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THE BOOK OF ESTHER IN THE LIGHT 
OF HISTORY 

By Jacob Hoschander, Dropsie College. 



CHAPTER VII 

The author of the reform — The success of the reform among the 
Persians — The resistance of the Jews — The contrary effect of the per- 
secutions upon them — Their plea — Esther's relationship to Mordecai — His 
identity among gentiles — The necessity of his having some position at the 
court — His discovery of a conspiracy — His attitude towards the persecuted 
Jews — His refusal to bow down to the prime minister — His confession of 
being a Jew — The prime minister's hesitation to punish him — His action 
and the creed of the Jews — The significance of the casting of lots — The 
simultaneity of Purim with a non-Jewish festival —The epagomena — Haman's 
difficult task — The Jews in Palestine — Haman's accusation — His aim — The 
sanguinary style of his decree — His promise of ten thousand talents — 
His wealth — The king's investigations — The early promulgation of the decree 
— Its being reconsidered under the influence of wine. 

In the preceding chapter we learned from the pages 
of history that there was a Jewish persecution under the 
reign of Artaxerxes II. Turning to the Book of Esther, 
we are confronted by the fact that the chief executive of 
that king was an inveterate enemy of the Jews. We may 
thus safely conclude that those Jewish persecutions occurred 
at a time when this Jewish enemy stood at the head of 
the Persian government. But the persecutions could not 
have been due to a personal enmity of the prime minister 
towards the Jews. They were merely the outcome of the 
greatest movement in the spiritual life of the Persians since 
Zoroaster. On the other hand, we find that this minister 

I5 1 



152 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

occupied an extraordinarily high position, without seeing 
any cause for his elevation. Considering all these facts, 
we are justified in looking for a logical connexion between 
the innovation of Artaxerxes II, the exalted position of 
his prime minister, and the enmity of the latter towards 
the Jews. This connexion we find in seeing in that prime 
minister who so severely persecuted those who did not 
willingly submit to the Zoroastrian reform the very author 
and originator of this idea. The author of the Book of 
Esther had no intention of writing Persian history. His 
sole aim was to explain the origin of Purim. He, there- 
fore, wrote only the facts absolutely necessary for our 
information, ' of that which they had seen concerning this 
matter, and which had come unto them '. As to the other 
facts he refers us to ' the book of the chronicles of the 
kings of Media and Persia'. Moreover, the Book being 
compiled for the Jews of the Persian empire, the author 
could not touch upon the antecedents of that event, and 
refer to the cause of that prime minister's elevation, the 
corruption of the Zoroastrian religion, and the resistance 
of the Jews to that worship, without deeply insulting the 
adherents of that religion and endangering thereby the 
existence of the Jews. 

The plan of reforming the Persian religion, by which 
it should gain popularity and be more easily disseminated 
among the subjects of the Persian empire, certainly did 
not originate in the muddled brains of an effeminate 
monarch, but was devised, as already suggested, by one 
of the royal councillors. It was no doubt a very clever 
device for the purpose of establishing Zoroastrianism as 
the religion of the Persian empire. However, the intro- 
duction of that innovation was extremely dangerous. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 153 

Failure to realize it might have been disastrous to the 
dynasty, or at least, to the king. The Holy Wars, described 
in the Sacred Books of the Zoroastrians, which, according 
to Jackson and others, 1 occurred in the sixth century B.C.E., 
could not have been forgotten in the course of two 
centuries. The great festival of the Magophonia established 
to commemorate the overthrow of Pseudo-Smerdis, who 
evidently had intended to abolish the Zoroastrian religion 
and to reintroduce the old Iranian popular belief, was, as 
Ctesias informs us, 2 still celebrated at that period. Some 
satraps, under the pretext of defending the purity of the 
Zoroastrian religion, might have caused an insurrection. 3 
The plan could not have met with the unanimous approval 
of the privy council. The strict Zoroastrians could not 
have been a party to the corruption of their religion, and 
naturally advised against that reform. The biblical tradi- 
tion discussed above shows that the nobility and the 
officials were bitterly opposed to that innovation, and 
submitted to it only under the penalty of death. Many 
officials, though indifferent to religious principles, may have 
shrunk from being associated in the execution of that plan, 
knowing well that, if it should fail and cause disaster, the 

1 Jackson, Zoroaster, p. 174; Alfred Jeremias holds the same opinion 
(The Old Testament in the light of the Ancient East, I, pp. 161 ff.) that 
' Zoroaster's theology dates from the sixth century '. 

2 Ctesias, Persica, 15. 

3 We have already pointed out that the letter of Cyrus to the Lacedae- 
monians, in which he boasted of being instructed in the doctrines of the 
Magi, is not without significance. The Lacedaemonians had no concern 
whether Cyrus knew more of the religious doctrines than Artaxerxes. But 
he meant to indicate that in his enterprise he could reckon upon the assistance 
of the priesthood and the ' Church ' party (see chapter IV, n. 21). Ardashir, 
who overthrew the empire of the Philhellenic Parthians and founded the 
New-Persian empire was a Magus (Darmesteter, /. c, p. 55). 



154 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

king would hold them responsible, and willingly sacrifice 
them, to appease the anger of the people, as usually 
happens. 

Impressed by the magnitude of the plan, and being 
convinced by the reasons advanced, that it was the best 
remedy for the prevention of the empire's dissolution, 
Artaxerxes entrusted the execution of the plan to its 
author. Such a sweeping and far-reaching plan could not 
have been carried through by a minister with limited 
powers. The satraps and governors of the provinces who 
were not favourably inclined towards the innovation might 
have interfered with his ordinances, and ignored them. 
The royal princes might have been too proud to receive 
orders from an inferior in rank. Therefore, committed to 
that policy, the king was bound to bestow upon this 
minister the highest rank, exalting him over all princes, 
grandees, satraps, and governors of the empire. Thus it was 
not a favour, but a grave task, conferred upon this councillor. 
By his elevation he was made responsible for the success 
of his advice. If the contrary of his intentions should 
occur, and the policy inaugurated by him should cause 
insurrections, he was utterly ruined. This councillor, of 
Esther3. i. course, we identify with ' Haman, the son of Hammedatha, 
whom the king promoted and advanced, and set his seat 
above all the princes that were with him '. 

This councillor, however, appears to have been thoroughly 
acquainted with the religious sentiments of the Persian 
common people. The Iranians, though Zoroastrians and 
not worshippers of anthropomorphic images, never entirely 
abandoned the gods of the old popular belief. This fact 
is borne out by the numerous Persian proper names of the 
sixth and fifth centuries, which are compounded with 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 155 

names of old Iranian deities. 4 The close intercourse with 
the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and other polytheistic 
nations for a considerable period was not without influence 
upon the religious conception of the Iranians. The latter 
became gradually reconciled to the idea of representations 
of the divine beings in which they continued to believe. 
Therefore the latter did not meet with any serious opposi- 
tion among the Iranians. The strict Zoroastrians represented 
by the intellectual class, and many of the dignitaries, as 
it seems, though of considerable influence, formed only 
a small portion of the population, as Zoroaster's religion 
was too spiritual to attract real converts. None of them 
were courageous enough to raise the standard of rebellion 
for the religious cause. The polytheistic nations of the 
empire, which regarded the ruling Iranians as enemies of 
the gods, could not but be pleased with the religious 
change. 

Nevertheless, the success of this reform was not quite 
complete. Resistance arose among a part of the population 
with which the prime minister never reckoned. In his 
official career, the Jews could not have been unknown to 
him, but like all the Persians who came in contact with 
them, he looked upon their religion as a variety of Zoro- 
astrianism, and was not interested in finding out its exact 
nature. The Jews for their own sake had good reason for 
upholding and corroborating these incorrect opinions, as 
we already observed. 5 Therefore, it was to be expected 
that the Jews, like all other Zoroastrians, would submit 

4 See chapter VI, n. 23. 

5 Marquart, Fundamenie, p. 37, remarks : ' It is probable that the Jews 
represented to Artaxerxes their God as being essentially identical with 
Ahuramazda, hence his sympathy for the Jews' (see chapter V, note 51). 

VOL. XII. M 



156 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

to the religious reform. However, the Jews formed so 
insignificant a fraction of the inhabitants of the Persian 
empire that it may be seriously doubted whether the prime 
minister thought of them at all, and whether their sub- 
mission or resistance ever entered into the calculations of 
his scheme. 

But the resistance of the Jews was by no means im- 
material to the success of the innovation. Numerically 
and in all other respects they were at too great a dis- 
advantage to apprehend on their part any serious opposition, 
not to say, an insurrection. But one spark may set a 
building aflame where there is combustible matter. The 
dissatisfaction of the strict Zoroastrians with the corruption 
of their creed might have been stimulated by the example 
set by the Jews, and might have found vent in a Holy 
War, and this was certainly a subject of serious appre- 
hension. Being informed of the resistance of the Jews, 
the prime minister instructed the officials to adopt the 
strictest measures against them. Receiving continuous 
reports from all parts of the empire of their obstinacy, 
his mind could not have been well disposed towards them. 
At first he may have tried rather lenient measures to 
render them submissive. But seeing the futility of bending 
them to his will in that way, he had no course but to break 
their stubborn resistance by imposing upon them the most 
severe sentences. The condemned, of course, gave vent to 
their imprecations on the author of their doom. Thus it 
happened that this prime minister became a persecutor of 
the strict adherents of the Jewish religion, and was looked 
upon as ' an enemy of the Jews '. 

