The Festival of Purim
The Feast of Esther
By Robert Mock MD
On the fourteenth day of the Adar in the late winter (early March), is celebrated the Feast of Esther. This is an account of the Jewess Queen of Persia, who became victorious over the evil intentions of Haman, the chief Minister of the Persian emperor, Ahasuerus (Xerses), King (486-465 BC) the Medo-Persian Empire. It was Haman’s intentions to institute a vast imperial pogrom of genocide against all the Jews in the Medo-Persian empire.
The heroine of the story is a young Jewess, Hadassah (2:7) ‘myrtle’, who because of intra-court intrigue, resulted in the demotion of the Persian Queen, Vashti, to permanent exile in the King’s harem. This resulted in the selection of a new queen for the Emperor. Here we find the intriguing account of the royal selection process of queen-making, in which Hadassah, now called Esther, with her new Persian name, meaning ‘star’, used in order to hide her Jewish ancestry. (2:10) and wins the final lottery and selection of the highest official role of a woman in Persian politics.
Here is the story of how Hashem (G-d) uses the services of a courageous young girl, known for her surpassing beauty and enticing personality, to save “God’s chosen people”, at a time of threatened extermination. Here we see intense family loyalty, to her foster father, and genetic cousin, Mordecai, who raised her from infancy, when he challenged her with truth and urgency, “Who know whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” So, with a prayer to her God, with fasting by her seven handmaidens (2:10; 4:15) and three days of fasting by all the Jews in Sushan, Esther courageously risked her life, in seeking the direct audience of the Emperor without imperial invitation, in order to save her people all over the empire from death.
It was this Mordecai, who served initially in minor court offices (2:111,19,21-23; 3:2-5; 4:1,2,6; 5:13), and was eventually promoted to highest appointed office in the empire, as Prime Minister, the office of his adversary, Haman. (8:1,2; 7-10,15; 9:3,4,20,31; 10:3) Here we see a replay of the Life of Daniel, as Prime Minister in the Babylonian court of Nebuchadnezzar and later in the Persian court of Cyrus (539 BC), now in the courts of Xerses (486-465 BC)
For this reason, Mordecai, is a potential author of the book of Esther, for he would have had intimate knowledge and familiarity with the rules and customs of the Persian court and palace life. It is of interest that a cuneiform tablet, in the Berlin Museum, Prof A. Ungnad found a text which identifies a ranking state official by the name of Marduka (Babylonian transliteration of Mordecai), who, with the official title as sipir, served as an influential counselor at the court of Xerses in Shushan. Some also have identified Mordecai with Matacas (Natacas), identified by the Greek historian Ctesias as an influential minister of Xerses. (3BC 468)
Is it also a coincidence, that the two main characters, the hero and the heroine, bear the names of the chief Babylonian god and godess, Marduk (Mordecai) and Isthar (Esther) as a interplay of divine intention to demote the deities to the roles of mere humans under the sovereignty of God. (NKJV Preface to Esther)
Esther is the last of the twelve Historical Books of the OT. Written as a historical drama or a romantic short story, the details within the account give credence to its authenticity. How else could one image the palatial splendor of the citadel at Shushan, one of the three capitals of the Persian empire, shared with Ecbatana and Persepolis.
Here we read about the Great Feast of Ahasuerus (Xerses), hosted on the third year of the emperor’s reign, sometime between April 14, 483 and April 2, 482 BC. “The king made a feast lasting seven days for all the people who were present in Shushan the citadel, from great to small, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white and blue linen curtains fastened with cords of fine linen and purple on silver rods and marble pillars; and the couches were of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of alabaster, turquoise, and white and black marble. And they were served drinks in golden vessels, each vessel being different from the other, with royal wine in abundance.” (1:5-8) Here are word pictures which vividly capture the imagination of any playwright or movie mogul.
The historicity is captured by the genealogy of Mordecai. (2:5-6) (2:5-6) from 597 to 486 BC, or 118 years over three generations from Mordecai to Kish.
Mordecai, (adult at 486 BC)
The son of Jair,
The son of Shimei.
