Esther and Purim - why do we celebrate Purim? What did Esther do? Who is Haman?
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Purim and Esther

Esther and Purim story
Mordecai is leading Esther (on the horse) to talk to the Persian king
A fresco from the world's oldest preserved synagogue
at Dura-Europos in Syria (244 AD)

According to the Bible, Esther was a Jewish woman who lived in the Persian Empire, about 400 BC. There's no evidence that Esther (ESS-ter) really existed outside of the Bible. In the story, Esther's mother and father were dead, and she was living with her older cousin Mordecai, who was taking care of her. Mordecai (MORE-duh-ki) worked for the Persian king. Then King Ahasuerus (possibly the Persian king we call Artaxerxes II) held a beauty contest to find a wife, and he chose Esther and married her. He didn't know that Esther was Jewish, but he loved her very much.

King Ahasuerus' vizier, Haman, was very powerful (like Jafar in the Aladdin movie). When he rode down the street on his horse, everyone bowed down. But Mordecai would not bow down to Haman (HAY-man), because he would only bow down to God. Haman got angry and decided to kill all the Jews because of this. Mordecai was very upset, and he called for Esther. When Esther came to him, he told her that she was the only one who could save the Jews.

Esther was afraid to talk to the king, and she fasted and prayed for three days before she got the courage to talk to him. But finally she asked the king to have dinner with her and Haman the next night, and the king agreed.

Esther
Esther and the hanging of Haman
from the Danish church at Tirsted (1400 AD)

Meanwhile Haman had a huge gallows built outside the palace to hang Esther's uncle Mordecai and kill him. But during dinner, Esther told the king that she was Jewish, and asked King Ahasuerus to stop Haman's plan to kill the Jews. The king was very angry at Haman and he told his guards to hang Haman on his own gallows. Then King Ahasuerus made Mordecai his new vizier. So Jewish people kept on living in the Persian Empire for many more years, and some are still there today.

To buy an excellent Child's Bible, click on the picture (this is the one
I learned from, and the one I give my own kids):


Children's Bible

The Persians and the Jews
More about the Persian Empire
Alexander and the Maccabees
Main Judaism page
Main religion page


Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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