The prime minister was under the delusion that a 
number of executions in various sections of the empire 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 157 

would have the salutary effect of frightening the rest 
into obedience. But the effect of these executions was 
contrary to his expectations. The Persians had not yet 
had the experiences of religious persecutors, that blood is 
the best fertilizer for the growth of a religious creed. One 
martyr made numerous converts. As in former days, 
under Babylonian rule, the courage, devotion, and fervour 
of the martyrs reawakened the religious conscience slumber- 
ing in the hearts of many indifferent Jews. Many of the 
latter who by their conduct had not even been recognized 
as Jews, now openly declared their adherence to the Jewish 
creed, protesting against the cruel treatment of their co- 
religionists, and denouncing the author of those persecutions. 
We may doubt whether they went to the utmost limit 
of sacrificing themselves for their religion. But they were 
at least willing to share the disadvantage of being known 
as adherents of an unpopular creed. There may have been 
others less indifferent who, moved by the example set by 
their brethren, became strictly religious, and were ready 
to share the fate of the latter. The Talmud appears to 
be right in observing, that the Jews had again voluntarily 
accepted the Jewish religion, in the days of Ahasuerus. 6 

In former days, the Jews had been eager to demonstrate 
to the Persians that their own religion was closely akin 
to that of the latter. This policy had now to be abandoned ; 
for if the Jewish religion was based upon the same 
principles as that of Zoroaster, there was no ground why 

6 Shabbath 88 b. The Talmud, however, in all probability did not know 
of these persecutions, and merely based its saying upon the verse : ' The 
Jews confirmed and took upon themselves ' (IX, 27), which they interpreted : 
' They confirmed now (the Law) which they had taken upon themselves 
long ago ' (-Q3 l^pC HD 10'p). 

M 2 



158 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

it should not undergo the same change. The logical con- 
clusion would have been that the opposition the royal 
decree met with on the part of the Jews, was not due to 
the fundamental principles of their religion, but to the 
obstinacy and disloyalty of its adherents. The Jews could 
plead their innocence only by demonstrating that their 
own religion prohibited the worship of idols, that 'their 
laws are diverse from all people '. They could easily refute 
the accusation of being disloyal subjects by pointing out 
that they had always recognized the divinity of Ahura- 
mazda, the supreme God of the Iranians, and still continue 
to do the same, being thus more loyal to the Persians 
than all their polytheistic subjects who formerly had not 
the least regard for the Persian religion. This plea was 
irrefutable, but more harmful to their cause than silence. 
The Jews thus assumed the part of ' Defenders of the 
Faith ', insisting upon the purity of Zoroaster's religion. 
Now intolerance toward the creeds of the non-Iranians was 
not a part of the scheme of that innovation, as the recogni- 
tion of Anahita did not restrain them from continuing 
to worship their own deities. The idea of toleration, 
however, did not work as far as the creed of the Jews was 
concerned. The prime minister perceived that the religious 
conceptions of these people was inimical to and incom- 
patible with the execution of his measures. He saw in 
this religion the root of the evil which must be eradicated. 
It was against Persian political principles to be intolerant 
towards other religious beliefs, and he may have been 
reluctant to depart from them and apply measures for the 
suppression of the Jewish religion. The latter, however, 
the fundamental doctrine of which was : ' Thou shalt have 
no other gods before me ... for I the Lord thy God am 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 159 

a jealous God', could not expect tolerance from the 
believers in other gods, the existence of which it denied. 
But as long as those who resisted his ordinances were 
merely found sporadically, no great harm was done, and 
he was loath to use extreme measures against the practice 
of that religion. He saw that this fundamental doctrine was 
adhered to only by a small fraction of the Jews, and believed 
that with their extinction, it would be in abeyance, and 
no longer detrimental to the innovation. But the con- 
dition became more and more aggravated. This strictly 
monotheistic conception gained converts everywhere. An 
example of this kind we find in Mordecai. 

The author of our story informs us : ' Esther had not Esther a. 
showed her people nor her kindred'. Does the author 
intend to state that Esther kept secret not only her Jewish 
extraction but also her kinship to Mordecai ? How could 
she have done so, since she was taken from Mordecai's 
house, and he went every day to inquire of the eunuchs 
about her ? 7 If Mordecai was known to be a Jew, and 
anxious that Esther should conceal her connexion with 
the Jews, was he not afraid lest by his constant solici- 
tude for her welfare the secret might leak out? The 
author could not be guilty of so flagrant a contradiction. 
This statement undoubtedly meant to imply that Esther 
concealed the fact that she belonged to those who were 
adherents of the Jewish religion. Since, however, Esther 
was actually of Jewish lineage, the author used the para- 

7 Owing to the current interpretation of the Book of Esther, this question 
has not yet found a satisfactory solution. Haupt, Critical Notes, p. 135, 
thinks that by some diplomatic questions Mordecai could have obtained 
some special information concerning Esther without revealing the fact that 
she was his cousin and foster-daughter. But this is impossible, since she 
was taken from Mordecai's house, as Paton, p. 175, and others object. 



l6o THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

phrase ' her people and her kindred '. Thus Esther kept 
secret her Jewish religion. 8 But Mordecai did exactly the 
same. He was not known among the Gentiles to be a Jew. 9 
Thus there was no reason why Esther should have con- 
cealed her kinship to Mordecai. It was by no means 
necessary to be of pure Persian lineage to be regarded as 
Persian. Herodotus states that the children of Metiochus, 
the son of Miltiades, were accounted Persians. 10 If Greeks 
could be so easily changed into Persians, why not Jews ? 
Mordecai, like many other Jews of that period, was in dress, 
habit, language, and, in all probability, even in his name, 11 
not in the least different from any other Persian. Having 
been an indifferent Jew, he was looked upon by his neigh- 
bours and casual acquaintances as a genuine Persian. 

An obscure private citizen can easily conceal his identity, 
but not a high official who is constantly in the eye of the 
public which is naturally curious to learn all about his 
personality and pedigree. Esther, soon after her elevation 
to the rank of queen, procured for her cousin an office 
at the court. She might have done so, informing the king 
that Mordecai was related to her, without dwelling upon 
the fact that the latter was her cousin and had adopted 
her as his daughter. This she did after the downfall of 
Haman. Both Mordecai and Esther were anxious to 
conceal their identity, which could only be effected if 
the former remained in a humble position, fearing that 
the king on being informed of their close kinship might 
appoint the queen's adopted father to a high position. We 

8 See chapter V, n. 63. • See chapter V. 

10 Herodotus VI, 41. 

11 We may reasonably assume that Mordecai had a Persian name (see 
chapter IX). The same is true of Nehemiah, cf. Marquart, Fundamente, 
P-3i- 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER l6l 

may assume that even then the king was willing to bestow 
upon him some considerable office, but Esther, under some 
pretext, may have declined it. 12 However, there is no need 
to assume that Mordecai owed his office at the court 
to the king's favour. The queen had only to hint at such 
a request to the chief of the eunuchs or to one of the high 
dignitaries to procure for Mordecai this position. Thus 
Mordecai became one of the guards, ' sitting in the king's 
gate '. 

Was there any urgent need for giving Mordecai a 
position at the court? Mordecai, being a descendant of 
a wealthy family, was not in need of this position for his 
sustenance. Nor was he ambitious to pride himself on 
being a court official. We have seen that Mordecai's desire 
that Esther should captivate the king's heart was not due 
to his personal ambition, but to the forethought that in 
time of need she might be helpful to the Jewish people. 
This plan showed, as we have observed, his solicitude for 
the welfare of his brethren but little regard for their tenets. 
This plan required that Mordecai should be in the proximity 
of the queen. As an attendant of the royal court, it was 
possible for him, by means of the eunuchs, in case of an 
emergency, to be in communication with the queen without 
attracting attention. 

As one of the body-guards in charge of the gate of the Esther a. 
royal palace, Mordecai was, of course, in intercourse and 2I ~ 23 * 
on friendly terms with other attendants and eunuchs about 
the person of the king. Thus, on one occasion, he discovered 
a plot against the life of the king. This plot may be 
identical with the conspiracy against the life of Artaxerxes, 
which, if Aspasia, the concubine of Cyrus, did play any 

12 See Cassel's reflections upon this policy, p. 65. 



162 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

part in it, must have occurred not many years after 
the battle of Cunaxa, as was already suggested in the 
fourth chapter. In that case, the servant who. according 
to Plutarch, divulged that conspiracy, may be identical 
with Mordecai. Our text is here, owing to an error of 
a copyist, somewhat confused. We have to read : ' In those 
days, when the virgins were gathered together, the second 
time, and while Mordecai sat in the king's gate, two of the 
king's eunuchs Bigthan and Teresh, of those which kept 
the door, were wroth ' ("ST\c\ rw mbva jopna Dnn D^a 
tpn nDE>D itan <DnD ■ot? Dim inn spp ibon nyea aw) 13 . 
Our author intends to give the date of that conspiracy: 
it occurred at a time when virgins were gathered again. 
We have seen that gatherings of this kind were an old- 
established institution at the Persian courts, for the purpose 