The son of Kish, a Benjamite, (adult at 597 BC), who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives who had been captured with Jeconiah king of Judah
The story begins in Jerusalem, 605 BC, with the fall of Judah to Nebuchadnezzar, in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim (Zeconiah), the capture of the king of Judah and the first of three deportations of captives, which included Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. (Dan 1:1-3)
The second deportation, 597 BC, occurred at the end of the three month reign of Jehoiachin, in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar (2 King 24:8-16) which included the captive, Ezekiel, (Eze 1:1-3; 33:21; 40:1) ) and Kish, the Benjamite. (Esther 2:6)
The third deportation, 586 BC, occurred in the 11th year of Zedekiah, the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar, which Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon was destroyed, with massive deportations of inhabitants to Babylon. (2 Kings 25:8-21)
Here we see the power, decay and fall of the golden Babylonian Empire of Nabopolassar.
Nebuchadnezzar II, son 605-562 BCE
Evil-Merdach (Amel-Marduk), son 562-560 BCE
Nergal-shar-usur (Neriglissar), son in law 560-556 BCE
Labashi-Marduk (Nabonidus) , son in law 556-539 BCE
Belshazzar (Coregent), son 552- October 13, 539 BCE
In the meantime, we also see the rise and dominance of the Medo-Persian Empire.
Cyaxares 628-588 BCE
Astyages 588-553 BCE
Cyrus (Ruler of Medes & Persians) 558/2-530 BCE
(Ruler of Babylon) 539-530 BCE
First Decree to Return to Israel (Ezra 5:13) 536 BCE
First Return to Jerusalem to rebuild Temple 537 BCE
50,000 Jews with Zerubbabel (Ezra 1:5,6; 3:1-10)
Cambyses 530-522 BCE
Bardiya (Smerdis) 522 BCE
Darius I (Hystaspes, the Great) 522-486 BCE
Confirmed original decree of Cyrus and issued his own to complete the
Zerubbabel Temple (Ezra 6:1,15) 515 BCE
Persian Army defeated by Athenians at Marathon 490 BCE
Xerses (Ahasuerus) 486-465 BC
The Great Feast (1:3) April 14, 483-Apr 2, 482 BC
Command to ‘gather together all the fair young virgins’ 482/481 BC
Xerses’ forces defeated in Greece at Salamis 480 BC
General Mardonius defeated at Plataea 479 BC
Persians leave Europe permanently 479 BC
Esther summoned (2:12) Jan 1, 479 – Jan 30, 479 BC
Esther made queen (2:16) Dec 22, 479 – Jan 19, 479 BC
Haman casts lots in the twelfth year (3:7) April 5, 474 – May 3, 474 BC
Haman’s decree (3:12) April 17, 474 BC
Mordecai’s decree (8:9) June 25, 474 BC
Purim (3:13, 8:12; 9:1,17-19) March 6, 473 BC
Assassination of Ahasuerus eight years later by courtier, Artabanus.
Artaxerxes I 465-423 BC
Second Return to Jerusalem under Ezra 458 BC
Third Return to Jerusalem under Nehemiah 444 BC
Darius II 423-405/4 BC
Artaxerxes II 405/4-359/8 BC
The story of Esther comes to life, when put in context of the geo-political events in European and Persian politics. Xerses (Ahasuerus) came to the kingship on the heels of his famous father, Darius, the Great, who in spite of his greatness, suffered one of the biggest military defeats in history by the meager forces of the Athenians. Darius retreated to Persia and was making preparations to return with a bigger force to Greece when he died in 486 BC.
Ahasuerus, living in his father’s reputation, rebuilt the military forces and prepared to return to reclaim the honor of his father, Darius. Herein lies the occasion for the Great Feast in the Citadel of Shushan, in the garden in the court of the Palace. Herodotus, mentions this splendid occasion as occurring in 483 BC. In the presence of all the satraps from the 127 provinces (satrapies), the king was celebrating the onset of the great march to reclaim the military hegemony over the European continent.
