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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Today's Persia, Purim in Our Time

Here in Shiloh, we celebrate two days of Purim for reasons that seem less and less convincing each year. Everyone, including the most secular and anti-biblical narrative archaeologists agree that Shiloh was a Jewish City long before the post-First Temple Purim story. Now that I've been studying Ezra-Nehemiah: Shivat Tzion´s Challenges and Triumphs  taught by Yael Leibowitz in Matan, the timeline of Jewish History is starting to make more sense to me. But  as you well know, I am not a rabbi, historian or archeologist; I'm just a blogger...

One of the advantages of having both Purim days is that after thirty-four, yes, 34, years, I've heard Megillat (Scroll of) Esther many, many times. I also took a course on it in Matan a number of years ago by Atara Snowbell.

The Megillat (Scroll of) Esther opens with the celebrations in Persia and makes it clear that the Jewish community there participated fully. They were accepted as proper Persians as long as they didn't stand out as Jews. That's why Mordechai's refusal to bow down to Haman, a high official of King Achashverosh was so "problematic."
Esther 2:17Mordecai not bowing to Haman
Haman was one of the king’s leaders. He hated the Jews. Haman made the people bow down to him. Mordecai would not bow down. Haman was angry.
Most of the Jewish People in Persia considered assimilation to be the way to succeed and have an easy life. From my studies of Ezra-Nechemia, intermarriage was rife, and Jewish observance was rare.

Yes, doesn't that remind you of today's western world, America, Europe, Australia etc? For a Jew to get even close to the highest echelons of power, he/she must fully adopt a non-Jewish lifestyle and ideology/religion, yes, think of Bernie Sanders.

Those of us who insist that the United States is not a true friend and ally of Israel are criticized and shunned. Too many Jews refuse to recognize that only Gd can save us. They are blinded by the fancy words of foreign politicians and think of those "buy in America only" shopping coupons as valuable gold.

Whenever I've spoken to a Jew who has met a POTUS, no matter who, they seem permanently blinded by some dazzle of the occasion. It saddens me, and it frightens me. Is there some mechanism in the White House or accompanying a President that zaps the brain of everyone in his (in the meantime no "her") presence turning logic into mush?

Well, if we're really in a similar situation then it will take much stronger actions against the Jewish communities in the world and the State of Israel for common sense/faith in Gd only to come to fore. Too bad that most Jews can only understand when times get really tough. I remember how things were in the difficult weeks leading up to the 1967 Six Days War. The Jewish World gathered in prayer to Gd and we had no foreign allies. Gd gave us a victory that military experts can't explain to this day. But unfortunately as the smoke cleared so did the faith in Gd. I hate to think what it will take for the Jewish People to finally come to its senses permanently.


Yakov Butterfield said...

That is why they are calling for a 3 day fast:
Fasting Guide for those Participating in the 72-Hour Fast

As mentioned in a number of Hebrew-language articles, on Rafi's blog, on CDG's blog, and elsewhere, there is a rabbinically-supported initiative to fast for 3 days straight on the 11th, 12th, and 13th of Adar Sheni this year.

As mentioned in the guide below, this is intended only for healthy people who are able to do so.

Batya said...

Kol hakavod to those who feel it will help, but honestly I think we have to wake up the Jewish people and not do something that looks inward.

Mr. Cohen said...



Sammy Finkelman said...

>> Haman made the people bow down to him. Mordecai would not bow down. Haman was angry.

To be a little bit more accurate, Mordechai avoided him. Later (Esther 5:9) he didn't do that.

The king's aide's had to tell Haman that Mordechai was not bowing down to him. The Megillah leaves out the reasons, [it was probably originally in there, but cut - you can n see taht something's left out] probably, in my opinion, because the Halachah is not according to Mordechai, but they were religious reasons.

There is a dispute or discussion somewhere in the Gemara - I don't know where right now - about the act of bowing, by itself, is a form of idol worship, and the Halachah is that it's not. But Mordechai, I think, held otherwise.

The courtiers then took the case to Haman, to see if it would stand, because they didn't like bowing down to Haman, and they hoped he, and then them, could get away with it.

