Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Scroll of Esther

My idea of a Town Crier (1)

Until recently, if I ever thought about reading from a scroll, I imagined reading from top to bottom like a town crier crying "Hear Ye, Hear Ye", like this guy.

"Modern" Town Crier (2)

  Not like this guy. reading from his iPad.

Then I chanced across an Old Testament scroll (online of course). These read from right to left, as they are written in Hebrew. And they can be 20 feet long or more. But they don't read from end to end before going to the next line. The scrolls are divided into pages, just like we know pages today. It all makes sense when I think about it, which I had never done before.

Torah Scroll

I was reading about the scroll of Esther when I learned these things.  Esther is the origin story for the Jewish Festival of Purim, which occurs the 14th of Adar on the Hebrew calendar, sometime in March on the Roman calendar.  In the story, Haman is bent on exterminating the Jews, and Esther, who had become queen, and her uncle Mordecai play key roles in saving them, and in a twist of fate, Haman gets hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai.  Then Esther asks that the sons of Haman also be hanged, even though it seems they were already dead.

12 The king said to Queen Esther, “The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men and the ten sons of Haman at the citadel in Susa. What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces! Now what is your petition? It shall even be granted you. And what is your further request? It shall also be done.” 13 Then said Esther, “If it pleases the king, let tomorrow also be granted to the Jews who are in Susa to do according to the edict of today; and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged on the gallows.” (7)

Here, take a look at a hand decorated scroll of Esther (4).  Isn't that beautiful?

Hand decorated Scroll of Esther

Notice that the scroll has eleven panels or pages?  One of these things is not like the others -- see the third page from the left?  Even at this resolution you can tell there is something different about it. The text, whatever it is, is larger and spaced differently.

Old Megillah Scroll (5)

It's not just done that way because it's a hand decorated scroll, here is a synagogue scroll with the same unusual page.

Esther 9:7-9 Closeup.

Closeup of that page.  These are the ten sons of Haman, the villain in the story.  These ten sons were hanged.  You wouldn't know they were listed in a special format from an English Bible.

And Parshandatha, and Dalphon, and Aspatha,And Poratha, and Adalia, and Aridatha,And Parmashta, and Arisai, and Aridai, and Vajezatha,10 The ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, slew they (7)...

Even modern Hebrew Bibles, known as Tanach, are printed in a normal font without special spacing, giving no hint of the original scroll. See for example.

Which brings me to the question, why are Haman's sons listed this way?  After all, they aren't major characters in the Book of Esther.  They're not Israelites.  They aren't mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.  There are arguably more important people in the Bible whose names aren't even recorded - Lot's wife, the Centurion, the woman at the well, etc. Why Haman's sons?  What's so special about them?

And what is the meaning of the four letters of different size, one larger, three smaller? Some sources list a fourth smaller letter, reason unknown.  Some sources also list variations of the smaller letters (11), also reason unknown.
According to Nachmanides (the introduction to his commentary on Genesis) any change from the usual way of writing a word or letter indicates some hidden meaning in a text.  If we examine the list of Haman's sons, we notice that three letters are written smaller: the taf of Parshandata the shin of Parmashta the zayin of Vizata (The enlarged vav of Vizata may refer to the sixth millenium.) The three letters together form taf-shin-zayin*, the Jewish year 5707 (1946 C.E.)  (8)

What happened in 1946?  

"Purim Fest 1946!" Julius Streicher shouted his last words as he was hanged. Wait. What? Julius Streicher, the Nazi war criminal? Yes, him. Julius Streicher and nine other Nazi war criminals were hanged Oct 16, 1946. (10) Streicher got the festival wrong, but he probably wasn't familiar with the Hebrew calendar. Oct 16 was in fact the 7th day of the Feast of Tabernacles, not Purim. says this:

In an apparent connection made by Hitler between his Nazi regime and the role of Haman, he stated in a speech made on January 30, 1944, that if the Nazis were defeated, the Jews could celebrate "a second Purim". (8) gives these details.

Of the 23 Nazi war criminals on trial in Nuremberg, 11 were in fact sentenced to execution by hanging. Two hours before the sentence was due to be carried out, Goering committed suicide--so that only 10 descendents of Amalek were hung, thus fulfilling the request of Esther: 
"let Haman's ten sons be hanged." 
Furthermore, since the trial was conducted by a military tribunal, the sentence handed down should have been death by firing squad, or by electric chair as practiced in the U.S.A. However, the court specifically prescribed hanging, exactly as in Esther's original request: 
"let Haman's ten sons be hanged." (11)
Newspaper clipping of Oct 16, 1946 (9).

According to Jewish tradition, the nation of Germany is thought to have descended from the biblical Amalekites. (12)

Is this the real meaning of the unusual page in the scroll of Esther? And the unusual letters on that page? I'm no authority so it's not for me to make a determination, but there certainly are striking parallels - Haman and Hitler both bent on destroying the Jews, ten men hanged in each case, the "prediction" of the year, etc. The biggest problem I see is that there is no predictive value in this analysis. It only shows something after it happens. That doesn't mean it's wrong. There are many layers to any scripture, and they are all true, but may point to different things. If a scripture can be interpreted multiple ways, do it. For example, in this scroll there are other possible dates, maybe something will happen on one of them, but some are past. Some sources give more evidence from examining the text, some dispute it (11). There is a surprising amount written about it, just Google for Haman and Nuremburg to find more info.

As far as I know I'm not Jewish, (though some advocate that the Scots are descended from Judah, and I am half Scot), but I understand why Purim is important to the Jews, and why the scroll of Esther is important. It certainly is fascinating.