We planned the Purim party, then my partner actually read the Book of Esther…

This Sunday Jews all over the world will celebrate the holiday of Purim, which commemorates the escape of a Jewish community in ancient Persia from a genocide planned for them by an evil official named Haman – the story told in the Old Testament’s Book of Esther.

The book has no particular religious content (it’s the only one in the Old Testament that doesn’t even mention God), and apparently most Bible scholars (even the Jewish Encyclopedia) doubt its historicity – it’s generally considered a “historical novella.” But on the surface it’s an uplifting story, a seemingly innocent expression of ethnic pride and a celebration of courage and resilience in the face of persecution. And the holiday itself, at least as American Jews typically observe it, is a festive, even raucous occasion, featuring foot-stamping, play-acting, noisemakers, and lots of hamantaschen, a special-for-the-day kind of pastry filled with prunes or poppy seeds.

That’s why, a couple of decades back, my partner Jean, who’s half Jewish and half Irish Catholic by background and thoroughly pagan by inclination, decided to add a Purim celebration to a St. Patrick’s Day-spring solstice party she was planning for our then-young daughters; she figured it would be a fun way to give them a taste of their Jewish heritage. Then she dug out a Bible and actually read the Book of Esther….

For those who’ve never read the book or don’t recall it, the heroine is a young woman who was raised by her cousin, Mordecai, in the Persian city of Shusan, then the capital of a large multiethnic empire, supposedly extending from India to Ethiopia. The king, Ahasuerus, ditches his queen, Vashti, because she refuses his command to “show the peoples and the officials her beauty” at a drunken banquet. (His aides argue that he has to get rid of her or else “this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands.” Lest anyone miss the point, the king follows up with letters “to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, declaring that every man should be master in his own house.” In 1877 Harriet Beecher Stowe called Vashti’s disobedience the “first stand for woman’s rights.”)

In search of a new queen, officials gather beautiful young virgins from throughout the kingdom. Esther is among the chosen. On Mordecai’s advice, she doesn’t disclose her ethnicity. After the women complete a year-long course of cosmetic treatments under the supervision of a royal eunuch, Ahasuerus tries them out, one by one, in bed, and ends up choosing Esther to be his queen.

Shortly after she was crowned, Ahasuerus appoints an official named Haman his prime minister and orders that everyone bow down before him. Mordecai, hanging around the gate of the palace, refuses to do so. Haman is infuriated, and upon learning that Mordecai is a Jew (but apparently ignorant of his connection to the new queen), he decides to retaliate by convincing the king that his Jewish subjects are disloyal and all of them must be killed.

The king dutifully issues a decree to that effect, but before it is carried out, Mordecai persuades Esther to approach the king – a dangerous move, even for the queen – disclose her background, and plead for mercy for herself and her community. Ahasuerus sides with his queen, orders Haman hanged, and appoints Mordecai to replace him. The Jews are spared, and there’s great rejoicing among them. Ever since, Jews have commemorated their deliverance and celebrated the heroism of Esther and Mordecai.

That’s the Purim story as I learned it in my Conservative Sunday school back in the 1950s (except that I don’t suppose anyone highlighted the patriarchal message associated with Vashti’s fate). But when Jean read the biblical text, we discovered that the story didn’t end just with rejoicing. Although Esther had actually asked Ahasuerus simply to issue an order revoking Haman’s genocidal decree, the king, according to the Bible, didn’t actually do so. Instead, he told his queen and her uncle to “write as you please about the Jews, in the name of the king.” The order they composed didn’t merely call off the planned genocide – it turned the tables, authorizing the Jews “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them” and to plunder their property, all on the very day Haman had designated for the attack.

In the event, the Jews didn’t bother to loot anything, the Bible tells us, but they killed Haman’s 10 sons and 500 other people in Shusan alone. At the end of the day, when all this was reported to Ahasuerus, he asked Esther if she had any further favors to request. In response, she asked not only to have the corpses of Haman’s 10 sons hanged from the gallows, but also for the royal go-ahead for another day of killing. The king granted her wish, the sons’ bodies were strung up, and another 300 people were killed in Shusan. Around the empire, the Jews did in a total of 75,000 of their “enemies”!

In short, the Jews faced real danger, but they managed to survive, and then they lashed out in an orgy of vengeful violence at people they considered enemies, even though, on the evidence, the victims had nothing to do with the original threat. Sound familiar?

Among American Jews, at least among the liberal majority, the bloody denouement of the Purim story is rarely mentioned, but I’m told it’s well known in Israel. In any case, the story – along with other gruesome tales of religiously sanctified tribal violence in Joshua and other books of the Bible – has surely played some role, direct or indirect, in shaping Jewish culture and psychology in both countries. In a book called Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence, historian Elliott Horowitz uncovers a long history, going back at least to the early Middle Ages, of Jewish attacks on their gentile neighbors during Purim (as well as gentile violence against Jews, especially, as is often the case, when Purim coincided with the Christian Holy Week). In the West Bank, especially in Hebron, settlers regularly celebrate the holiday with pogroms against the Palestinians. In 1994, it was on Purim that Brooklyn-born Baruch Goldstein opened fire in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, killing 29 Muslim worshipers and wounding 125.

And, of course, it’s not just Purim – Deir Yassin, Tantura, Qibya, Sabra and Shatila, Operation Cast Lead, and so many more massacres took place on different dates, but the same murderous mindset underlies them all.

Progressive Jews often claim that Zionism, or at least its cruder and more violent expressions, contradict the real essence of Judaism, which they believe lies in the prophets’ cries for justice or in the modern tradition of social activism among some Jews. But Purim is a good occasion to remind ourselves that there’s another, darker side – a history of tribalistic violence – that’s at least as deeply rooted in our traditions.

As for that children’s party, Jean did bake hamantaschen, along with Irish soda bread and half-moon cookies to represent the solstice. But we decided to skip the retelling of the Purim story.

Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 113 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Aha, so our history is filled with blood and killing, so it stands to reason why we supposedly do it now. Throws in Sabra and Shatilla even though it was Christians who did the killing.

    Never mind that this Purim story is but a blip compared to the blood spilled by Christians, both of Jews and other “heathen” throughout history. Never mind that this is insignificant compared to Muslim genocide against people throughout centuries, even in modern times. This is Mondoweiss after all, where the only facts are those that demonize Jews.

    • Potsherd2 says:

      LLI – the “history” of the Jews is proud to present the first recorded genocides. Tell it to the Amelekites.

      • CK MacLeod says:

        The mistake, then, would be “recording,” unless you believe that the Jews invented genocide along with everything else, suggewsting perhaps that the Achaean Greeks were just imitating the Jews when they had their little business around Troy.

        It’s not coincidence – did you have this in mind? – that Haman from the Purim story is identified as an Amalekite by birth. Additionally, the incident that led to the call to destroy the Amalekites in Exodus is an attack on the Jews returning from Egypt. As in the Purim story, the attack on the Amalekites is retributive: If you attempt to destroy us, all bets are off, and we’ll destroy you, what in modern parlance during the nuclear age would be call a counter-population strategy.

