Megillat Antiochus (Hebrew: מגילת אנטיוכוס - "The Scroll of Antiochus"; also "Megillat HaHashmonaim", "Megillat Benei Hashmonai", "Megillat Hanukkah", "Megillat Yoḥanan", "Megillat HaMakabim" or "Megillah Yevanit") recounts the story of Hanukkah and the history of the victory of the Maccabees (or Hasmoneans) over the hellenistic Seleucid Empire.

It is distinct from the Books of the Maccabees, which describe some of the same events. Louis Ginzberg called it a "spurious work" based on "unhistorical sources," with the exception of its citations taken from passages from First Book of the Maccabees.[1]


Early texts of the work exist in both Aramaic and Hebrew, but the Hebrew version is a literal translation from the original scroll written in Western Middle Aramaic.[2] This was a literary dialect of Aramaic that was likely intended to ape the style of the Targum Onkelos. It was written somewhere between the 2nd and 5th centuries, most likely in the 2nd century.[3] The Hebrew version dates to the 7th century.[4] It is unknown who composed it or why, although some authorities have suggested it was written to promote observance of Chanukah in Babylonia at a time when Karaism was rising.[5]

The work is first mentioned by Simeon Kayyara (ca. 743 CE), who says in Halakhot Gedolot[6][7] that the scroll was compiled by the "elders of the School of Shammai and the elders of the School of Hillel".[8] Saadia Gaon (882‒942 CE) said that it was composed in Aramaic by the Hasmonaeans themselves, and entitled Megillat Beit Hashmonai.[9][3] Saadia Gaon took particular interest in the Megillat Antiochus as it suited the rabbinic dispute of his era with the Karaites, who do not accept the oral traditions of rabbinic Judaism and do not celebrate Chanukah, and he translated it into Arabic in the 9th century.[2] He goes so far as to cite verse 23 as a proof text in his work Sefer HaGalui.

Likely due to Saadia Gaon's influence, the Megillat Antiochus found widespread use by Jewish communities across Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Yemen and Persia.[2] Many manuscripts and early printed editions of the Bible include this text indicating it was regarded almost as canonical by some Jewish communities, who had to be warned not to say a blessing before its reading on Chanukah.[10] Dozens of copies have been found in the Cairo Genizah.

The original Aramaic text can be found in an old Yemenite Baladi-rite Prayer Book from the 17th century.[11] The Hebrew text was first published in 1557 in Mantua, northern Italy.[4]

Summary of Text

The scroll begins with a description of the greatness and power of Antiochus, who was mighty and victorious, and built Antioch, a city on the seacoast (a misunderstanding of Gen. R. xxiii., beginning). His general Bagras also founded a city beyond Antioch, and called it after himself. In the twenty-third year of his reign, Antiochus determined to begin the religious war against the Jews. To that end he sent to Jerusalem his general Nicanor, who raged furiously against the pious Jews, and set up an idol in the Temple. When the high priest John, son of Mattathias, saw this, he appeared before Nicanor's house and demanded entrance. Admitted to Nicanor's presence, he declared himself willing to comply with the king's demand, and to offer a sacrifice to the idol. He expressed the wish, however, that all present should leave the house; since he feared that if the Jews heard of his deed he would be stoned. When left alone with Nicanor, John thrust into the general's heart the dagger that he had concealed under his garments.[1]

After this John waged a victorious war against the Greeks; and, as a memorial of his great deed, he erected a column with the inscription, "Maccabee, the Slayer of the Mighty." Antiochus now sent his general Bagris (a distorted form of the name Bacchides), who at first killed a number of Jews for observing their religious precepts; but he was at length compelled by the five sons of Mattathias to flee. He boarded a vessel, and set sail for Antioch. When, for the second time, he moved with a mighty host against the Jews, he was not much more successful. The five sons of Mattathias opposed him valiantly, and although Judas and Eleazar lost their lives, the Jews were triumphant. Their success was in no small measure due to the aged Mattathias, who, after the fall of Judas, himself undertook the guidance of the battle. This third battle was also the last; for Bagris was burned by the Jews, and Antiochus, after a revolt of his subjects, fled to Asia Minor and drowned himself.

The Jews then purified the Temple. They were fortunate enough to find clean oil, which was needed for the holy lights, and although the quantity seemed sufficient for one day only, it lasted miraculously during eight days. For this reason the Maccabees instituted the eight-day Ḥanukkah feast.

