Chap. Est_3:1-6. Haman offended by Mordecai’s refusal to make obeisance
1. After these things] i.e. between the seventh (Est_2:16) and the twelfth (Est_3:7) years of Xerxes’ reign.
Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite] Haman’s name has been held to be another form of Humman or Humban, an Elamite deity, and that of his father to be connected with the Persian mâh and data, thus signifying given by the moon. The description of Haman as an ‘Agagite’ is perplexing. The following views have been held.
(a) Josephus (Ant. xi. 6. 5) and the Targum understand the statement literally to mean that Haman was descended from Agag, king of Amalek, the latter availing itself of the opportunity of giving a complete genealogy through Amalek to Esau (see Gen_36:12). If we accept this explanation of the word, we can see the significance which it bears for the narrator. He desires to place Mordecai and Haman before the reader in the guise of hereditary enemies, the one the descendant of Kish, and thus connected with the first king of Israel, the other the descendant of Agag, Saul’s conquered foe. As then, so now, it is a case of a contest between the Jew and his adversary.
(b) The title ‘Agagite’ may be an allegorical nickname, and intended to indicate a spiritual rather than a natural descent, one whose attitude to the chosen nation was that of the Amalekite king of earlier days.
(c) It may, however, denote a place or family otherwise unknown.
For ‘Agagite’ the LXX. here and in (Est_9:10 and) Esther 12:6 have Bugaean (Βουγαῖος), and in Est_9:24 and Esther 16:10 the Macedonian (ὁ Μακεδών). The former has been explained as originating in a mistake in reading the first letter in the Heb., or as arising from confusion with Bagoas, a favourite of Alexander the Great (Curtius vi. 5. 23). Either of two other explanations, however, is decidedly to be preferred, viz. (a) that it means bully, braggart, as it occurs twice in this sense in Homer (Il. xiii. 824, Od. xviii. 79), many of whose words were revived by writers of Alexandrian Greek, or (b) that it is a word denoting eunuch, and afterwards any court official. See Schleusner, Lexicon Vet. Test. s.v. The latter title ‘Macedonian’ either (a) points to the time when the Greek power, rendered dominant in the East by Alexander of Macedon (died b.c. 323), had become through Antiochus Epiphanes (died b.c. 164), who inherited Alexander’s conquests in Syria, the type of hostility to the nation of the Jews, or (b) is meant to indicate Haman as a traitor to the Persian power.
After these things,…. After the marriage of Esther, and the discovery of the conspiracy to take away the king’s life, five years after, as Aben Ezra observe, at least more than four years, for so it appears from Est_3:7
did King Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite; whom both the Targums make to descend from Amalek, and to be of the stock or family of Agag, the common name of the kings of Amalek; and so Josephus (g); but this is not clear and certain; in the apocryphal Esther he is said to be a Macedonian; and Sulpitius the historian says (h) he was a Persian, which is not improbable; and Agag might be the name of a family or city in Persia, of which he was; and Aben Ezra observes, that some say he is the same with Memucan, see Est_1:14,
and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him; erected a throne for him, higher than the rest, either of his own princes and nobles, or such as were his captives, see 2Ki_25:28. It was the custom of the kings of Persia, which it is probable was derived from Cyrus, to advance those to the highest seats they thought best deserved it: says he to his nobles, let there be seats with you as with me, and let the best be honoured before others;–and again, let all the best of those present be honoured with seats above others (i).
(g) Ut supra, (Antiqu. l. 11. c. 6.) sect. 5. (h) Hist. Sacr. l. 2. p. 78. (i) Xenophon, Cyropaedia, l. 8. c. 41.
Pop Cyclopedia Biblical Lit
Ahasue´rus or Achashverosh is the name, or rather the title, of four Median and Persian monarchs mentioned in the Bible.
The first Ahasuerus is incidentally mentioned, in Dan_9:1, as the father of Darius the Mede. It is generally agreed that the person here referred to is the Astyages of profane history. See the article Darius.
The second Ahasuerus occurs in Ezr_4:6, where it is said that in the beginning of his reign the enemies of the Jews wrote an accusation against them, the result of which is not mentioned. The Persian king here meant seems to be the immediate successor of Cyrus, the frantic tyrant Cambyses, who came to the throne B.C. 529, and died after a reign of seven years and five months.