        The Imperial Way Japanese and the German Nazis also received the Amalekite treatment during WWII. The demand for “Unconditional Surrender” equated with a campaign for the destruction of the fascist polities. The actual annihilation of the entireties of the Japanese and German people was never sought, but this also fits within the tradition of interpretation of the story of the Amalekites: If the enemy of humanity, the ones who seek genocide, give up their ways, cease to act as Amalekites, then the Jewish law required that they be allowed to live in peace. According to Maimonides, they are supposed to be given a chance to accept the “Noahchide” commandments, expressing the basic covenant between God and all humankind (i.e., Biblically, we’re all children of Noah, or Noahchide). The genocidal aggressor sets himself outside of the Noahchide covenant: In dehumanizing the other (as the Amalekite does in his causeless aggression against the Jew), the dehumanizer dehumanizes himself. Or, you might also say, in subtracting the divine from the human (breaking the covenant, acting as aggressor), he degrades his own humanity in a way that makes him an enemy of humanity.

        The last is, of course, the operative logic of most at MondoWeiss in regard to Zionism. To MondoWeiss, the Zionists are Amalekites.

        • Mooser says:

          “To MondoWeiss, the Zionists are Amalekites.”

          Apparently the quotes and links proving your contention were excised from your comment. Would you please post them again?
          After all, a conclusion so obvious should be easy to substantiate.

        • eljay says:

          >> As in the Purim story, the attack on the Amalekites is retributive: If you attempt to destroy us, all bets are off, and we’ll destroy you …

          Evidently, you haven’t heard that retribution is wrong. The PRESENT is what matters.

          Oh, wait, that only applies to non-Jews. Jews – especially the Zio-supremacists – are permitted to engage in full-on, rock-hard retribution. Maybe “Remember[ing] the Holocaust!” makes it more noble or something…

        • crone says:

          In 2003 -

          The 48 hour ultimatum to Saddam and his sons precisely paralleled the Jewish holiday, Purim. At 8:15pm, Eastern Standard Time, on March 17, the president appeared on TV to announce a 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave the country with his sons, or suffer the invasion. Thus, the 48-hour ultimatum expired at 8:15pm., EST, March 19.

          In Israeli time, President Bush appeared on TV at 3:15am on March 18 and the deadline expired at 3:15am, March 20.

          Purim was celebrated this year from Sundown, March 17 through March 19. In fact, the Purim celebration this year is comprised of the following events:

          1. March 17 — Ta’anit Esther — a feast to Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim

          2. March 18 — Purim

          3. March 19 — Shushan Purim — the day Purim is celebrated in Jerusalem and other cities

          Thus, the entire 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein occurred precisely during the time of the Purim celebration!

          and at the end of the 48 hrs., when the bombs started dropping, the planes were blaring out music from Queen’s “We will Rock You” -

        • lyn117 says:

          The whole story of the Amalekites is told by the people who committed genocide against them. Listening to Zionists today, the objections by Palestinians of Zionist plans to invade their country, take it over and expel them is equally causeless. And, a certain segment of religious Jewish society calls the Palestinians Amalekites. I don’t know if the ancient Israelites committed any harm to the Amalekites prior to their response, it seems to me the Israelites were on their territory without permission when the Israelites committed the genocide if there’s any truth to the biblical story. Moreover the ancient Israelites expressed genocidal intent towards the Canaanites, whose land they had clear intention of invading and taking over. But here I am, arguing about what’s likely a false myth anyway.

          @CK, you seem to be justifying the genocide of the Amalekites – correct me if I’m wrong? The bible reports an attack by Amalekites on the Israelites, and a certain amount of tribal warfare, not genocidal intent. In the story, only the Israelites express genocidal intent. You appear to be justifying the Amalekites’ dehumanization and extermination. I’m sure if you listened to the nazis you would have heard that Jews had made causeless attacks against the Aryan nation, causing it to lose WWI and all – all that’s necessary, if you apply the same rules, to justify exterminating them – unless you take the attitude that only Jews should be allowed to commit genocide when attacked “without cause.”

          And as for the covenant between God and all humankind, this sounds great until you read the fine print. Chabad rebbis, for example, have stated that saving human life is the highest calling, but then goes on to note that only Jews are fully human, and non-Jews have souls that are closer to the souls of cattle (I paraphrase from their web site). I don’t actually know where Maimonides stood on the relative humanity of Jews vs. others.

        • Potsherd2 says:

          Nice way to justify genocide, MacLeod. Nice way to frame the genocides as the victims.

          In both cases you mention, the details are lacking. All we are told is that some groups were reported to have hostile designs against the Israelites and thus were marked for extermination. We don’t know what the Israelites might have done to their victims first, such as, for example, invading their land, trying to defend themselves. And as Lyn mentions, we only are told one side of the story. The dead have no voices. They can bring no indictments against their killers.

        • CK MacLeod says:

          lyn, I wouldn’t seek to justify genocide under any circumstances, even ancient fictional ones. I’ll note though that in my reading of the story, it’s not the Israelites who seek genocide, but God. Taken as religious instruction, what this means I think is that incorrigible murderers must be opposed actively and unreservedly. I’ve already given some examples of how this moral commandment can be seen to function in modern contexts. I think it goes without saying that falsely accusing an entire people of being incorrigible murderers, and causing harm to come to them, would be morally wrong, potentially among the gravest sins imaginable.

          I don’t actually know where Maimonides stood on the relative humanity of Jews vs. others.

          Do a little research for yourself about the man: I don’t think you have much to worry about there, unless you take the position that all professions of religious belief are to be condemned as false claims to spiritual superiority. (That belief really does seem to underlie a certain kind of aggressive atheism – ironically enough an implicit claim to superiority.)

          As for the Chabad rebbis you mention, I really don’t know much about them, and I’m not sure why you see them as relevant.

        • lyn117 says:


          Taken as religious instruction, what this means I think is that incorrigible murderers must be opposed actively and unreservedly.

          But in the bible story, it’s the Israelites seeking and committing genocide. Yet you say there’s a religious justification for genocide against the Amalekites, whose crime appears to be murder (but we only have one side of the story). You once again put your religious stamp of approval on a genocide especially if you attribute this genocide to God. No where in the story do the ancient Israelites determine whether the Amalekites were incorrigible murders, nor was the genocide limited to just those among them who had attacked the Israelites, but to everyone. To be sure, murder is wrong and incorrigible murdering I suppose worse – but you seem to see nothing wrong with genocide? You don’t appear to notice that the Israelites were dehumanizing the Amalekites, as you yourself do, let alone that the Israelites best fit the description of genocidal aggressors. As for Maimonides, Shahak has some interesting things to say about him but I don’t see why I should put a huge weight on a pre-enlightenment philosopher says about equal rights regardless of creed anyway.

          The Chabad rebbis are spreading their teachings today, and with reference to your claims about Jewish law, to certain Jewish religious authorities I’m not human, the laws don’t apply and as only Jews are fully human if I oppose any Jews but especially the Jewish state in any respect, I suppose that makes me the enemy of humanity (full humanity being reserved only for Jews – go read the fine print once again on that so-called covenant), and can be genocidally killed – like many Palestinians, who’ve been called Amalekites by some religious Jews.

          And yeah, I doubt any Jews of my acquaintance think I’m less than human – but they do tend to think the Chabad guys are cute. Fiddlers on the roof dancers or something.

        • Shingo says:

          I’ll note though that in my reading of the story, it’s not the Israelites who seek genocide, but God.

          I believe Bin Laden uses the justification for his violence.

        • CK MacLeod says:

          Lyn, first of all, I don’t possess “a stamp of religious approval.” Nor do I recall ever having confessed a religious affiliation in these parts, and, since any explanation would be fundamentally irrelevant, I don’t see why you bring it up. My passport doesn’t have a religion box.