13 No commentator has as yet explained this passage. Wildeboer thinks 
that when a company of girls arrived people crowded into the court to see 
them, and that Mordecai took that opportunity to penetrate further into the 
palace than he could ordinarily go. Siegfried explains this clause as due to 
the clumsiness of the author. See the various views by Paton, pp. 186 ff. 
But while seeking the explanation how Mordecai could have discovered 
the conspiracy at the time of the gathering of the virgins, they overlooked 
the main difficulty of that passage. This can have no connexion with the 
conspiracy, since it is separated from the latter's description by verse 20 : 
' Esther had not yet shown her people nor her kindred, &c.' However, 
a close examination of that passage shows that it is indeed misplaced. We 
notice in the first place that the clause ' Mordecai was sitting in the king's 
gate ' is repeated twice in the verses 19 and 21. Moreover, after the words 
Dnn D^a we would expect "^Dri "W3 >3TD mEO, according to the 
author's style (cf. trWrlN "^DD ri3K>3 Dnn D'DU). Therefore we 
suggest that some copyist omitted to write in verse 21 the clause f3pna 
JViC Dli'ira, and in order to show that it belongs after Dnn D'CQ, he 
wrote on the margin perpendicularly, there not being enough space for 
horizontal writing, both clauses -lytSO ^W »3TO HOC rr6lTD JOpHa 
"pDrt ; and another copyist inserted them in a wrong place, in verse 19. 
Thus originally they had some connexion with the conspiracy. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 163 

of replacing the faded beauties of the harem. 14 We may 
assume that they always occurred when the various 
governors of the provinces sent to the court a sufficient 
supply. We are not distinctly informed of the nature 
of that plot. In the conspiracy of Darius, mentioned by 
Plutarch, the conspirators intended to murder Artaxerxes 
in his bed-chamber. In our case, the conspirators were 
' of the keepers of the threshold ' (spn nDB'D), who evidently 
guarded the entrance to the king's private chambers. This 
may be corroborated by the fact that they were eunuchs, 
while it was not a requirement of those ' who sat on the 
king's gate' to belong to that class. Therefore we may 
conjecture that it was a conspiracy of the same kind. 
However, there is a possibility that the clause, ' when the 
virgins were gathered together, the second time ', is more 
than a date, and has a deeper meaning. Did the con- 
spirators intend to murder the king by pretending to 
introduce to him one of the newly arrived virgins ? We 
may perhaps think of how Alexander of Macedonia, the 
son of Amyntas, destroyed the Persian embassy by intro- 
ducing to them beardless youths dressed in garments of 
women. 15 We may even imagine that one of the virgins 
may have been a party to the conspiracy in order to avenge 
the death of some relatives. We may recall the case of 
Phaedima, the daughter of Otanes, who played a very 
important part in the overthrow of Smerdis. 16 Having 
been one of the guards, and on intimate terms with the 
other attendants, Mordecai may have been invited to join 

14 See chapter IV, note 12. 

15 Herodotus V, 20. Similar stories are told by many ancient writers, 
see G. Rawlinson, Herodotus, vol. IV, p. 190, n. 1. 

16 Herodotus III, 69. 



164 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

the conspiracy. The fact that he disclosed it reflects no 
credit upon Mordecai. The king's murder would have 
ended all his hopes and expectations of Esther's high 
position for the benefit of his brethren. He had more 
interest in the king's life than had any one else. The king, 
of course, could not know this, and we may safely con- 
jecture that the latter, as a reward for his deed, was willing 
to appoint him to a high office commensurate with his 
merits. But Mordecai, as we have seen, could not have 
accepted this honour. 17 The chief executive at that time 
saw no reason to promote Mordecai against his will, and 
was certainly well pleased with Mordecai's modesty. 
Nevertheless, his deed being recorded in the royal archives 
as that of 'a benefactor of the king', it was a valuable 
asset of which Mordecai could make use in time of need. 

Considering that Mordecai was so anxious to advance 
the welfare of his brethren, the question naturally arises : 
Why did he not request Esther to intercede with the 
king on behalf of the persecuted Jews? Not having 
been strictly religious, Mordecai considered the recog- 
nition of Anahita a mere formality, and disapproved 
of the fanaticism of the strictly religious Jews. He saw 
in their obstinacy an act of self-destruction. We must 
bear in mind that, as already observed, Haman in all other 
respects did not interfere with the practices and observances 
of the Jewish religion. Moreover, Mordecai knew what 
importance the king attached to the innovation recently 
introduced into the Zoroastrian religion, seeing in it a 
panacea for his diseased empire, and had no expectation 

17 Paton, p. 192 : ' Why Mordecai should not have been rewarded at 
once, but his services merely recorded in the annals, is hard to understand.' 
Similarly Siegfried and others see in it a defect of composition. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 165 

that Esther's intercession with the king would be of any 
avail. In doing so, Esther might have endangered her 
position, and would have been of no further use to the 
Jewish cause. But notwithstanding his disapproval of 
the zeal of his brethren, blood is proverbially thicker than 
water, and his heart bled at the sight of their misery. 
Its author being the prime minister, Mordecai naturally 
heartily detested the butcher of his brethren. 

All commentators on the Book of Esther have laboured 
in vain in seeking a rational explanation for Mordecai's 
refusal to bow down to Haman, a homage certainly due 
to the chief executive and highest grandee of the empire. 18 
Modern exegetes, who see in the events narrated in this 
book pure fiction, regard this point as one of the principal 
defects in the composition of our story. We do not blame 
them, as the historical events of that period which form 
the background of our story and the antecedents of 
Haman's position were not known to them. But in the 
light of the present exposition it is clear that Mordecai 
in his state of mind could not have acted in any other 
way. Paying homage to the relentless persecutor and 
murderer of his brethren was for Mordecai out of the 
question. No Jew with a spark of honour could have 
stooped to so base an action. Thus it was not vanity 
that prevented Mordecai from doing obeisance to the prime 
minister. But we might still contend that it was imprudent 
of Mordecai to insult the prime minister, who was entitled 
to the honour of irpoo-Kvvrjo-is, according to the Persian law, 
from all his subordinates. 19 . Mordecai should have spared 

18 The old explanation that Haman claimed divine honours is of course 
fancy (see the various views by Paton, p. 196 f.). 

19 Our author clearly states that it was a special command of the king. 



166 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

himself that humiliation by resigning his position at the 
court, and would thus not have to face the prime minister. 
The Talmud actually blames Mordecai for his conduct. 20 
However, we have to bear in mind that just at that period, 
when the conditions of the Jews became more and more 
precarious, it was more than ever necessary for Mordecai 
to remain in the proximity of Esther. He saw in his mind 
the time approaching when Esther's intercession would 
be the only means of rescuing his people. But even if 
Mordecai's conduct was unwise, the very fact that he dared 
to challenge Haman proves how deeply he was affected 
by the sufferings of his brethren. Carried away by his 
passionate hatred towards the persecutor of his people, 
he was unable to consider the inadvisability of insulting 
the former, and was even careless about his own safety. 
This conduct, if imprudent, redounds even more to his 
honour as a Jew than the great service he later rendered 
to the Jewish cause. In exposing his own life, Mordecai 
fully identified himself with the strict adherents of the 
Jewish religion. 
Esthers. Thus while 'all the king's servants, that were in the 
king's gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman : for the king 
had so commanded concerning him, Mordecai bowed not, 
nor did him homage '. His odd behaviour could not pass 
unnoticed. His fellow keepers of the gate could not 

Herodotus tells us about the method of salutation by the Persians : ' Where 
the difference in rank is great, the inferior prostrates himself upon the 
ground.' Our author may mean that Haman was by his elevation, according 
to the Persian law, entitled to receive that salutation from all officials. 
However, it may have been a special command of the king that Haman, 
who occupied such a high position, should be saluted in that way by every- 
body; the king may have intended to show that he had appointed him 
as his alter ego, and that his authority is like that of the king. 
20 Megillah 13 a. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 167 

conceive of a man in his sound mind committing such an 
action by which one could easily forfeit his own life, if it 
were reported to the authorities, and were naturally curious 
to learn the reason of his strange behaviour. 'Then the 
king's servants, which were in the king's gate, said unto 
Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king's command- 
ment?' It seems that at first he gave them an evasive 
answer or no answer at all, as he still kept secret the fact 
of his being a Jew. But as they became importunate, and 
repeated the same question ' from day to day ', Mordecai 
finally broke his silence, and disclosed to them the real 
reason for his behaviour. His fellow keepers were to a 
certain degree responsible for his disrespectful behaviour, 
and threatened to denounce him to the proper authorities 
in case he should still refuse to explain it. Now he had 
to throw off his disguise, and frankly declared 'that he 
was a Jew', an adherent of the Jewish religion. 21 It was 
a sufficient reason, and his fellow-keepers readily understood 
that as a man of honour he could not be expected to do 
homage to the persecutor of his co-religionists. But being 
responsible for his conduct, they may have advised him 
to leave the court and not expose his and their lives to 
the penalty of the law. They did not know that he 
accepted that office for the purpose of being near to the 
queen. He seems to have confided to them the fact that 
he saved the king's life, and assured them that being one 
of ' the benefactors of the king ' (eiepyeTtjs /3a<nA«»s 22 ) he 
would not be punished, and could, if the worst happened, 
invoke the king's protection. It was a slim chance. 
Religious questions may have formed the daily topic of 

21 It is clearly seen that he was not recognized as Jew. 

22 See Herodotus III, 140 ; VIII, 85, and Diodorus XVII, 14. 



168 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

their arguments, in which Mordecai exasperated his fellow 
officers by his opinions. The latter, to insure their own 
safety, had no other course but to report Mordecai's 
conduct, and convince themselves of the truth of his 
immunity, and in that case they would no more annoy 
him with their interference : ' and they told Haman, to see 
whether Mordecai's words would stand ', that is to say, 
his assurance that he would not be punished. 23 
Esther3.5. Why did Haman hesitate to punish Mordecai, as 
transgressor of the royal command, for his disrespectful 
conduct? The fact that Mordecai had saved the king's 
life could not have given him full licence to disobey 
consciously and persistently the royal command. The 
modern exegetes indeed regard this part of the story as 
highly improbable. 24 It is no surprise that they are not 
able to comprehend this point. They labour under the 
delusion that the term ' Jews ' (DniiT) was a racial designa- 
tion. It is perhaps due to the conditions of the Jews 
in the Christian era which left its impressions on their 
mode of thinking, that they cannot dissociate the idea 
of the Jewish religion from that of the Jewish race. They 
do not consider the possibility of a man being by descent, 
language, habit, and in all respects a genuine Persian, and 
be nevertheless, as far as religion is concerned, a real ' Jew ' 
(»W). This misconception lies at the bottom of all im- 
probabilities and impossibilities we are confronted with 
in the actions of Mordecai and Esther. In the opinion 
of the modern commentators, Haman could not have been 

23 Mordecai must have declared that he would continue to do so with 
impunity. This is the meaning of the passage : ' to see whether Mordecai's 
words would stand ' (WIO nr VHMPrl). 

