Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur—that is “the lot”—to crush and destroy them; but when Esther came before the king, he gave orders in writing that the wicked plot that he had devised against the Jews should come upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore these days are called Purim, from the word Pur. Thus because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, the Jews established and accepted as a custom for themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would continue to observe these two days every year, as it was written and at the time appointed. These days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city; and these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.
Historically, I wonder: Is this it? Is this the reason for this story? As I said before, it genuinely doesn’t look like this story is historical, so it must have served some other purpose in the community. I wonder if the Jews were coming back from exile and had this random festival named after the plural of “lots”, and so they needed to write a story about how it came about. But if so, how do you go from the word “lots” to all of this story? Quite the stretch. So…what’s the historical core? This one’s tough.
King Ahasuerus laid tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea. All the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was powerful among the Jews and popular with his many kindred, for he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his descendants.
So… Mordechai is the hero here? I guess it could make sense, but he plays such a bit part in the story. He’s consequential, sure; he’s just not around that much, is all. This seems more like the mythologizing of a popular leader in the Jewish diaspora.
And lastly, one last “Christian” reading of this story. If we can analogize this a little, Mordechai “intercedes” for God’s people, for their good and for their descendants. And they’re enemies (like death and sin for us) are comprehensively and almost over-the-top-ly destroyed. And God is faithful to accomplish all of this, even when he seems absent. With this book, that’s the best I can do. I genuinely don’t like this story.
See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.
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