Thursday, March 17, 2016

Is the Book of Esther a Real History?



http://www.persepolis.nu/images/queens/Cassandane%20-%20Shahbanu%20Wife%20of%20Cyrus%20the%20Great.jpg

 

by

 

Damien F. Mackey

 

 

Though I think that it is, all of my previous attempts to demonstrate this have come unstuck.

This time around I am going to take as my starting point, for Esther as a real history, these two interesting clues, that may possibly be connectable:

 

Firstly, Louis Ginzberg’s ‘substantial evidence that Mordecai and Haman were both Jews who knew each other well’ (The Legends of the Jews). [See further on]

 

And, secondly, a synthesis of the elevation of the Jewish king, Jehoiachin, by an eastern king:

 

2 Kings 25: 27-28: Evil-Merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, released Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. He spoke kindly to him, and gave him a more prominent seat than those of the kings who were with him in Babylon.


with the elevation of Haman by an eastern king: 

 

Esther 3:1: After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him.

 

That Haman was a king (at least as considered from a Jewish perspective) is apparent from Queen Esther’s words, in her prayer:

 

Esther 14 (Douay): [8] And now they are not content to oppress us with most hard bondage, but attributing the strength of their hands to the power of their idols, [9] They design to change thy promises, and destroy thy inheritance, and shut the mouths of them that praise thee, and extinguish the glory of thy temple and altar, [10] That they may open the mouths of Gentiles, and praise the strength of idols, and magnify for ever a carnal [var. mortal] king.  

 

Presumably “king” here refers to Haman, not to Ahasuerus, who was somewhat gullible and not really au fait, it seems, with the inner machinations of Haman’s conspiracy (16:2-15).

 

If Ginzberg is correct, then the fact of Haman’s Jewishness is surely a priceless piece of information towards our identifying a character so enigmatic that he is variously called an “Agagite”; an “Amalekite” (or Edomite); a “Bougean” [Septuagint]; and a “Macedonian”.

In other words, critics have until now been guessing.

At least there is the small consolation, regarding efforts to nail down the ethnicity of Haman, that one can eliminate Persian from Haman’s bloodline, based upon the following statement in the edict of King Ahasuerus (but authored by Mordecai): “For Haman, the son of Hammedatha, a Macedonian (really an alien to the Persian blood, and quite devoid of our kindliness) ...” (16:10).

 

From the above progression of clues, we can deduce that Haman must have been a most unusual character, a supposed foreigner who may yet have been a Jew, whilst his being apparently intensely anti-Jewish. Quite a riddle, according to the following observation (http://www.tidings.org/2003/09/esther-4-the-riddle-of-the-book-of-esther-hamans-hatred/):

 

Haman must rank as the anti-semite par excellence of the scriptures, and in his fated attempt to exterminate the Jews, he conceives some of the very horrors that Hitler would later fulfil. What does he have against the Jews, and why is he so bent on destroying them?

 

The striking fact is that from the narrative surface itself Haman doesn’t appear to have anything particularly against the Jews at all. There are underlying issues, as we shall go on to discover, but the major reason for his evil device is a personal vendetta against the one man, Mordecai. The personal issue between Haman and Mordecai became the pretext for a plan not only to harm Mordecai’s family, as well as him, but to eliminate his entire race. It is an absurd example of escalation, but one which, in lesser forms, is often characteristic of human behaviour. ….

[End of quote]

 

I have already referred to Louis Ginzberg on these matters. Well, here is an interesting reconstruction of the Esther drama that retired academic, Dr. Eugene Kaellis, has built around such information. This piece, that I largely find most plausible, offers some promising points.


 

Power struggle between Jews


 


Clever Queen Esther takes a chance and manages to create harmony.


EUGENE KAELLIS


 

Purim is based on the Book of Esther, the most esoteric book in the Hebrew Testament. .... Its hidden meaning can be uncovered only by combining a knowledge of Persian practices during the Babylonian Captivity, the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Great, his Edict (sixth century BCE) and Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews which, despite its name, contains a great deal of relevant and credible history.