The third Ahasuerus is the Persian king of the book of Esther. The chief facts recorded of him there, and the dates of their occurrence, which are important in the subsequent inquiry, are these: In the third year of his reign he made a sumptuous banquet for all his nobility, and prolonged the feast for 180 days. Being on one occasion merry with wine, he ordered his queen Vashti to be brought out, to show the people her beauty. On her refusal to violate the decorum of her sex, he not only indignantly divorced her, but published an edict concerning her disobedience, in order to insure to every husband in his dominions the rule in his own house. In the seventh year of his reign he married Esther, a Jewess, who, however, concealed her parentage. In the twelfth year of his reign, his minister Haman, who had received some slights from Mordecai the Jew, offered him 10,000 talents of silver for the privilege of ordering a massacre of the Jews in all parts of the empire on an appointed day. The king refused this immense sum, but acceded to his request; and couriers were dispatched to the most distant provinces to enjoin the execution of this decree. Before it was accomplished, however, Mordecai and Esther obtained such an influence over him, that he so far annulled his recent enactment as to dispatch other couriers to empower the Jews to defend themselves manfully against their enemies on that day; the result of which was, that they slew 800 of his native subjects in Shushan, and 75,000 of them in the provinces.
Although almost every Medo-Persian king, from Cyaxares I down to Artaxerxes III (Ochus), has in his turn found some champion to assert his title to be the Ahasuerus of Esther, some have contended on very plausible grounds that Darius Hystaspes is the monarch referred to. But in the first place, it is impossible to find the name of Darius in Achashverosh; and, in the second, the moral evidence is against him. The mild and just character ascribed to Darius renders it highly improbable that, after favoring the Jews from the second to the sixth year of his reign, he should become a senseless tool in the hands of Haman, and consent to their extirpation. Lastly, we read of his marrying two daughters and a grand-daughter of Cyrus, and a daughter of Otanes—and these only; would Darius have repudiated one of these for such a trifle, when his peculiar position, as the first king of his race, must have rendered such alliances indispensable?
The whole question, therefore, lies between Xerxes and his successor, Artaxerxes Longimanus. As Artaxerxes allowed Ezra to go to Jerusalem with a colony of exiles in the seventh year of his reign (Ezr_7:1-7); and as he issued a decree in terms so exceedingly favorable to the religious as well as civil interests of the Jews (Ezr_7:11-26), how could Haman, five years afterwards, venture to describe the Jews to him as a people whom, on the very account of their law, it was not for the king’s profit to suffer? And how could Haman so directly propose their extermination, in the face of a decree so signally in their favor, and so recently issued by the same king? especially as the laws of the Medes and Persians might not be altered! Again, as Artaxerxes (assuming always that he is the Artachshast of Ezr_7:1, and not Xerxes) was capable of such liberality to the Jews in the seventh year of his reign, let us not forget that, if he is the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther, it was in that same year that he married the Jewess. Now, if—by taking the first and tenth months in the seventh year of the king (the dates of the departure of Ezra, and of the marriage of Esther) to be the first and tenth months of the Hebrew year (as is the usual mode of notation), and not the first and tenth from the period of his accession—we assume that the departure of Ezra took place after his marriage with her, his clemency might be the effect of her influence on his mind. Then we have to explain how he could be induced to consent to the extirpation of the Jews in the twelfth year of his reign, notwithstanding that her influence still continued, for we find it evidently at work in the twelfth year. But if, on the other hand, his indulgence to Ezra was before his marriage, then we have even a greater difficulty to encounter. For then Artaxerxes must have acted from his own unbiassed lenity, and his purposed cruelty in the twelfth year would place him in an incongruous opposition with himself. As we, moreover, find Artaxerxes again propitious to their interests, in the twentieth year of his reign—when he allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem—it is much easier to believe that he was also favorably disposed to them in the twelfth. At any rate, it would be allowing Esther a long time to exercise an influence on his disposition, if his clemency in the twentieth year was due to her, and not to his own inclination. Besides, the fact that neither Ezra nor Nehemiah gives the least hint that the liberal policy of Artaxerxes towards them was owing to the influence of their countrywoman, is an important negative point in the scale of probabilities. In this case also there is a serious difficulty in the name. As Artaxerxes is called Artachshast in Ezra and Nehemiah, we certainly might expect the author of the book of Esther to agree with them in the name of a king whom they all had had such occasion to know. Nor is it perhaps unimportant to add, that Norberg asserts, on the authority of native Persian historians, that the mother of Bahman, i.e. Artaxerxes Longimanus, was a Jewess. This statement would agree excellently with the theory that Xerxes was Ahasuerus. Lastly, the joint testimony borne to his clemency and magnanimity by the acts recorded of him in Ezra and Nehemiah, and by the accordant voice of profane writers, prevents us from recognizing Artaxerxes in the debauched, imbecile, and cruel tyrant of the book of Esther.