While the King was hosting all the dignitaries and military leadership, the Queen, Vashti, was hosting all the visiting wives and consorts of the guests. The only wife on record for Xerxes (Ahasuerus) known to the Greeks was Amestris. Herodotus and Ctesias make special mention of her cruelty and amoral behavior. In a drunken stupor, Ahasuerus wanted to parade his Queen before all the men in the court, which she promptly refused. The reason for her refusal is not certain, but the Jewish Targums suggest that to parade before the drunken stares of officials of the kingdom was not the role of the first lady of the empire. For her to appear as the ‘first lady’ is suggested that she was to appear with the ‘royal crown’ (1:11)
In Persian culture, it was good taste for the Empress to appear at banquets with the Emperor. Such was the case later when Esther dined with the king in the presence of his prime minister, Haman. (5:4) In the drunken feast of the Chaldean king, Belshazzar, the wives and concubines were present with their husbands. (Dan. 5:2) Herodotus, a contemporary of Ahasuerus, makes mention of Amestris (Vashti?) being present at the king’s birthday feast. (Herodutus ix.110)
Yet, in a world of the absolute power of the male, the public rejection of Ahasuerus, the king, by the Queen, meant swift demotion of her to the confines of the royal harem with no royal prerogatives. Whereas under Persian law, she could not be killed, her isolation from public life was equally severe.
During the time when the military forces were engaged in battle at Salamis, the search began for a new queen. Under the guardianship of Hegai, the eunoch, the custodian of the women, the ‘virgins’ underwent a twelve-month ritual of purification in preparation to meet the King, who was regarded as semi-divine. This preparatory time was probably not unlike modern day pageant with classes in protocol, court ritual, makeup and dressing techniques, skin and hair conditioning. These included ‘six months of oil of myrrh and six months of perfumes and preparations for beautifying women. (2:12)
When Ahasuerus returned from his military engagement where he was defeated at the Battle of Salamis (480 BC), he no longer desired to achieve military expansion, but chose to involve himself in the affairs of the state. The first order of business was to make a final choice of a Queen, and the story of Queen Esther begins.
It must be noted, the Persian concept of imperial domination was different than the prior empires of Assyrians and Babylonians. The former Babylonians pursued a policy of deporting the populations in the conquering areas and relocating aliens within their lands. There were two main reasons for this: to destroy patriotic resistance movements, and produce a homogeneous population throughout the empire by intermingling different customs and cultures.
The Persians on the other hand, actually encouraged the various cultures to keep their own customs, language and religions as long as they would remain loyal to the Persian empire and not insist that their ways were exclusively right. Such a society of inclusiveness, the Jewish people still engendered significant hostility. Did they not believe that their religion was not one of many, but the only one, and their God was not one of many deities, but He was the only One.
The Story of Esther gives us insight into the Jewish cultural identity, and how at times it was important to hide that identity. At times official ignorance was used to allow subjects to preserve social harmony. Unless you were told specifically, it was best that you did not know. Yet, where is the difference between hiding one’s identity and losing that identity altogether. The Jewish people entered Babylonian captivity as a nation. It is here that their Jewish identity disappears and goes underground, to fully reappear in the Persian empire not as a nationalistic people, but as a race and a church. In this milieu, we find the Book of Esther becomes distinctive.
Esther, within the story, is fully a Persian, whose life is surrounded by the mores and culture of Persian life. In other words, she lives a life without any cultural identity to the people and the religious life, which she believed. Traditions suggest that within the court Esther was a vegetarian, in the same manner that Daniel and the three, Hananiah, Michael, and Azariah lived in the Babylonian court life. Also, we would have to look at the sexual morality in the life of Esther, living within a harem of an Eastern potentate.
The villain in the story is Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, who was promoted to the role of viceroy or prime minister. Here again in the ongoing tension between the descendants of Esau, as the arch rivals of the Hebrews, through the Amalekites, from whom Agag was a descendant. (1 Samuel 15:8) in the 16th generation. (Targum Sheni, Josephus Antiquities xi.6.5)
The theme of the persistent rivalry of Amalek as the destructive force against the Israelites is once again played out in the story of Esther. What is of interest is that the Israel-Amalek conflict is so deep that one of the opponents must always be destroyed.
This is portrayed in Biblical history with the Long Day of Joshua when Moses’ hands was raised and caused the earth to stand still and allow the Amalekites to be destroyed, more by agencies of God than by man. Also the Amalekites would remain, because Saul disobeyed the voice of the Lord to kill every man, woman and child and destroy the race forever.
Revenge takes plenty of twists, and now Haman is seeking to return the favor. Because of petty pride when he does not receive the type of courtier respect he felt he deserved by a public official, Mordecai, who worked at the gate of the citadel, Haman decides that revenge is not just personal but on a greater magnitude, involving a whole race. We see this ‘type’ repeated in the Holocaust in our modern generation.