 

Using these sources, one can arrive at a plausible interpretation completely in accord with historically valid information. Esther, it turns out, describes an entirely intra-Jewish affair set in the Persian Empire, with the two major antagonists as factional leaders: Mordecai, whose followers advocate rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple, and Haman, also a Jew, whose assimilationist adherents oppose the project.


Ginzberg furnishes substantial evidence that Mordecai and Haman were both Jews who knew each other well: they were co-butlers at a royal feast and journeyed together to India to put down a rebellion against Persia. Moreover, Haman's mother had a Hebrew name and his descendants are said to have taught Torah in Akiva's academy.


The multi-ethnic Persian Empire had significant religious freedom and communal authority, as exemplified by the Edict of Cyrus, permitting Jews to return to Judah and rebuild their Temple, destroyed by the Babylonians, and allowing the inclusion of members of various ethnic and religious groups under Persian rule, offering them some representation and influence at the royal court. ….


In the Persian Empire the king's harem typically had ethnic "representatives." Vashti, Esther's predecessor, was a member of the Hamanite faction. In a typically irreverent manner, she had forced her Jewish handmaidens to violate the Sabbath. After Vashti's dismissal, widespread rebellion and Jewish inter-factional fighting flared up, calmed only by Mordecai's elevation and the appointment of Esther, who, in a measure of intrigue, initially conceals her ethnic and factional identification. Her original name was Hebrew, viz., Hadassah; Esther is Persian, derived from Astarte or Ishtar.

….

Haman initially gains the upper hand by convincing Ahasuerus that Mordecai's faction threatens the king's hegemony, an argument given credence by the plan of the pro-Temple faction to construct a wall around the rebuilt Temple, perhaps to defend against Persian armies after the Jews had declared their independence. Haman also probably bribes the king with promises of a share of the plunder expropriated from the wealth of the pro-Temple faction after its members are killed.

 
After Haman's appointment, when he and the king sat down for a drink, "Susa was perplexed," the text states, indicating that the Jews of Susa, a city with a large Mordecai-supporting faction, were outraged that someone they considered a heretic would henceforth officially advise the king regarding the Jewish community.


As Haman puts his plan in motion, Mordecai warns Esther, and the pro-Temple Jews demonstrate their solidarity with her. During the three days of fasting, while Esther prepares to petition the king, Mordecai is busy collecting a counter-bribe, referred to as "relief and deliverance ... from another quarter," which he had earlier promised Esther while trying to assuage her fears about her own safety following the disclosure of her true allegiance.


The Mordecai faction succeeds and the tolerant but venal king switches his support. Esther gathers information on Haman's collaborators and denounces him. In a staged event in the royal apartment, with the king's co-operation, she frames Haman on an assault charge, providing Ahasuerus with a face-saving device to explain the dismissal and subsequent execution of someone he had so recently elevated.


Ahasuerus, now convinced that the pro-Temple faction does not threaten him with its walled city plans, provides help from forces he had formerly promised to Haman, allowing the Mordecaite Jews to eliminate the Hamanites, but keeping his well-greased hands out of the more violent aspects of the conflict.


The book states repeatedly that the pro-Temple faction members kept no plunder derived from the defeat of their rivals, indicating that this benefit of their triumph went to Ahasuerus. The story goes on to declare that, with the victory of the Mordecai faction, "many people of the country declared themselves Jews, for the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them." Why would ordinary Persians or Babylonians, now part of the Persian Empire, fear Jews to the point of embracing a minority religion in their own country? It is more reasonable to assume that the now religiously enthusiastic Jews who had become fearful of Mordecai were assimilated Jews who had identified themselves as Persians and who had formerly allied themselves with the Hamanite faction or had previously faltered in their allegiance to the pro-Temple faction. ….