24 See Siegfried, p. 139 ; Paton, p. 74, and other commentators. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 169 

aware of the relationship between Mordecai and Esther, 
if he knew that the former was a Jew. For if he was 
acquainted with both facts, he could not doubt that Esther 
was a Jewess, and the whole story would be impossible. 
Seeing, however, that Esther was taken from Mordecai's 
house, and their relationship could not have remained a 
secret, and Haman knowing likewise that Mordecai belonged 
to the Jewish race, the commentators cannot but condemn 
our story as impossible. Therefore we dwelt, in the fifth 
chapter, on this point to demonstrate that in post-exilic 
times, among Jews and gentiles alike, the term 'Jews' 
(D'HiiT) had a merely religious significance. Haman, who 
had troubles with the Jews and was naturally interested 
in them, was not unacquainted with the fact that there 
were many among them of non-Jewish origin. Mordecai's 
adherence to the Jewish religion was a private matter. 
He could have belonged to the highest Persian nobility, 
and be nevertheless by religion a ' Jew ' (HI1T 1 ). 25 He did 
not identify the idea of the Jewish religion with that of 
the Jewish race. Such an idea never entered into his 
calculations. He was not interested in racial problems, 
but in the religious question. Esther was innocent of 
Mordecai's adherence to the Jewish religion, and he knew 
that as queen she deported herself with the devotion of 
a true believer in the Persian religion. There is no doubt 
that Haman could have executed Mordecai for having 
persistently disregarded the royal command. Artaxerxes, 
who was so jealous of his authority, as we have seen in 
the fourth chapter, would certainly not have been lenient 
towards Mordecai, even if he was ' one of the king's bene- 

25 In a later period, Izates, the king of Adiabene, embraced Judaism 
(Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, XX, 4). 



170 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

factors'. But Haman was too sagacious to act hastily 
in this case. He knew that Artaxerxes was completely 
under the influence of the harem. Assuming that the 
queen was naturally attached to her relative, Haman was 
afraid lest some day the queen might avenge his death. 
He could not have forgotten how Stateira, in order to 
avenge the death of her brother Teriteuchmes, had put 
Udiastres to a death too cruel to be described, 26 and how 
Parysatis, by her intrigues, had destroyed all the nobles and 
eunuchs who saved the life and the throne of Artaxerxes 
in the battle of Cunaxa, in order to avenge the death of 
her son Cyrus. It was even dangerous to harm a relative 
of the favourite women of the king. Therefore Hainan's 
policy was to be on good terms with the queen, and he 
did not dare to punish her relative. Subsequently, how- 
ever, seeing from the special distinction with which the 
queen treated him that it was impossible that she should 
care much for her relative, or that she should have approved 
of his disrespectful conduct towards him, Haman did not 
hesitate any longer to inform the king of Mordecai's 
disobedience to the royal command, and to ask his per- 
mission for Mordecai's execution. 27 

26 Ctesias 57. 

S7 Notwithstanding being all-powerful, Haman had to ask the king's 
permission for Mordecai's execution, and could not act on his own responsi- 
bility. Herodotus I, 137, informs us : 'The king shall not put any one to 
death for a single fault. . . . But in every case the services of the offender 
shall be set against his misdoings ; and if the latter be found to outweigh 
the former, the aggrieved party shall then proceed to punishment '. Cf. also 
the story of Sandoces who was taken down from the cross, because Darius 
thought that the good deeds of Sandoces toward the royal house were more 
numerous than his evil deeds, as told by Herodotus VII, 194. Haman as 
chief executive learned of Mordecai's act in saving the king's life. But 
that fact was not an absolute protection. So did Tissaphernes, to whom 
Artaxerxes owed his life and throne, and was nevertheless executed. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 171 

However, the conduct of Mordecai meant more than Esther 3. 6. 
an insult to the dignity of the prime minister or a trans- 
gression of a royal command. His disrespect was a protest 
against Haman's policy. His endeavours to consolidate 
the empire by bringing the various inhabitants of the 
Persian empire into closer relations with the Persians was 
openly denounced and condemned. This was a matter for 
grave reflection. If his authority was defied in the very 
palace of Artaxerxes, how could he expect his ordinances 
to be obeyed in the provinces ? Mordecai's conduct opened 
his eyes. He now fully realized that the numerous execu- 
tions he had ordered did not produce the effect of frighten- 
ing the Jews into obedience. Mordecai was not an 
eccentric individual, but a type of the Jews. He now 
clearly perceived that the religion of the Jews, unlike other 
religions, is detrimental to the welfare of the empire, as its 
existence was incompatible with the newly inaugurated 
innovation of the Zoroastrian religion. The Jewish faith 
being at the root of the evil, it had to be extirpated, by pro- 
claiming its adherents traitors and criminals, even those who 
had hitherto not resisted the worship of Anahita, but still 
declared themselves to be ' Jews ' (DHin , ) ) and lived accord- 
ing to the observances of the Jewish religion. Haman now 
became the prototype of Antiochus Epiphanes. For the 
first time, the Jews were ordered ' to forsake their Laws '. 

On the vernal New Year Festival, celebrated in Persia Esther3.7. 
as well as in Babylonia, 28 in which the gods determine the 
destinies of man for the coming year, 29 Haman cast 

28 Haupt (Purim, p. 3) remarks : ' The Persian Spring-festival ... is no 
doubt based upon the Babylonian New Year's festival. It was celebrated 
at the vernal equinox '. 

29 The gods were believed to assemble themselves in the chamber of 
VOL. XII. N 



172 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

lots 30 to ascertain by divination the fate of the Jews, 31 and 
the favourable month and day for their extermination. 

Was the casting of the lots so significant an event as to 
afford a sufficient explanation for the name of Purim? 32 
Astrology, according to Maimonides, 83 borders on idolatry. 
But this expression is too mild. Astrology is to all intents 
and purposes identical with idolatry. The belief that the 
planets influence the fate of man can be sustained only by 
identifying them with the gods of the pantheon. 34 The 
chief office of the Babylonian priests was divination, the 
most prominent of which was that based on the observation 
of the phenomena of the heavens. Diodorus, in dealing 
with the wisdom of the Chaldees, writes : ' The chiefs of 
these gods, they say, are twelve in number, to each of 
whom they attribute a month and a sign of the zodiac \ 35 
The belief in constellations actually meant the recognition 
of the powers of the gods. If the people had seen in the 
planets inanimate heavenly bodies moving in obedience to 

fate under the presidency of Bel-Marduk to determine the destinies of man. 
Cf. Zimmern's theory on Purim {Keilinschrifien und das Alte Testament, 
1902, p. 514; Zeitschrift filr altt. Wissensch., 1891, pp. 152 ff.). In Persia 
the determiner of fate was of course Ahuramazda. It goes without saying 
that upon the identical idea is based the Jewish New Year Festival which 
is held to be the day in which the fate of Israel is determined. 

30 Haupt {Purim, p. 19) shows many parallels to the custom of casting 
lots on New Year. 

31 Haman did not only wish to discover an auspicious day and month 
for the execution of his plan, but also whether that plan would be approved 
by the gods. If he had not found an auspicious day and month, it would 
have shown that the gods disapproved of his plan. 

32 Haupt (Purim, p. 3) and others deny it. 

33 See Maimonides' letter to the men of Marseilles (cf. Steinschneider's 
Hebraische Ueberseteuttgen des Mittelalters, 1893, 931). 

34 Cf. Jastrow's Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice, chapter V. 
36 Diodorus II, 3. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 1 73 

an inexorable law in nature, they never would have 
believed them to portend future events. Therefore, the 
prophet Jeremiah, in contrasting the power of the God of 
Israel with that of idols, prefaces his exhortation with the 
words : ' Thus saith the Lord : Learn not the way of the 
heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for 
the heathen are dismayed at them'. 36 The belief in the 
signs of heaven was contrary to that in the God of Israel. 
As long as idolatry flourished, astrology was generally con- 
sidered to be an idolatrous practice. In a late period, 
however, astrology assumed a different aspect. Judaism, 
Christianity, and Islam could easily demolish the statues 
and images of the gods held to govern the planets. But 
the belief that those heavenly bodies govern the fate of 
man could not be eradicated. Therefore, in order that the 
popular belief should not contrast with the established 
religions, it was tacitly admitted that the movements of the 
stars predict future events. And as astrology could hide 
itself under the wings of its scientific sister astronomy, and 
still cater to the superstitions of the people, it was a 
profitable profession, became a legitimate science, and was 
practised by Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans alike, 37 
without investigating its nature and origin. Thus astro- 
logy is not a remainder of polytheism, but its fundamental 
factor. The Jewish astrologers about the first century 
B.C.E., and probably also later, were well aware of the fact 
that their practice was identical with idolatry, and in order 
to absolve their conscience, substituted for the heathen 
deities as governours of the planets angels under the names 
Shamshi-el {— Skamask), Kokab-el (= Ishtar), Shabti-el 

36 Jer. 10. 2. 

37 Cf. the article ' Astrology ' (Blau and Kohler), in the Jewish Encyc. 

N 2 



174 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

(= Ninib), &c., 38 who were in their names and functions 
the very images of the old gods of the pantheon. Thus to 
ascertain fate by divination and to select a favourable day 
and month for the execution of some enterprise means the 
practice of idolatry, as it presumes that each day and 
month stands under the rule of one of the gods. Though 
passages in the Talmud express the same notion that each 
of the seven days of the week is governed by planets, 39 this 
could not have been the old Rabbinic conception. There 
is indeed a ' Baraitha ' that distinctly states that this kind 
of divination was prohibited, in declaring that the biblical 
commandment, 'Ye shall not use enchantment' refers to 
that ' by means of the stars ' (M3tt3 . . . iBTttn i6). 40 But 
though these Rabbis condemned this practice, they could 
not stamp it as pure idolatry, since it was generally prac- 
ticed. It was different in the fourth century B.c.E., when 
the belief in divination was tantamount to that in the 
power of the gods, and monotheism and astrology were 
recognized as incompatible. 