To sacrifice an entire race upon the whims of one person in not uncommon in ancient history. In a world where human life has little value, we see personal and petty whims causing wholesale destruction in human life. Darius I, the Great, the father of Ahasuerus (Xerxes) had massacred the entire class of Magi a few years earlier. Half a century prior, there was a general massacre of the Scythians in the North Lands.
To propose genocide to the king is one thing, to accompany that proposal with a bribe is another. (3:9) Ten thousand talents based on the understanding of the Babylonian talent suggests that this bribe is in the magnitude of $6,349,100 (1950 dollars) Even Herodotus mentions, that Xerxes (Ahasuerus) had declined such a offer from one of his subjects. To a king who had just returned to a depleted royal treasury, from a severe military defeat in the Battle of Salamis, such an offer would be tempting. Though the king declined, Haman made his point and gained personal access to the king’s signet ring, or rather the royal cylinder, like the one of Darius’, which is in the British Museum. (3BC 473) In any way, with the royal seal, Haman now had the full authority of the emperor and his word was equal to that of the king’s.
In a world of plurality and tolerance, the acceptance by the world is assured unless one chooses to be different. That difference may be either too good or too bad. Even if we are too good, being different will eventually trigger animosity and hatred. Such as been the causation of anti-semitism throughout the ages.
For Esther to remain silent, is commendable throughout the first five years of her being queen. Yet, there comes a time when we are called to testify and become transparent before the world. So this was Esther’s time. God put people in places to be agents of his deliverance, yet sometimes He has to act outside the assistance of a willing human agent. It was this idea that triggered Mordecai to say, “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from anther place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who know whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14)
Yet for those with eyes that can see, and ears that can hear, the hand of God working with his people is unmistakable. Everywhere in the book, the providence of God stands supreme. “Esther “happens” to be chosen queen; Mordecai “happens” to be in a position to thwart a palace coup and to get his name recorded in the king’s chronicles; the king “happens” to be unable to sleep, so as to call for the chronicles to be read to him; it “happens” that the account of Mordecai’s actions should be read at that time. The book seems to say that none of this is happenstance. Even when God is silent, He is at work to keep His covenant promises with Abraham’s descendents.” (NKJV Preface to Esther, 694)
The Book of Esther stands unique in all the books of the Old Testament. It was never quoted from in the New Testament and no fragments of it were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s lack of religious overtones is noted by scholars including there is no mentions of the covenant and the Torah. Yet, in the Bible, whose central theme is about the revelation of God, God is revealed in its non-transparent form, as it is hidden in the heart. The people of Esther are in many ways reflective of the End Time “people of God”, who, though sealed by God (6th Seal), they yet remain hidden and dispersed throughout the whole world. The ‘remnant’ will be those known only to God. The remnant church, as an institutional hierarchy will no longer exist.
What if Esther did not exist, or she did not respond to the calling of God and be willing to give up her life for her people. Within eight years, Ahasuerus was assassinated by a courtier, Artabanus. No doubt, Ezra, the lawyer and scribe, was alive at the time of Esther. Fifteen years later, under the rule of Artaxerxes I, Ezra leads the second group of Jews back to the Holy Land in 458 BC. Was Artaxerxes I, the son of Esther and Ahasueras (Xerxes I)? Without Esther, would Ezra have been killed in the genecide? Without Ezra, would the compilation of the Tanach, the Old Testament, been completed? Without Esther, would Nehemiah, the governor, have been killed? Would the third migration back to Israel have never occurred? Maybe there would not have been enough Jews to migrate back to the Land.
Was Esther important to the redemption of God’s chosen people? Without Esther, we would not have a clear picture of how the hand of God works in a pluralistic, segregated and subjugated society as will exist in the End Times. Also it shows how God exalts a people, who humble themselves in fasting and in prayer, over the demonic forces, which oppress them. Is Esther a book of prophecy? In these End Days, we may still see further revelations from God as type meets anti-type.
New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publ. Preface to the Book of Esther,Nashville, Tn.
Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol3 (3BC) Review and Herald Publ., 1954.
Wylen, Stephen, The Book of the Jewish Year, UAHC Press, New York, NY, 1996..
