Jewish Crypticism in the Book of Esther and the Holiday of Purim

BOOK OF ESTHER

The book of Esther is another story of Jewish infiltration and crypticism. It is one of two books of the Hebrew Bible where “God” is not mentioned. In Esther the Jews believe that the Gentiles are going to completely annihilate them and their solution to their survival is to infiltrate the leadership of the host. Unlike the story of Joseph in Genesis, Esther is not concerned about bringing down the leaders and their country. Neither are they concerned with plundering the goods of the host. Esther is concerned about the survival of their people and revenge against their perceived enemies. The Jews infiltrate the Gentile leaders, preferably the leaders of a large empire, by charming them and doing favors for them (2:9 6:2) and using the leaders to punish the enemies of the Jews. The Jewish holiday of Purim comes from the book of Esther.

The Story

In the beginning of Esther, King Xerxes rules from Susa. (He was an actual historical figure who ruled the giant Achaemenid empire from 486 to 465 BC. The empire was based in present day Iran). The king becomes furious when Queen Vashti disobeys his commands (1:12). His attendants propose to him a replacement for the Queen (2:2 to 2:4). Their search landed Esther, a Jew who was the cousin of Mordecai from the tribe of Benjamin. Mordecai had been her caretaker (2:7). Esther was beautiful and charming and immediately won the favor of the king and became the new queen (2:17). She did not reveal her background to him.

2:20 But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.

Two of the king’s officers, Bigthana and Teresh, who guarded the doorway becomes angry (Reason is not too clear. Perhaps because they knew Esther was a Jew.) and plotted to kill the king (2:21). Mordecai who overheard the conversation reported this to Esther who in turn reported this to the king (2:22). The two officers were hanged.

In chapter 3, the king honors Haman as his highest noble (3:1). At the king’s gate, Haman becomes insulted when all officials, except Mordecai, bowed down to him (3:2) in respect for the honor the king bestowed on him. Haman wanted Mordecai killed but upon realizing that Mordecai was a despicable Jew, he wanted all people of his background killed as well.

3:6 Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.

In regard to the Jews, Haman pleaded his case to the king and asked for money so he could finance the mission (3:9). The king gives permission for Haman to do what he wanted (3:10). Haman then issues an edict with the king’s signature to destroy all the Jews.

3:13 Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews — young and old, women and little children — on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.

Mordecai, who was not allowed to approach the king beyond the gate, was in distress upon hearing the Edict and told Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to her, what had just happened (4:7). Esther then found out (4:9) and arranged to have a banquet with Haman and the king (5:4). Haman continued to be enraged by Mordecai’s behavior towards him (5:9) and arranged a gallow to hang him on (5:14).

From the record the king found out that it was Mordecai who warned him that the two officers had plotted to kill the king (6:1,2). Because of this, the king wanted to honor Mordecai (6:3). This upset Haman greatly as he was about to discuss with the king about killing Mordecai (6:4-6).

At the banquet, Esther tells the king about Haman and him wanting the Jews destroyed (7:1-6). (By saying this she also revealed that she was a Jew).

7:3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favour with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life — this is my petition. And spare my people — this is my request.

7:4 For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”

The king was furious at Haman and had him hung on the same device that Haman had planned on hanging Mordecai (7:10).

The king grants Esther many wishes for what she and Mordecai had done for him, including revenge against the enemies of the Jews. The king gives the estate of Haman to her (8:1). Esther then appoints Mordecai the head of the estate (8:2). The king reverses the Edict (8:3,5) and grants Jews the right to protect themselves and to destroy anyone who causes harm to them.

8:11 The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and to plunder the property of their enemies.

Because of this the fear of the Jews became so great that Gentiles became Jews or essentially Crypto-Gentiles.

8:17 In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.

The Jewish holiday of Purim comes from the book of Esther and is that of avenging against those that hate them.

9:1 On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, the edict commanded by the king was to be carried out. On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them.

9:2 The Jews assembled in their cities in all the provinces of King Xerxes to attack those seeking their destruction. No-one could stand against them, because the people of all the other nationalities were afraid of them.

9:3 And all the nobles of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and the king’s administrators helped the Jews, because fear of Mordecai had seized them.

9:4 Mordecai was prominent in the palace; his reputation spread throughout the provinces, and he became more and more powerful.

9:5 The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them.

9:6-11 In the citadel of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. They also killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai and Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. But they did not lay their hands on the plunder. The number of those slain in the citadel of Susa was reported to the king that same day.

9:12 The king said to Queen Esther, “The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men and the ten sons of Haman in the citadel of Susa. What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? It will also be granted.”

9:13 “If it pleases the king,” Esther answered, “give the Jews in Susa permission to carry out this day’s edict tomorrow also, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged on gallows.”

9:14 So the king commanded that this be done. An edict was issued in Susa, and they hanged the ten sons of Haman.

9:15 The Jews in Susa came together on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, and they put to death in Susa three hundred men, but they did not lay their hands on the plunder.

9:16 Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them but did not lay their hands on the plunder.

9:17 This happened on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.

9:18 The Jews in Susa, however, had assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth, and then on the fifteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.

9:19 That is why rural Jews — those living in villages — observe the fourteenth of the month of Adar as a day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other.

9:20-23 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote to them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor. So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them.

9:24 For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction.

9:25 But when the plot came to the king’s attention, he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back on to his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.

9:26,27 (Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur.) Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them, the Jews took it upon themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed.

9:28 These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never cease to be celebrated by the Jews, nor should the memory of them die out among their descendants.

Summary

The book of Esther is the story of the Jews’ need to infiltrate leaders because of their belief that everyone is out to get them and that they must get their enemies before they get them.

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