          In regard to the Amalekites, asking whether they “really” were the maniacs they were portrayed to be is a bit like asking whether the Klingons “really” are a warlike alien species. Both Star Trek and the Old Testament may encourage discussion of underlying moral issues, and they may also provide templates for human morality and conduct – elementary classes in “Construction of the Enemy,” for instance. But the Klingons “are” who the story says they are, and ditto for the Amalekites. Imagining alternative scenarios may be interesting, but sooner or later you’re just writing your own script(ure).

          The discussion of scripture goes dangerously and self-defeatingly off course, in my view, when we resort to anachronistic fallacy and hostile pseudo-exegesis of the sort that I believe characterizes so much of the discussion on this thread and on this site. Yet the discovery and examination of such error is also another justification of religion, a use to which religion is put in the construction of human beings as people of reason and moral worth. It’s part of the point of preserving and respecting a tradition. How we discuss the ancient scripture, seeking to confront it on its own terms, is itself both a humanizing and elevating exercise. It not only ought to be but in some significant sense is how we understand ourselves and how we go about understanding any “alien” or other.

          In this connection, I don’t know whether your suppositions based on the Chabad theo-anthropology are justified. They could make for another example of an outsider seizing upon someone else’s religious belief without regard for actual use and application, for position within an uncomprehended system of meaning, or they may be entirely valid.

        • lyn117 says:

          I’m fine with the story of the Israelites vs. Amalekites is just a story, but you’re misrepresenting it when you say the Amalekites showed genocidal intent, and the Israelites didn’t, and then going on to say the moral is that incorrigible murderers must be opposed, when what the story has in it is god’s approval of a genocide and the Israelites’ desire for it. I’m pointing out an alternative interpretation, which has been used to justify killing otherwise innocent Palestinians who in some interpretations of Jewish religious law apparently lack full humanity, in order to expand Israel. In this other interpretation, the Palestinians were unwilling to let the modern-day “Israelites” (by which I mean the Zionists, they aren’t by any means Israelites) take over their land “peacefully,” because their objections are without cause (in the minds of the Zionists) and as they’re outside humanity, that means they can be exterminated. I.e., the same story is used to call for a genocide. You brought up Jewish law. I strongly doubt there’s any single authority on Jewish law, I’ve heard interpretations similar to yours and it just seems like so much twisting around of the actual story to make it seem like god or the Israelites were doing something good, but other than that I don’t have a problem with it. That being said, such twisting around of the actual story indicates a some strong desire for god and the biblical Israelites to be on the side of righteousness, certainly indicating you have a religious affiliation of some Abrahamic variation. I hear your moral justifications for religion, if you have no religious affiliation whatsoever that’s a rather strange position.

        • CK MacLeod says:

          Lyn, I think you’re full of assumptions, “certainly indicating” all sorts of things. Are you going to explain how you reach your own positions, detail the origins of your beliefs about right and wrong, give your morality and tribe a name, so that others always can know ahead of time whether to try to attack or defend what you say?

    • Citizen says:

      Longliveisrael, where do the world’s Christians celebrate as an annual holiday what Lebanese Christians did in Sabra and Shatilla, and where do the world’s Christians celebrate as an annual holiday the atrocities of the Crusades, or the Insquisition, or the Salem Witch Trials, or Auschwitz, or the Russian pogroms?

      • Ellen says:

        Well, Citizen, the Brits celebrate Guy Fawkes. And keep burning that guy every year in effigy. But is more of a political thing I guess.

        But yes, your are right. Not that every group did not get into the act at points in history, but don’t know of any celebrations of murdering and marauding by Christians or Muslims.

        • RoHa says:

          “the Brits celebrate Guy Fawkes. And keep burning that guy every year in effigy. But is more of a political thing I guess.”

          They were instructed to do that by the King. But they keep the memory alive in the hope that the next guy will succeed.

    • Ellen says:

      longlive..the Purim tales have many interpretations and probably incorporates myth, reality and imagination. Symbolic of many things, including actual tribal violence that occurs now and then — especially with ideas of tribalism, nationalism, us and them.

      You jump into “us and them” comparisons. In the long arch of time, no group has a monopoly on violence against others. And over time Jews have not been more or less of a persecuted group than any other. (In spite of the teachings as such.) And the seeds of that violence of groups is tribalism or nationalism.

      Breaking from tribalistic identity and into a Universalism was the Judaic reformation, leading to Christianity. That was a threat to power of the times and has had limited success as we know.

      You fall into the tribal mindset: the old claim of double standards and intent to demonize your tribe or group identity. It is really a prison of the mind.

      If you were more self confident, less defensive with an emotional shield you would see this meditation on Purim for what it is. That tales of tribal violence shape Jewish cultural identity — just as any other.

      • MHughes976 says:

        What comparable tales of tribal violence do you have in mind, Ellen? What writings represent the Judaic reformation? Are you thinking to ‘intertestamental’ texts like the Wisdom of Solomon and Enoch?

        • Ellen says:

          Not thinking about comparable tribal violence, or even to venture into comparisons. Only that tribal violence from the Neolithic and before have always been with us.

          Nor thinking of any text at all representing a Judaic Reformation. I guess was I was thinking about that perhaps the theological claim of a single Covenant, (sealed by circumcision) and righteousness is tribal as in its essence, it creates an “us” and a “them.”

          And that this idea changed under the movement that became Christianity, one of many Jewish Messianic movements. Yet this one called for all “Gentile and Jew” as one. It did not express itself in text until Paul, a Jew, and thinking about much struggled with the ideas of Law and Jews and Gentiles in his letters to the Romans. And also that James, brother of Jesus — who followed strict and ascetic Judaic observance — was revered by Jews, Christians Jewish/Christians and others as a zaddic, a holy man. So that really early Christianity was a Judaic Reformation against the spirit of petty tribalism, corruption and institutionalization of the tribe — i.e. the meaning behind the story of chasing the money changers out of the temple. It was a Judaic reform movement for purity, renewal and spiritual Universalism.

          But then as that spiritual movement (that had no written text, but instead the breath, the spirit) that became Christianity, and later institutionalized, we returned back to the old dark human pattern.

          I was thinking, but am not qualified or knowledgeable enough to debate or discuss theological text.

        • RoHa says:

          “Paul, a Jew”

          The Ebionites claimed that he wasn’t a Jew from birth, but that he converted because he fell in love with the High Priest’s daughter. They were Jewish Christians, and thought that all Paul’s teachings were monstrous heresies.

          Paul’s religion certainly isn’t very jewsih.

          “So that really early Christianity was a … Judaic reform movement for purity, renewal and spiritual Universalism.”

          There doesn’t seem to be much universalism in the teachings attributed to Jesus. Mt 10:5-6, Mt 15:24.

        • Ellen says:

          RohHa, Paul (Saul,) had lots of enemies. He was born as a Jew, circumcised, lived as a Jew, taught in Temple and died a Jew. He has been a Pharisee of Tarsus. (At least this is what the Bible tells us.)

          He worked to convert Gentiles, while at the same time affirm Torah and Judaism and accept Jesus’s messianic claims. No wonder the Ebionites rejected him. His “Gentile mission” and bringing Gentiles into the Temple was an outrage to most all Jews. Eventually he was put to death (or left to die in prison) by the Roman Authorities as another trouble maker.

          A year later James, (brother of Jesus) was executed in Jerusalem. So these guys were not liked.