By ben Josef
The mystic sages say that the very SECRETS OF REDEMPTION are found in the Megillah of Esther. It is an extremely deep book. Here are some of my notes from my more MYSTICAL impressions of what is going on based on my personal readings and study
The big question the story of Purim left in my mind the first time I read it, was "What happened to Mordecai?" Why is he not mentioned elsewhere. Turns out that he is!! I recently found this in Mishna Sh'kalim 5 where it says he became an officer in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) when it was rebuilt and he was in charge of overseeing the "bird" offerings. His name was changed to P'sakia, because he P'SAK could "open up" the understanding of WORDS. The P'siska Niddah says the bird offerings are the most difficult job in the Temple.
One of the mystic sages wrote that Mordecai is also mystically hidden in the Torah in the reference to one of the types of incense!!! "Pure myrh" is literally in ARAMAIC "MOR DACHAI".
The mystic sages (an interpretation of Pirke Avot in 6:6) say that when one repeats something in someone's name (they properly attribute it and don't plagiarize it), they are helping to bring on the redemption. You see several references to this concept in the Megillah but notably in Esther 2:22-23 and 6:1-5. I've heard this concept related to the exile. When something is NOT in its proper place, that is EXILE. When a statement is properly attributed, that is REDEMPTION.
The mystic sages wrote that when someone is making the "pure myrh" for the Temple that someone else should be chanting in the background, "Grind throughly, thoroughly grind" over and over and over. This is because it is a reference to MORDECAI who oversees the bird offerings since birds are known to chitter and chirp incessantly. (By contrast, the mystic sages wrote that when making wine one should be silent). But apparently SOUND enhances the incense somehow.
In the moral character play, Haman represents SILENCE. He tries to forbid a woman from speaking anything except that which her husband speaks and wants to silence the prayers (symbolized by incense -- Mor Decai -- of the Jews.
Viewed in this context you can see that the TIKKUN (rectification) effected by Hashem via Mordecai through the SILENCE of Haman about Mordecai's deserved praise for revealing a plot against the King which was never rewarded is all about LASHAN HARA. There is a form of Lashan Hara that relates to SILENCE when one deserves PRAISE. It is synonymous with the EVIL TONGUE.
The mystic sages write that every exile of Israel is rooted somehow in LASHAN HARA, which is why a bird offering is chosen as an atonement for the tza'arat affliction (called leprousy) because BIRDS chirp and chatter incessantly like gossipers and slanderers. In other words, when one is in exile, he is considered like a "leper."
This is why Egypt is MITZRAYIM (from the Hebrew word METZORAH or the word that describes someone with the tza'arat affliction). It is also why Israel was exiled to MITZRAYIM -- middah k'negged middah and testifies to the disunity between Joseph and his brothers who sold him, especially Judah. Pharoah, as I believe I explained earlier means PEH (mouth) RA'AH (of evil).
Purim is mystically a picture of the redemption when the families of Israel prepare for the messianic kingdom through an ENHANCED AWARENESS of Lashan Hara. In fact, the mystic sages say that such awareness accompanies EVERY redemption. Here is a profound example from the Torah.
When Moshe fled Egypt after killing the Egyptian taskmaster it was because he understood that the MATTER WAS KNOWN. In other words someone among the children of Israel tattled on him to Pharoah. He knew that Israel was a nation of people who practiced lashan hara. The
matter (why they were exiled) was KNOWN to him. Before he agrees to return and be Hashem's instrument of redemption, he first is shown a sign by Hashem. His hand becomes LEPROUS -- the punishment for lashan hara but when he puts it in his bosom and takes it out again, it is WHOLE. The mystic sages say that by this sign, Moshe now KNOWS that the children of Israel -- gripers and complainers though they may be -- no longer practice LASHAN HARA. This is profound because it testifies to the fact that JOES and JEWS
can only live together again when the tendency to slander and gossip is GONE!! And it is also a MAJOR factor in bringing on the redemption.
As a doctor, you'll be interested in this, Bob, but Rav Schneider pointed out to me that the fetus is joined at the mouth and penis before the two organs are separated. This means that the MOUTH (the organ of speech) is connected to the Brit Milah or covenant of circumcision!
The mystics understand Mordecai's involvement in the story as affecting the TIKKUN to remove the Jews from the impurity of Haman's lashan hara so that the later redemption could take place.
Shalom Shalom & Hashem's love & blessings,