On the ground of moral resemblance to that tyrant, however, every trait leads us to Xerxes. The king who scourged and fettered the sea; who beheaded his engineers because the elements destroyed their bridge over the Hellespont; who so ruthlessly slew the eldest son of Pythius because his father besought him to leave him one sole support of his declining years; who dishonored the remains of the valiant Leonidas; and who beguiled the shame of his defeat by such a course of sensuality, that he publicly offered a reward for the inventor of a new pleasure—is just the despot to divorce his queen because she would not expose herself to the gaze of drunken revelers; is just the despot to devote a whole people, his subjects, to an indiscriminate massacre; and, by way of preventing that evil, to restore them the right of self-defense (which it is hard to conceive how the first edict ever could have taken away), and thus to sanction their slaughtering thousands of his other subjects.
There are also remarkable coincidences of date between the history of Xerxes and that of Ahasuerus. In the third year of his reign the latter gave a grand feast to his nobles, which lasted 180 days (Est_1:3); the former, in his third year, also assembled his chief officers to deliberate on the invasion of Greece. Again, Ahasuerus married Esther at Shushan, in the seventh year of his reign: in the same year of his reign, Xerxes returned to Susa with the mortification of his defeat, and sought to forget himself in pleasure—not an unlikely occasion for that quest for fair virgins for the harem (Est_2:2). Lastly, the tribute imposed on the land and isles of the sea also accords with the state of his revenue exhausted by his insane attempt against Greece. In fine, these arguments, negative and affirmative, render it so highly probable that Xerxes is the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther, that to demand more conclusive evidence, would be to mistake the very nature of the question.
The fourth Ahasuerus is mentioned in Tob_14:15, in connection with the destruction of Nineveh. That circumstance points out Cyaxares I as the person intended.
There seems to be little reasonable doubt, that we should identify the Ahasuerus of Est with the well-known Xerxes, who reigned over Persia from 485 to 465 bc, and who made the great expedition against Greece that culminated in the defeat of the Persian forces at Salamis and Plataea. If Est be taken as equivalent to Ishtar, it may well be the same as the Amestris of Herodotus, which in Babylonian would be Ammi-Ishtar, or Ummi-Ishtar. Amestris is said to have been the daughter of Otanes, a distinguished general of Xerxes, and the grand-daughter of Sisamnes, a notorious judge, who was put to death with great cruelty by the king because of malfeasance in office. Sisamnes may be in Babylonian Shamash-ammanu-(shallim). If he were the brother and Otanes the nephew of Mordecai, we can easily account for the ease with which the latter and has ward Esther, were advanced and confirmed in their Positions at the court, of Xerxes.
bowed down] The Heb. expresses a more profound salutation, after the Oriental fashion, than the A.V. ‘bow.’
the king had so commanded] Bowing down before a superior was such an established custom that one would have thought the king’s command needless. It may have been that Haman’s elevation was so strongly contrasted with his origin that there was occasion for the order to be issued.
But Mordecai bowed not down] What was his reason? Although we have Greeks (Spartan ambassadors) refusing to bow down to the Persian monarch (Herod. vii. 136) on the ground that it was not their custom to worship men, yet the Jews had no objection to the act in itself (2Sa_14:4; 2Sa_18:28; 1Ki_1:16), and disobedience to the king’s direction in such a matter was fraught with danger.
Two possible answers suggest themselves. (1) He considered Haman as the king’s representative, and, as the Persian obeisance to the sovereign involved a belief that he was in some sort an incarnation of the Deity, Mordecai, as a Jew, refused to perform an act of idolatry. If so, however, we do not see how he could avoid bowing down, whenever he happened to be in the presence of the king himself, as in Est_8:1. (2) Mordecai, as a Jew, refused to bow down to the hereditary enemy of Israel. See last note and cp. Num_24:7. A characteristic piece of Targum says that the king’s servants pointed out to Mordecai that a conspicuous ancestor of his, Jacob, had bowed down before one of Haman’s forefathers, Esau (Gen_33:3). Mordecai, however, replied that he himself was not involved in this act, as being descended from Benjamin who at the time referred to was not yet born.
