We have shown that Halley's Comet was visible from September 164
BCE and most conspicuous during the lunar eclipse on October 3rd and then later on in
October, once the moon was waning.
The comet joined an impressive conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Saturn in the October evening sky.
If the Maccabees were waiting for some heavenly sign, their
wishes were certainly answered - probably to a greater extent than they would have wished
- and not all the signs were favourable.
Like the Babylonians, the Jews followed a calendar linked to the moon
and similar traditional beliefs influenced them.
The combined effect of these things must have affected them.
Eclipses have long been
unsettling. The eclipse of the moon on October 3rd must have troubled both the
Babylonians and the Jews.
Eclipses of the sun and moon can follow each other. There was
a partial eclipse of the sun on 19th September, but only visible from the tip of South
America. Even if the Babylonian astronomers had calculated it as an 'eclipse passed by',
the Maccabees would probably not have known.
Why do the sources not mention them directly - possibly
excepting the 'zohar' in Daniel?
All the authors - Daniel, the books of the Maccabees, and Josephus -
are very selective about what they recorded.
In particular, they would not have mentioned the eclipse if it was
interpreted as a bad omen at the time of the Maccabees triumph.
However, the 'days of fire' phrase in II Maccabees may have alluded
to the comet.
The eclipse and comet may help to resolve the arguments over the date of the rededication and whether or not calendar intercalations had been missed.