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Archive for May, 2020

Purim – A salvation or a pretext?


While still at Sunday School, the Book of Esther from the Bible, was centred around the storyline that Esther had been elevated to the Queenship of King Ahasuerus by God, in anticipation of the impending troubled times to be raised by Haman against the Jews. And the efficient manoeuvrings of Esther and turning of the tables against Haman.

This storyline was undisturbed till I reached college and met a classmate who told me: If the Jews were interested in saving their own lives and properties, where was the need for the Jews to kill 75,000 persons in the Empire of Ahasuerus, whom the Jews perceived to be their enemies and a further 810 in the Citadel of Sushan? Therefore he concluded that it was not salvation that the Jews were seeking from the unalterable decree, wangled by Haman from the King Ahasuerus, but the Jews with the aid of their new found influence through Esther from the King that the Jews exploited to their benefit by annihilating, probably their business rivals and probably the lenders who had lent money to the Jews inside and outside the Citadel of Sushan.

The line of reasoning forwarded had a ring of truth to it, but I couldn’t rebut it on facts. Rather my sense of Liberty had not matured enough then to gently add facts into the gaps of the story, as he had inserted with unobtrusive elan.

But had I read the Book of Esther a little carefully, with a lot of reading of the Histories of Herodotus in the background, I’d probably have found out the reason as to why the Jews had killed 76,310 of their enemies on that day – in which according to the first decree they should have been the victims.

The answer is that Haman’s indignation towards Mordecai was NOT SEEN by Haman as one between him and the individual Mordecai. This is reflected in the third chapter where Haman decided to not just eliminate the ‘arrogant’ individual Mordecai, who refused to wish Haman in deference to Haman’s higher entitlement in the table of precedence, but Haman wanted to kill Mordecai’s people. In furtherance of his plans Haman had arranged for 10,000 talents of silver to the treasury of King Ahasuerus.

The question is whose silver was that? Why were the Jews as a people hated in the realm of Ahasuerus?

Haman had been promoted to the position of Chief among the Princes almost 7 years after Ahasuerus became the King. And the decree was passed in the 12 th year of the reign of Ahasuerus, which means that it happened almost five years after Esther had become the queen and likewise Haman had also been elevated to the position around the same time.

Esther would have also stabilised her position and would have had enough information of the system.

If we remember, Mordecai had warned Esther NOT TO TELL ANYONE THAT SHE WAS A JEWESS.

Why did Mordecai tell her to be cagey about her stock? Was it because he was apprehensive of the fact that the Jews were those enslaved by the Babylonians and somewhat redeemed only after the arrival of the Persian/Medes? And hence wanted to avoid the stigma of an enslaved lot? I guess not.

If we read Ezra, Cyrus, the grandfather of Ahasuerus, from his mother’s side, had decreed for restoration of the Temple at Jerusalem at least forty years before this event took place. Therefore, it can be reasonably presumed that Jews had by then found favour during the intervening reign of the Persian king Darius before Ahasuerus became king in his stead.

The Jews must have become wealthy, as lending money on usury was not prohibited by their law to people other than their brother Jews! But a wealthy moneylender attracts negativity more than any other professional – as the perception was that Jews could recover their interest and their capital with sternness and efficiency – which is a nightmare to any wayward borrower.

I have reason to believe that Haman must have had a private deal with all those people who had borrowed monies from the Jews and conspired with such borrowers and enriched himself by granting a mechanism to write off their debts to the Jews en bloc.

That is how Haman got his 10000 talents of silver – not a mean sum considering the fact that Herodotus says that some of the vassal states were assessed to only 10,000 talents of silver.

Haman had made a devious plan to get rid of all the Jews who had lent amounts to others by casting Pur, which returned the 13 th day of the twelfth month.

It was these rebellious borrowers who were probably attacked and killed by the Jews as they had conspired and paid huge sum in silver to Haman.

I feel that it was truly a salvation for the Jews to recover their outstanding capital lent to others in the realm of Ahasuerus. This, I believe that Purim is not a pretext but a true story of salvation through self help. No wonder the word God doesn’t appear in the Book of Esther.

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