Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Purim Points to Ponder

There is no historical parallel between any of the characters of the Purim story except King Achashvairosh (Xerxes, reigned 485 - 464 BCE).

Historically, Achashvairosh's wife was Amastris, daughter of a Persian general - not Jewish.

Mordechai is not a Jewish name, but it's very similar to Marduk the head of the Babylonian pantheon.

Esther is also not a Jewish name, but it is Aramaic for Ishtar, a goddess in the Babylon pantheon and also cousins with Marduk (as Esther is cousins with Mordechai). Hadassah, Esther's original name, is also similar to the Babylonian word for "bride" which was also a reference used to denote Ishtar.

Haman is also the name of the chief Elamite god and Vashti may be close to Mashti an Elamite goddess.

The similarity in names may mean something - then again it may not. Some scholars say that the Purim story is actually a Judaized version of the mythological tale of how the Persian gods conquered the Elamite gods as the Persian Empire rose.

Also, take a look at Esther 2:5-6 - "5Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite;
6Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away."

The Babylonian exile of King Jeconiah occurred in 597 BCE. As I've stated above, the reign of King Xerxes of Persia didn't begin until 485 BCE. That means, that if we assume (generously) that Mordechai was an infant at the time of the exile, he would have to be 111 years old at the start of Xerxes' rule.

Now take a look at this: Ester 2:16 - "16So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign."

Seven years into the reign, Mordechai is now 118 years old. Not entirely impossible, but really stretching the plausibility of the tale. But if Mordechai was 118 and Esther was his cousin, she couldn't have been much younger than he! How could the Megilla refer to her as a "na'arah" young woman (2:8-9)? And how likely is it that the king would find a hundred year old lady so desirable?

Take all that plus the very unlikely aspects of a king allowing armed conflicts between his subjects - which of course is never found in any historical records, or the rise of a Jew to Prime Minister within a Persian court, and the fanciful descriptions of months-long banquets lend to the conclusion that Megillat Esther is primarily a book of fiction.

35 comments:

Ben Sorer Moreh said...

OP, my "gut" is that Purim is based on the Marduk/Ishtar story. I actually read a piece just yesterday where a Conservative rabbi agreed, if I find it, I'll send you a link. Regarding the age/dates discrepancies, not necessarily, as historical dates might just be "off" and the king we think is Ahashverosh might not be. Besides "who was exiled" can mean who belongs to the community which was exiled."

Orthoprax said...

Ben,

The biggest problem with the Babylonian/Elamite myth idea is that the holiday which celebrated that was during the summer - not the spring as Purim is. So it may be difficult to reconcile.

As far as Achashvairosh not being Xerxes, Xerxes is the Greek name for the Persian Khshayarsha, pronounced "Chashirash." The name is pretty solidly determined.

And saying that Mordechai was only a member of the people who had been exiled is just an ad hoc assumption. The text is pretty clear that he was taken along with Jeconiah.

Gil Student said...

See this article

Orthoprax said...

Gil,

The essay you linked to gives numerous supporting opinions, but precious few facts.

It's unlikely for the Megilla to be written in Shushan (Susa) at the time of composition because:

a)The author writes numerous derogatory comments about the king and cites him specifically by name. That would never be accepted under the king's rule or his dynasty.

b) There are numerous instances where the author shows ignorance for that time period's Persian culture. For example: 1) Morechai was allowed access to the harem. That contradicts what we know about the time period. 2) The queen couldn't send a message to her husband. Same thing. 3)No contemporary would decide the empire had 127 provinces when the 20-odd satrapies was the typical way to divide it. Even if you could provide ad hoc assertions to argue that 127 is accurate in some way, it is unlikely that anyone of the time would refer to the empire in that manner. 4) Haman permitted Mordechai's insolence for long periods of time. By our knowledge, such insolence was met quickly and severely. 5) Mordechai's refusal to bow makes no sense given the Persian time period when such acts meant no personal abasement - but it would make sense in the Greek period.