Now Hainan's intention was to extirpate the Jewish 
monotheistic religion. The casting of the lots was the act 
of divination performed by the priests to inquire after the 
will of the gods. We may surely assume that this per- 
formance was not done secretly, but was solemnized in the 
temple with sacrifices and a stately service in the presence 
of the public. The execution of Haman's intention greatly 
depended upon the goodwill of the Gentile population, 

38 See the book Enoch, I, 6, 7 ; VII, 3. We are told that Bamkiel 
taught astrology ; Kokabel, the constellations ; Ezekael, the knowledge of 
the clouds : Arakiel, the signs of the earth ; Shamshiel, the signs of the 
sun ; and Sariel, the course of the moon. 

39 Shabbath 156 a. 

40 Sanhedrin68b. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 1 75 

and he had to demonstrate that his action was commanded 
by the gods. Thus it was generally known that, according 
to those lots called in the Hebraized form ' Purim ', 41 the 
fate of the Jews was sealed. Any expression of sympathy 
for the cause of the Jews among the Gentiles was silenced 
by the word ' Purim ', indicating that no man may interfere 
with the will of the gods. It became, as we may say in 
modern parlance, the slogan of the enemies of the Jews. 
The conflict of Haman with the Jews was actually a 
struggle between Monotheism and Polytheism. 42 Thus we 
can well conceive that those who instituted the commemo- 
ration of those events used the very battle-cry of their 
enemies as an appropriate name of that festival, 43 expressing 

41 It is improbable that Haman cast the lots out of superstition. 

42 Cassel, p. 101, sees also in the casting of the lots a contrast between 
Judaism and paganism. 

43 The question whether a Persian word pur, ' lot ' is found, is irrelevant. 
What do we know about the old Persian language ? The language of the 
Avesta had never been the Persian idiom. They are merely related 
dialects, but for the most part independent. As to Pahlavi, the language 
used in Persia under the Arsacides and Sassanides, it is a middle dialect 
between the ancient and modern Persian languages (Darmesteter, /. c, 
p. xxxiv). We may reasonably assume that our author would never have 
connected pur with ' lot ' if he had not known that it has that meaning in 
the Persian language. Thus the emphatic assertion of Haupt {Purim, p. 16) 
and others that ' there is no Persian word pur, meaning ' lot ', is rather 
daring. But we need not assume that pur is an original Persian word. 
There is no getting away from the fact that we have an equation pur = 
abnu, 'stone' (S° 114; Briinnow 6972). Now it is generally admitted 
that the Hebrew word P11J ' lot ', which our author identifies with pur, 
is etymblogically identical with Arabic !», ' pebble '. P. Jensen was the 
first who suggested that pur, ' lot ' is connected with cuneiform pur, ' stone ' 
(Liter. Centralbl., 1896, No. 50, col. 1803), and he is no doubt right. 
Zimmern's objection that puru in the cuneiform language means ' a sacrificial 
bowl or table' = pashshuru (KAT., p. 518) does not invalidate Jensen's 
suggestion. The words puru and abnu mean 'a stone jug' (cf. Prince, 
Materials to a Sumerian Lexicon, 1908, p. 63). But the very fact that only 



176 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

at the same time how deceptive the belief in the planetary- 
gods is and thereby decrying their power. However, it is 
possible that the word ' Purim ' is etymologically closely 
connected with the name of the old Persian festival 
Farwardigan. The latter may have sounded in the lan- 
guage of the old Persians more closely to the Hebraized 
form ' Purim '. Hitzig had already compared the latter 
with the modern Arabic Phur, the name of 'the new 
year'. 44 The casting of lots on the Persian new year 
festival may have been a general custom which Haman 
also used for determining the fate of the Jews. The latter 
by adopting the name of the Persian new year as that of 
their own day of commemoration may have intended not 
only to commemorate the danger they had escaped but 
also to disguise the very nature of this festival in order not 
to offend the Persians. 

a stone jug is called puru, evidently shows that it bears this name on account 
of its material, and proves that puru must have been a synonym of abnu, 
'stone'. Granting, however, that puru means only 'a sacrificial bowl or 
table ', what do we know about the method of casting lots among the 
Babylonians and the Persians ? Who may tell whether the lots were not 
put in a sacrificial bowl or upon a stone altar ? We can well conceive that 
such a sacred act of divination, inquiring after the will of the gods, should 
have been performed in sacred vessels. We may call attention to the fact 
that stone vessels, according to the Rabbis (Mishnah Parah I, 2), cannot 
be defiled, and are used where absolute purity is required, as for 'the 
Water of Separation made of the ashes of a red heifer' (Num. 19). The 
Persian laws of purification, and perhaps also those of the Babylonians, 
may have been similar to those of Israel (cf., however, Vendidad, Fargard, 
VII, X). The Vulgate indeed translates : missa est sors in urnam quae 
Hebraice dicitur phur (cf. also Haupt, Purim, p. 20). When the Persians 
took over the New Year festival from the Babylonians, the customs con- 
nected with it and their terms were taken over at the same time. Thus the 
Persian word pur may be a Babylonian (and originally a Sumerian) loan- 
word. 

11 In his Geschichte Israels, 1869, p. 280. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 1 77 

The lot fell upon the month of Adar. It has been 
contended by numerous scholars that Purim originally was 
a non-Jewish festival. 45 We believe that this contention is 
essentially correct. It seems, indeed, that there was a great 
Persian festival simultaneous with the Feast of Purim. We 
have already observed that the persecutions of the Jews, as 
a rule, occurred at the time of the high festivals of the 
Persians. All the year round people do not concern them- 
selves with religion. Every man has his affairs to attend 
to, and cares little for the creed of his neighbours. It is 
different at the seasons of the festivals. The people, in 
high spirits, are fully devoted to their own creed and 
zealous for the honour of their gods. They see the Jews 
indifferent to their festivities, which indifference is, of course, 
interpreted as depreciation, and feel insulted. Their pride 
is hurt and their honour outraged. Some Jews may have 
been dragged by force to the temples, and murdered if they 
resisted. Others might have been compelled to express an 
opinion concerning the divinity of Anahita, and if it was 
unfavourable, might have been executed. We must bear 
in mind also that debauchery was always characteristic of 
festivities among common people. Being full of intoxi- 
cants and bereft of their senses, they were capable of 
committing atrocities. If Haman wanted the people to 

45 Ernst Meier, Geschichte der poetischen National-Literatur der Hebrder, 
1850, p. 506; Julius Fiirst, Kanon des A. T., p. 104; Hitzig, Geschichte des 
Volkes Israel, 1869, p. 280 ; Zunz, ZDMG., XXVII, p. 606 , J. von Hammer, 
Jahrb. f. Liter., XXXVIII, p. 49; Lagarde, Purim ; Renan, History, VII, 
14 ; Schwally, Leben nach dem Tode, 1893, p. 42 ; Hommel in Weisslowitz's 
Prim und Derwisch, 1890; Zimmern, KAT., p. 514 f. ; Jensen, in Wilde- 
boer's Commentary, p. 173; Meissner, ZDMG., L, p. 296; Winckler, 
Altoriental. Forschungen, II, pp. grff., 182 ff., &c. For the discussion of 
various views see Paton, pp. 84-94. 



178 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

rise against the Jews and exterminate them, he had no 
better opportunity to achieve his aim than on the day of 
some great festival. At any other time it was doubtful 
whether the people could be induced to murder the Jews 
in cold blood. Subsequently, when the Festival of Purim 
was established, there was no fear that this celebration 
might offend the feelings of the Gentiles, as it was simul- 
taneous and to all appearance identical with the Persian 
festival. On the contrary, by its introduction, the danger 
of future persecutions was minimised. That fact sheds 
a good deal of light on the attitude of the Sopherim 
towards the Festival of Purim, as we shall see further in 
Chapter IX. Now we have already suggested that the 
Book of Esther would never have been recorded if there 
had not been the fear that the event of Purim would sink 
into oblivion, and the festival would assume a non-Jewish 
character. 46 We see now that the fear of such a possibility 
was not unfounded. The Festival of Hanukkah frequently 
coincides with Christmas, though these festivals have not 
the least connexion. And among some modern Jews the 
former festival recedes into the background and assumes 
the character of Christmas. Exactly the same would 
have happened with the Festival of Purim, and with 
more reason. 