The king’s servants, which were in the gate with Mordecai, were the first to observe his disrespect, and at once took up the matter. Why were they to bow down, and Mordecai not? Was he any better or any grander than they? What right had he to transgress the king’s commandment? When they urged him on the point day after day, Mordecai seems at last to have explained to them what his objection was, and to have said that, as a Jew, he was precluded from prostrating himself before a man. Having heard this, they told Haman, being curious to see whether Mordecai’s matters (or, rather, “words”) would stand, i.e. whether his excuse would be allowed, as was that of the Spartan ambassadors who declined to bow down before Artaxerxes Longimanus (Herod; 1. s. c.).
When Haman saw. Apparently Mordecai’s disrespect had not been observed by Haman until the “king’s servants” called his attention to it. Then, naturally enough, he was greatly offended, and felt exceedingly angry at what seemed to him a gross impertinence. Mordecai’s excuse did not pacify him—perhaps seemed to him to make the matter worse, since, if allowed, it would justify all the Jews in the empire in withholding from him the respect that he considered his due.
He thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone. If Haman had simply said to Ahasuerus, “There is one of your menials who persistently disobeys a royal edict, and at the same time insults me,” Ahasuerus would, as a matter of course, have told him to put the menial to death. But the revengeful temper of the man was such that this seemed to him insufficient. Mordecai had insulted him as a Jew, and the Jews should pay the penalty. Mordecai should be punished not only in person, but in his kindred, if he had any, and in his nation. The nation itself was contumacious and troublesome (Est_3:8); it would be well to get rid of it. And it would be a grand thing to wipe out an insult offered by an individual in the blood of a whole people. Haman therefore sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. Massacres on a large scale—not unknown in the West, witness St. Bartholomew’s—are of frequent occurrence in the East, where human life is not held in much regard, and the caprices of absolute monarchs determine the course of history. There had been a general massacre of the Magi upon the accession of Darius Hystaspis, the father of Xerxes (Herod; 3.79), and one of Scythians about a century before (ibid. 1.106). These were examples which might occur to Haman. A later one is the Roman massacre of Mithridates in b.c. 88.
7–15. Haman’s scheme for the extermination of the Jews
7. In the first month, which is the month Nisan] the Hebraised form of the Babylonian Nisannu. It is the later substitute for the older Israelite name for the first month of the year, viz. Abib (see on Est_2:16), and corresponds to the latter part of March and beginning of April. The meaning of the word Nisan is uncertain. Some make it denote fruitfulness, others, beginning or origin.
Attention has been drawn to the tragic significance of thus plotting the destruction of the Jews in the month of their memorable deliverance from Egypt (Exo_13:4).
they cast Pur, that is, the lot] Pur is a word perhaps borrowed from the Persian pâre, a piece, fragment, and may be connected with the Latin pars, portio, or with Assyr. puru, or buru, a stone. But see further in Additional Note I, p. 67.
The custom of deciding by lot, by means of dice, or pieces of wood, or strips of paper or parchment, prevailed widely in the East, and was considered as a lawful means of committing the decision to Divine agency. Soothsayers and astrologers, who employed this among their methods of determining difficult questions, played an important part in Oriental society. The use of the lot among the Persians is mentioned by Herodotus (iii. 128) and by Xenophon (Cyrop. i. 6. 44, iv. 5. 55). For a parallel among the Jews see 1Sa_14:41 f. (cp. Pro_16:33). We may compare Act_1:26.
from day to day, and from month to month] In order to ensure the success of the scheme Haman seems to have gone through the process of testing each day of the successive months until the twelfth month and its thirteenth day (see Est_3:13) were reached, and declared favourable.
to the twelfth month] It would appear that by an error not uncommon among the copyists of manuscripts, the writer’s eye, owing to the repetition of the Hebrew for ‘month,’ passed over a clause, and that the original reading stood thus, and the lot fell upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month. This correction is supported by the LXX., though it reads ‘fourteenth’ for thirteenth.
According to Jewish tradition (Megillah, 13 b) Haman tried month after month till he reached Adar. Moses died in that month. Hence Haman chose it, forgetting that in the same month Moses had also been born, and therefore from his (or rather, the Jewish) point of view it was likely to be as unfavourable to his purposes as any of the preceding. It should be added that the identity of the day of the month on which Moses was born with that on which he died is inferred by the Jewish commentator Rashi (Rabbi Solomon, son of Isaac, a.d. 1040–1105) from the words ‘I am an hundred and twenty years old this day,’ Deu_31:2, all that follows to the end of Deu_34:5 being assumed as included in the same day.