 

[End of quote]

 
So, putting together all of the above, the wicked Haman becomes

the captive (and evil) Judaean king, Jehoiachin (var. Jeconiah, Coniah) –

whose “mother had a Hebrew name” (2 Kings 24:8: “Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for three months. His mother’s name was Nehushta daughter of Elnathan; she was from Jerusalem”)

an opponent of the pro-Temple Jews (as was Queen Vashti)

exalted above all of the other princes in the land by the reigning king.

 

So far so good.

But why doesn’t the Book of Esther simply refer to the conspirator as Haman the Jew?

And who is the “Hammedatha” whose son Haman was? [Refer back to Esther 3:1]

 

My view now is that the word (of various interpretations) that has been taken as indicating Haman’s nationality (Agagite, Amalekite, etc.), was originally, instead, an epithet, not a term of ethnic description. In the case of king Jehoiachin, the epithet used for him in 1 Chronicles 3:17 was: (“And the sons of Jeconiah), the captive”. In Hebrew, the word is Assir, “captive” or “prisoner”. Jeconiah the Captive!

Now, in Greek, captive is aichmálo̱tos, which is very much like the word for “Amalekite”, Amali̱kíti̱s. Is this where the confusion may have arisen?

And, hadn’t all of the Amalekite peoples been destroyed well before this time, in the era of king Hezekiah? Here is the biblical evidence for this:

 

1 Chronicles 4: 42-43: From them, from the sons of Simeon, five hundred men went to Mount Seir, with Pelatiah, Neariah, Rephaiah and Uzziel, the sons of Ishi, as their leaders. They destroyed the remnant of the Amalekites who escaped, and have lived there to this day.

 

So it may be futile to, as many do, revive the old feud between Benjamin of Saul (tribe of Mordecai) and Agag the Amalekite.

The name “Hammedatha” in Esther 3:1 is a really tricky one. I can begin to offer my suggestion for this name in my context only after I have proposed that king Jehoiakin was the son, and not the grandson, of King Josiah as is usually accepted. And I base my claim here on very good authority: on Saint Matthew. Thus Matthew 1:11: “… Josiah the father of Jeconiah”. This would mean that Jehoiachin, the brother to Josiah’s other sons (I Chronicles 3:15) - and therefore not the actual son of one of these, Jehoiakim - may have shared the same mother as did two of these sons of Josiah, Jehoahaz and Zedekiah, namely: “Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah” (cf. 2 Kings 23:1 and Jeremiah 52:1). From this reconsideration about Jehoiachin’s origins, now, I can explain that the hitherto unknown “Hammedatha” must refer to this Hamutal (var. Hammutal) - a very good name fit (and I might challenge anyone to think of a better one in this context).

Thus, Hammedatha was not the father of Haman (Jehoiachin), as we might have imagined, but his very mother.

Obviously, “Nehushta daughter of Elnathan”, the usual choice for the mother of Jehoiachin, cannot fit my reconstructed case, and I would suspect that she, the queen mother, was the actual grandmother of Jehoiachin rather than his mother.

Hamutal (Hammedatha), I say, was his real mother.

 

Prophecies About King Jehoiachin

 

The prophet Jeremiah wrote about the unhappy fate of the captive King Jehoiachin of Judah, who would never again return to Judah (Jeremiah 22):

 

24 As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah … were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence;

 

{Ironically King Ahasuerus, when having approved of Haman’s plot, “took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman … the enemy of the Jews [Esther 3:10], but then, later [8:2]: “The king took off his signet ring--which he had taken back from Haman--and gave it to Mordecai”}.

 

25 And I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life, and into the hand of them whose face thou fearest, even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of the Chaldeans.

 

26 And I will cast thee out, and thy mother that bare thee, into another country, where ye were not born; and there shall ye die.

 

27 But to the land whereunto they desire to return, thither shall they not return.

 

28 Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol? is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not?

 

29 O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord.

 

30 Thus saith the Lord, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah.

 

{He and his sons were all destined to be destroyed due to the agency of Queen Esther and Mordecai}.