What kind of festival may the Persians have celebrated 
in the month of Adar ? The worship of Anahita being the 
cause of the Jewish persecutions and of the decree for their 
extermination, it is safe to conjecture that it was one of the 
festivals of that goddess. Al-Beruni states that the Sog- 
dians celebrated the five days of the epagomena at the end 
of the year. 47 According to Paul de Lagarde, these five 

46 See chapter V. 4 ' See Lagarde, Purim, p. 38. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER I79 

days were dedicated to Anahita. 48 Lagarde and also 
other scholars believe that it was an ' All-Souls' Feast \ 49 
But we have the testimony of Strabo, who lived about 
a thousand years before Al-Beruni and knew the Zoroas- 
trian religion while it still flourished better than did the 
Mohammedan author, that Anahita was a goddess of pros- 
titution. 40 The festival of a goddess of that kind was not 
of a very solemn and noble character, as Lagarde would 
have us believe, and it must have resembled a carnival 
rather than a festival of the dead. Lagarde contended 
that the Festival of Purim is identical with that of the 
epagomena^ We accept this theory, though Lagarde him- 
self later abandoned it. 52 We find a distinct trace of such 
a connexion with the epagomena in the Mishna, which 
states : ' The Megillah may be read on the eleventh, 
twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth days of Adar, 
not earlier and not later'. 53 These five days of which 
there is no trace in the Book of Esther, 54 seem to corre- 

48 See Lagarde, Purim, p. 53. 

49 Ibid., p. 32. Schwally (,cf. n. 45) and similarly Spiegel (Eranische 
Alterthumskunde, 1878, p. 577). 

50 See chapter VI. However, we have already pointed out the fact 
that the Babylonian goddess Ishtar corresponded also to a chthonic deity, 
and the same may be true of Anahita (see chapter VI, n. 15). But there 
can be no doubt that in Armenia at least, Anahita was a goddess of prosti- 
tution. 

61 Bertheau-Ryssel, p. 37a, and Paton, p. 86, raise a great many objec- 
tions to that theory, which are not unfounded. 

62 Gott. Gel. Ana., 1890, p. 403. 
53 Mishnah Megillah 2 a. 

c * Now it is true the Mishnah explains very plainly how it happens that 
the Megillah may be read on these five days. But this explanation may 
date from a late period. The Talmudic deduction from the term ' in their 
times ' (DiTJSSn), instead of ' in their time ' (DJDD) is hardly to be taken 
seriously (see the Talmudic discussion on that subject). 



180 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

spond to the five days of the epagomena. Now it must be 
admitted that the dates of these two celebrations do not 
exactly agree, as the epagomena, according to the Jewish 
calendar, must have been celebrated by the Persians from 
the seventh to the eleventh of Nisan. 55 However, we 
scarcely know anything about the customs of the Persian 
festivals in antiquity, and who may assert that these five 
days of the Persian and Jewish festivals were not simul- 
taneous ? It is noteworthy that Pseudo-Smerdis seized the 
throne on the fourteenth of Adar. 50 This also suggests 
that there was some festival on that day. The worship of 
Anahita properly belongs to the old belief of the Magi. 
Hence on the day of the festival of this goddess, the 
Magians attempted by the means of Smerdis to overthrow 
Zoroaster's religion, and to re-establish their own former 
religion. 57 Thus the Magians who cast the lots and in- 

55 The Persians had a year of 360 days which, with the five epagomena, 
constituted a solar year of 365 days. But the Jews have a lunar year of 
354 days. Thus there was a difference of eleven days between the Jewish 
and Persian first of Nisan. But we must consider that our knowledge of 
the Persian Calendar in the Achaemenian period is extremely scanty, as 
may be seen from the names of the months on the Behistun inscription 
which do not show the least resemblance to those of the Avesta, Sogdians, 
Chorasmians, and the Neo-Persians (see Lagarde, Purim, pp. 29-32). 
The probability that there is some connexion between the epagomena 
and the Festival of Purim cannot be denied. If the former had been 
celebrated on the days of Passover, we might say that the Jewish festival 
was changed to the fourteenth of Adar, in order not to conflict with the 
other festival. Since, however, the epagomena were celebrated at the 
beginning of Nisan, the Jews could have done the same. Who knows 
whether the epagomena were not celebrated in the middle of the twelfth 
month? 

56 The fourteenth of Viakhna (Behistun inscription, col. I, 15) is identical 
with the fourteenth of Adar (cf. Ed. Meyer's Forschungen, p. 472 f.). 

57 George Rawlinson rightly contended that the accession of Pseudo- 
Smerdis, whereby the Medes regained their ancient supremacy, was not 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 181 

formed Haman that Adar would be the favourable month 
for the execution of his plan chose the time which Haman 
himself would have chosen, without the means of divination. 
Thus, in the first month of the twelfth year of Arta- 
xerxes' reign, in the year 392 B.C.E., Haman planned to 
exterminate all the Jews of the Persian empire. It was 
no easy task for Haman to inform the king that the policy 
inaugurated by him caused so much annoyance that he 
was forced to use the most extreme measures against those 
who opposed him. If the religious innovation had encoun- 
tered the opposition of a warlike people, the downfall of 
Haman would have been inevitable. Artaxerxes would 
have sacrificed him rather than uphold his authority and 
thereby cause a holy war. At that period he needed his 
army for other purposes. It was before the Peace of 
Antalcidas. The Jews, however, were powerless and de- 
fenceless. But what about the Jews in Palestine ? Haman 
did not consider them at all. It goes without saying that, 
if the Jewish religion had been abolished, the existence of 
the temple in Jerusalem would have become impossible. 
It would have been either demolished or changed into 
a heathen sanctuary. From the statement of Hecataeus of 
Abdera we know that the Palestinian Jews suffered greatly 
under those persecutions, as described in the sixth chapter. 58 
The condition of the jews in Judea was then hardly better 
than in the time of Nehemiah. They were still surrounded 
by hostile neighbours who were ready to attack them and 
to wipe out their semi-independent state. Jerusalem was 

a national revolution, but the ascendency of the Magian religion (Herodotus, 
vol. II, p. 457). A similar opinion is expressed by Marquart (Fundamente, 
p. 48), and approved by Ed. Meyer (G. A,, III, p. 123). 
58 Josephus, Contra Apionem, I. 



182 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

now surrounded by a wall. However, the latter could 
only protect the city from a sudden attack on the part of 
hordes, and not against a regular army. There was no 
need for Haman to decree the destruction of the Judean 
state. The latter owed its existence to the grace of the 
Persian satraps. This province would have been lost if 
the Persians had withdrawn their protection and left it to 
the tender mercies of their hostile neighbours. 59 Therefore 

59 The question whether Ezra was a contemporary of Nehemiah is not 
solved yet, and is still a matter of dispute. Ed. Meyer (Entst. d. Jud., 
pp. 89-92) seems to have proved that they were contemporaries. However, 
Batten {Ezra, in the International Critical Commentary, New York, 1913, 
p. 28), still contends that Ezra belongs to a later period than Nehemiah. 
Several of his arguments are not conclusive, and were already discussed 
and refuted by Ed. Meyer. But there is one point of evidence against the 
latter's view that deserves serious consideration. We find that Ezra went 
into the chamber of Johanan, the son of Eliashib, to spend the night there 
(Ezra 10. 6). The succession of High-priests described in Nehemiah 
(12. 22) shows that Johanan is identical with Jonathan {ibid., 12. 11), and 
that he was the grandson of Eliashib, as Stade, in his Geschickte des Volks 
Israel, II, p. 153, has already proved. If Eliashib was a contemporary of 
Nehemiah, Ezra seems to have lived two generations later, as Batten 
expresses himself ' exactly where he belongs, in the reign of Artaxerxes II '. 
However, even this point is not absolutely convincing. It is not quite 
impossible that the Johanan, to whose chamber Ezra retired, is not identical 
with that Johanan who, according to Elephantine Papyri, was High-priest 
in Jerusalem in 407, as Wellhausen {Gott. Gel. Nachr., 1895, 168) indeed 
suggests. Or it is not impossible that the compiler who revised the Ezra 
Memoirs, may have changed the name of the chamber, because in his time 
it was known under the name of 'the chamber of Johanan, the son of 
Eliashib', as Ed. Meyer thinks. Neither of the two opinions is quite 
satisfactory. In either case we will have to encounter a great many 
difficulties. But one of them must be true. If Batten is right, this fact 
will shed considerable light on both the Books of Esther and Ezra, and it 
will be seen that both are closely connected. The prayer of Ezra shows 
that the conditions of the Jews at his time were still unsettled, and that 
their existence was precarious. Batten further admits that there is no good 
reason whatever to doubt the genuineness of the edict of Artaxerxes II 
concerning the promulgation of the Law. Then the Law must have been 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 183 

Haman in his decree did not allude to the Jewish province 
in Palestine. He aimed chiefly at the Jews living dispersed 

promulgated about 396, exactly at the time of Esther. We may notice, 
by the way, that the fact that the Law just now received official recognition 
may shed some light on the religious indifference of the Jews of that 
period. We might even assume that the Talmudic saying : ' The Jews 
received the Law again in the days of Ahasuerus' (Shabbath 88 b), rests 
upon true tradition. But these are minor points. However, there are 
others of more importance. We see Ezra in high favour with Artaxerxes II. 
But we do not find the least reason why the king should have favoured 
him. If he had been an official, like Nehemiah, he would have informed 
us of this fact, as did Nehemiah. On the other hand, looking at the events 
of the Book of Esther, it seems strange that a Jewish woman occupying 
such a high position, who might, without disclosing her identity, confer 
many a boon upon her people, by predisposing the king in their favour, 
should remain quite indifferent to their welfare. But we notice a remarkable 
coincidence. In the seventh year of Artaxerxes II two events happened : 
In that year a Jewish woman became queen, and in the same year the 
Jewish Law received official recognition. Is it indeed a mere coincidence ? 
Would it not be more logical to see a close connexion between these two 
events ? Esther on her elevation may have called the king's attention to 
a people whose religion was identical with that of the Persians, and may 
have expressed the opinion that it would be good policy to support that 
creed, as the spread of the Persian religion in the Western countries would 
join them closer to the Persian empire. This opinion coincided with an 
advice urged upon him by one of the councillors to make Zoroastrianism 
the supreme religion of the empire, and thus prevent its disintegration. 
It is therefore reasonable that the same king who was desirous of dissemi- 
nating his own religion for a political purpose should promote the Jewish 
religion which he believed to be identical with his own Hence Ezra, the 
priest and chief teacher of the Eastern Jews, was entrusted with the task 
of promulgating the Law. He must have known to whom he was indebted 
for that favour. But the man in whose eyes intermarriage with Gentiles 
was an unpardonable crime could not tell that he owed his own position 
to such an intermarriage. Moreover, it would have been wrong to disclose 
the secret of Esther and expose his benefactress to danger. In accepting 
Batten's date, another problem could be solved. The edict clothed Ezra 
with power to punish the disobedient with death, banishment, confiscation 
of property, or imprisonment (Ezra 7. 26). Nevertheless he was unable to 
effect a single divorce, except by a pathetic appeal to the people. Something 
must have happened in the meantime which deprived Ezra of his power. 



