Friday, March 2, 2018

The History Around Purim

The story of Purim takes place at the very end of the era known in Jewish history as the Babylonian Exile.

Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem and exiled the Jews from the Land of Israel. Fifty years later, however, the Babylonian Empire was itself crushed by the combined armies of King Darius of Media and King Cyrus of Persia (both part of current day Iran), and the new Persian Empire was formed under the rule of Cyrus. Unlike his Babylonian predecessors, Cyrus was not interested in destroying the individual cultures of his subjects, unless they were in direct opposition to him. Known as Cyrus the Great, he issued an edict allowing the Jews to return to the land of Israel. Shortly afterwards, the first group of Jewish exiles returned to Israel under the leadership of Nechemiah and began laying the foundations for rebuilding of the Holy Temple. The enemies of the Jews, however, convinced Cyrus to stop the Temple’s rebuilding.

And then came Achashverosh, the king of the Purim story. There is much debate as to the exact identity of Achashverosh. Some sources say that Achashverosh was actually Cambys, the son of Cyrus, some say that he was the son of Darius the Mede. Still others say that he was a  mercenary of common birth who usurped the throne through cunning and by marrying Vashti, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, to give him legitimacy. Regardless of how Achashverosh achieved power, the empire he controlled stretched across the Far East. As king of the Persian Empire, Achashverosh continued the ban on the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

While the story seems to happen quickly, it actually took place over a spread of years. Following the defeat of the enemies of the Jews, Achashverosh remained in power with Mordechai as his Prime Minister. According to tradition, Achashverosh and Esther had one son, who grew up to be Darius II, the Persian Emperor who permitted the completion of the rebuilding of the Second Temple, ending the Babylonian exile.

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