Thus it is most likely that Megillat Esther was composed under Greek rule.

See here: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=483&letter=E

Turning Vashti into Amestris just isn't plausible. Your essay reports that two people think that is likely, there are many others who do not.

As far as there being a Marduka in the Persian court, that does, perhaps, lend some support to a kernel of historicity to the account. Though there is no evidence that this is the Mordechai we have in Esther. As we see, even in the essay you linked to, there were numerous Mardukas. It was a common name even among the few of the king's court. It is even probable that the name was popular since it derived from the popular God Marduk of the time, or the period immediately preceding Persian rule.

Gil Student said...

The essay quotes leading contemporary historians who disagree with your analysis. That essay from Jewish Encyclopedia is what, a hundred years old?

We have precious little evidence left over from that time period. Are you starting with the premise that the book is ahistorical until it is proven historical? I think the burden of proof goes the other way.

Orthoprax said...

The Jewish Encyclopedia article is copywrited from 2002. I guess that's nearly a hundred years.
There are many contemporary historians. Most do not agree with you.

And you cannot simply say that this historian thinks so and so and expect it to be convincing. There are ten others that disagree for each one that agrees. You have to bring the convincing evidence.

"We have precious little evidence left over from that time period."

We have enough to show that the tale is highly improbable for many of the reasons I have described in my last response and my initial blog.

"Are you starting with the premise that the book is ahistorical until it is proven historical? I think the burden of proof goes the other way."

I have assumed the burden of proof on my side. And I think I have provided copious amounts. And now your side is heavy in doubt. To make your side more convincing, you need to respond to the points I have delivered.

Mis-nagid said...

Orthoprax, You're talking to Gil. Evidence isn't something he cares about.

avian30 said...

Gil Student is correct that the Jewish Encyclopedia article is about 100 years old. One of the authors is Solomon Schechter, former president of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Solomon Schechter died in 1915. The main page of the website also notes that the Jewish Encyclopedia "was originally published between 1901-1906."

This is hardly relevant to the arguments made in the article against the historical accuracy of the book of Esther, however. To refute these objections, the arguments themselves must be addressed.

Orthoprax said...

Mis-nagid,

Be that as it may, it is something that I care about. If he's got the goods, I'd like to see 'em.

Avian,

Fair enough. But you're right. When an argument is written has no bearing on its reliability.

-Daniel

Anonymous said...

"Morechai was allowed access to the harem. That contradicts what we know about the time period"

unless, as chazal say, he was a member of the court - just a possibility, eh?

why do you think esther was mordechai's age?
she was a relative and an orphan, the implication is that she was much younger than him.

Anonymous said...

i mean, the p'shat in the megilla is that he was raising her as a child, she continued to listen to him as a father.

and the midrash that he married her is obviously based on l'vas, i.e there is no legal mechanism for adoption in halacha, but adoption was common in persia.
easily understood that he married her in order to raise her to get around yichud problems, and/or to have a halachic relationship with her.

Anonymous said...

"unless, as chazal say, he was a member of the court - just a possibility, eh?"

i put that badly- the ibn ezra explains mordechai's presence at various stages due to his being a member of sanhedrin, and that this gained him progressively more access to the court during the time period of the megilla.

i think this is echoed in coments of chazal too but am not positive.
at any rate, his being a member of sanhedrin, and therefore educated, it would make sense that he became a progressively more influential person in the court, and is in line with various chazals about achashverosh asking jews for advice early on, etc. having the sanhedrin and the jews under their dominion was a big coup, and it's not a stretch to think that just as there were jewish doctors in midieval courts from teh rambam on, there were jewish advisors to achashverosh.

Anonymous said...

"a)The author writes numerous derogatory comments about the king and cites him specifically by name. That would never be accepted under the king's rule or his dynasty."

give one deragatory comment about the kind in the megila, not from midrash!

if you read it cold, w/o imposing any midrash interpretation, there is no deragatory mention of the king at all.