When Haman found out that Mordechai did not bow down to him and that it was for religious reasons and not personal reasons, and that, presumably, all Jews would act the same way, he determined to kill the Jews.

Sammy Finkelman said...

It wasn't obvious that Mordechai was Jewish.

Sammy Finkelman said...

>> the timeline of Jewish History is starting to make more sense to me

I can tell you more. A lot of things have bene put together the wrong way, and all sorts of things in Megillas Esther have been understood wrong.

Mordechai was not exiled - his great-grandfather was. Indeed Esther would have to be too old if she was his first cousin if he was exiled, because he couldn't possibly be more than 35 years older than her.

Achashverosh is Artaxerxes I (Artachshatah) Each king who had a different name in Greek (however distorted the Greek is) had a different name in Persian and the same name in Persian is the same name in Greek.

The Tanach even contains a translation proving that Achashverosh is Artachshastah (Artaxerxes I)


וּבְמַלְכוּת, אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, בִּתְחִלַּת, מַלְכוּתוֹ--כָּתְבוּ שִׂטְנָה, עַל-יֹשְׁבֵי יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם. {ס} 6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. {S}

ז וּבִימֵי אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתָּא, כָּתַב בִּשְׁלָם מִתְרְדָת טָבְאֵל וּשְׁאָר כְּנָו‍ֹתָו, עַל-אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתְּא, מֶלֶךְ פָּרָס; וּכְתָב, הַנִּשְׁתְּוָן, כָּתוּב אֲרָמִית, וּמְתֻרְגָּם אֲרָמִית. {פ} 7 And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of his companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Aramaic character, and set forth in the Aramaic tongue. {P}

Now what happened here is that Ezra was writing in Hebrew. Then he realizes he is going to quote exactly a letter written in Aramaic, and starts again, and mentions the name of the king again, this time in the Aramaic vernacular. You must understand what has come down to us is an exact copy of Ezra's manuscript, complete with all the false starts.

Achashverosh and Artachshastah are not two separate kings, one of which Ezra tells no details about what he did.

Later on he mentions 3 kings (not 3 names for the same king) at 6:14. You can say well, this Achashverosh only just the rebuilding of the temple, but Artaxerxes helped. But where did he help? I'll go into this later.

Rashi and others are correct that the fact the Megillah says the feast happened as the king was established on his throne means that the king was established on his throne only in the third year of his reign.

This is the back story: There had been a sort of prime minister, and he had killed the king (Xerxes) in 465 BCE. Then he went to the king's third son, whom he thought was a sort of pliable character, not interested in the details of governance, and persuaded him that the king's oldest son had been responsible and got his agreement to have the oldest son executed.

The third son was Artaxerxes. It got discovered that the accusation was false but only after the execution was carried out. Then the king's second son, who had the satrapy of Bactria (covering roughly Afghanistan) laid a claim to the throne, but Artaxerxes had already claimed the throne, wanted to hold on to it or at least not to get executed himself

It took till the third year of reign till he was established, at which point he made a big feast for all the inhabitants of Susa. (Shushan in Bible English and in Hebrew.)

Sammy Finkelman said...

Achashverosh did not kill Vashti. This was not like Herod who couldn't get his wife back because he killed her. The decree had been that she could never see him.

Achashverosh was a stickler for the Persian rule that a decree of the king could never be reversed. This had been instituted by the grandfather of Cyrus the Great as a precaution against assassination. That's why the decree to stop the rebuilding of the Temple had an escape clause (Ezra 4:21) But the decree of Haman did not have an escape clause and Mordechai and Esher had to figure out a way to undo it without revoking it. The Greek writer Herodotus (who wrote his lectures, later turned into a book, at the instigation of Egyptian idol worshipping priests, in an attempt to write the Jews out of history) also tells of a case where Artaxerxes insisted he could not revoke the law. This had to do with killing a lion, even though the lion was killed to save the king's life. He was persuaded a lesser punishment would be OK.

Haman never got to finish his exposition. The king agreed right away. So he never learned the identity of the people to be eliminated. Achashverosh did not know that nobody knew who Esther's people were! He thought it was just himself. That's why he later thought it was a trick to kill his consort.