          Yep, we could say his religion was not very Jewish. But it was Paul’s understanding of the Torah and Jewish identity that shaped early Christianity.

          Writings of Matthew are attributed to him. There may have been many authors. The text were put down more than a century after the death of Jesus, when Christianity was well on its way to institutionalism and probably far away from any teaching of Jesus and his contemporaries.

        • Citizen says:

          I don’t think anybody doubts that a key concern attributed directly to Jesus was hypocrisy in all its forms by the Jewish
          Establishment of his time: in general essence, the actual continually operating big difference between the prescribed law and the spirit of that law. I’d say that is a note heard around the world, and always has been. One aspect of this has been viewing practice of strict rituals as either indicating that spirit, or conversely, viewing such as petty, as not “seeing the forest for the tree(s)” Another aspect of it has been taking a narrow view of any given figurative language versus taking the broadest view of same. A third aspect (among many others) is selection(s) of context. A secular parallel here can be seen in the static versus “organic” interpretation of the US Constitution. The law v The “living law.”

        • RoHa says:

          “Paul (Saul,) had lots of enemies.”

          Not surprising. He told the people who had known Jesus that they were wrong about their master’s teachings. If he were a chancer trying to cash in on the J cult (or, perhaps, a Roman agent trying to disrupt it) he would make plenty of enemies.

          “He was born as a Jew, circumcised, lived as a Jew, taught in Temple and died a Jew. He has been a Pharisee of Tarsus. (At least this is what the Bible tells us.)”

          That is what Paul himself tells us. But he also tells us “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. ” (1 C0 9:20, 21.)

          So he’s prepared to deceive. Clearly not a trustworthy character. We should not believe his claims of Jewishness just because he makes them.

          “Eventually he was put to death (or left to die in prison) by the Roman Authorities as another trouble maker. ”

          Rumour. No-one knows what really happened to him.

          “But it was Paul’s understanding of the Torah and Jewish identity”

          Plus all the other stuff he dragged in. Hyam Maccoby argues that Paul actually was pretty shaky on Judaism.

          “that shaped early Christianity.”

          I won’t dispute that mainstream Christianity is Paul’s invention.

    • Avi says:

      Never mind that this Purim story is but a blip compared to the blood spilled by Christians, both of Jews and other “heathen” throughout history. Never mind that this is insignificant compared to Muslim genocide against people throughout centuries, even in modern times. This is Mondoweiss after all, where the only facts are those that demonize Jews.

      It’s interesting that you refer to the blood of “heathens” spilled by Christians. You can’t bring yourself to call them ,”Muslims”.

      But, it gets worse. Not only do you pervert history, but you go on to advance false and ignorant statements claiming, “Never mind that this is insignificant compared to Muslim genocide against people throughout centuries, even in modern times.”

      I sure would like to know which “Muslim genocide against people, even in modern times,” you are referencing, whether in centuries past or in modern times. Even an Israeli organization indicates that Israelis have killed thousands of Palestinian civilians. Do you not account for that action as you don’t consider Palestinians to be humans? Perhaps they, too, are “heathens”, eh?

      In summary, would you care to provide any credible support for your false assertions?

      I know they are false because I am familiar with the historical record. And that record indicates that you are wrong.

    • Keith says:

      LLI- “Throws in Sabra and Shatilla even though it was Christians who did the killing.”

      The Christian forces which were sent in by the Israeli’s after they sealed off the camps had been trained by the Israelis and were sent in specifically to perform a massacre. The continued denial of responsibility for this massacre is totally shameless. Menachem Begin went so far as to say “Arabs kill Christians and they blame the Jews”. Imagine that. In the sick Zionist mind, Sabra and Shatilla are examples of JEWISH victim-hood and suffering at the hand of the evil Goyim. The mind recoils at such a grotesque misrepresentation.

  2. Citizen says:

    Thank you for sharing, Henry Norr. I often wonder how devoted self-described Christians, who even if they don’t resonate to the term Christian Zionist, essentially believe the same myths, especially that God is, in effect, the first real estate agent and God will negatively handle those who oppose the Jews, by whom they never mean those often defamed as “self-hating” jews; nor would they, or do they view Jesus himself as a “self-hating” Jew because of his railing against the Jewish Establishment of his day. The Story of Joshua’s mandate from his God to rob, burglarize, and slaughter the Cannanites, men, women, children, and babies, is another example, as mentioned. These sort of Christians, and I correspond daily with a few of them, simply never react to specific questions going to this literal biblical subject matter despite the fact these same Christians are very fond of literal interpretation of the bible; their reaction consists of repeating, e.g., that God gave the holy land to the Jews and that God said whoever does not support “the Jews” (never responding to a Jew such as Phil Weiss even if they knew who he was, which they don’t–they never even heard of Finkelstein), which is completely conflated with the modern state of Israel, is destined for God’s wrath. And they consider themselves honestly good people, the salt of the earth.

  3. mymarkx says:

    Well told, Henry. I’d always felt that Vashti was the real heroine of Purim, but I hadn’t known the rest of the story.

  4. Pamela Olson says:

    There were always pogroms against Palestinians during Purim when I lived in the West Bank. I couldn’t figure out why. Now it all makes “sense.”

  5. MHughes976 says:

    It’s part of the story in the Masoretic Text that a royal decree could never be revoked, so that the only way to prevent the execution of the first decree, that against the Jews, was to kill in advance all those who were inclined to carry it out. This was a substantial minority among the Iranians, though the majority would have been unwilling, and it may even seem as if the inhabitants of the capital city welcomed the purge of the anti-Semites. But the violence that it this version justifies is preventative or pre-emptive, based on the presumed intentions, not the actions, of the victims: very chilling.
    It is debated whether the purge extended to the children of the anti-Semites.
    The Book is also an early discussion of the ‘dual loyalty’ and ‘assimilation’ problems. The Jewish characters act on behalf of the Jewish community but it is also clear that the King Ahasuerus can completely trust them to defend his interests even without immediate reward. The plot against the Jews partly collapses because Ahasuerus recalls during a sleepless night that he has never rewarded his faithful Jewish servant Mordecai. On the other hand Esther conceals her Jewishness and makes herself appear a better example of Iranian womanhood than the uncooperative Vashti: so even in the most intimate relationships a certain amount of politically motivated deception is permitted.
    There were evidently many among ancient Jewish readers who were uneasy about the story on various grounds. The Septuagint version, which calls itself the Purim Letter and seems to say that it reached Alexandria in 114 BCE, amplifies the story and makes it more religious – perhaps to persuade Alexandrian Jews that the festival deserved their attention. More interestingly perhaps, there is another Greek version – and maybe both versions had Hebrew originals – which amends the Constitution of the Iranian Empire and permits Ahasuerus simply to revoke his anti-Semitic order. This is called the Alpha Text. Those who preferred it should perhaps be regarded as the Mondoweissers of their day.

  6. Shmuel says:

    But we decided to skip the retelling of the Purim story

    Or you could have told it the way you heard it at Sunday school, or a more modern, feminist version. Jews have always shaped and moulded their traditions to suit the spirit of the age (enlightened or unenlightened as it may be). The Talmud and Kabbalah and commentators of all periods have added interesting facets and emphases to the Purim story that have absolutely nothing to do with violence and revenge.