"4) Haman permitted Mordechai's insolence for long periods of time. By our knowledge, such insolence was met quickly and severely. "

haman was an attendant, not a king, and had limited, but growing power, acc. to the megilla. in addition:

"5) Mordechai's refusal to bow makes no sense given the Persian time period when such acts meant no personal abasement - but it would make sense in the Greek period."

mordechai's refusal makes perfect sense, as he wasn't troubled by "personal abasement." the subtext of the megilla is that mordechai had political clout of some sort and/or that the jews had political clout all along.
There seem to be two aspects, the lo yichre v'lo yishtachave, which is due haman politically, and the lo kom v'lo zo, that haman takes personally. either way, if haman was also a newbie or a foreigner that makes sense. and the text identifies him as aggagi, and aggag is not in persia.

"3)No contemporary would decide the empire had 127 provinces when the 20-odd satrapies was the typical way to divide it. Even if you could provide ad hoc assertions to argue that 127 is accurate in some way, it is unlikely that anyone of the time would refer to the empire in that manner."

in which period would someone refer to it that way? if you don't have a period it was appropriate for, you can't explain why anyone would have divided the land that way, at any period, writing the megilla for any purpose. this is a meaningless point.

if these are the best reasons you can come up with for rejecting the historicity of the megilla, the traditionalists are safe. you guys are drunk on biblical criticism and will accept *anything.*

this is like the mystery motel. you know what the custom was for queens delivering messages to kings? for all queens, all kings? what do you actually know here? you think it was beyond the power of the king to say that his wife wouldn't send him messages?
I've been in harems on tours (not in persia) and there are places where the queen has a special location within the harem, with no abiility to so much as leave her one room without being sent for. sounds like esther had a GOOD deal, and indeed, the midrash says that the point of describing vashti's mishte is that esther was inheriting unusually good quarters and treatment for a queen. the idea is that not all queens were able to hold separate parties in beis hamalchus asher lamelech but were off someplace secluded.

Gil Student said...

An essay written 100 years ago lacks all of the evidence and breakthroughs that have been discovered since then!

If legitimate and respected historians find something plausible and you or I don't, it could be because we are not familiar enough with the evidence and era to properly evaluate them.

Your arguments about what was and was not proper in that time period stretch the limits of plausibility. You really think we know such things from the tiny amount of evidence remaining from that time period?

Anonymous said...

And tell us - you can detect the text is made up b/c it's not consistent with what you know to have been practice in the persian royal court.

the jews, who'd come from there more recently, didn't know the practice?

why wasn't this detected as a forgery by those with historical memory of the mores of persia? you think our contemporary knowledge is superior to what people had retained from their stay in persia? hard to believe.

Anonymous said...

another point.

if the megilla is just a retelling of the elomite myth, who is the mordechai bilshan who comes up with zerubavel in nechamia and d"h?

now chazal say this is mordechai, which is all well and good if he existed. but it is irrelevant who this is.

it was obviously a name in common employment.

so who cares if it sounds similar to marduk?

what is the relevance of the name coming from marduk to the historicity of hte megila? has to be none, since it was a common name.

unless you want to say that they stuck the name in a list of people who came up with zerubavel, to later tell people this is mordechai from the megila, and provide background to the story of purim. there is no end to how sly chazal were! (This is a good argument for listening to them, no matter your beliefs. the bible critics tend to have them more tricky than the fundies, imo.)

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

Esther was around Mordechai's age because she was his cousin. There's a limit to how far a difference in age cousins can be. If Mordechai was 118 during the time that the story is set, how young could Esther have been?

For the story to be plausible, Esther would have to be young, a maiden in fact. Are you familiar with cousins who have a difference of 90+ years between them?

However, if the book is fiction, then the facts of history are pliable and Mordechai could be a young man of 30 or so and Esther a girl of 18.

As for Mordechai being a member of the court, I see no evidence of that in the text. He is always outside the King's gate, never within. You might be able to argue that he had some influence somewhere but that he was an advisor..he doesn't even have the king's ear when he knows of an assassination attempt. If anything, he was a lower level servant of the king's.