Chronology in Megillat Antiochus

See also: Missing years (Jewish calendar)

There are marked differences between the events described in the Megillat Antiochus and other contemporary records, including the Books of Maccabees and the writings of Josephus. The Jewish Encyclopedia commented in its entry: "That Antioch is mentioned as a coast city; that John, with the surname "Maccabee," is called a high priest; and that the reign of Antiochus is said to have lasted twenty-three years, all go to prove that the Megillah is a spurious work of fairly recent times."[1]

The Scroll of Antiochus equates the 23rd year of the reign of Antiochus Eupator with the 213rd year since the building of the Second Temple.[12] According to Josephus,[13] Antiochus Eupator began his reign in the year 149 of the Seleucid Era, corresponding to 162 BCE, making the 23rd year of his reign 139 BCE. Since, according to the Scroll of Antiochus, the Second Temple had by that time been standing 213 years, this would mean that the Second Temple was completed in 352 BCE.

This date matches traditional Jewish sources, which say that the Second Temple stood 420 years,[14] before being destroyed in the 2nd year of the reign of Vespasian, in 68 CE.[15] However, modern scholarship places the building of the Second Temple in 516 BCE, based on chronologies that emerge from the Babylonian Chronicles.[16]

Use in ritual

Section from the Aramaic Scroll of Antiochus in Babylonian supralinear punctuation, with an Arabic translation

During the Middle Ages, Megillat Antiochus was read in the Italian synagogues on Shabbat Hanukkah.[17] A machzor of the Kaffa rite from the year 1735 gives the instruction to read the Megillat Antiochus in the Mincha service of Shabbat Hanukkah.[17] Yemenite Jews of the Baladi rite had it as a custom to read the scroll after the haftarah reading on Shabbat Hanukkah.[18] The Hebrew text, together with an English translation, can be found in the Siddur of Philip Birnbaum, published in 1949 and still in widespread use in English-speaking Orthodox and Conservative synagogues.[19]

In 2013, sofer Marc Michaels published modern Hebrew tikkun suitable for public reading on Chanukah, with cantillation, English translation and critical commentary.[2]


  1. ^ a b c  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLouis Ginsberg (1901–1906). "Scroll Of Antiochus". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  2. ^ a b c d Michaels, Marc, The Scroll of the Hasmonean Sons (Megillat B'ney Chashmonay) (Kalmus Publishing, 2013)
  3. ^ a b Zvieli, Benjamin. "The Scroll of Antiochus". Archived from the original on 27 June 2018.
  4. ^ a b Rahel (16 December 2006). "The Scroll Of The Hasmoneans". Archived from the original on 28 May 2007.
  5. ^ Neubauer, A, Review of Two Monographs by Dr. M Gaster (The Scroll of the Hasmoneans), pp570-577 from The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 6, No. 3, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1894, p575
  6. ^ "My Jewish Learning - Hanukkah Scroll". Retrieved 2008-10-10..
  7. ^ Halakhot Gedoloth (Hilchot Sofrim), Warsaw 1874, p. 282 (Hebrew)
  8. ^ Abraham Harkavy, Zikaron Larishonim, St. Petersburg 1892, pp. 205–209 (Hebrew)
  9. ^ Saadia Gaon, Introduction to Sefer Ha-Iggaron (ed. Abraham Firkovich), Odessa 1868 (Hebrew)
  10. ^ Tosfot R’id to Sukkah 44b, Lemberg, 5629, fol. 31b, cited by Michaels.
  11. ^ Yehiya Bashiri's Tiklal, the ancient Yemenite Baladi-rite Prayer Book, a microfilm of which is found at the Hebrew University National Library in Jerusalem, Microfilm Dept., Catalogue # 26787 (Hebrew); also in the archives of the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem, Micrfilm # 1219 (Hebrew); Bashiri (ed. Shalom Qorah), Sefer Ha-Tiklal, Jerusalem 1964, pp. 75b et seq. (Hebrew).
  12. ^ Megillat Antiochus 1:5
  13. ^ Antiquities of the Jews book 12, chapter 9, section 2
  14. ^ Tosefta Zevahim 13:6; Talmud Yerushalmi Megillah 18a et al.
  15. ^ Maimonides, Questions & Responsa, responsum # 389; in other editions, responsum # 234 (Hebrew). Maimonides states explicitly this tradition, putting the destruction of the Second Temple in the lunar month Av, in the year which preceded anno 380 of the Seleucid era (i.e. 68 CE). See also She'harim la'luah ha'ivry (Gates to the Hebrew Calendar) by Rahamim Sar-Shalom, 1984 (Hebrew)
  16. ^ Richard A. Parker & Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 BC - AD 75, Providence 1956
  17. ^ a b Guski, Chajm (2014-12-08). "Megillat Antiochos". Jüdische Allgemeine (in German). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  18. ^ "הידעת מהי מגילת בני חשמונאי?" (in Hebrew).
  19. ^ Philip Birnbaum, HaSiddur HaShalem, p. 713ff.