    Your wife’s “syncretism” is actually in the spirit of the holiday (although you might not want to tell your local Orthodox rabbi that). The Talmud associates Esther with the Persian goddess Isthar (Venus), and the 19th-century Italian scholar, Rabbi Elia Benamozegh, saw Esther as a personification of love and beauty common to many cultures (of course some of his works were burned by Jews in Aleppo and Damascus, but that’s another story).

    The holiday probably has its roots in a Persian spring festival or festival of the dead (Farvardigan), and many elements of the story of Esther correspond to the epic of Ishtar’s descent into the netherworld. Mordecai is, of course, the god Marduk. So equinox and St. Pat’s work just fine.

    • Henry Norr says:

      Thanks for the interesting background, Shmuel – and for the implicit correction: in March it’s the equinox, not the solstice.

      We did, of course, eventually talk with our daughters about Purim and the issues it raises. But a young kids’ party, with its attendant chaos, wasn’t the right time for that.

      • Shmuel says:

        I figured that age and context would have made serious discussion a little difficult, but there’s a hell of a lot we can learn from tradition by discussing its less savoury bits.

      • Shmuel says:

        And thanks Henry, for bringing up Reckless Rites. It’s a great book.

        • tree says:

          And thanks Henry, for bringing up Reckless Rites. It’s a great book.

          I’ve seen it panned several places but I found it fascinating and illuminating. I’d love to hear more of your take on the book.

          I developed more of an understanding of why Christianity and Judaism had such an antagonistic relationship, in contrast to Islam and Judaism, by reading the book. Some of it, besides the usual power politics, comes down to the conflict caused by Christians worshiping Jesus, whom Jews considered a mortal man, and worshiping a graven image, the cross, both of which were blasphemies in Judaism.

        • Shmuel says:


          I thought it was an honest and sensitive book, written by a “mature” Jew, capable of examining Jewish history as well as contemporary reality, without feeling the need to engage in apologetics or polemics.

        • tree says:

          Thanks for the response, Shmuel. Your opinion of the book matches mine.

    • Potsherd2 says:

      Shmuel – Marduk is a Mesopotamian god, not a Persian one.

      • Mooser says:

        “Marduk is a Mesopotamian god, not a Persian one.”

        You would be surprised at how those Gods get around. After all, who is going to stop them?

      • Shmuel says:

        Marduk is a Mesopotamian god, not a Persian one.

        I know. And the epic of Ishtar is Assyrian/Babylonian. The Persian Achaemenids conquered and ruled over the Medes and the Babylonians, and there was a good deal of overlap.

      • MHughes976 says:

        I’d think of Esther as a historical romance rather than an reworking of myth, and I’d think that the remarkable (for an ancient text) lack of interest in divine agency is an indication that myth is not in the forefront of the author’s mind. There’s also no hint, as Potsherd indicates, of Mazdaism and all that Iranian stuff. The fact that the main Jewish characters have pagan-sounding names is more a historical note on the degree to which Jewish people of the author’s time (?fourth century) took on local colouring, maybe, more than an indication of a myth being rewritten. All that said, I agree that there may be an allusion to Ishtar in Esther’s approach to the King (I don’t know if Shmuel was thinking of this). Ishtar goes through the gates of the underworld, removing her clothes, and ends up naked in the presence of the powers that rule there. But I’d see this echo, if it’s genuinely there, not exactly as a reworking of pagan myth but as a kind of theological condemnation of it. Reversing the actions of the goddess after whom she’s named, Esther puts on her glorious robe to enter the King’s dangerous presence – an indication of Jewish scorn for pornographic pagan stories??
        This is a very late work – I didn’t feel happy with Ellen’s use of ‘tribal’, which suggests something early and raw. It comments on the Amalekite story, making the anti-Semitic Haman a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag and Mordecai a descendant of King Saul, finally carrying out Samuel’s instructions to smite the Amalekites unmercifully. To the pathetic attempts of human law to be immutable it opposes with stern irony the immutable ban under which God placed the Amalekites.
        To me all very impressive and all very frightening. We Christians have or should have as much concern as Jewish readers do. Some of us take it in our stride – I read somewhere that Hillary Clinton, model Protestant that she is, regards Esther as her favourite Bible story.

        • Shmuel says:


          Your comment on Jews “taking on local colour” is a good one, but I do see elements of a number of myths and pagan traditions in the story, and not necessarily as condemnation. I presume the story was written or modified in order to afford “appropriate” Jewish content to a pre-existing nature festival “picked up” (along with many other religious ideas and practices) by Jews, during the Babylonian exile. I see the Persian and Babylonian elements in the story as traces of earlier source materials and/or elements of legends associated with the holiday, woven in to facilitate the transition.

          The following is my brief comparison between the epic (like the story of Persephone, closely related to the death and rebirth of winter-spring) and the Book of Esther:

          Vashti is Ishtar, summoned to the underworld (the Midrash retains her unclothing). She refuses and is in a rage (like Ishtar against Ereshkigal for her humiliating disrobing). She is removed from her reign (imprisoned) by Haman (Namtar). At this point Esther is Vashti (the Jewish story divides the heroine in two – possibly for reasons of modesty or patriarchy) – imprisoned and in peril. Consequently the world is in danger of annihilation – with its fertility goddess locked away. The goddess’ father/brother Mordekhai (Marduk – god of light – parall. Sin/Shamash) tells her she must go to Ereshkigal/Nergal seeking the touch of the sceptre (waters) of life. She succeeds and returns to earth, rescuing the world from infertility.

          The theory about the connection to the Ishtar epic is my own, but the idea of a connection between Purim and a Persian spring festival is not new (see e.g. Meijboom, Von Hammer, Schwally, E. Meier and others).

        • Potsherd2 says:

          We can’t overlook the connection, not with Purim but Passover, which is the also direct cognate of the Iranian Nowruz. But while the Iranians took a lot from the Babylonians, including their calendar, as did the Israelites, this story seems to be almost pure Mesopotanian. The Babylonian festival involved a fest of misrule as the king was annually dethroned and reinstated – a clear connection to the resurrection myth.

        • Shmuel says:


          The epic idea is certainly Mesopotamian (with a sprinkling of Persian “colour”), but scholars have linked Purim (and not only Passover), to Nowruz and/or Farvardigan (even suggesting that Favardigan is the source of the Hebrew name Purim, through the Aramaic – Furdi-Pourdai-Purim). Those who posit greater Persian influence also suggest Indo-Iranian etymologies for the names in the Book of Esther. In the end, Judaism was heavily influenced by both cultures.

        • lysias says:

          This year, Purim and Nowruz are celebrated on the same day. Some people have had the good idea to celebrate the two of them together: Celebrate Purim and Nowruz Together!

        • MHughes976 says:

          Is the highlighted passage part of a longer treatment by you of intertextuality in the good old ancient world?

        • Shmuel says:

          Is the highlighted passage part of a longer treatment by you of intertextuality in the good old ancient world?

          Just notes for an article never written, although I’ve written one other (unpublished) along similar lines.

        • Shmuel says:

          Celebrate Purim and Nowruz Together!

          A brilliant idea!

        • Ellen says:

          MHughes, I can certainly understand your trouble with my, perhaps too freely, use of the word tribal when responding to longliveisrael’s comments on the Purim meditation.

          You have a rich understanding of this story and your posts have been enjoyable and informative reads.

          I am much more simplistic and was thinking only of longlive’s reaction, the defensiveness ….and then started thinking about the still-tribal nature of nationalistic Judaism/Zionism — which he defends. And that all social nationalism need their myths and heroes.