But, even if he was a member of the king's court he _still_ would not have easy access to the harem. That women were kept from men and were only to serve the king was the whole point.

The Megillah is full of uncomplimentary references toward the king. He was constantly drinking, had no idea what was going on in his kingdom except what his advisors told him, he was constantly being manipulated. He is made out to be a boorish womanizer with only passing interest in his kingdom. And that's all without any Midrash.

"haman was an attendant, not a king, and had limited, but growing power"

According to the Megillah he was second in command. The most powerful person except for the king.

"the subtext of the megilla is that mordechai had political clout of some sort and/or that the jews had political clout all along."

Perhaps, though not much if they were depending on the Queen (who was afraid to call herself a Jewess) to save them all.

"if haman was also a newbie or a foreigner that makes sense. and the text identifies him as aggagi, and aggag is not in persia."

Why does being new of foreign explain his reaction? But actually, you hit on an interesting point here. By calling Haman an Aggagite, the author is embodying Haman as Israel's long-lost ancient enemy, the Amalekites. Although king Agag along with the rest of the Amalekite nation was said to be wholly destroyed in Samuel I 15.

"in which period would someone refer to it that way? if you don't have a period it was appropriate for, you can't explain why anyone would have divided the land that way, at any period, writing the megilla for any purpose."

If a person was unfamiliar with the way the Persian empire was set up, but they knew that it was big, they would choose a big number of provinces. Especially if they were after the influence of Antiochus Megas who decreased the size of his provinces in the Seleucid Empire (thus making more of them.) 20 or 30 provinces to them would have seemed too small.

"what do you actually know here? you think it was beyond the power of the king to say that his wife wouldn't send him messages?"

Not beyond his power, but contradictory to how we know the queens of Persia were treated. Queens were able to travel and had economic independence. They could order for things directly even without the king's approval. It's inconsistent to have the Queen of Persia stuck in her room.

Orthoprax said...

Gil,

"An essay written 100 years ago lacks all of the evidence and breakthroughs that have been discovered since then!"

True, however that does not negate the validity of what the article asserts.

"If legitimate and respected historians find something plausible and you or I don't, it could be because we are not familiar enough with the evidence and era to properly evaluate them."

Ok. Do you wish to play the authority game? How many historians can you find who support your position? Do you think you can find more then I can who support mine?

"You really think we know such things from the tiny amount of evidence remaining from that time period?"

The Persian Empire isn't from prehistory. We have numerous sources to base our knowledge of the time period. It isn't that we have limited evidence of the time period - we just have limited evidence to support the historical assertion of the Book of Esther.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"why wasn't this detected as a forgery by those with historical memory of the mores of persia? you think our contemporary knowledge is superior to what people had retained from their stay in persia? hard to believe."

The people in those times didn't read and study history as we do. It was fact and myth and legend all mixed together and given as one. They were not critical of what they were told. And as the book was canonized into religion, it gained a sort of imperviousness to factual considerations.

After the Enlightenment, history began anew to be studied and to be examined critically.

"if the megilla is just a retelling of the elomite myth, who is the mordechai bilshan who comes up with zerubavel in nechamia and d"h?
now chazal say this is mordechai, which is all well and good if he existed."

The Mordechai-Bilshan was a Jew who returned from Persia to Israel. Which would mean it would most likely not be the same character Mordechai in Esther who stayed in Persia. The author of Esther very likely took that name from Ezra to show how their story is really historically related.

It is not uncommon for authors to take a minor character in one work and expand an entire life story for them.

"what is the relevance of the name coming from marduk to the historicity of hte megila? has to be none, since it was a common name."

If that was the _only_ name which was similar to a mythological god, you'd be right. It wouldn't mean much. But that so many characters can find, without too much difficulty, a god of their own name which has similar conditions and relationships with the other characters, there may be something there.

Gil Student said...

"True, however that does not negate the validity of what the article asserts."