Adar] the Babylonian ad(d)âru, the meaning, however, being doubtful. As the last month of the year, it was followed by Nisan, the first of the next.
scattered abroad] better, as marg., separated.
peoples] See on Est_1:11.
in all the provinces of thy kingdom] The Jews who availed themselves of Cyrus’s decree permitting their return to Jerusalem (b.c. 538) may have formed only that portion which had no very close ties, commercial or otherwise, with the locality in which they had grown up. Many had acted to the full upon the advice given them by Jeremiah (Jer_29:5 ff.) to make homes for themselves in exile. This passage in Esther points out that they were widely scattered through the Persian dominions, and therefore although, as the tone of Haman’s speech intends to convey, despicable in themselves, nevertheless capable of much mischief. The Book of Tobit (the date of which, though it cannot be fixed with certainty, may at any rate be taken as pre-Maccabean) speaks of settlements of Jews at Rages (in Media) and at Ecbatana (Est_1:14, Est_7:1).
their laws are diverse from those of every people] The author of the Book may have had in mind Deu_4:6-8, where this diversity is claimed as a witness to the wisdom of the people. With Haman’s charge here, implying, as it does, an almost necessary disloyalty on the part of the Jews towards the king, we may compare that addressed to the Persian court by Rehum and Shimshai (Ezr_4:12-16) against the Jews of the Return. In neither case was there any substantial basis for the charge. If we were to accept the historical character of the narrative, we might say that dissatisfaction arising from the Persian reverses in the late war smoothed the way for a popular agitation, though altogether unreasonable, of the kind which Haman desired.
 For the expansion of this verse in the hands of a Jewish commentator, see Additional Note III, p. 72, Targum Shçnî (2nd extract).
for the king’s profit] rather, as marg., meet for the king.
to suffer them] to let them alone.
There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed. It is not always borne in mind how large a part of the Jewish nation remained in the lands to which they had been carried away captive, after the permission had been given to return. Josephus notes that the richer and more influential of the Babylonian Jews were very little inclined to quit Babylon (‘Ant. Jud.,’ 11:1). There was evidently a large Jewish colony at Susa (infra, Est_9:12-15). The Book of Tobit shows that Israelites, scarcely to be distinguished from Jews, were settled in Rhages and Ecbatana. The present passage is important as showing the early wide dispersion of the Jewish people. Their laws are diverse. A true charge, but a weak argument for their destruction, more especially as the Persians allowed all the conquered nations to retain their own laws and usages. Neither keep they the king’s laws. Important, if true. But it was not true in any broad and general sense. There might be an occasional royal edict which a Jew could not obey; but the laws of the Medes and Persians were in the main righteous laws, and the Jews readily observed them. They were faithful and loyal subjects of the Achaemenian monarchs from first to last from Cyrus to Darius Codomannus. For the king’s profit. Rather, as in the margin, “meet” or “fitting for the king.” To suffer them. Or, “to let them alone.”
that they be destroyed] lit. to destroy them. Let an edict be issued for their destruction.
I will pay ten thousand talents of silver] about £3,750,000 sterling. Xerxes, unscrupulous though we know him to have been, might well be staggered by the request that he should direct this wholesale massacre on such slender grounds as had hitherto been adduced. Hence Haman at once supports his petition by the offer of enormous pecuniary gains to follow, meaning apparently that he will pay the amount, if he has leave to plunder the Jews. The king at an earlier period of his reign had declined a gift from a subject, the value of which was much beyond four and a half million pounds of our money (Herod. vii. 28). His resources, however, had not then been exhausted by the war with Greece. The condition of the imperial treasury was doubtless now very different, and if any such offer as Haman’s was now made, so tempting a measure for replenishing it, and thus supplying Xerxes with the means of gratifying his love of ostentation and excess, might well prove irresistible.
 The offer was made by Pythius of Celaenae (see note on Est_1:4) to Xerxes when visiting that town in connexion with his expedition against Greece. Rawlinson (Herod. vol. iv. 30) calculates the amount to have been “little short of five millions of our money (£4,827,144).” Grote, however (Hist. of Greece, Esther 3:36 note), considers the sum an incredible one.
those that have the charge of the king’s business] i.e. the royal treasurers. The A.V. ‘those that have the charge of the business’ would rather suggest the business of the massacre. But the word ‘king’s,’ though it is not indeed expressed, is implied in the Hebrew.