Israel’s history in the land has come to life again as archaeologists announced Tuesday the discovery of “tangible evidence” of an ancient battle between the Hasmoneans (the ruling dynasty of the Maccabees) and the Greek Seleucids—bringing to “light” the story of Hanukkah!
“The excavation site provides tangible evidence of the Hanukkah stories,” Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said in a statement about the dig site in central Israel. “It appears that we have discovered a building that was part of a fortified line erected by the Hellenistic army commanders…[against] a Hasmonean offensive. However, the finds from the site show that the Seleucid defenses were unsuccessful; the excavated building was badly burnt and devastated by the Hasmoneans.”
The excavation site is in the Lachish Forest, in central Israel, between Hebron and Ashkelon (and south of Jerusalem). Archaeologists have unearthed weapons, dozens of coins, burned wood beams, and a Hellenistic square fort-like structure. The stone and wood building, believed to be from around 112 BCE, was 15-by-15 meters (about 50 by 50 feet), had walls 3 meters (almost 10 feet) thick, contained seven rooms, and appeared to have had a second story on it (there’s evidence of a stairwell).
The IAA reports that there was a “massive destruction layer” about three feet thick, as well as thousands of large stones that had been part of the destroyed upper story.
Among the rubble and debris left behind in the archaeological records of the fortress’s demise, researchers found a treasure trove of iron weapons, pottery (some intact!), slingshots, dozens of coins dating to the late 2nd century BCE (the time of the Hasmoneans).
“Based on the finds and coins, the building’s destruction can be attributed to the Hasmonean leader John Hyrcanus’s conquest of the region of Idumea in around 112 BCE,” the IAA said.
Hyrcanus’s battles are chronicled in the Books of the Maccabees and by the famed historian Josephus. His conquests led to the expansion of the Hasmonean (Jewish) state to the south. The Maccabean revolt against the Greek empire led to the establishment of the first Jewish independent state since the Babylonian exile. It existed as a sovereign nation for about 80 years, until the Romans took power and installed Herod the Great and started the rule of the Herod dynasty (which happened about 30 years or so before Yeshua was born).
“The stories of the Maccabees are coming to life before our eyes…” said IAA Director Eli Eskozido. “In a few days, we will be celebrating Hanukkah, whose central theme is the Hasmoneans defeat of the Hellenists….” Hanukah begins in about 10 days.