Except that it lacks the information from countless subsequent studies and pieces of evidence, and is therefore irrelevant.

"Ok. Do you wish to play the authority game? How many historians can you find who support your position? Do you think you can find more then I can who support mine?"

My point is that this all boils down to a judgment call of *plausibility*. If no respected scholars shared my view then you could claim, not necessarily correctly, that you have proven your point. But the evidence is inconclusive and given to judgment. You've proven nothing.

"The Persian Empire isn't from prehistory. We have numerous sources to base our knowledge of the time period."

No, we don't. We have very little. Imagine trying to write about whether JFK had an affair with Marylin Monroe based on a few historical documents from the entire century. Do you really think that you could determine whether it happened or not?

Orthoprax said...

Gil,

"Except that it lacks the information from countless subsequent studies and pieces of evidence, and is therefore irrelevant."

A valid argument is valid from now until eternity. Unless you can respond to the points made (or find an authority who can) the argument remains.

"But the evidence is inconclusive and given to judgment. You've proven nothing."

I was responding to your point and have implied that more experts agree with me (which is true, do you disagree with that?). And if you value only the words of experts over arguments of evidence, then you are still bound to accept defeat. Besides, plausibility isn't on the mind of all experts in this field. Most of those who side on the historicity of the tale usually have some vested interest.

"No, we don't. We have very little. Imagine trying to write about whether JFK had an affair with Marylin Monroe based on a few historical documents from the entire century. Do you really think that you could determine whether it happened or not?"

Bad analogy. That was a minor event and done in secrecy. The story of Esther accounts for wrangling of the royalty (which history loves to report) attempts of genocide and an effective civil war. Huge events. The sources we have should be sufficient to tell us of these historical events.

Orthoprax said...

Gil,

"Except that it lacks the information from countless subsequent studies and pieces of evidence, and is therefore irrelevant."

A valid argument is valid from now until eternity. Unless you can respond to the points made (or find an authority who can) the argument remains.

"But the evidence is inconclusive and given to judgment. You've proven nothing."

I was responding to your point and have implied that more experts agree with me (which is true, do you disagree with that?). And if you value only the words of experts over arguments of evidence, then you are still bound to accept defeat. Besides, plausibility isn't on the mind of all experts in this field. Most of those who side on the historicity of the tale usually have some vested interest.

"No, we don't. We have very little. Imagine trying to write about whether JFK had an affair with Marylin Monroe based on a few historical documents from the entire century. Do you really think that you could determine whether it happened or not?"

Bad analogy. That was a minor event and done in secrecy. The story of Esther accounts for wrangling of the royalty (which history loves to report) attempts of genocide and an effective civil war. Huge events. The sources we have should be sufficient to tell us of these historical events.

Mis-nagid said...

"My point is that this all boils down to a judgment call of *plausibility*"

No, it doesn't. In choosing what to believe, you pick the hypothesis that best fits the evidence, applying the criteria of adequacy. In our case, the "it's a legend" hypothesis fits far better than "it's history."

There are very many hypotheses that are plausible, but you don't believe those. You try to prtray your beliefs as rationally derived, but they're really just wishful thinking with a vehement defense. You have repeatedly shown a disregard for critical thinking skills, and this is just one more example.

grend123 said...

the king after Cyrus is Cambyses. This matches the Rabbinic timeline
very well, since Achashveirosh is supposed to have come after Cyrus
(he is said to have stopped the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash), and before Darius,
whose father he is supposed to be in Meseches Megillah. So aside from
the naming problem, I think it's abundantly clear the chachamim thought
Cambyses was Achashverosh, despite the fact that the name matches better with Xerxes or Atexerxes. I mean, they gave us his predecessor and successor - how much better a hint can we get? This dating works fine with the exile from Jerusalem as well.

The single weak point is of course that the name doesn't match. I don't think this is particularly troublesome - especially because Atexerxes is only an approximate match as well. It's not like we have ANY great match for the name. And its also not like tanach never uses weird names for people in place of their real names.

