The month of Adar has arrived and Purim is on the docket once again. GH brings up the topic of the historicity of the Book of Esther and I remember that I did likewise this time last year. Now, I didn't have the intention of going on about this topic again, but I'd like to get to the heart of the issue rather than arguing particulars as I had last year.
The fact of the matter is this: The story of Purim contains a number of events that I would consider unlikely. These are items internal to the text. Somehow Esther is taken from the home of a known Jew, Mordechai, and is yet able to keep anyone from figuring out her ancestry. For some reason the author thinks that the King of Persia would be unable to overturn past decrees. Somehow Achashveirosh would allow wholesale genocide to pass without him even being aware of who was being killed and somehow Achashveirosh would allow armed struggles to go on throughout his empire. Kinda fishy.
There is also the appearance of the book wherein it reads like a fairy tale. If you read it, just plain read it, it sounds more like Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast than a historical report. The whole story is just so neat. Too neat, as it were. Books like Kings or Ezra and Nechemia read more like history. If you just read them, they sound like accounts of events, though sometimes embellished. Just on prima facie consideration alone, I'd consider the Book of Esther suspect and I'd give those other books of Tanach tentative legitimacy.
All this being the case, I acknowledge that it is possible for the Book of Esther to be historical. Certainly modern scholarship hasn't proven it impossible. But on that same note, I don't know any convincing reason for why we should give it legitimacy when its appearance holds the hallmarks of fiction. What we need is some independent corroboration for the events of the Book of Esther in order to consider it historical. But such evidence is sorely lacking.
So now we must go beyond this. Maybe the story is true to some degree, maybe its not. But even if the critical thinking observant Jew can convince himself of its historical legitimacy, he must concurrently realize that the facts are not conclusive for that opinion and he cannot demand the same view be held by all other critical thinking Jews if he values freedom of thought and hates unthinking acceptance of dogma. Therefore, we need to establish value within the implied message of the Book of Esther and the holiday of Purim. This message, I think, is clear and worth celebrating.
The story goes that the Jews were in exile and were in danger of being destroyed. Yet they weren't and the day was saved for all. Hoorah! This has obvious parallels throughout the past two thousand years of Jewish history. The Jews have been in exile and have been in danger of being destroyed time and time again, yet somehow they have persevered and today we may be in a distinct upswing of Jewish success throughout the world on all levels of society. Today, it can be argued, is one of the best times a Jew could be a Jew.
What Purim then is, is a day to celebrate our persistence, our success, and really our very continued existence while thumbing our collective noses at those who would have the presumption to think that they could destroy us. Did Haman exist? That's debatable. But Hitler did. And so did Antiochus and Titus and Luther and Torquemada. They had their chance and where are they now? History. "On the day that the enemies of the Jews expected to prevail over them, and it was turned about: The Jews prevailed over their adversaries."
Now lets have a drink and eat some candy.