Recently I participated in a somewhat fierce online debate where someone from another Church of God group was attempting, somewhat unsuccessfully, to argue that Hanukkah was pagan and that Jesus had worshiped at the temple on a different day than is supposed. Despite the ungraciousness of the person themselves, I thought it would be worthwhile to present my own thoughts on the matter based upon the internal reading of scripture to see if a case can be made for the proposal. Contrary to the original poster, I will leave it up to the reader to decide if the case is a persuasive enough one or not. We will stick mostly to internal biblical evidence, although I will also summarize some of the objections made by others, as they made those largely without proof, that Hanukkah was pagan and that it should be treated like Christmas. Although I have written on the subject before , I thought it would be worthwhile to make this a fair case and make no assumption that the Festival of Dedication being spoken of in John 10 is Hanukkah as is commonly believed.
Let us begin with our assumptions and what is under dispute. In examining the feasibility of this proposal, we will assume continuity within the Bible, which is relevant in several ways to this. For one, we will assume that something which copies after the ways of the heathen is automatically not to be followed, based on the corpus of biblical law and the frequent injunctions not to follow the ways of the heathen that can be found in the law and in the prophets. In addition to this, we will assume that where the Bible refers to something it means the same thing in future times where these terms are used in scripture, specifically here with regards to the Festival of Dedication. Thirdly, we will assume that the Gospel of John has the period from the Feast of Tabernacles of a year to the Passover of the next year when Jesus Christ was crucified in mind through the material in John 7 onward, thus requiring the material to fit within the available time between events. Any argument made for the timing of the Feast of Dedication spoken of in John 10:22-30 must meet the “facts on the ground” of what happened between that festival and the Passover with regards to the internal chronology, in other words.
Let us begin with the passage in dispute. John 10:22-30 states: “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.” There are two contenders for the Feast of Dedication spoken of in this passage. The more familiar one is that of Hanukkah. The less familiar one is a Feast of Dedication spoken of in Ezra (which we will get to in due time). Both of these festivals occur in winter, which means that both of them meet the first standard of meeting the internal evidence.
Let us next turn to the issue of chronology. The chronology of the more obscure festival of dedication is given in Ezra 6:15-18: “Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. Then the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites and the rest of the descendants of the captivity, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. And they offered sacrifices at the dedication of this house of God, one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. They assigned the priests to their divisions and the Levites to their divisions, over the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses.” This dedication occurred on the third day of Adar, which in a twelve month Hebrew year is the last month of the year. This chronology presents difficulties for meeting the internal evidence of John, unless we are dealing with a thirteen month year, as there must be enough time for everything from John 11 and onward to happen in the time between the third of Adar and the middle of the next month, which is a bit too ambitious. That said, if we are dealing with a thirteen month year on the year that Jesus died, the internal chronology works. The chronology of Hanukkah is less problematic, as the day takes place between the 25th day of Chislev to the 2nd day of Tevet. This chronology places no difficulties to allowing for everything in the rest of John to take place.
Having mentioned the issue of internal chronology, let us examine briefly why this is a problem for a 3 Adar Festival of Dedication in a twelve-month Hebrew year. John 10 finds Jesus dealing with antagonistic Jewish leaders in the temple during the winter. Then, at the end of the chapter, he travels beyond the Jordan River, where he performs miracles and develops a following. This is likely to take at least some time, in the manner of weeks. He then receives news about his sick friend Lazarus in John 11 and deliberately delays his departure from Perea so that he can raise Lazarus from the dead after four days in the grave. He then travels to Jerusalem, which would take several days from beyond the Jordan, raises Lazarus, and then spends some time in Bethany before arriving in Jerusalem a week before the Passover. In the time between 3 Adar and 7 Nissan there is just not enough time for all of that to happen, especially given the gradual nature of what is spoken of with regards to Jesus building a following through miracles. That said, if we add another month for Adar II to the mix, we then have between 8 and 9 weeks available for Jesus to leave the Temple and travel a few days to get to the area across the Jordan, perform miracles and prepare his disciples over the course of a month and a half, at least, then intentionally delay his return by a few days as the Passover approaches so that he arrives in Bethany around the beginning of the year, raises Lazarus from the dead and has a few days around the area for the leaders to conspire against him and then does all the hectic activity of the last week. This is still an ambitious schedule even with an Adar II, but it becomes at least a possible solution to the question of what festival of dedication is being referred to in John 10, rather than being completely impossible with only one month of time to work with.
So, given the fact that an Adar 3 Festival of Dedication presents so many difficulties to the chronology unless Jesus was crucified following a 13-month year, why do some people prefer this date to the more familiar Hanukkah chronology? Well, some people argue that Hanukkah was pagan, and that the supposed miracle of the oil lasting through the cleansing of the temple after Syrian occupation never happened, and merely got conflated with the story of the re-dedication of the Temple after the defeat of the Seleucid rulers that can be found in 1 Maccabees. Of course, had John been more precise in discussing the Feast of Dedication not only by season, but by month, it would have been a trivial matter for the case to be determined, as the two festivals of dedication occur in completely different months. That said, by the time the Gospel of John was writing the precise meaning of the Jewish months would have been less than relevant for a Christian audience that was no longer welcome in the synagogues and likely had little knowledge of the Hebrew months except in the sense that they are understood by the Church of God in very vague and shadowy ways relating to the biblical Holy Days.
What can we conclude then? Depending on the existence of a thirteenth month in the year before Jesus’ death in the first month, we have the possibility of two festivals of dedication. One of these festivals is exceedingly obscure, no longer being remembered after the destruction of the second temple, and the other is a familiar festival with familiar if non-biblical rituals. Is the fact that Hanukkah comes from the apocryphal texts of the intertestimental period a sure sign of paganism? Not necessarily, since the default biblical position is that which is not forbidden is permitted , and so pagan origin cannot be assumed for a non-biblical festival but most be proven as it can be proven easily for festivals like Christmas, Easter, Halloween, May Day , and Valentine’s Day, among many others. Historical observances like Purim, or the Fourth of July, or Thanksgiving, are not in themselves automatically of pagan origin because they are not commanded in Leviticus 23. What evidence must be found in order to determine between the two contending festivals of dedication? Well, since Jesus observed the day, we must determine first that there was an Adar II the month before Jesus Christ was crucified, which would lead to a later Passover than is often the case. Additionally, the paganism of Hanukkah must be itself proven, rather than being assumed from a nonbiblical background. Failing that, the matter must be left for people to decide for themselves where the balance of evidence lies, given that the Bible leaves open both possibilities based upon the available biblical evidence.
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