Haman did not try to bribe the king, with the king refusing. Haman proposed simply that the tax collectors be entrusted with the task of organizing the killing of the Jews and that they be given money to do that. The reaosn for choosing the tax collectors is because only that aspect of government went down to the low level. Achashverosh said the money is given to you.

The Megillah originally maybe said nothing about when this happened. Then it said it was in the days of Achashverosh. Then it later had to say it was in the days of "the Achashverosh who ruled from India to Ethiopia" (really the Sudan - the location of Kush has changed over time) Because later on Persian lost control of Egypt.

Except it gained back again, 9 years before Alexander the Great and there was a third Achashverosh who again ruled from Hidu to Kush. The Anshei Knesset HaGedolah lost the ability to edit the Kesuvim at about that time, after Alexander the Great. The geneologies in Divrei Hayomim go down to about that time, and also otherwise they would have to take account of the fact of the destruction of the Persian archives.

Sammy Finkelman said...

Here is how Artachshastah made a decree that helped the revuilding of the temple:

Nehemiah 1:1-4, 2:1-5

וַיָּבֹא חֲנָנִי אֶחָד מֵאַחַי, הוּא וַאֲנָשִׁים--מִיהוּדָה; וָאֶשְׁאָלֵם עַל-הַיְּהוּדִים הַפְּלֵיטָה, אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁאֲרוּ מִן-הַשֶּׁבִי--וְעַל-יְרוּשָׁלִָם. 2 that Hanani, one of my brethren, came out of Judah, he and certain men; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, that were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.

וַיֹּאמְרוּ, לִי--הַנִּשְׁאָרִים אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁאֲרוּ מִן-הַשְּׁבִי שָׁם בַּמְּדִינָה, בְּרָעָה גְדֹלָה וּבְחֶרְפָּה; וְחוֹמַת יְרוּשָׁלִַם מְפֹרָצֶת, וּשְׁעָרֶיהָ נִצְּתוּ בָאֵשׁ. 3 And they said unto me: 'The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach; the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.

...the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”

These are the walls that were rebuilt early in the reign of Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:12)


יְדִיעַ, לֶהֱוֵא לְמַלְכָּא, דִּי יְהוּדָיֵא דִּי סְלִקוּ מִן-לְוָתָךְ, עֲלֶינָא אֲתוֹ לִירוּשְׁלֶם; קִרְיְתָא מָרָדְתָּא וּבִאישְׁתָּא, בָּנַיִן, ושורי אשכללו (וְשׁוּרַיָּא שַׁכְלִלוּ), וְאֻשַּׁיָּא יַחִיטוּ. 12 be it known unto the king, that the Jews that came up from thee are come to us unto Jerusalem; they are building the rebellious and the bad city, and have finished the walls, and are digging out the foundations.

This report about the walls and the gates of Jerusalem being destroyed was possibly after what is called the revolt of Megabyzus.

This revolt happened after the massacre of the Jew haters that occured in the year following the downfall of Haman in 453 BCE. The massacre of the Jew haters occured actually in 452 BCE, but in the Persian - and most world calendars - that still belonged to the old year, the year starting with the spring equinox, and there actually not being a fixed number of months to the year.

But Egyptians seemed to have something to do with that revolt.


Some time later Megabyzus himself revolted. Ctesias tells us the reason was that Amestris had the captives from the Egyptian revolt executed, though Megabyzus had given his word that they would not be harmed. Armies under Usiris of Egypt and then prince Menostanes, a nephew of the king, were sent against him, both foregoing battle for (non-fatal) duels between the generals, and in both cases Megabyzus was victorious.

This says that this occured after the peace of Callias. That occurred in 450-449 BCE, when (I conclude) Mordechai made a secret peace agreement with Greece.

As part of that agreement, a lot of money was paid to Athens, which was used to rebuild the Acropolis and build the Parthenon. Part of the idea was to keep the Greeks busy. A statue of Athena was built and put in the Parthenon, but it and the temple was not used for idol worship - a condition laid down by Mordechai. If Athens had violated that, the money would have stopped coming in. The money was used by Pericles to entrench himself in power. He had to do some skillful lying and concealment.