 

 

Archaeological Information About King Jehoiachin

 

Whether or not the drama of the Book of Esther was a real history, certainly King Jehoiachin – with whom I am here identifying one of the book’s leading characters, Haman – was real. For he is attested by archaeology - and the data accords with the biblical account.


 

Jehoiachin, the Bible, and Archaeology


by

 

For centuries, God had warned the sinful nation of Judah to turn from its wicked, idolatrous ways. Judah refused, and strayed farther from the true God. Due to Judah’s immoral, rebellious behavior, God sent His prophets to foretell the nation’s destruction and exile at the hands of the Babylonians. Just as God had predicted, the Babylonians crushed the forces of Judah and took them into exile.

The ruling king of Judah at the time of the Babylonian invasion was an 18-year-old young man named Jehoiachin. His brief reign of three months is chronicled in 2 Kings 24:12-15. The text states that he did evil in the sight of the Lord and that the Babylonian king (Nebuchadnezzar) came against the capital city of Jerusalem and besieged it. In response to this siege, the text states: “Then Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his servants, his princes, and his officers went out to the king of Babylon; and the king of Babylon, in the eighth year of his reign, took him prisoner” (2 Kings 24:12).

Jehoiachin’s miserable state of affairs lasted over thirty years, throughout the entire reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Yet, when Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he took pity on Jehoiachin and released him from prison. The biblical text mentions that the Babylonian king “spoke kindly” to Jehoiachin, and “gave him a more prominent seat than those of the kings who were with him in Babylon” (2 Kings 25:28). In addition to releasing him from prison, the Bible says that Evil-Merodach gave Jehoiachin a set amount of provisions: “And as for his provisions, there was a regular ration given him by the king, a portion for each day, all the days of his life” (2 Kings 25:30).

These rations given to Jehoiachin have become increasingly important in light of an interesting archaeological discovery. Several administrative documents have been found in ancient Babylon that record events and transactions that took place during the reign of Evil-Merodach. These documents were preserved on clay cuneiform tablets, of which many have been found broken into several pieces. Jehoiachin’s name, however, is clearly legible on the tablets. Not only is he mentioned, but documentation for an allotment of grain, oil, and foodstuffs also is also provided. Alfred J. Hoerth mentions the find in his book Archaeology and the Old Testament and includes a picture of the cuneiform tablet that mentions Jehoiachin (1998, pp. 378-379).

The significance of this find is not lost on the observant reader. The Bible mentions Jehoichin’s captivity and subsequent elevation and daily rations at the hand of Evil-Merodach. The secular record uncovered in the ruins of ancient Babylon verifies the facts to an exacting degree. Biblical accuracy is unparalleled by any ancient or modern book in existence. Only due to the superintending of a divine hand could a book as extensive, exhaustive, and historically infallible as the Bible have been produced.

 

REFERENCES


 

Hoerth, Alfred J. (1998), Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

 

http://theosophical.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/jehoiachin-ration-tablet.png?w=300&h=264

 

And:


 

During his excavation of Babylon in 1899-1917, Robert Koldeway discovered a royal archive room of King Nebuchadnezzar near the Ishtar Gate. It contained tablets dating to 595-570 BC. The tablets were translated in the 1930s by the German Assyriologist, Ernst Weidner. Four of these tablets list rations of oil and barley given to various individuals—including the deposed King Jehoiachin—by Nebuchadnezzar from the royal storehouses, dated five years after Jehoiachin was taken captive.

One tablet reads:

 

“10 (sila of oil) to the king of Judah, Yaukin; 2 1/2 sila (oil) to the offspring of Judah’s king; 4 sila to eight men from Judea.” Another reads, “1 1/2 sila (oil) for three carpenters from Arvad, 1/2 apiece; 11 1/2 sila for eight wood workers from Byblos. . .; 3 1/2 sila for seven Greek craftsman, 1/2 sila apiece; 1/2 sila to the carpenter, Nabuetir; 10 sila to Ia-ku-u-ki-nu, the son of Judah’s king[1]; 2 1/2 sila for the five sons of the Judean king.”

