In a previous post we saw the "miracle of oil" did not happen. Another piece of information that sheds light on a possible reason for invention of the "miracle" has been brough to my attention by DovBear, who, after listing the reasons mentioned earlier, notes:
… The Mishnah has some brief references to the rules for Chanuka , indicating that by the end of the second century C.E. there was already a custom of kindling lights at the darkest period of the year. This was a custom that may have been imported from the northern latitudes during Roman rule -- perhaps in imitation of the Roman Saturnalia observances. Sometime between then and the completion of Gemara, the celebration of lights assumed greater significance and, just as today we elevate the observance of Chanuka in order to offset the influence of Christmas, the rabbis of the Talmud may have built up the idea of a miracle connected with lights, to show Jews that we had our own basis for a solstice observance.
This contention of DovBear's is strengthened (as noted by Doobeedoo, a commenter there) by the following Gemara:
Since Adam HaRishon saw [after he sinned] that the day was becoming shorter, he said, "Woe is to me! Perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark on me and returning to emptiness, and this is the death that was decreed upon me from Heaven." He immediately sat and fasted eight days. When he saw the winter solstice, and saw that the day was lengthening, he said, "It is the nature of the world." He went and celebrated eight days. The following year he made both these [the eight days of fast] and these [the eight days of celebration] as holidays. He established them for the sake of Heaven, whereas they [the heathens] established them for idolatry. (Avoda Zara 8a)
In other words, to justify a pagan practice that had become widespread in the Jewish world, the rabbis invented a miracle story to "kasher" the practice. The careful student of Christmas should find much familiar in this.
As an addendum to my previous post on this issue, let me add three more early rabbinic references to Hanukka that do not mention a "miracle of oil" (also via DovBear):
"[At Hanukah] we commemorate the dedication of the Temple by the Hasmoneans who fought and defeated the Hellenists, and we kindle lights -- just as when [we] finished the Tabernacle in the Wilderness . . . ." (Pesikta Rabbati, ch. 6)
"Why do we kindle lights on Hanukah? Because when the sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priest, defeated the Hellenists, they entered the Temple and found there eight iron spears. They stuck candles on them and lit them." (Pesikta Rabbati ch. 2)
"Why did the rabbis make Hanukah eight days? Because . . . the Hasmoneans entered the Temple and erected the altar and whitewashed it and repaired all of the ritual utensils. They were kept busy for eight days. And why do we light candles? Because . . . when the Hasmoneans entered the Temple there were eight iron spears in their hands. They covered them with wood and lit candles on them. They did this each of the 8 days." (Megilat Ta'anit ch. 9)
So what does this do to our "unaltered" tradition? DovBear will disagree, but it seems perfectly clear that rabbinic tradition is only as good as it is honest. The minute it becomes clear that somewhere down the line rabbis, to put it kindly, messed with the truth, the whole basis for believing anything they said goes out the window. (And, if the behavior of today's 'gedolim' is any indication, the "miracle of oil" is not the only thing in our tradition that is false.)
That is why lying is such a bad thing. It destroys trust, and, without trust, there is no tradition.