to mourn, neither to decree a fast [on those days], and anyone who has a vow to perform, let him perform it.”

Section from the Aramaic Scroll of Antiochus in Babylonian supralinear punctuation, with an Arabic translation

Original language (Aramaic):

בָּתַר דְּנָּא עָלוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְבֵית מַקְדְּשָׁא וּבְנוֹ תַּרְעַיָּא וְדַכִּיאוּ בֵּית מַקְדְּשָׁא מִן קְטִילַיָּא וּמִן סְאוֹבֲתָא. וּבעוֹ מִשְׁחָא דְּזֵיתָא דָּכְיָא לְאַדְלָקָא בּוֹצִנַיָּא וְלָא אַשְׁכַּחוּ אֵלָא צְלוֹחִית חֲדָא דַּהֲוָת חֲתִימָא בְּעִזְקָת כָּהֲנָא רַבָּא מִיּוֹמֵי שְׁמוּאֵל נְבִיָּא וִיַדְעוּ דְּהִיא דָּכְיָא. בְּאַדְלָקוּת יוֹמָא חֲדָא הֲוָה בַּהּ וַאֲלָה שְׁמַיָּא דִּי שַׁכֵין שְׁמֵיהּ תַּמָּן יְהַב בַּהּ בִּרְכְּתָא וְאַדְלִיקוּ מִנַּהּ תְּמָנְיָא יוֹמִין. עַל כֵּן קַיִּימוּ בְּנֵי חַשְׁמוּנַּאי הָדֵין קְיָימָא וַאֲסַרוּ הָדֵין אֲסָּרָא אִנּוּן וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כּוּלְּהוֹן. לְהוֹדָעָא לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמֶעֲבַד הָדֵין תְּמָנְיָא יוֹמִין חַדְוָא וִיקָר כְּיּוֹמֵי מוֹעֲדַיָּא דִּכְתִיבִין בְּאוֹרָיְתָא לְאַדְלָקָא בְּהוֹן לְהוֹדָעָא לְמַן דְּיֵּיתֵי מִבַּתְרֵיהוֹן אֲרֵי עֲבַד לְהוֹן אֱלָהֲהוֹן פּוּרְקָנָא מִן שְׁמַיָּא. בְּהוֹן לָא לְמִסְפַּד וְלָא לְמִגְזַר צוֹמָא וְכָל דִּיהֵי עֲלוֹהִי נִדְרָא יְשַׁלְּמִנֵּיהּ[9]


  1. Yehiya Bashiri's Tiklal, the ancient Yemenite Baladi-rite Prayer Book (siddur), a microfilm of which is found at the Hebrew University National Library in Jerusalem, Microfilm Dept., Catalogue # 26787 (Hebrew); also in the archives of the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem, Micrfilm # 1219 (Hebrew); Bashiri (ed. Shalom Qorah), Sefer Ha-Tiklal, Jerusalem 1964, pp. 75b et seq. (Hebrew).
  2. "The Scroll of Antiochus: Rabbi Benjamin Zvieli". Retrieved 2008-10-10.
  3. "My Jewish Learning - Hanukkah Scroll". Retrieved 2008-10-10.. See also: Halakhot Gedoloth (Hil. Sofrim), Warsaw 1874, p. 282 (Hebrew)
  4. See also Abraham Harkavy, Zikaron Larishonim, St. Petersburg 1892, pp. 205–209 (Hebrew)
  5. Abraham Harkavy, Zikaron Larishonim, St. Petersburg 1892, p. 207 (Hebrew)
  6. "The Unknown Chanukah M'gillah".
  7.  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Louis Ginsberg (1901–1906). "Scroll Of Antiochus". In Singer, Isidore; et al. Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
  9. Hubarah, Yosef. "Sefer Ha-Tiklāl (Tiklal Qadmonim)". Jerusalem 1964, pp. 75b–79b, s.v. מגלת בני חשמונאי (Hebrew).
  10. Richard A. Parker & Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 BC - AD 75, Providence 1956
  11. The Ancient Fragments, ed. I. P. Cory, Esq., p. 65, London 1828. Manetho was the high priest and scribe of Egypt who wrote down his history for Ptolemy Philadelphus.
  12. Tosefta (Zevahim 13:6); Palestinian Talmud (Megillah 18a), et al.
  13. Maimonides, Questions & Responsa, responsum # 389; in other editions, responsum # 234 (Hebrew). Maimonides states explicitly this tradition, putting the destruction of the Second Temple in the lunar month Av, in the year which preceded anno 380 of the Seleucid era (i.e. 68 CE). See also She'harim la'luah ha'ivry (Gates to the Hebrew Calendar) by Rahamim Sar-Shalom, 1984 (Hebrew)
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