ESTHER, THE QUEEN OF PURIM

 

A Talmudic Tale of Terror and Treachery

 

By Dr. Harrell Rhome

 

With the exception of illustrations, this material is Copyright ©2009 All Rights Reserved.   

 

Published on Purim, 14 Adar 5768 (09-10 March 2009).

 

          The curious Book of Esther, one of only two in the Bible not mentioning God, may have been composed BCE485-464 during the reign of King Ahasueris, roughly concurrent with the reign of Xerxes I in Persia.  The names certainly are similar.  Many scholars dispute its provenance and authenticity of Esther.  Only the first part is found in the Greek Septuagint scriptures, and it is the only book of the Tennakh not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Because of discrepancies in Hebrew texts, St. Jerome divided it into the older and newer parts when he organized his Latin Vulgate Bible in the late fourth century CE.  Notably, the first time the word Jew (Judean) is used in the Bible, rather than Hebrew or Israelite, is in Esther.  Set in Persia, the story incorporates key elements of Persian paganism.  Fertility rites always occur in spring, and so does Purim.  This is set on 14 Adar.  Because the Hebrew calendar is lunar, this falls in March.  Not to digress, but demonstrating the strong Judeo-Persian cultural confluence, the names of the Hebrew months are Babylonian.  Purim may be a Judaized recreation of an ancient springtime gala celebrating the victories of the gods Marduk and Ishtar over rival deities.  This and other Near Eastern pagan themes made pretty good background material for concocting this very Jewish, very Talmudic fairytale.

Esther reads more like an adventure romance novelette than a book of scripture.  Its sole purpose was to establish Purim, a holiday when the ancient Jews ruthlessly struck back against their former oppressors.  In Hebrew, Purim means lots, named after the lottery Haman used to choose the day for the massacre.  The Persian word is Pur.  On this day, the Talmud gives permission, even encouragement, to getting drunk, cursing, reviling and spitting on Christians.  To begin Purim, the entire book, called the Megillah (simply means scroll in Hebrew), is read in the synagogue.  Hence the Jewish expression, “the whole Megillah”, is like saying “the whole nine yards”, meaning the entirety of something.  Free Dictionary Online appropriately adds “tediously detailed or highly embroidered account”.   The services are held in the evening, after the beginning of the new Jewish day and commemorating Esther’s deadly after-dark dinner party.  Jewish women are rabbinically required to attend.  In older times, and where it was tolerated, as in the ghettoes and shetls, loud boisterous street parties went on for much of the night with dancing, singing and drunken carousing, concluding with the burning of Haman in effigy.  The Talmud Bavli tell us more.

"All are obligated in the reading of the Megillah" Orakh Chayim 689.

"Rava said: It is the duty of a man to get drunk with wine on Purim until he cannot tell the difference between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordechai". Rabbah and Rabbi Zera joined together in a Purim feast. They became drunk and Rabbah arose and cut Rabbi Zera's throat. On the next day he prayed on his behalf and revived him. Next year, he [Rabbah] said "Will your honor come and we will have the Purim feast together?" He [Rabbi Zera] answered: A miracle does not take place on every occasion!”   Megillah 7b.

 

"The Jew is to say on Purim Day:  ... cursed be all non-Jews, blessed be all Jews." Orach Chaim, 660, 16.
 

Always called the Megillah (and ranked right alongside the Torah) by the Jews, Esther is the name given by Christian translators.  The outcome of this rabbinical creative writing project was edited and reworked over the centuries.  Since it does not appear in the late fourth century BCE Septuagint, and since St. Jerome worked with confusing manuscripts in the late fourth century CE, we see a time frame when the Judeo-Babylonian Talmudists put the final touches on the Megillah.  While his German-language Bible has the Book of Esther, translator and theologian Martin Luther was very critical of it, saying that even the Hebrew text was of little value.  We suppose he was unwilling to bowdlerize the already existing Judaic Masoretic, Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate versions of the Old Testament, so he included it.        

“They are real liars and bloodhounds who have not only continually perverted and falsified all of Scripture with their mendacious glosses from the beginning until the present day. Their heart's most ardent sighing and yearning and hoping is set on the day on which they can deal with us Gentiles as they did with the Gentiles in Persia at the time of Esther. Oh, how fond they are of the book of Esther, which is so beautifully attuned to their bloodthirsty, vengeful, murderous yearning and hope. The sun has never shone on a more bloodthirsty and vengeful people than they are who imagine that they are God's people who have been commissioned and commanded to murder and to slay the Gentiles.”  Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies (Der Juden und Ihre Lugen), 1543.
 

                                        

Esther entertains King Ahasueris.

