My 4th consecutive day of blogging! That’s gotta be a record. Anyway, today (for me) is the first day of the two-day Feast of Purim. You can see my schedule in my post Feast Calendar. I explain my calendar in my post Yom Teruah – The Feast of Trumpets.
The origin of Purim is described in the Book of Esther. Rather than trying to describe it myself (I suck at that), I’ll let Wikipedia describe it (in the article Mordecai):
Mordecai resided in Susa (Shushan or Shoushan), the metropolis of Persia (now Iran). He adopted his orphaned cousin (Esther 2:7), Hadassah (Esther), whom he brought up as if she were his own daughter. When “young virgins” were sought, she was taken into the presence of King Ahasuerus and was made queen in the place of the exiled queen Vashti. Subsequently, Mordecai discovered a plot of the king’s chamberlains Bigthan and Teresh to assassinate the king. Because of Mordecai’s vigilance, the plot was foiled.
Haman the Agagite had been raised to the highest position at court. In spite of the king’s decree that all should prostrate themselves before Haman, Mordecai refused to do so. Haman, stung by Mordecai’s refusal, resolved to kill not only Mordecai but all Jewish exiles throughout the Persian empire, and won the king’s permission to carry out his plan. Mordecai communicated Haman’s scheme to Queen Esther, who used her favor with the king to reverse the scheme, leading the king to authorize Jews to kill their enemies, which they did.
During all this, the king had happened to remember Mordecai’s service in foiling the assassination plot, and had asked Haman how a person who did a great service to the king should be honored. Haman answered, thinking the question was about him; and the king followed this advice, and honored Mordecai, and eventually made Mordecai his chief advisor. Haman was executed on gallows he had erected for Mordecai.
Purim was ordained to occur on the 14th and 15th days of the month:
Now on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is Adar, the decree written by the king arrived. 2 On that same day the enemies of the Jews perished; no one resisted, because they feared them. 3 The chief provincial governors, the princes, and the royal secretaries were paying honor to the Jews, because fear of Mordecai weighed upon them. 4 The king’s decree required that Mordecai’s name be held in honor throughout the kingdom. 6 Now in the city of Susa the Jews killed five hundred people, 7 including Pharsannestain, Delphon, Phasga, 8 Pharadatha, Barea, Sarbacha, 9 Marmasima, Aruphaeus, Arsaeus, Zabutheus, 10 the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the Bougean, the enemy of the Jews—and they indulged themselves in plunder.
11 That very day the number of those killed in Susa was reported to the king. 12 The king said to Esther, “In Susa, the capital, the Jews have destroyed five hundred people. What do you suppose they have done in the surrounding countryside? Whatever more you ask will be done for you.” 13 And Esther said to the king, “Let the Jews be allowed to do the same tomorrow. Also, hang up the bodies of Haman’s ten sons.” 14 So he permitted this to be done, and handed over to the Jews of the city the bodies of Haman’s sons to hang up. 15 The Jews who were in Susa gathered on the fourteenth and killed three hundred people, but took no plunder.
16 Now the other Jews in the kingdom gathered to defend themselves, and got relief from their enemies. They destroyed fifteen thousand of them, but did not engage in plunder. 17 On the fourteenth day they rested and made that same day a day of rest, celebrating it with joy and gladness. 18 The Jews who were in Susa, the capital, came together also on the fourteenth, but did not rest. They celebrated the fifteenth with joy and gladness. 19 On this account then the Jews who are scattered around the country outside Susa keep the fourteenth of Adar as a joyful holiday, and send presents of food to one another, while those who live in the large cities keep the fifteenth day of Adar as their joyful holiday, also sending presents to one another.
20 Mordecai recorded these things in a book, and sent it to the Jews in the kingdom of Artaxerxes both near and far, 21 telling them that they should keep the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar, 22 for on these days the Jews got relief from their enemies. The whole month (namely, Adar), in which their condition had been changed from sorrow into gladness and from a time of distress to a holiday, was to be celebrated as a time for feasting and gladness and for sending presents of food to their friends and to the poor.
23 So the Jews accepted what Mordecai had written to them 24 —how Haman son of Hammedatha, the Macedonian, fought against them, how he made a decree and cast lots to destroy them, 25 and how he went in to the king, telling him to hang Mordecai; but the wicked plot he had devised against the Jews came back upon himself, and he and his sons were hanged. 26 Therefore these days were called “Purim,” because of the lots (for in their language this is the word that means “lots”). And so, because of what was written in this letter, and because of what they had experienced in this affair and what had befallen them, Mordecai established this festival, 27 and the Jews took upon themselves, upon their descendants, and upon all who would join them, to observe it without fail.[ These days of Purim should be a memorial and kept from generation to generation, in every city, family, and country. 28 These days of Purim were to be observed for all time, and the commemoration of them was never to cease among their descendants.
