Here we are, soon to light the second candle on this 2169th Hanukka. For 2169 years, our ancestors have lit candles, most often in menorah's, to celebrate the "miracle of the oil." Or have they?
We all know the story. The Maccabee's capture Jerusalem, free the Temple and find it defiled. Worse yet, there is only one sealed, undefiled cruse of oil left in the Temple – enough to keep the menorah burning for only one day. It will take days – eight days, to be exact – to send for more pure oil.
The Maccabees, God-fearing priests that they were, lit the menorah with that one cruse of oil and, lo and behold, the menorah burned for eight days. New oil arrived as the menorah was still burning on day eight, and thus the miracle of Hanukka is sealed in the memory of our nation forever – maybe.
Why maybe? Because it did not happen that way. Let's see why:
1. The oldest telling of the story of Hanukka is found in 2 Maccabees. It does not mention the "miracle of oil."
2. The text of the Al HaNisim prayer inserted in the Amida prayer for Hanukka does not mention the "miracle of oil."
3. Josephus, who was a priest and served in the Temple, recounts the battles that led to the liberation of Jerusalem and the Temple but does not mention the "miracle of oil." This is even more significant because Josephus was a member of the Perushim (Pharisees).
4. No other ancient records mention the "miracle of oil."
Why would this be? Let's try to answer that question by exploring the first known mention of the "miracle of oil," found in the Talmud, which began to be codified in about 400 C.E. – almost 600 years after the Maccabees triumph – and was not completed for many years after that.
The Talmud's version of the Story of Hanukka can be found in Shabbat 21b:
What is Hanukkah? Our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev [begin] the days of Hanukkah, which are eight, and on which mourning and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmoneans [Maccabees] defeated them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained enough [oil] for one day's lighting only; yet a miracle happened and they lit [the menorah from that single cruse of oil and it lasted for] for eight days. The following year these [days] were made a Festival including [the saying of] Hallel and thanksgiving.
So, 600 years after the event, the Talmud claims the miracle of Hanukka was the "miracle of oil" and the holiday of Hanukka was established for the following year, in part because of it.
Here is the story of Hanukka as told in 2 Maccabees, written by a Jew within a few years of the actual events:
10:1 Now Maccabeus and his company, the Lord guiding them, recovered the temple and the city:
10:2 But the altars which the heathen had built in the open street, and also the chapels, they pulled down.
10:3 And having cleansed the temple they made another altar, and striking stones they took fire out of them, and offered a sacrifice after two years, and set forth incense, and lights, and shewbread.
10:4 When that was done, they fell flat down, and besought the Lord that they might come no more into such troubles; but if they sinned any more against him, that he himself would chasten them with mercy, and that they might not be delivered unto the blasphemous and barbarous nations.
10:5 Now upon the same day that the strangers profaned the temple, on the very same day it was cleansed again, even the five and twentieth day of the same month, which is Casleu [Kislev].
10:6 And they kept the eight days with gladness, as in the feast of the tabernacles, remembering that not long afore they had held the feast of the tabernacles, when as they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts.
10:7 Therefore they bare branches, and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang psalms unto him that had given them good success in cleansing his place.
10:8 They ordained also by a common statute and decree, That every year those days should be kept of the whole nation of the Jews.
10:9 And this was the end of Antiochus, called Epiphanes.
No "miracle of oil." Eight days because of the Succot sacrifices (that went on for eight days) that were not able to be offered due to the Greeks.
 Accordingly Matthias, the son of Asamoneus, one of the priests who lived in a village called Modin, armed himself, together with his own family, which had five sons of his in it, and slew Bacchides with daggers; and thereupon, out of the fear of the many garrisons [of the enemy], he fled to the mountains; and so many of the people followed him, that he was encouraged to come down from the mountains, and to give battle to Antiochus's generals, when he beat them, and drove them out of Judea. So he came to the government by this his success, and became the prince of his own people by their own free consent, and then died, leaving the government to Judas, his eldest son.
 Now Judas, supposing that Antiochus would not lie still, gathered an army out of his own countrymen, and was the first that made a league of friendship with the Romans, and drove Epiphanes out of the country when he had made a second expedition into it, and this by giving him a great defeat there; and when he was warmed by this great success, he made an assault upon the garrison that was in the city, for it had not been cut off hitherto; so he ejected them out of the upper city, and drove the soldiers into the lower, which part of the city was called the Citadel. He then got the temple under his power, and cleansed the whole place, and walled it round about, and made new vessels for sacred ministrations, and brought them into the temple, because the former vessels had been profaned. He also built another altar, and began to offer the sacrifices; and when the city had already received its sacred constitution again, Antiochus died; whose son Antiochus succeeded him in the kingdom, and in his hatred to the Jews also.…
No "miracle of oil." Again, eight days because of the Succot sacrifices (that went on for eight days) that were not able to be offered due to the Greeks.
What happened? Why was a "miracle of oil" added to Hanukka?
The Pharisees fought with and suffered suffered from the Hasmonean kings, as the Hasmonean dynasty over time became Hellenized and the Sadducees, opponents of the rabbis, allied with the Hasmoneans.
The rabbinic dislike for the Maccabees can be summed up with the following question: How could a miracle have come through a family that would later become so evil?
Within 150 years two disasters would rock the Jewish world. The first, the Destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. after a war initially backed by many of the rabbis. The second took place 65 years after the Destruction when the Bar Kokhba revolt failed and with its defat came the deaths of tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of Jews. The chief backer of the revolt was Rabbi Akiva, the leader of Rabbinic Judaism who believed Bar Kokhba to me the messiah. This revolt failed, but the Maccabees, without rabbinic leadership, won their war and liberated the country.
Here we have rabbinic sanction for war and no miracle happens. Why? Were the rabbis less deserving of God's miracles than the Maccabees and their Sadducee allies?
Worse yet, the prayers for Hanukka, established long before Bar Kokhba, glorify the Maccabee's war and do not mention the oil, and the rabbis cannot simply remove or edit a text which was widely known throughout the Jewish world.
I believe the rabbinic response to this problem was to gradually push aside the victory of the Maccabees, which was the true miracle of Hanukka, and replace it with the "miracle of the oil." By the time the Talmud was codified, the "miracle of oil" had become the "normative" understanding of Hanukka.
Today the "miracle of oil" is well known, but the details of the Maccabees' fight against the Greeks is not.