Haman had bribed Sparta to make war. Mordechai found more peaceful (and effective!) ways to handle things.

Sammy Finkelman said...

The incident Nehemiah relates, at the start of his book, which is the only place in the entire Tanach that everyone, from the greatest skeptic to biggest Talmud Chacham, agrees who wrote it, took place in 445 BCE. The twentieth year of King Artaxerxes corresponds to 445 BCE. There is a little issue with when do you begin the year, though, which I am not sure how to solve.

it goes: (as qupted by KarlF)

"...In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was served him, I carried the wine and gave it to the king. Now, I had never been sad in his presence before. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This can only be sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my ancestors’ graves, lies waste, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it.”

And then he mentions a fact he left out: "the "Shegal" - which is word that means something like female companion and covers different degrees of recognition" was sitting next to him. Nehemiah needs to explain why he thinks Artaxerxes agreed.

The word "Shegal" is sometimes translated here as Queen.


וַיֹּאמֶר לִי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַשֵּׁגַל יוֹשֶׁבֶת אֶצְלוֹ, עַד-מָתַי יִהְיֶה מַהֲלָכְךָ--וּמָתַי תָּשׁוּב; וַיִּיטַב לִפְנֵי-הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיִּשְׁלָחֵנִי, וָאֶתְּנָה לוֹ זְמָן. 6 And the king said unto me, the queen also sitting by him: 'For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return?' So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.

See? Nehemiah adds this about the woman sitting next to the king right in the middle of a sentence.

This is an unmistakeable reference to Esther, but for various reasons, nobody says that.

I think she called "shegal" by Nehemiah because legally, she wasn't a queen. To make her an official queen would have violated an oath agreed to Darius I. But the common people called her a queen, and so it is in the book of Esther.

Sammy Finkelman said...

Notice that Nehemiah doesn't ask for the temple to be rebuilt, because Artaxerxes had already forbidden it. He only asks for the situation to be restored to what it was shortly before.

There is a problem with generally accepted Jewish history, with the way it's been put together, probably dating from after the destruction of the second temple (Rabbi Scwab even thought they did it on purpose)

And with the the non-Jews it started around 1420 in Germany when they decided to dispute the authenticity of the book of Esther at a time when nothing else was disputed. It shold have bene the last to be disputed since there are no miracles in it. People who deny the Holocaust do so because they want to commit another one.

It has been ripped out of its proper historical setting. Crazy things have been said, like that Ahasuerus is Xerxes, when the simplest perusal of the sources and earlier writings indicate he is identical with Artaxerxes.

One more thing: The first house that the old men had seen when the temple was rebuilt, (Ezra 4:12) was not the temple in its glory, but the remains of the old temple (stone doesn't burn) which they tore down in the days of Xerxes when they first started to rebuild it. But then it got stopped early in the reign of Artaxerxesa and throughout his whole 40 years.

Josephus metions a delegation (of Rabbis probably) that went to Rome in the days of Augustus which said they returned in the days of Xerxes. They put a foundation stone of the old temple in the Holy of holies. (Yoma 5:2, 53b in the Gemara. This is somehow understood in a comletely impossible way at Yoma 54b. Why do they think they said he stone was from the time of the Neviim Rishonim?

The second temple was built long after 70 years had passed. What the seventy years was, was misunderstood early. At Zechariah 7:3,5 there looks an allusion to the fact that well more than seventy years had passed - in any case that was 2 years and 3 or 4 months before the rebuilding was finished.

The seventy years are the years of Babylonian rule over Yerushalayim and were finished with Cyrus's decree (Ezra 1:1) and 11 years of that the temple was standing.

Batya said...

Sammy, wow, thanks for all the information.

Anonymous said...

Heard s number of times that there's some medrash about Esther being 70 years old when the king saw her; she had a unique beauty.

Also, Vashti was the queen (granddaughter to Nevuchadnezer) and Ahashverosh was the commoner (usurper) who married her.

Batya said...

I must admit that I don't take midrashim like that very seriously. But don't forget that it is written that her attraction was her charm חן chen, not classic beauty.

MAOZ said...