29 Then Queen Esther daughter of Aminadab along with Mordecai the Jew wrote down what they had done, and gave full authority to the letter about Purim. 31 And Mordecai and Queen Esther established this decision on their own responsibility, pledging their own well-being to the plan. 32 Esther established it by a decree forever, and it was written for a memorial. (Esther 9 NRSV)
You may notice that this Esther 9 is very different from yours. That’s because it’s the complete Book of Esther, NOT the abridgement that is found in your Bible. ALL of the earliest versions of Esther included the “additional” sections UNTIL the Masoretic Text (7th-11th centuries AD) removed them. Centuries later, Protestantism followed suit. Interestingly enough, the Talmud admits that the Masoretic/mainstream “Esther” is an abridgement of the original book by Mordechai. However, the “additional” – in reality ORIGINAL – portions are relegated to the Apocrypha and dismissed for not being accepted by modern Jews and Protestants, sadly.
Many also dismiss the entire Book of Esther. Some dismiss it because it doesn’t mention YEHOVAH (God). However, this reason is false for 3 reasons:
- Song of Songs doesn’t mention YEHOVAH, either; shall we remove it?
- YEHOVAH’s Name is encoded in the text
- The complete Esther DOES contain the Name YEHOVAH; it’s only the Masoretic abridgement that excludes it
Some dismiss it because it’s not found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, the DSS are the SOLE ancient canon to exclude it. EVERY OTHER AVAILABLE WITNESS to the canon included Esther. Exclusion from the DSS alone isn’t a particularly strong argument for removing it from the canon.
Some simply call it “such an obvious forgery”, without providing a reason or evidence why. They can be ignored without a second thought.
There is actually some evidence for Esther‘s historicity, despite Esther being the least-believed of the Biblical books (some demoting it to a “novella”; well, God doesn’t put “novella” into His word). Esther may be identifiable with Kosmartydene, the Babylonian wife/concubine of Artaxerxes I and mother of Darius II. From Wikipedia:
The “Old Greek” Septuagint version of Esther translates the name Ahasuerus as Artaxerxes, a Greek name derived from the Persian Artaxšaϑra. Josephus too relates that this was the name by which he was known to the Greeks, and the Midrashic text Esther Rabba also makes the identification. Bar-Hebraeus identified Ahasuerus explicitly as Artaxerxes II; however, the names are not necessarily equivalent: Hebrew has a form of the name Artaxerxes distinct from Ahasuerus, and a direct Greek rendering of Ahasuerus is used by both Josephus and the Septuagint for occurrences of the name outside the Book of Esther. Instead, the Hebrew name Ahasuerus accords with an inscription of the time that notes that Artaxerxes II was named also Aršu, understood as a shortening of Aḫšiyaršu the Babylonian rendering of the Persian Xšayārša (Xerxes), through which the Hebrew ʔaḥašwērōš (Ahasuerus) is derived. Ctesias related that Artaxerxes II was also called Arsicas which is understood as a similar shortening with the Persian suffix -ke that is applied to shortened names. Deinon related that Artaxerxes II was also called Oarses which is also understood to be derived from Xšayārša.
Another view attempts to identify him instead with Artaxerxes I (ruled 465–424 BC), whose Babylonian concubine, Kosmartydene, was the mother of his son Darius II (ruled 424–405 BC). Jewish tradition relates that Esther was the mother of a King Darius and so some try to identify Ahasuerus with Artaxerxes I and Esther with Kosmartydene.
Jacob Hoschander has argued that evidence of the historicity of Haman and his father Hamedatha is seen in Omanus and Anadatus mentioned by Strabo as being honoured with Anahita in the city of Zela. Hoschander argues that these were not deities as Strabo supposed but garbled forms of “Haman” and “Hamedatha” who were being worshipped as martyrs. The names are indeed unattested in Persian texts as gods, however the Talmud (Sanhedrin 61b) and Rashi both record a practice of deifying Haman and Josephus speaks of him being worshipped.
(Both quotes from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Esther#Historical_reading.)
Aside from being a Biblical feast, it’s also a remembrance/celebration of what YEHOVAH has done for His people (in this case, delivered them from destruction). Some dismiss it as “pagan” because it’s not in Leviticus 23. That is true (BECAUSE THE EVENTS IT’S COMMEMORATING HADN’T HAPPENED YET), and I’m not so sure that it’s “mandatory”, but that doesn’t by any means make it “wrong” to celebrate (and if you’re going to call a Biblical feast “pagan” or “wrong”, what does that say about you?).
There aren’t any instructions on how to celebrate Purim. It’s up to the individual; let YAH (God) lead and guide and direct you.
In honour of this event, here’s the full movie of One Night with the King (2006), which is based on the Book of Esther.