184 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

among the other races, who might by their rebellious con- 
duct incite others to imitate their example. If the Jews 
had lived together in large numbers, they might, indeed, 
have risen in arms against their oppressors, as they did in 
a later period, under the Romans in Cyrene. But scat- 
tered and dispersed in all provinces of the empire the Jews 
were incapable of offering resistance. 00 

The elevation of Haitian occurred shortly after Esther had become the wife 
of Artaxerxes. We therefore conjecture that the decree concerning the 
worship of Anahita and the refusal of the Jews to submit to it, put an end 
to Ezra's power. We may further conjecture that the great fast the Jews 
observed on the twenty-fourth of Tishri occurred in Ezra's period, not in 
that of Nehemiah. There was not the least reason why under the reign 
of Artaxerxes Longimanus, the Jews should have fasted ' with sackcloth 
and earth upon them' (Neh. 9.). They certainly could not have com- 
plained : ' They have dominion over our bodies and over our cattle, and 
we are in great distress'. They had their own Jewish governor, who was 
the king's favourite, and certainly did not oppress them. But a short time 
after the arrival of Ezra and promulgation of the Law, the news about the 
great danger to the Jewish religion reached the Jews in Judea, and Persian 
officials were sent into the land to erect a sanctuary to Anahita. Therefore 
they fasted and made a covenant among themselves to resist with all power 
the execution of that decree. Therefore 'the seed of Israel separated 
themselves from the strangers ' ; for ' no strangers ought to know that they 
intended to resist the royal decree '. This was not, as Batten (p. 363) 
observes : ' Because the pure-blooded son of Abraham was alone a fit 
object for Jahveh's favour'. However, it must be admitted that the two 
dates of Esther and Ezra do not agree in every detail. Ezra arrived in the 
fifth month of the seventh year of Artaxerxes at Jerusalem, and Esther 
became queen five months later. But the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah had 
been, as Ed. Meyer and Batten pointed out, often revised. Thus we cannot 
expect the dates to be correct in every detail. It is possible that the edict 
of the promulgation was given in the seventh year, but Ezra's arrival at 
Jerusalem occurred in the fifth month of the eighth year of that king's 
reign. The preparations for such an enormous expedition must have taken 
a year at least. Thus if we accept Batten's date of Ezra in the light of the 
present writer's exposition of the Book of Esther, all these events will be 
viewed differently, and numerous problems will be solved (cf. chapter V, 
n. 51). 

60 No commentator has as yet satisfactorily explained the passage : 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 185 

' And Haman said unto King Ahasuerus, There is a Esthers, 
certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the 
people in all the provinces of thy kingdom ; and their laws 
are diverse from all people ; neither keep they the king's 
laws : therefore it is not fit for the king's profit to suffer 
them.' Hainan's accusation of the Jews and his advice to 
decree their extermination were worded very carefully and 
diplomatically. But his accusation was absolutely true. 
He did not slander them. And we indeed know from the 
Behistun inscription 61 and from Herodotus 62 that the most 
disgraceful deed for a Persian was to tell a lie. Haman 
prefaced his accusation by allaying the king's fear and fore- 
stalling any reproach, that by his advice he had plunged 
the empire into anarchy, in stating that the people which 
defies the king's authority is not dangerous in itself to the 
peace of the empire, being scattered and dispersed in all 
the provinces of the empire. But by its disobedience it sets 
a bad example to others and destroys the king's authority. 
Our author seemingly does not state that Haman expressly 
mentioned the name of the people he accused. That he 
actually did mention it, we may deduce from the peculiar 
expression W, literally ' its being', and thus referring to a 
preceding noun. 63 The author gives only the substance of 

' There is one people scattered and dispersed among the people '. This 
cannot be a part of the accusation. Such a condition is surely no crime, 
but a misfortune. Nor can it refer to the barrier of the Law, as Paton, 
p. 203, explains. The latter idea is expressed in the following sentence : 
'Their laws are diverse from all people'. Hence that passage expresses 
the idea of disregard ; their condition is so pitiful as not to fear their 
resistance. 

61 Behistun inscription, col. 54 ff. 

62 Herodotus I, 139. 

63 The expression 13S" does not mean ' there is '. The same form occurs 
also elsewhere three times (Deut. 29. 14 ; 1 Sam. 14. 39 ; 23. 23), where 



1 86 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

Hainan's report, which, of course, exhaustively dealt with 
the Jewish problem. Herodotus, or any Greek writer would 
have used for this report a full chapter. 

If we had no proof that Haman aimed at the destruc- 
tion of the Jewish religion and not of the Jewish race, we 
could deduce his intention from the words of his accusa- 
tion in stating: 'their laws are diverse from all people; 
neither keep they the king's laws '. The first part of this 
statement is no accusation. It is no concern of the king, 
whether the laws of this people are peculiar or not, as long 
as they do not interfere with the laws of the empire. But 
Haman asserted that those laws are contrary to those of the 
empire, and prevent them from complying with the latter. 
Thus, there must have been Persian laws inconsistent with 
those of the Jews. Here we have a further corroboration 
of our description of the events of the period in which 
the Jewish religious conceptions came into conflict with the 
Persian laws. But if the Jewish religion is obnoxious to 
the welfare of the empire, it cannot be tolerated and must 
be suppressed, and the king would certainly have answered : 
Let them abandon their religion, and if they refuse, you 
have my permission to destroy them. This is exactly what 
Haman requested the king to do, in continuing to say: 
'It is harmful to the king's authority to be indifferent 
toward their transgression of the Persian laws '. 
Esther 3. Haman certainly was an enemy of the ' Jews ', as the 
13 author styles him (QHirpn "ITIV), but not of those of Jewish 
extraction, as soon as they ceased to be ' Jews ', in abandon- 
ing their religion. Now it is true the style of Haman's 

it refers to a preceding noun. See chapter III on the impossible assumption 
that the king should have condemned a people to extermination whose 
name he did not know. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 187 

decree is so sanguinary as to represent him as the very 
embodiment of wickedness. But Haman is not responsible 
for that style, nor is the author of the Book of Esther. 
The heaping of synonymous expressions, ' to exterminate, 
to kill, and to destroy' (na«h Jnni> iwr6) is inconsistent 
with the terse style of edicts. Haman's decree must have 
been worded differently. Our author was a good historian 
and well acquainted with the style of edicts. Even if 
Haman had intended to exterminate the Jewish people 
without regard to their religion, there was no reason for the 
murder of little children. They could have been sold as 
slaves, and thus be of more profit to Haman or the people. 
Those exaggerations are certainly due to late interpolators, 
as suggested in the first chapter. The Greek version of our 
story has, no doubt, the original text of this passage. For 
it tersely states, as we should expect, d<pavio~ai to yevos 
tS>v 'IovSaimv. Accordingly, the original Hebrew text of 
this edict must have been DHirvn (ny) na ~\2nb , ' to destroy 
(the people of) the Jews ', or a similar phrase. It is inter- 
esting to notice how consistent both the Hebrew and 
Greek versions are. The former explains the hatred of 
Haman towards the Jews, by the statement : ' And he 
thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone ; for they 
had showed him the people of Mordecai'. We have 
already remarked that this improbable explanation is a 
late interpolation at a time when the real cause of Haman's 
action was no longer known. A man who is able to 
destroy a whole race on account of a single individual who 
insulted him, is certainly to be credited with any inhuman 
monstrosity. The Alexandrian translator, however, did not 
know of that passage, and in accordance with this, the 
version of Haman's decree is not sanguinary. 