Orthoprax said...

Grend,

"I think it's abundantly clear the chachamim thought
Cambyses was Achashverosh, despite the fact that the name matches better with Xerxes or Atexerxes."

Actually, it's abundantly clear that they _did not._ Cambyses is not mentioned in Tanach and therefore to the Rabbis, he didn't exist. In fact, the Rabbis of the Talmud have no idea who anyone is. According to Rosh Hashana 3b Darius, Cyrus and Artaxerxes are all the same person.

Take a look at the book of Ezra. See chapter 4. Many Persian kings are mentioned. Both Xerxes and Artaxerxes are mentioned and you can clearly see how different the two names are in the Hebrew.

"and before Darius, whose father he is supposed to be in Meseches Megillah."

Darius I's father was never king. Cambyses II was his brother in law. Xerxes I was Darius I son.

See here: http://www.answers.com/topic/achaemenid-dynasty

I think it's pretty clear that whatever the Rabbis thought about Achashvairosh or any of the Achaemenid dynasty - they were pretty far off. And as an authority of history, they are not.

I think the fact that the name is incredibly close (I explain earlier that "Xerxes is the Greek name for the Persian Khshayarsha, pronounced 'Chashirash.'") as well as the fact that there was time in Xerxes' life when the story could actually be set in. After the Greek victory over the Persian army, Xerxes fell back to the palace and is probably more or less accurately portrayed as we see in Esther, involved in the "intrigues of the harem."

The Jewropean said...

Just wondering, wasnt it Mordechai's GRANDFATHER who had been exiled?

Orthoprax said...

Jewropean,

I think not. Giving a person's ancestry is really just an extension of their name. I've never seen anywhere in Tananch where they would give an ancestry and the object of the next sentence would be a person within the individual's ancestry.

Anonymous said...

"Why does being new of foreign explain his reaction? But actually, you hit on an interesting point here. By calling Haman an Aggagite, the author is embodying Haman as Israel's long-lost ancient enemy, the Amalekites. Although king Agag along with the rest of the Amalekite nation was said to be wholly destroyed in Samuel I 15. "

Excuse me, but you obviously have never read that story. It is clearly stated that the King was ordered by g-d to destroy the nation of Amalek, including their king, Agag, as well as all the animals. But King Samuel decided to spare the life of King Agag, and because of that, King Agag escaped and became the great-grandfather of Haman.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

Oh boy, this was just the haftorah for parshat zachor, one should think you would have remembered the facts of the story. I gave yo the exact source from where to read from but you clearly did not do so.

Samuel was never a king, he was a prophet. It was King Saul who took pity on King Agag and brought him back in chains. Then after they got back to Carmel, the prophet Samuel met him there and told him how rotten he was for disobeying God. The two of them walk to Gilgal and prostrate before God. Then Samuel has Agag brought over to him and he cuts him into pieces right then 15:33.

So when did Agag escape to father children exactly? While in chains or after he was in pieces? Did the Israelites allow conjugal visits to POWs?

It says, in 15:8, that Saul "captured Agag, king of Amalek, alive, and the entire people he destroyed by the edge of the sword." The _entire people_.

So either you must admit that Haman's ancestry is contrived or that the Tanach is inaccurate in some way here. Or both. Pick your poison.

ADDeRabbi said...

Jewro said what i was going to say. If you read the verses you cite above without breaking the verses apart, saying that Kish was exiled, not Mordechai, is quite plausible, in which case the story can be set in mid-5th cent BCE, not late 6th. If, in the story, Mordechai is originally Judean, as you suggest, then how the hell would he get the name 'Mordechai'?

Orthoprax said...

Adderabbi,

"If you read the verses you cite above without breaking the verses apart, saying that Kish was exiled, not Mordechai, is quite plausible..."

Yes, I understand that. Initially I was suspect of such an understanding because I don't know any other place in Tanach where they'd list a geneology and then refer to one of the names in the geneology without making that clear. But on the other side of the coin, why would the author include Mordechai's geneology in the first place if not to connect Mordechai with the well known Exile? It is still ambiguous though.