          Self understanding of the time of the story of Esther was tribal in manner. The Covenant is made with “Abraham and his descendants.” Goyim are the other.

          Jewish Christianity was a break from this tribal self understanding.

          That was my train of thought.

        • Citizen says:

          And it’s got a good locomotive carrying all that heavy freight, Ellen.

        • MHughes976 says:

          Yes, indeed, many thanks, Ellen.
          In case I sounded crabby about the whole Hebrew Biblical tradition I should mention that Abraham is the father of many nations and every family on earth is to receive blessings from his descendants.

  7. pabelmont says:

    Well, we Americans don’t have a Bible to tell our own early stories, but we tell the same sort of stories: come to USA for freedom of religion (but deny it to Quakers and Catholics and others), all men are equal la-di-da but woe betide you if you were (or are) Black or a Native American, war-to-end-all-wars, but now Iraq and Afghanistan and GWOT. Civil liberties to beat the band, all encased in a bright and shiny (protective) Bill of Rights, and those rights shot down year after year by Supreme Courts responsive to the needs of security states, so that we now have torture and kidnapping and disappearance and horrible imprisonment (often not “punishment” because there has been no trial yet), etc. Very American. Spic and span! Up to date!

    All societies have their uplifting myths, sometimes historically accurate in whole or part; and all societies have their monstrous side. The TENSION is for people of good will to steer the ship of greater-society in a benevolent direction.

    The Jews as a whole are not all bad (and certainly not all good). The problem of today is that the malevolents have seized power in Israel and in AIPAC-led America and the fight to correct all this is very up-hill. At this website, we celebrate the small motion toward benevolence and hope to create more. It is a good fight.

    It is my no means only a Jewish fight, and it is by no means a fight that pertains only to lifting the oppression of Palestine.

    • Mooser says:

      “Well, we Americans don’t have a Bible to tell our own early stories…”

      No, we have TV and movies. And considering the amount of lifetime people spend absorbing TV and movies, they might as well be our Scriptures.

      Me, I don’t watch TV and I don’t go to movies. There are birds to look at, clouds, and the grass seems to grow alarmingly if you don’t keep your eye on it. Also, paint drying, it’s really more interesting than you think. You won’t know unless you watch it, closely.

  8. Les says:

    A pork eating Jewish professor of ancient history was fond of pointing out that orthodox rabbis rarely cite as a historical moral model, King Solomon with his 10,000 wives and concubines.

  9. joer says:

    Purim is about costume parties and prune cookies. If you think it is about anything more, you have a problem. Personally, I wish Haman had a hat shaped like a strawberry shortcake.

  10. Many cultures have a spring time drinking and masquerading holiday. Mardi Gras and St. Patty’s day stand out in my mind. The Jews have Purim. It is not great that the story of Esther and the “Remember Amalek” and wipe out Amalek commands exist and especially that they are emphasized. And partying and killing at the same time unfortunately do go together in history, but seem like a strange “religious” occasion. The traumatized history of the 20th century for the Jewish experience become enmeshed in these revenge and extermination themes as well. (And certainly the week after the murder of the Fogels, Amalek rhetoric has been heard in reference to the Israel Palestine conflict as well.)Seems like quite a tangle and surely no quick way to untangle.

    Meanwhile every year on the 14th of Adar this holiday will be celebrated by little kids in costumes and drinking and feasting and adults in costumes as well and it will be up to history and thinkers to compete with whether history will get worse and keep Purim alive as a revenge themed day or whether the thinkers can wean the people away from the revenge theme and get the emphasis on the externals of food, drink and costumes.

    • Mooser says:

      The traumatized history of the 20th century for the Jewish experience”

      Sure, because it’s just so normal to be traumatised by things that didn’t happen to you. But sorry, Wonderful Jew, I forgot, you have the right to explicate the “Jewish experience” because you are a Zionist and have settler family.

      Gosh, how come you have never told us about your Jewish trauma?

      • MRW says:

        Sure, because it’s just so normal to be traumatised by things that didn’t happen to you.

        Beauty comment.

        • MHughes976 says:

          It’s still very true, as WJ says, that partying and killing are a strange and disturbing pair. All religious and other traditions have strange and disturbing features, Judaism not excepted. Christianity not excepted either.

  11. Jim Holstun says:

    Long Live Israel: actually, some survivors of Sabra and Shatila report having heard Hebrew speakers among their killers. And it is certainly the truth that the Israeli Army and Ariel Sharon provided logistical support–sending up flares so the happy Lebanese killers could find more Palestinian throats to cut.

    It’s a horrible little book, isn’t it? Note that it also points to the continued dependency of Jews on a foreign great power. This has medieval European echoes, but also Israeli ones: Zionists negotiating with the Ottomans, the British, the Nazis, and now, of course, the great American Ahasuerus, which gives leave to slaughter the goyim.

    Still, a prune hamentashen is mighty fine: it’s a tri-cornered hat, like those the Tea Party dweebs wear.

    • Shmuel says:

      It’s a horrible little book, isn’t it?

      Or great literature – drunken parties, royalty, harems, eunuchs, sex, violence, plots, counterplots, politics, and some great characters – and no God!

  12. Mooser says:

    Well, zios, how do you like having your culture explicated for you? Not so nice is it? Of course, it’s nothing like Islamophobia, of course, that’s based on facts, not anti-semetic ravings.

    • James North says:

      An excellent point, Mooser. Muslims regularly have Western “experts” purport to look closely at their sacred texts and indict them throughout history for what is written. But the Old Testament gets different treatment; the gory parts are ignored, or dismissed as “myth.”

  13. ToivoS says:

    What a convenient story for the Zionists. The orthodox rabbis have already declared the Palestinians modern day Amalekites and Caananites so it is permissible to kill their children and slaughter their sheep (all with G-d’s blessing). This purim story explains Israeli obsession with the Iranians. I always thought Haman was Babylonian (just more Arabs under another name) but no, a real Persian. Why he must be an obvious direct ancestor of Ahmedinijad. Now when Israel attacks Iran it can do so with rabbinical blessing and the knowledge that they are carrying out G-d’s will.

    I sure hope Obama does not buy into this logic. He has shown little ability so far to resist the lobby’s arguments.

  14. tommy says:

    The first part of the story is probably all lies to justify the killings in the second part.

    • annie says:

      i assume it’s all myth anyway, the second part too. i doubt they killed 75,000 people. i’m seeing a theme here in terms of people wanting to annihilate them. that’s a very popular rationale today also.

      • MHughes976 says:

        I don’t think that there’s much question that this is not at any point a record of actual events but a literary reflection – quite sophisticated: an exciting story on the surface, with all sorts of serious undertones – on solidarity, alienation, loyalty etc.. Very memorable and impressive, though also rather frightening.
        I don’t see how the Greek version of 114 can be much later than the original Hebrew version that it amplifies and by then the Persian Empire had ceased to exist for a couple of centuries and become part of a romantic past. The fact that a second, less vengeful Greek version of this Jewish story exists shows that there must have been debate about these matters around Jewish dinner tables even then and that the Mondoweiss strain in Jewish culture already existed.

    • lysias says:

      The Achaemenid monarchy (i.e., the Persian Empire) treated Jews very well. Among other things, it allowed a lot of the Jews in exile in Babylonia to go back to Palestine.

      • MRW says:

        Roger Cohen reported on the huge number of Jewish cemeteries in Persia/Iran that were 3,000 years old.