VOL. XII. O 



188 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

Esther3.9. Having convinced the king that the conduct of the Jews 
could not be tolerated, Haman substituted this proposal : 
' If it please the king, let it be written that they may be 
destroyed : and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver 
to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, 
to bring it into the king's treasuries '. If the Jews were 
disloyal subjects and according to law deserved to be 
exterminated, why should Haman promise ten thousand 
talents for the royal permission to rid the empire of 
criminals ? Though the victims of the persecutions may 
have numbered many thousands, nevertheless they repre- 
sented, as we observed, merely a very small portion of the 
Jewish communities throughout the wide dominions of 
the Persian empire. We have no census of the Jews of 
that period, but at a very conservative estimate, they must 
have numbered many hundreds of thousands. 64 The aver- 
age Jews submitted with a bad grace to the innovation, as 
the Rabbis correctly perceived, since they saw in the 
worship of Anahita a mere formality forced upon them, 
and had no inclination to expose themselves to persecu- 
tion by their refusal. Thus the friendly relations between 
them and the Gentiles were not disturbed. This being so, 
it was doubtful whether Gentiles in many localities, seeing 
no reason for the wholesale massacre of their Jewish friends 
and neighbours against whom they felt no animosity, would 

64 About 140 years before that event, the Jews who returned from the 
captivity numbered 42,360 (Ezra a. 64). The larger part of them had no 
inclination to leave Babylonia and expose themselves to the laborious task 
of rebuilding the home of their ancestors. It is a low estimate to assume 
that about 100,000 stayed behind, who preferred to move into the interior 
provinces of the immense empire, where as merchants they had the best 
opportunity of accumulating riches. Thus within 140 years they may have 
increased to a number of many hundred thousands, at the lowest estimate. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 189 

not resent those edicts and prevent their execution. The 
Jews, assisted by the population, could easily offer resist- 
ance against the force entrusted with the execution of those 
edicts. Therefore, to be sure of success, Haman appealed 
to the lowest passion of the people — greed. The lower 
strata, which form everywhere a considerable, if not the 
major, portion of the populace, are always willing to go to 
any extent, if they are afforded an opportunity of enriching 
themselves at the expense of their wealthy fellow-citizens. 
The Jews being mostly engaged in commerce were reputed 
to be very wealthy. In granting permission to the popu- 
lace to keep the property of the Jews, Haman could reckon 
with full certainty on the carrying out of his edicts to the 
letter. 65 But how could he dispose of their property ? If 
the Jews were condemned for their disloyalty, they were 
traitors, and their goods had to be confiscated to the trea- 
sury. 66 Thus it was necessary to reimburse the treasury 
for the loss it would have sustained by Haman's largess to 
the populace. 

Have we ground to consider — as many commentators 
do 67 — the sum of ten thousand talents as estimate of the 
Jews' wealth, which would amount to about eighteen million 
dollars, an exaggeration and incredible? As far as the 
Jews' wealth is concerned, the estimate was far too low. 
Concerning Haman's ability to supply that sum of his own 
means, if we believe Herodotus that the Lydian Pythus 
offered Xerxes for his campaign against the Greeks ' two 

66 Paton, p. 209, correctly explains : ' This is offered as an inducement 
to the people to attack the Jews.' 

68 The property of criminals was confiscated by the State. See 
Herodotus III, 129 and Josephus, Antiquities, XII, i. 4. 

67 Cf. Haupt, Purim, p. 6 ; Paton, p. 206, and others. 

O 2 



IO, II. 



190 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

thousand talents of silver, and of gold four million Doric 
staters, wanting seven thousand ' , 68 which would amount to 
about twenty-four million dollars, 69 we have no reason to 
doubt the statement of our author. 70 We may recall the 
immense fortunes the Roman governors amassed in a few 
years. The Persian satraps had the same opportunities. 
Haman was no doubt a satrap before he became prime 
minister. We may assume that his father and his pro- 
genitors had served in the same capacity. Thus he may 
have possessed untold riches. 
Esther 3. ' And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it 

unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the 
Jews' enemy. And the king said unto Haman, The silver 
is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it 
seemeth good to thee.' By Haman's offer, the king 
became convinced of his unselfish motives, and fully 
granted his request to rid the empire of those internal 
enemies. We might, perhaps, doubt the statement of the 
king's generosity in bestowing upon Haman a gift of ten 
thousand talents. But we find a similar statement by 
Herodotus of Xerxes' generosity, who declined the offer 
of the Lydian and said : ' The seven thousand staters which 
are wanting to make up thy four millions I will supply, so 
that the full tale may be no longer lacking and thou mayest 
owe the completion of the sum to me. Continue to enjoy 
all that thou hast acquired hitherto \ 71 

68 Herodotus, VII, 27-9. 

69 Cf. G. Rawlinson, Herodotus, vol. Ill, p. 25, n. 1. According to 
Cassel, p no, however, the sum that Pythius offered to Xerxes would 
be 9,986 talents, thus about equivalent to that offered by Haman to 
Artaxerxes ; for five darics = one mina, and 100 minas = one talent. As 
to the immense riches of the satraps, cf. Herod. I, 192. 

79 Similarly G. Rawlinson in his commentary on Esther, 1873. 
71 Herodotus VII, 29. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY — HOSCHANDER 191 

However, did the king actually believe Haman's accu- 
sation and give him full permission to deal with the Jews 
as he deemed proper, without any further investigation? 
The Persians were certainly reputed in antiquity for their 
high sense of justice, as Xenophon represented them in his 
historical romance Cyropaedia?' 1 Thus how could we 
believe that Artaxerxes condemned a whole people with- 
out being certain of their guilt ? Our author was not an 
orator, like the Greek writers, as we observed, and con- 
densed Haman's accusation into a few sentences. Haman 
naturally dwelt thoroughly on that subject, and laid before 
the king the reports of the governors and officials concern- 
ing the disloyal conduct of the Jews and the disturbances 
everywhere, and corroborated each point of his accusation 
by absolute reliable documentary evidence, and, perhaps, 
also by the personal testimony of many satraps and 
governors. Convinced of the guilt of the Jews by that 
evidence, and persuaded by the prime minister of the 
futility of any other remedies to reduce them to obedience, 
the king could not but grant Haman the permission to 
exterminate them. 

The letters commanding the Jews' extermination were Esther 3. 
written on the thirteenth day of the first month and ' were A * 4 ' 
sent by posts into all the king's provinces, to kill ... all 
Jews ... in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the 
twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take 
the spoil of them for a prey. The copy of the writing for 
the commandment to be given in every province was 

72 Cf. I, II, 6, 7, 15 ; I, III, 16-18. Though Xenophon actually meant to 
depict the Lacedaemonians, nevertheless he never would have dared to 
attribute those virtues to the Persians if they had not had a high reputation 
for the conception of justice. 



192 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

published unto all people, that they should be ready 
against that day.' Why did Haman promulgate the 
decree about a year before its execution? Seeing that 
the modern commentators consider Haman an inveterate 
enemy of the Jewish race, we expect to find the explana- 
tion of that early promulgation of the decree to enhance 
the sufferings of the Jews by keeping them in suspense as 
long as possible. 73 Other commentators believe that it was 
done to give the Jews an opportunity to leave the country. 74 
The latter explanation is certainly strange. We cannot 
impute to scholars ignorance of geographical knowledge 
and of the extent of the Persian empire at that period. 
Seeing that those scholars identify Ahasuerus with Xerxes, 
the whole of Asia, with the exception of the Ionian free 
cities and islands, and Egypt were under Persian dominion. 
Where could the Jews have found a refuge if they had left 
the Persian empire? Where should the Jews living in 
Parthia, Bactria, Sogdiana, &c, have gone ? Those of 
Asia Minor might have sought a place of escape in the 
Ionian free cities. Would the latter have admitted them ? 
Certainly not as free citizens. At the time of Artaxerxes, 
the Jews of the province of Judea could have escaped to 
Egypt, as their people did two hundred years before. 
However, the early promulgation of the edicts greatly 
redounds to the honour of Haman. He was loath to 
commit that wholesale slaughter, if he could avoid it. His 
intention was to give the Jews ample time for reflection 
whether it would not be more advisable to desist from 
their obstinacy and to abandon their exclusive position 
among the nations, in parting with their singular creed. 
That early promulgation is a further confirmation of our 
73 So Bertheau-Ryssel and others. 7i So Keil, Rawlinson. 



ESTHER IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY— HOSCHANDER I93 

exposition of those events, that Haman's object was the 
destruction of the Jewish religion, which could not be 
accomplished without destroying the adherents of this 
creed. 

' The posts went out, being hastened by the king's Esther 3. 
commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan, the 
palace. And the king and Haman sat down to drink ; but 
the city Shushan was perplexed.' The statement that the 
king and Haman sat down to drink has a deeper meaning 
than generally assumed. The modern commentators are 
on the wrong track in explaining : ' It is meant as a very 
effective piece of contrast. Orders have been sent out that 
will throw the empire into confusion, but the king and his 
prime minister enjoy themselves after finishing this trouble- 
some business.' 75 This passage again shows how minutely 
our author was acquainted with Persian customs. Hero- 
dotus states : ' It is also their general practice to deliberate 
upon affairs of weight when they are drunk : and then on 
the following day when they are sober, the decision is put 
before them by the master of the house in which it was 
made ; and if it is then approved of, they act on it ; if not, 
they put it aside. Sometimes, however, they are sober at 
their first deliberation, but in this case they always recon- 
sider the matter under the influence of wine.' 76 Thus our 
author means to state that the decision to exterminate the 
Jews was made when the king and Haman were sober, and 
it was reconsidered under the influence of wine. In the 
light of this explanation we understand the meaning of the 
clause : ' and the city of Shushan was perplexed '. This 
passage has not yet found any reasonable explanation. 
The exegetes cannot believe that the Gentile population 

75 See Paton, p. 211. 7 * Herodotus I, 133. 



194 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

of the capital would have felt any great grief over the 
destruction of the Jews. Now the news reached the people 
that there was a deliberation concerning the destruction 
of the Jews, and that it was agreed upon. Still it was not 
certain whether this decision would not be set aside in the 
second deliberation under the influence of wine. Thus the 
people were perplexed and kept in suspense ; their curiosity 
was aroused. Some held that the decision would stand, 
and some denied ; some approved and some disapproved it. 
The passage apparently is not in the proper place. We 
have, perhaps, to read : ' The king and Haman sat down to 
drink and the city of Shushan was perplexed ; the posts 
went out, hastened by the king's commandment, and the 
decree was given in Shushan the palace ' (W i»m "|tam 
runa mm i?m -ona cairn ikx< D*s-in rou: \em. *vym nwi> 
nTan }tW3). However, the reference to the second de- 
liberation under the influence of wine may have been an 
afterthought of our author.* 

* The seven chapters printed in this and previous volumes of the Jewish 
Quarterly Review, together with two additional chapters and an index, 
will be published in book form.