"If, in the story, Mordechai is originally Judean, as you suggest, then how the hell would he get the name 'Mordechai'?"

There are numerous plausible explanations. Perhaps he was an officer of the court and used it professionally. Or perhaps Jews assimilated to some degree on par with how they'd give their children popular names like Alexander.

ADDeRabbi said...

if it was a professional name, then why wouldn't there be a record of his given name, like there is w/ esther (and daniel, chananya, mishael, and azaryah, for that matter)?
and is there any other record of judeans w/ persian/babylonian names pre-exile? assimilated names are generally a function of being a minority culture, which didn't happen in Judea until the time of Yechanya. Thus, it seems unlikely that a name like Mordechai would predate that exile.

on the other hand, if the genealogy is designed to trace Mordechai back to the generation of the exiles, then there's much significance; the fact that Kish was exiled w/ Yechanya, and not Tzidkiyahu, implies that he was a talented fellow; Mordechai is the first Babylonian name in the genealogy; see also how M. Liebtag sees the significance of invoking that exile - i.e., that it had been 4 generations, and this is the group that should have returned by now, but chose not to.

Orthoprax said...

"Thus, it seems unlikely that a name like Mordechai would predate that exile."

Oh, I was confused. I thought you meant why he would have a pagan name if he was Jewish, not why he would have a pagan name if he was born in Judah.

"if it was a professional name, then why wouldn't there be a record of his given name"

You make a good point, but according to the Megillah, Mordechai himself wrote it. Maybe he (or the actual author) just preferred that name and didn't seen any significance in Jewish vs non-Jewish names.

"the fact that Kish was exiled w/ Yechanya, and not Tzidkiyahu, implies that he was a talented fellow"

Or just a rich one. Or one from a noble family.

"and this is the group that should have returned by now, but chose not to."

I don't see why this would be significant. Most Jews chose not to return.

ADDeRabbi said...

if the story is intended as parody of the community that remained in Babylonia, then the fact that it's set after the 2nd temple was built is significant.

mordechai's lineage is listed to increase his importance. the first wave of exilees, for whatever reasons, were more 'choshuv'.

MirqaRochel said...

From the destruction of the Bayit Sheni to Alexander the Great, there's a considerable discrepancy (about 165 years) between historical scholarship and Rabbinic chronology. Have a look at both the Ohr Somayach and Aish Purim Timelines. According to both of them, probably based on one version or another of Seder Olam, the destruction of the 2nd Temple occurred not in 586/7 BCE (the accepted date by almost every mainstream historian, Jewish or not) but in 422 BCE. Historical sources date Cyrus's reign from 539-530 BCE,the Rabbinic based timeleines say Cyrus was king of Persia 373-365 BCE (Ohr Somayach) or 371-360 BCE (Aish)--Rabbinic chronologers don't even agree with each other about the years, although they do agree that Cyrus was succeeded by Achashverosh, who OS identifies as Cambyses. Placing the Purim story in 352 BCE (OS) or 355 BCE(Aish) means that, since Alexander the Great was born in 356 BCE, both Esther and Mordechai as well as Achashverosh would have been his contemporaries. Seder Olam reduces the ENTIRE 200+ year Achaemenid Persian period, recognized by almost all Jewish and non-Jewish historians as lasting from Cyrus's conquest of Babylon around 539 BCE until Alexander's conquest of Persia in 333 BCE, to as few as 24 years (depending on which manuscript you're relying upon). I'll leave it to the midrashists to explain how this is done.

If you're looking for more contemporary Jewish scholarship than the old Jewish Encyclopedia article that discusses anachronisms in Megillat Esther, try Elias Bickerman's Four Strange Books of the Bible, Lawrence Wills' The Jewish Novel in the Ancient World, and Theodore Gaster's Festivals of the Jewish Year.

Now go and study. Happy Purim! :-)