 


 

          The story goes like this.  Our leading lady joins King Ahasueris’ harem.  She keeps her Hebrew origins a secret, yet one of the Jews, our male protagonist, Mordecai, her cousin, is a prominent man in the government.  Mordecai, a dedicated friend of his Jewish people, has a sworn enemy, a classically anti-Semitic, heavily embellished theatrical wicked villain called Haman.  While his motive is unclear, Haman hates the Jews and does everything he can to harm them.  The plot thickens.  He eventually persuades the King to sign a decree of extermination, a holocaust of ancient times.  By this time in the story, our heroine is called Queen Esther, having progressed from mere oriental harem prostitute to the position of chief wife. 

To make a rather predictable tale less tedious, she intercedes with her charms, but there is good and bad news.  The good news is (surprise, surprise) the King grants the comely concubine’s request.  The bad news is that back in these olden days, once the King sends out a decree with his seal attached, it supposedly cannot be rescinded.  This does not really make much sense as it seems an all-powerful sovereign could do as he pleased and change his mind, but the story line is not so simple.  Instead, the King intervenes personally, providing shelter and protection in his palace.  Thus he and Queen Esther stop the Persian pogrom and extermination of the Jews, planned by Hitler – oops, I mean Haman! –   the wicked anti-Semite.  Haman is hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai.   

   Since the death threat is over, the Jews rejoice with feasts and merriment.  Along with these festivities, they set about causing the demise of their enemies.  Mind you, the original threat is over.  This killing spree on the first Purim sprang solely from cold-blooded revenge.  First, Esther has the King invite Haman to an evening state dinner, where they will unexpectedly attack him when he is off guard.  As we would expect, this femme fatale character is seen by Talmudic Jews and Zionists as a brave and valorous woman, and today’s Christians perpetuate the lurid legends through studies about women in the Bible.  Not only that, the Hebrew Harlot is a main character in the traditions of the women’s Masonic Order of the Eastern Star.  Mind you, these folk are supposed to be reading and studying the Bible, but we must ask ourselves if they’re actually reading the texts of the tale!  Or maybe they’re just too embarrassed to point out that “the empress has no clothes”!  Read what the Bible tells us about the brutal, bloody events following Esther’s cowardly conspiracy to slay Haman, the adversary and would-be exterminator of the Jews.


 

[Begin quoting.] 

The King Ahasueris said to Queen Esther, ‘Who is he that would presume to do this [that is, to kill all the Jews]?’  And Esther said, ‘A foe and an enemy!  This wicked Haman!’  Then Haman was in terror before the king and queen ... for he saw that evil was determined against him by the king.  So they hanged Haman on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai.

The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor.  And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews for the feat of the Jews had fallen upon them.

[The Jews prepare for their revenge.]  ... a day when the Jews should get the mastery over their foes, and the Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasueris to lay hands on such as sought their hurt.  And they could make no stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen upon all peoples....  So the Jews smote all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering and destroying them, and they did as they pleased to those who had hated them.  In Susa the capitol itself the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men ... and the ten sons of Haman....  Now the other Jews who were in the King’s provinces also gathered together ... and got relief from their enemies, and slew 75,000 of those who hated them.  ...and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness. 

[End quoting.]  Selected verses, Esther: 5, 6, 7, 8,  9. 

 

“Again, the history and traditions, the faith and practice of the Jew ever placed before his eyes the absolute and immeasurable superiority of his own caste, the ‘Peculiar People, the Kingdom of Priests, and the Holy Nation.’  This exaltation justified the Hebrew in treating his brother-men as heathens barely worthy of the title human.  ‘Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations’ -- an unfriendly separation and an estrangement between man and man equally injurious to the welfare of Jew and Gentile.  …  Their virtues are their own, but their faults are the fruit of eighteen centuries of outlawry and oppression.”  Sir Richard F. Burton, The Jew, The Gypsy And El Islam, 1898.   
 

Both Esther and several passages from the Talmud Bavli affirm endorse and sanction tribal blood lust and ethnic cleansing.  Want a precedent for arrogant Zionist actions of vengeance against the Palestinian people?  Look no further than this Talmudic tale of terror.  It really makes no difference whether Esther is authentic or not.  When we apply the tools of literary deconstructionism and biblical Hermeneutics, critically dissecting both the Biblical and the Talmudic texts, certain ancient atavistic archetypes of blood lust and deep-seated vengeance clearly come to light.  And not just in bygone eras, but before us in today’s news.  In some ways, little has changed since the days of the Purim concubine queen.  The Talmud says the story never ends.

 

“All the books of the Prophets and all the Writings will be annulled in the days of the Messiah, except for the Book of Esther. It will continue to be binding like the Five Books of Moses and the entire Oral Law which will never be invalidated. Even though all memory of our suffering will be erased... still the days of Purim will not be annulled.  As it is written, ‘These days of Purim will not pass away from the Jews and its memory will never leave their descendants.’ (Esther 9:25).”  Rambam in Hilkhot Megilah 2:18.

 

# # #

 

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