So if I heard correctly, the Jewish people recently celebrated their holiday of Purim (I think the Israeli PM mentioned it in his speech). While I liked his speech (I think he’s a pretty good speaker, though I won’t swear to the truth of everything he said, that would be another article), it was Sargon of Akkad’s video of this week in stupid for 3/8/15, that drew something to my attention. See, in the speech Haman was mentioned as someone who wanted to exterminate the Jews, like the Iranians want to.
Now, most people know the story of Esther, even if most of us don’t celebrate Purim. Most of us know about the beauty contest, the marriage to the king of Persia, and how she managed to get Haman killed before he could execute all the Jews. His reasons are never really mentioned, except for some vague thing about how he hated the Jews, just like every other anti-Semite, and oh it is the lot of the Jews to be hated, feared, and hunted no matter where they go.
But here’s the thing. While under rabbinic thought Haman is the classic anti-Semite who wants to kill all the Jews, and was the go too guy until Hitler showed up…unlike Hitler, Haman actually had a decent, reasonable, justification for wanting to kill all the Jews.
They exterminated his people. Genocidal extermination at that.
See, Haman was born of the Amalek peoples, ore Amalekites. These people had been in the land called Palestine since before the Hebrews showed up, Hel, they’d been there before Abraham had even been born. It was their homeland. Then the Hebrews come out of Egypt with a “divine commandment” to take that land and commit genocide against the original inhabitants, wipe them out completely (even their livestock) and take their place.
Now the Hebrews had…mixed luck with this. They kept fucking it up, going soft, occasionally falling for the hot pagan girls and the much nicer, much more reasonable Pagan gods (it says something that the Hebrews repeatedly started worshiping Pagan gods, who by their records required child and human sacrifices, over their own God). And so they kept getting themselves attacked and nearly wiped out by other nations, because they refused to keep on with the wiping out of other nations.
Anyways, they ended up having much success with the Amelekites, especially during the reigns of King Saul and King David.
The fighting is mentioned again in Judges 3:13, in the Judgeship of Ehud, and again under Gideon, as the Amalekites allied with the Midianites (Judges 6:3, 6:33, 7:12). This enmity is also the background of the command of the Lord to Saul:
- “2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam. 15:2-3).
Saul’s failure to obey this command cost him his kingship. Note the commentary on this total destruction later by Samuel, when Saul summons him from the dead through prophetic vision literary tool:
- “16 And Samuel said, ‘Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day.” (1 Sam 28)
Flavius Josephus also commented on this event:
- “He betook himself to slay the women and the children, and thought he did not act therein either barbarously or inhumanly; first, because they were enemies whom he thus treated, and, in the next place, because it was done by the command of God, whom it was dangerous not to obey” (Flavius Josephus, Antiquites Judicae, Book VI, Chapter 7).
The destruction of animals and booty, however, was not universal at Saul’s time. This was evidently a command for a particular battle. His contemporary David handled the matter differently a few years later.
- “8 Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt. 9 And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish.“
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “David waged a sacred war of extermination against the Amalekites,” who may have subsequently disappeared from history. Long after, in the time of Hezekiah, five hundred Simeonites annihilated the remnant “of the Amalekites that had escaped” on Mount Seir, and settled in their place (1 Chr. 4:42–43).
At this point, it seems, the Amalekites were done as a nation, with but a few stragglers hanging on, one of which was Haman’s line. Indeed, Haman it seems was descended of the Amalek king. So this man is essentially a prince, forced to be the Prime Minister of a foreign nation, suddenly finds himself in a position to do to the people who exterminated his race, what they did to him.
Suddenly, Haman is starting to sound a bit less Hitler…and a bit more Thorinn Oakenshield.
Being raised Jewish, I grew up with the Jewish perspective on Haman and the Purim story. Haman was evil, and there’s a Jewish practice that during Purim whenever his name is mentioned, one is to boo, hiss, and make whatever noise you can to down out his name, because the Hebrew Gods made a commandment to blot out the name of Amalek, and since Haman is an Amalek, his name is to be blotted out. As one celebrating, it just seemed like a good excuse to make some noise, and be racus in (at least the orthodox traditions) a very stayed and reserved religion.
Plus the cookies weren’t half bad.
But years later, as a Heathen, and a God of Retribution, I find myself, well, rather sad. Because the Story of Esther doesn’t read to me as a grand epic of good triumphing over evil, of divine intervention in a contest winning the chance to save one’s people, and of once more the Jewish people. It reads more like a Greek or Norse tragedy.
The last son of a king, heir to a broken throne, ruler of a dead people, who by skill rose to power in a foreign land and has the chance to avenge his people. A people slaughtered all because they would not help with the invasion of their homelands, or stand idly by as town after town was claimed by these invaders. A people exterminated for doing what nearly every nation in the world would argue was its right, the right to exist and preserve its lands. And then, at the moment of his triumph, at the moment of centuries long quest for vengeance, he is cut down by a girl who got to be queen via the divine intervention of the very god who ordered his people exterminated. And just look again at that quote by Flavius Josephus.
Frankly, it feels like a knife to the gut hearing that story. It is worthy of a Greek Tragedy. Oedipus has nothing on this guy, because all Oedipus lost was his family, and that was mostly by their own fuckery trying to dodge a prophecy. This was at the hands of an invading God commanding his invading people.
So the Jews will celebrate their holiday, and they will cheer their triumph over evil. But I won’t. I’ll just be adding it to the list of sad stories.