 

Notice how much more Jehoiachin got than everyone else. Obviously he had the king’s favor.

 

Significance:

 

1.         This confirms the existence of Jehoiachin.

2.         This confirms the Biblical account of his rations.

 

The Babylonian chronicles are currently housed in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin.

 

[End of quote]

 

Another fact, most important in my context, emerges from this precious document. It is that Jehoiachin [here referred to as Yaukin, and as Ia-ku-u-ki-nu] already has five sons with him in captivity. I Chronicles 3:17 attributes seven sons to him: “Shealtiel his son, 18 Malkiram, Pedaiah, Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama and Nedabiah”. Later of course he, as Haman, will have ten sons (Esther 9:7, 12, 13, 14), presumably now of Persian names: “Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha,Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha,Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, and Vajezatha”.

Linguists may have fun with comparisons between these two sets.

Jehoiachin, having gone into captivity as an 18 year old, would have been (18+37=) about 55 years of age when (2 Kings 25:27): “In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah, on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month, King Evil-Merodach of Babylon, in the first year of his reign, pardoned King Jehoiachin of Judah and released him from prison”.

This synthesis of the 37th year of Jehoiachin’s exile with the 1st year of king Evil-Merodach [var. Awel-Marduk] is - like that of Jeremiah 25:1 - a most significant biblico-historical correlation. If only we knew more about Evil-Merodach. For, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia’s article, “Evil-Merodach” (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5921-evil-merodach): “No personal or historical inscriptions of his reign have been discovered, and there are only two sources of information concerning him—the Hebrew Scriptures and Berosus”.

So, this poorly known king might stand in need of an alter ego.

Does he appear also in the book of Esther?

 

Meaning of the Name ‘Haman’

 

The name “Haman”, having no apparent likeness to Jehoiachin in any of its variant forms, was presumably the elderly conspirator’s given Persian name. In fact the element haman can be found in its entirety in the famous name, Achaemenes, which is, in Persian, Hakhamanish. (“Old Persian proper name Haxāmaniš, traditionally derived from haxā- “friend” and manah “thinking power”.” http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/achaemenes-greek).

This is a further endorsement of what already is the accepted view, anyway, that the drama of the Book of Esther belongs to the Medo-Persian, rather than to the Chaldean, period of history.

 

Part Two

 

Introduction

 

So far I have concluded, based on some compelling Jewish legends, that Haman of the Book of Esther was actually a Jew, not an Amalekite (etc.), and that he was in fact King Jehoiachin. And that the opinion that he was an Agagite, or an Amalekite (Greek: Amali̱kíti̱s) may have arisen from Jehoiachin’s chief epithet, “Captive” (Greek: aichmálo̱tos), of similar phonetics.

With the evil king Jehoiachin as the wicked Haman, then the next logical step - as it had previously seemed to me - was that the exaltation of Jehoiachin by king Evil-Merodach (usually considered to have been the Chaldean son and successor of Nebuchednezzar II), as related in 2 Kings 25:27-28, must resonate with the exaltation of Haman by king “Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:1). And so I had concluded that Evil-Merodach was the long sought for king “Ahasuerus”. Hardly a good fit.

Better to conclude that, whereas Evil-Merodach had exalted Jehoiachin “in the year that he began to reign”, “Ahasuerus” appears to have raised up Haman some time after his wedding, in his 7th year (cf. Esther 2:16 and 3:1).

These are two separate incidents.

Clearly, now, “Ahasuerus” was a successor of Evil-Merodach’s.

The age of Haman now needs to be taken into consideration. Already about 55, as we calculated, in the 1st year of Evil-Merodach, he was probably close to 70 in the 12th year of Ahasuerus (the Esther drama focusses on this king’s 12th year).

The release of king Jehoiachin from prison by Evil-Merodach in his first year of reign is to be regarded as an initial act of leniency; whilst his elevation by Ahasuerus was somewhat separated in time from the first.