I've got to recommend a book titled "The Queen You Thought You Knew" by R' David Fohrman, to help understand what-all's going on in the Megilla.

Purim Same'ach lekhol 'Am Israel.

Sammy Finkelman said...

Anonymous 23/3/16 17:05

"Also, Vashti was the queen (granddaughter to Nevuchadnezer) and Ahashverosh was the commoner (usurper) who married her."

I know that's what they say, but that's based on the chronology of Seder Olam - of Rabbi Yose. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi did not incoroporate any of that into, for instance, Pirkei Avos. He just skips over everything till Shimon HaTzaddik. Because he didn't really know what the facts were, so he preferred to say nothing. But if enough people say nothing, you just get something more inaccurate in time.

Seder Olam is actually a series of mostly numerical drashahs with the justifications for those drashas. These statements were used in the regular speeches given by the Rabbis. And in it the Persian period is both long and short. In one version of the facts, it's 210 years long. It's made short in the consensus version they settled on because they knew they had an accurate count of the Seleucid Era (the minyan shetaros) which was from a little after Alexander the Great, and if you assume some other things were right, you reduce the Persian period to 34 years. (which, by the way, a bunch of other things contradict, or don't appear to be very consistent with - did all these changes with the shekalim and so on happen in such a short time frame?)

Only with that short period, can you speculate (it isn't knowledge, although it appears to us sometimes that it's claiming to be knowledge) that Vashti was Nebuchadrezzer's granddaughter. It's one of those things that get told over and over again and it's so sunk in you almost think it's established fact preserved by chazal and it becomes for some people maybe a core element of the story. But it is a midrash and, Chazal, after Rabbi's Akivas students died - which we still have to figure out when, but it wasn't a disease - they were executed by the Romans - did not like disputes and this would not be a dispute about halachah. They got very careful about arguing in the generation after the Bar Kochva revolt. In the generation of Rabbi Akiva they would say what have you got to do with Agada, Akiva? So it went uncontradicted.

The sources for the Persian period are scanty, but from my historical knowledge I would say Vashti was royalty, but Persian royalty or nobility, one of the seven families that included Darius I. Ahashverosh was not a commoner, but he was a kind of usurper, as the wording of the megillah implies ("as he sat on the throne" = He was only solidly on the throne on his third regnal year, and that's when he throws a festival that goes on and on.)

He was the third son of the previous king, Xerxes, who was assassinated, who wound up on the throne as a result more or less of the sequence of events I described above.

Sammy Finkelman said...

MAOZ said...

"I've got to recommend a book titled "The Queen You Thought You Knew" by R' David Fohrman, to help understand what-all's going on in the Megilla."

I think that book includes something about the wording of what Mordechai said to Esther being an echo oof Vayikra 27, at the end of Bechukosei. (Why not? He was a Talmud Chocham)

Sammy Finkelman said...

One more thing: Mordechai and Esther are said to be buried in Hamadan, Iran. I saw this year, in poster advertosement for a group that said it was going to pray there (with the permission and help of the Iranian government, I suppose, how else?) that Hamadan is said by them to be Shushan.

Now the whole world knows that Shushan is what is now called (the ruins of) Susa, near the Iraqi border in the southwest. It was abandoned. In 1901 the stele of the Code of Hammurabi was found there by French archeologits (with the references to idol worship scratched away - Mordechai would have done that. And the stele is significant because the last article in the Code of Hammurabi is that the ear of slave who escaped is cut off or bored. This shows you why in the eyes of the nations the "Chukim" would be seen as wise, or smart. Because the first law in Mishpatim says that happens to a slave who stays. And there is law that an escaped slave is not to be returned.

Now I think I can explain how they came to be buried far away. I read somewhere that late in the reign of Artaxerxes I there was a big fire in Susa. I never got the exact year, or even an approximate one. Maybe they didn't know. But I read that.

I thought for many years that this had destroyed the whole city, but I recently read that the city, was still around in the time of Alexander the Great.

But the palace grounds, it seems like was destroyed.

So the king and his whole entourage left there and never returned. This must have been sometime after the 32nd year of Artaxerxes (433 BCE) because Nehemiah was in Shushan that year. (unless the name was moved as well, at least temporarily)