Historical retrospect influenced by propaganda can distort modern views. To unravel the mystery one must be sensitive to actors and cultures that influenced people of an ancient time. One such example is the great Xerxes, a Persian King of mythical proportion about whom modern movie going audiences are unlikely to ever restore a real sense. Historical documents, archaeology, anthropology and punctuated moments during his rule are the only tools we have to reconstruct his story. One such source is the Jewish perspective, you see, Xerxes is considered to be the well known King of Susa (Shushan), from the story of Purim.
Shushan housed the palace of Xerxes, an ancient Persian city, close to the the border of modern Iran and Iraq. It was here, some 70 years prior that the Jewish nation had been exiled by the Babylonians shortly before the Babylonians, in Shushan were defeated by Persian King Cyrus The Great.
Confidence, displayed by Jewish leaders in their prophecy that limited the Jewish exile to 70 years was bewildering to Persian officers and kings. Was the prediction arrogant enough for Jews to dominate the will of the Persian King? As the time approached and the intellectual challenge to Xerxes grew more intense, he strengthened his hand, subjecting the Jews to a battle of wits. He hosted an elaborate feast that lasted 6 months and subjected the pious Jewish community to foods, luxuries and practices they were not accustomed. During the feasts his sorcerers served from the vessels that had been captured and only ever used in the temple in Jerusalem.
Rapid assimilation became Xerxes objective. Ultimately, when that did not appear to shake the confidence of the Jewish nation, he charged his officers who would ensure the Jewish genocide. His leading bureaucrat, known through the Jewish story as Haman is considered to be of the Amalekite bloodline that also became Hitler’s Germany, primed and ready for the final genocide. Haman negotiated with Xerxes and paid to obtain the coveted post and access to the impending Jewish spoils.
Unbeknown to Xerxes, one of his recently isolated harem girls, one whom he is said to have favored, became his Queens’ envy. In a moment of jealousy the Queen challenged Xerxes. He banished her and began a courtship with Hadassah the hidden harem girl who was a relative, some say wife of her Jewish nobleman, uncle Mordechai of the Benjamin tribe. As the seventy year prophecy drew closer and conditions for the Jews became intolerable, Mordechai incensed Haman, by refusing to bow. This became the catalyst that drew the events of the Purim story to a head.
In the miraculous series of events that followed, Hester, which means hidden (Esther) influenced Xerxes to see futility in Haman's plot and the insult to her and her people who had fasted and prayed for three days prior to her approach. Xerxes and his successor integrated the Jews into Persian society, they became loyal servants of the King, they were permitted to return to Jerusalem and rebuild. Although the prophecy of return from exile had in fact come true, the significant majority of exiled Jews never returned. Life in Persia had become comfortable, Xerxes had cleverly integrated them into his society, the Jews would empower his dynasty for many generations into the future.
For those that did not return, modern day Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine became destinations of choice on their continued exile. The returnees to Jerusalem under Nehemiah and the head of the Great Assembly, Ezra eventually restored the destroyed temple and rekindled the age old practices of the Jewish people. Jewish influence was now centered in Jerusalem and Persia.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress on 13 Adar, the day Jews remember the Fast of Esther is reminiscent of Mordechai’s incite, but when the annihilation of your nation is threatened by the very nation over which Xerxes rules, one must surely stand firm!