The miracle of the cruse of oil: the metamorphosis of a legend

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Abstract

A popular view among historians considers the famous Hanukkah story of the
cruse of oil, which appearsin the Talmud and seemingly also in the Scholium of
Megillat Tac
anit, as evidence of the determination of the Sagesto erase the memory
or the Hasmoneans.
I A careful examination of the traditions about Hanukkah in the Scholium of
Megillat Tac
anit demonstrates, however,that the story, as it appears in the BabyIonian Talmud, is a secondary form. The two extant versions of the Scholia offer
different traditions in explaining the celebration of Hanukkah. Scholium O makes
no mention of finding any oil and offers other reasons forthe establishment of
the festival. Scholium Ρ does present, among other traditions, an early version
of the story, which does not mention any miracle with regard to the finding of
the oil. This same episode appears later in the Babylonian Talmud after it had
evolved and crystallized, and when all other traditions had been rejected. The
Babylonian Talmud is, in fact, the only source for the legend of the bit of oil that
lasted eight days. The supernatural basis of this story, as well as its introduction
as the only explanation for the celebration of Hanukkah, is a Babylonian manipulation, motivated by literary rather than historical purpose
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-226
Number of pages36
JournalHebrew Union College Annual
Volume73
StatePublished - 2002

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