        For the record, every time there was a new Babylonian empire, the new emperor or leader ordered all history books destroyed, and new myths put in their place. The Emperor’s claim to the position was because he was a direct appointee from God (or Gods, can’t remember), therefore no predecessors should exist, and all history had to be rewritten to accommodate why new Mr. Emperor had shown up . Scholars at the University of Chicago (one of the top places in the world for this history) told me this when I was researching 0-200, 300 and 500 AD Persia and Babylonia 15 years ago. They said the only real way they can tell real history from those times was through the coinage, and visiter/ historians from other cultures (like the Chinese, Indians, and Mongolians.)

        I stopped my research when I started having dreams about the Sassanid kings and the places they inhabited and I was getting phrases in a language I didn’t understand, phrases I could write down phonetically. The scholars I was working with told me I was dreaming in ancient Persian (ancient Pahlevi? Farsi? Can’t remember), and that the names of the places I was hearing existed then but not now, and the languages I was hearing were grammatically correct. Kinda’ freaked me out.

      • Ellen says:

        And only when the Muslims took over Jerusalem in 635, did Jews return to the region in larger numbers under welcome by the Muslims (See F.E. Peters, The Monotheists)

        Funny how truth gets in the way of historical propaganda.

        • fuster says:

          and the Jews were treated extremely well for two hundred years until it all changed.

        • Potsherd2 says:

          It always changes, fusty. And it doesn’t always mean the Jews.

        • Ellen says:

          When did it change? Why? Jews were not treated badly in 200 or 300 AD by any group.

          In fact they were totally elite in Spain for centuries — until Ferdinand and Isabella got all nervous about their hold on power and the first stirrings of what later became the Protestant Reformation so they hooked up with the Dominicans and kicked off the Inquisition, kicking everyone out and brutalizing others.

          Side note: Isaac Abrabanel, a very highly placed Jewish Administrator talked Ferdi and Isabella into putting off the Jewish expulsion until if fell exactly on a date to correspond with the biblical story of the destruction of the temple. They said, OK.

          He did not want to miss a chance to work up the big event for all it could be worth and for his books he later contributed to Jewish Apocalypse literature. “Anointed One” “Fountains of Deliverance.”

        • RoHa says:

          “Ferdinand and Isabella got all nervous about their hold on power”

          One version I heard claimed that the Jews were plotting to overthrow them and get the Arabs back. (Which would have been a good thing for everyone esle as well, F &I excepted.)

          Any truth in that?

        • Ellen says:

          Nothing credible points to an “Jewish plot.” The Inquisition was not about the Jews.

          Ferdinand and Isabella (who understood themselves to be defenders of the Church) requested a papal bull to investigate heretics. So potential enemies and threats were seen at first only among Christians. But this also included lapsed Jewish converts or “conversos.” The Dominicans were appointed to the work and then as these things are, the Inquisition too on it’s own ugly life. Enemies were suddenly everywhere!

          Jews, while suspect, did not belong to the Church’s inquisitorial jurisdiction, which was more concerned with those Christian deviants. But the conversos, who were also targeted, were accused of Jewish blasphemy and proselytizing among Christians. So Jews got swept up into this ugly Christian inquisitorial tribunal. But a very small part of the tribunal.

          Then just as Granada fell and Columbus hit the Americans, Ferdinand and Isabella — in all their paranoia — worked out a decree to expel all Jews, including the conversos, from Spain. This reduced the work load of the Inquisitorial Tribunals.

          The logistics of the deal was worked out with their trusted Administrator, Isaac Abrabanel.

      • MHughes976 says:

        Achaemenid-Jewish relations were clearly quite close and were remembered with some affection – maybe through rose-coloured spectacles. The Eerdmans Bible Commentary on Esther 9 mentions the gentle irony of having a Persian Queen establish a Jewish festival and refers to Ezra 7, where the status of the Torah as Jewish law is established by the Persian King Artaxerxes.

  15. jon s says:

    The Book of Esther is a wonderful book: an intricate, suspenseful, plot, fascinating, multi-faceted characters, a markedly feminist dimension…it’s one of my favourites.
    As to the accusation that Purim celebrates the massacre of innocents, certainly offensive to present-day sensibilities. Well, not quite: According to the Megillah (8:11) , the Jews were given permission to annihilate their enemies, including women and children, and loot their property. However, in the execution, that’s not what happens. Those killed are “enemies”, presumably members of the militia Haman had enlisted to destroy the Jews, not innocent women and children. The Megillah also repeatedly emphasizes that no loot was taken, despite the authorization the Jews had to do so.
    In practise, Purim has evolved into a carnival-style, kid-friendly holiday, not some kind of bloodthirsty celebration of death.
    The Palestinians are generally not identified as Amalekites. In Jewish tradition Muslims are considered “Yishma’elim”, descendents of Abraham’s son Yishmael, our “cousins”.

    • ToivoS says:

      The Palestinians are generally not identified as Amalekites. In Jewish tradition Muslims are considered “Yishma’elim”, descendents of Abraham’s son Yishmael, our “cousins”.

      Aha, we now know the kind of rabbis that you consult.

    • Potsherd2 says:

      Those killed are “enemies”, presumably members of the militia Haman had enlisted to destroy the Jews, not innocent women and children.

      Whitewash much, jons?

      The book of Esther is doubtless a favorite of many Zionists, as it confirms the myth that Jews have always been beset by enemies planning to annihilate them, and justify the slaughter of anyone who might prove an inconvenience.

  16. Shmuel says:

    Those killed are “enemies”, presumably members of the militia Haman had enlisted to destroy the Jews, not innocent women and children. The Megillah also repeatedly emphasizes that no loot was taken, despite the authorization the Jews had to do so.

    And they followed the Geneva Convention to the letter, of course.

    It’s ancient fiction. Why impose modern sensibilities? Of course all those killed were “enemies”, just as the authors of Torat Melekh and Barukh Hagever define all Palestinians as “enemies”. The loot thing probably has to do with Saul’s boo-boo in 1 Samuel 15 (another amazing piece of fiction, btw).

    • tree says:

      The loot thing probably has to do with Saul’s boo-boo in 1 Samuel 15 (another amazing piece of fiction, btw).

      Failure to kill the livestock, and instead taking them for his use?

    • Danaa says:

      Shmuel, could I possibly tempt you to please elaborate a bit on Saul’s boo-boo (for the benefit of us biblical scholarship cretins….)?

      And also on why you think it’s fiction (ie, any more than certain other parts).

      If pressed for time, couple of pages will suffice – honest (at least I am not asking on why it should be ‘amazing’. I may know the answer to that one).

      • Shmuel says:

        Tree wins the Bible Quiz. There’s this kind of karma thing going on in Esther. Mordecai is a descendant of Saul, and Haman is a descendant of Agag. Saul failed to kill Agag and took some of the spoils – despite God/Samuel’s instructions. Mordecai kills Haman and all his sons, and the loot is not touched.

        Seriously, read 1 Samuel 15 (Danaa gets to do it in Hebrew). It is a terrific piece of drama.

        I didn’t mean that this is fiction, as opposed to the rest of the Bible, which is historiography. I think it’s all fiction, or as good as, although it’s interesting to ferret out the historical aspects – mostly about the periods of writing and revision, rather than the periods they are supposed to be describing. Martin Buber had an interesting approach to the historicity of the Bible (which he explains in the introduction to Moses), relating to the history of fictional (completely, mostly, partly) characters treated as historical figures.

