During the Second Temple and Rabbinic Periods, the Jewish calendar had many more holidays than it does now. These were listed in a text called Megillat Ta’anit. Sometime during the Rabbinic Period or shortly thereafter, this list was cancelled, and the holidays—with the exception of Purim and Chanukah—are all but forgotten. Why this happened and whether this can or should ever be changed is a subject for another essay, but one holiday has always called out to me as being worthy of special attention: the 13th of Adar, Nicanor Day (יום נקנור).
What is Nicanor Day?
Nicanor day celebrates Judah Maccabee’s defeat of Nicanor the elephantarch, meaning “master of elephants.” Nicanor was a Syrian-Greek military officer, whom King Demetrius I Soter (nephew of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the “villain” of Chanukah) appointed governor of Judea. This was after the Chanukah story, as Antiochus Epiphanes had already died. The Judeans, under Judah Maccabee had already recaptured the Temple and rededicated it, and were living in a sort of rapprochement with the Syrian Greeks, who were engaged in factional strife.
Demetrius ( born 185 BC, reigned 161–150 BC)
The story behind the day of celebration begins when the former high priest named Alcimus, who was fully Hellenized and no longer observant of Judaism, wishes to regain his position as high priest. To do so, he goes to King Demetrius, who was a relative newcomer to local politics, having only recently taken the kingdom from his cousin, Antiochus V Eupater (Epiphanes’ son). Alcimus brings expensive gifts to the king and claims that the Maccabees and his followers were dissidents (a half-truth) and had forcibly removed him from him office (an untruth, though I imagine Judah would have removed Alcimus if he had still been in office).
Demetrius accepts the story and sends Nicanor to Judea as governor, with the express command to protect Alcimus’ position and keep Judah Maccabee at a distance. Nicanor at first attempts to compromise with Judah, but under pressure from Demetrius he decides to arrest Judah and his followers. Judah escapes and Nicanor, furious, enters the Temple looking for him. When the priests say they have no idea where Judah is, Nicanor stretches out his right arm and issues his infamous threat:
“If you do not hand over Judah to me as a prisoner, I will level this precinct of God to the ground and tear down the altar and build here a notable temple to Dionysus!” (2 Maccabees 14:33; NETS translation).
Only a few years after Chanukah, the Temple was threatened yet again.
The Tribulation is commencing…
Please repent, carry your cross daily and accept the free gift of Jesus Christ’s Death on the Cross for payment for your sins.
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