After the routing in the Battle of Emmaus, Lysias himself comes to wage war against Judah Maccabeus.  He also changes tactics and decides to come against Judah from the southern watershed route.  This battle, the Battle of Beit Tzur, is given very little mention in the sources, but it the most oft remembered battle today since it gives its name to the piyyut sung when lighting the Hanukkiah – Maoz Tzur.  Beit Tzur is near the present day community of Karmei Tzur in the area of Hebron south of Jerusalem.

beit tzur 1925
Ruins of Beit Tzur – 1925

Judah beats back the Greeks again and Lysias retreats to the capital in Antioch.  After the battle, Judah builds a tower and fortifies Beit Tzur against future Greek incursions.

Suggestions are made that Lysias, who was the protector of King Antiochus IV’s son and heir, returned to Antioch not just because of his defeat at Beit Tzur but also because of the death of the king.  Lysias needed to be in the capital to ensure smooth transfer of power.  The vacuum left by Antiochus IV”s death would surely be filled and only by being present could Lysias make sure things would go his way.

Lysias’ leaving Judea also created a vacuum.  In this politically weak time, Judah was able to leave the battlefield and march to Jerusalem, recapturing the Temple Mount and purifying the Temple.  Many more words are spent describing the re-dedication than are spent on the battle itself.  Both Josephus and I Maccabees set the date of re-dedication (hanukkah in Hebrew) at Kislev 25, and both describe the 8 days of ceremonies.  Judah Maccabeus stipulates that this is the event that should be continually observed and remembered each year.  Josephus, who normally writes “factually”, here gives us his opinion.

“They were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for 8 days.  And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights.  I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.”  Antiquities 12:324-5

There is no mention in these early sources of any sort of miracle involving oil, which is a much later tradition.  Going by the text, there is a perfectly good miracle here – God created a vacuum – and Judah Maccabeus stepped in to fill it by reaffirming the centrality of Judaism.  That’s a miracle worth celebrating and learning from now.  May we all be blessed to fill vacuums by re-dedicating ourselves to those values which are truly important.  Happy Hanukkah!

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