    • tree says:

      Those killed are “enemies”, presumably members of the militia Haman had enlisted to destroy the Jews, not innocent women and children.

      So you’re saying that in Mordecai’s day, they were more moral than the
      “most moral army” on earth?

      Given the present day fanatics’ ability to consider all Palestinians terrorists I seriously doubt that the intentions and beliefs of all those slaughtered ever entered into the equation in the story. Its simply Jewish exceptionalism to pretend that they did. Just like Christianity, which is a loving and kind religion… except when its not.

    • jon s says:

      Shmuel, On the contrary, the author of the megillah was more humane than the authors of those despicable books. He (or she) makes clear that those killed were not the women and children whom the Jews were authorized to kill. See ch.9 verse 6 which refers to the killing of 500 “ish”, i.e men. And elsewhere , too, those killed are “enemies”, not the innocent. It’s also possible that the reference to Mordecai as a descendent of Saul has to do with the compassion he displays, similar to Saul’s.
      I agree that it’s fiction, not history. Fiction has its lessons, too. We read “Hamlet” for the characters, the plot, the language, not to learn Danish history.

      • Cliff says:

        So tell us what non-Jews should learn from this book.

      • Shmuel says:


        There is no reason to believe that the plural form “ish” means specifically males. And of course the Jews only killed their “enemies” in the story – but there is no reason to presume that the author’s definition of enemies (or that of millennia of readers) included only “members of the militia”. They certainly managed to put the fear of God (so to speak) into guilty and innocent alike, judging by 8:17 and 9:3. Doesn’t sound like “surgical precision” or “smart bombs” to me.

        As for compassion, remember that Saul is not remembered for his compassion, but for his weakness (see also the episode with the witch of Endor) – the paradigm of “he who is merciful to the cruel will, in the end, be cruel to the merciful”. Mordecai is the one who got the job done, in the Lord’s “eternal war” against Amalek, redeeming his family and his tribe.

        • jon s says:

          Shmuel, As I’m sure you know , there are endless ways to interpret the various sources. You can derive an ultra-nationalist, even racist, message, and you can also come up with a univeralist , humane, one.
          To get back to the Megillah: it seems to me that since in the authorization (8:11) the Jews are permitted to kill women and children, yet in the description of the execution women and children are omitted – that’s a significant omission.
          Seeing King Saul as being compassionate – that’s my take on the story. Of course some may see compassion as weakness.

          The traditional commentaries provide endless surprises. The Talmud goes as far as to say that Haman’s descendents “studied Torah in Bnei Beraq”(!) (Bavli Gitin 57B) Just to show that repentance and “tikkun” are always possible.

        • Shmuel says:


          There are indeed many different ways in which to interpret Scripture, but it is important to be aware of the “plain meaning” (peshat) of the text, what is read from it (exegesis) and what is read into it (eisegesis). Your attempt to infer from the fact that women and children are mentioned in the decree, but a general masculine plural is used in the description of the “event,” that only men were killed is not “peshat,” and is questionable exegesis. Your attempt to infer from the fact that the word “enemies” is used to describe the objects of the killing, that only “members of the militia of Haman” were targeted is pure eisegesis – an anachronistic interpretation based on modern conceptions and sensibilities.

          It’s ok if there’s “nasty” stuff in the Tanakh – if only because it makes for better literature.

        • MHughes976 says:

          Shmuel’s reading is the only natural one. The Septuagint version, which removes the Amalekite references, sharply reduces the number of victims, says that there was some plunder and limits the admitted death of women and children to Haman’s family, shows that there was some disquiet from the beginning among Jewish readers – humane people, no doubt. However, the result is a less interesting story.

  17. MRW says:

    The Bible writers were like screenwriters, making it all up to keep their audience on the edge of their toes. Both Old and New Testaments. A couple of the New Testament books were written 200 years after the birth of Christ, and they still pretend to be verbatim accounts. Would be like trying to pass off a verbatim account today of what George Washington said when he crossed the Delaware. (Just like the Old Testament claiming to quote Moses 1,000 years before.)

    How can people be so ridick?

    It’s why Genghis Khan was such an effective marauder: he let his vanquished conquests keep their religion, and they were happy (more or less). Gotta’ contain and manage all that superstition somehow.

    • MRW says:

      Leaders had to enshrine the danger of eating pork in a non-refrigerated country in some kind of religious gobbledegook or the natives would kill themselves. Ditto the Romans and getting the fish sold before the weekend. You just ring-a-ding the Vatican for a ruling.

    • Avi says:

      MRW March 19, 2011 at 5:25 pm

      The Bible writers were like screenwriters, making it all up to keep their audience on the edge of their toes. Both Old and New Testaments.

      Sure, but will there be a squel?

      link to youtube.com


  18. MRW says:

    Even Judaism was into astrology: floor of 6th C Beit-Alpha Synagogue in Israel
    link to img806.imageshack.us

    • Walid says:

      Speaking about naughty girls, no one is talking about Dinah and what her settler-brothers did to the Canaanites that had offered them their hospitality and peace way, way back. Same settler mentality with the looting and killing still in effect today. There’s a Shimon and a Levi in every settler.

      Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

      • Citizen says:

        We don’t have Dinah’s voice in the matter. So it’s not certain how she was “humbled” and/or if she felt she was “defiled.” What is clear from the existing text is her brothers, and by implication their male Hebrew helpers, murdered the Caananite men while they were recovering from penile skin surgery after they had agreed (or were ordered?) along with their prince to be circumsized, a promise extracted by the Hebrews as a pre-condition for a volunteer marriage acceptable by the Hebrew males. Even in Genesis this at least seems to me to reflects a dire Jewish fear of assimilation and no ethical/moral qualms at all regarding collective punishment visited on non-Jews by Jews. We’re talking ancient desert tribes here.

        • MHughes976 says:

          There are different voices, of course. Genesis 21 shows Abraham promising hereditary kindness to the Palestinians.

        • Walid says:

          “…a dire Jewish fear of assimilation and no ethical/moral qualms at all regarding collective punishment visited on non-Jews by Jews. We’re talking ancient desert tribes here”

          What has changed since those days? They still fear assimilation, they still have no ethical or moral qualms regarding collective punishment of non-Jews, and we haven’t even gone into the thousands of Canaanites(forerunners of the Palestinians) killed by Moses on direct orders from the Big Boss.

          Nothing has really changed in their mentality except that now it seems to be limited to rapacious Zionists. Good Jews aren’t into this kind of behaviour.

  19. RoHa says:

    “historian Elliott Horowitz uncovers a long history, going back at least to the early Middle Ages, of Jewish attacks on their gentile neighbors during Purim”

    But I thought that Jews were always innocent victims!

  20. Good for Mr. Norr and family that they identified the evil strains contained in their religion. If only all believers would do this!

  21. If someone were to use the example of Islamic conquests via scorched earth policies leaving hundreds of thousands dead in their wake as the reason Islam is violent today, they would be called racist, islamaphobes and numerous fatwas would be rained on them. If someone gave but a small example of Christian brutality, and there are far too many to pick from as the reason Christians today are evil, there would be a hugh outcry. Yet, when a Purim story which may or may not be totally factual is shown as the reason Sabra and Shatilla happened and by extension showing why Jews are evil today, this is totally accepted here. Note that this is not Israelis this guy is talking about, because if the evidence he presents in his article is true, then all Jews are affected.