The Maccabees’ Victory Feast

Photo by Triggerhippie4

Judah Maccabee coin.

Two thousand years ago, a group of Judean rebels called the Maccabees waged a guerrilla war against the Seleucid Empire. This war was sparked by a decree issued by King Antiochus that forbade Jewish religious practice. Hanukkah is the celebration of the Maccabees’ military victory. “Hanukkah” means “dedication,” in honor of the purification and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Maccabees celebrated the rededication with a victory feast.

The Maccabean Revolt lasted seven years. During that time, the men neglected their crops and herds. In Ancient Israel, meat was only served on special occasions. The rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem was the type of ceremony that merited a savory meat stew. Since their flocks were lean, the Maccabees probably caught wild deer for this gathering.

Photo by Fae https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:F%C3%A6

Cuneiform tablet with oldest recorded recipe for venison stew

Here is the oldest recorded recipe for venison stew, imprinted on a clay tablet from the time of King Hammurabi (1700 BCE). It is a recipe from Babylonia, written in Akkadian. This recipe predates the Maccabees by 1,500 years, yet meat was still prepared in this manner during their time. The stew was served with flat-bread, wine, and pressed, dried fig cake for dessert.

Babylonian Venison Stew

Adapted from The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia by Jean Bottero

For the marinade:

  • 3 1/2 lbs. venison stew meat
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 bay leaves

For the stew:
Photo by Diego y tal https://www.flickr.com/people/68902784@N00

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 leeks, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup marinade (recipe above)
  • Sea salt
  1. Place the venison and all the ingredients for the marinade in a large glass bowl.
  2. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 265°F.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven.
  5. Mix in the cumin, coriander, onions, garlic, and leeks.
  6. Remove the venison from the marinade and add it to the pot.
  7. Once the meat is browned, add the stock and marinating liquid.
  8. Bring to a boil.
  9. Cover the pot and place in the oven.
  10. Bake the stew for 90 minutes.