The Geopolitics of Purim

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After the Vashti episode, Achashverosh sends the following message: “that every man should bear rule in his own house, and speak according to the language of his people.”

Why did he bother stating the obvious? (although some might disagree on the ‘bear rule in his own house’ part).

The reason is that the early Persian empire wasn’t like previous empires. They didn’t just suppress the locals like the Babylonians or Assyrians. Instead, the Persians appointed native kings as Satraps and they allowed the conquered people’s lives to continue just as before – only taxes were paid to Persia instead of to the previous rulers (Persia and Medea themselves were tax free – which was probably why so many Jews lived there). This satrap-based system was held together by local Persian garrisons and travelling auditors known as the “Eye of the King.”

So when Achashverush passed a law that applied across all provinces, he added another rule “that every man should… speak according to the language of his people.”

He was basically saying, “I just passed a universal law, but I want to make extra sure I’m not encroaching on your way of life.”

It was core to the structure of the whole operation.

This is important because the Jews don’t really fit in this system. They are a problem. Sure, at the beginning of the story, they’re disappearing. We can see it in their names. Mordechai, the leader of the people, is named ‘Mordoc lives’. Mordoc is a name for the sun god Apollo and the ‘good’ god in Zoroastian theology. You can see the decline in the names of his ancestors. For her part, Esther had a Jewish name. But she also had a very non-Jewish name – Esther, after Astarte, the goddess of, well, stuff you don’t go into too much with your children.

So, the Jewish people were on the verge of extinction without any help from Haman.

But as long as they existed, they posed a problem for the empire. As Haman put it: “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the King’s laws; therefore it does not profit the king to suffer them.”

In other words, the Jews have slipped through the cracks. They don’t fall within any of the geographic satrapies and so they don’t keep the local laws.

They aren’t a part of the system. They threaten the design.

In the immediate sense, their ‘satrap’ Mordechai refuses to bow to the viceroy Haman himself – showing the people to be entirely outside the law.

The obvious solution for the King is to eliminate them. They can potentially undermine the entire Empire because they don’t fit.

The world needs consistency, after all.

In a way, from the Empire’s perspective, Haman is right.

But after a clever and divinely inspired turn of events, which emphasizes the value of this outsider people, Mordechai is promoted to Haman’s position.

When the next message is sent out, it is sent “unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language.

The Jews achieved the status of a nation, despite not having a land. They are specially called out, for a unique role.

But how did they suddenly fit?

In fact, they became the exception that strengthened the Empire. Instead of the occasional “eye of the King” or Persian garrisons mistrusted by the locals, Achashverosh suddenly had an entire people dispersed and living among the various nations. The Jewish network was in full force and the Empire was strengthened as a result.

This is why they have to be told they could defend themselves. Before, they knew they had no place. Now, they know they have a purpose and some right to survival.

At the end of the story, the King raises taxes. It is a reflection of the Jews’ new position. The dispersal and loyalty of the Jews has strengthened the Empire and thus his ability to collect tribute.

This story became a template for so much of our history.

We can either fail to fit and thus not belong in the world, or we can use our dispersion to be the glue that brings everything together in service of the King Most High.

Joseph Cox Author

Joseph Cox is the author of City on the Heights (www.CityontheHeights.com), a thriller about creating hope from war.

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