There was another preliminary matter that had to be settled, and that was the identification of the “Hammedatha” whose son Haman was (Esther 3:1). I, taking my lead from the New Testament’s Matthew 1:11: “… Josiah the father of Jeconiah [Jehoiachin]” (though the latter is usually regarded as being the grandson of king Josiah), was able to propose for “Hammedatha” the Jewish woman, Hamutal (or Hammutal) – a very adequate name fit.

 

We know from the prophet Ezekiel's lamentation (chapter 19) that Jehoiachin would be caged up and carried off like an animal: “They put him in a cage with chains, And brought him to the king of Babylon; They brought him in nets, That his voice should no longer be heard on the mountains of Israel.” (v. 9).

In Babylon, Jehoiachin was treated as a royal hostage. He is named Ya'u-kin in Babylonian tablets, which speak of him and his five sons as receiving rations at the Babylonian court. As we have already noted, he was known to the Jews as 'Jehoiachin the Captive' (Assir) (I Chronicles 3:17).

That Jehoiachin, even though a captive, enjoyed a degree of freedom, at least early on, is apparent from this statement in the Book of Baruch (1:3): Baruch read the book aloud to Jehoiachin ... king of Judah, and to all the people who lived in Babylon by the Sud River. Everyone came to hear it read - nobles, children of royal families, elders, in fact, all the people, no matter what their status”.

Now, this man was apparently an inveterate conspirator and insurrectionist. For, according to A. Fitzgerald, article “Baruch” (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1968, 37:9): “At first a pensioner in the King’s [Nebuchednezzar’s] court, [Jehoiachin] was jailed sometime after 592 [BC] (W.F. Albright, BA,5 [1948] 49-55), probably in connection with some insurrection …”. Was there perhaps an insurrection involved in the case of Daniel 4:33: “Nebuchadnezzar was driven out of human society …”, due to the king’s madness? Whatever the case, we find king Jehoiachin once again - at least in the latter part of Nebuchednezzar’s reign - being held as a prisoner, there awaiting his renewed freedom at the hands of the succeeding king, Evil-Merodach (2 Kings 25:27-30):

 

And it came to pass in the 37th year of the captivity of Yeho’yachin king of Judea, in the twelfth month, on the 27th day of the month (27 Adar, today’s Hebrew date) that Evil-Merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, did lift the head of Yeho’yachin king of Judea out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon. And he changed his prison garments, and [Yeho'yachin] ate bread before him [Evil-Merdoch] continually all the days of his life. And there was a continual daily allowance given to him by the king, all the days of his life.

 

 

 

 

* * * * * *

 

Esther and Fatima

 

Along with the motivating factor of my wanting to test the historicity of the Book of Esther, just as I had done in the case of the Book of Judith in Volume Two of my university thesis,

 

A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah and its Background

 


 

I was keen to provide an underlying history for my devotional book (and this will be of interest particularly to Marian Catholics),

 

FIVE FIRST SATURDAYS OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA

 


 

according to which the drama of the Book of Esther, played out between the 13th day of various months, was a providential foretaste or preview of the cosmic drama of Fatima (1917), played out on the 13th day of consecutive months, and culminating in the great solar miracle on October 13th thus intended by the ‘new Queen Esther’, Our Lady of the Rosary: "On the last month, I will perform a miracle so that all may believe." This event has become known as the “Miracle of the Sun” (e.g: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_the_Sun) and has been justly characterized as the greatest supernatural occurrence of the 20th century.

 

https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQugY6WmhwGv3Y5fElw6Uo16oQGZMKtesV09f2gV9VqVus_D6G-nw

 

As one leading Fatima authority has noted, this great miracle "does not belong (only) to the domain of faith, or even that of science. Before all else it is an historical event.”

And so, as I hope to have begun to show in this article, was the fascinating Queen Esther drama “an historical event”.

 

 

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