Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
I like Purim. Purim is the Jewish Carnivàle or Mardi Gras. It celebrates the story of Esther, who saved the Jews from destruction during the Babylonian captivity. The Biblical story was embellished in some aggadot, or Talmudic stories, and later apocryphal legends and early medieval fan fiction. The Targum Esther, or Targum Sheni, from about the 4th century CE, and the Targum Yerushalmi, really go to town in their elaborations on the tale. They expand the Megillah the way Spike Jonze took “Where the Wild Things Are,” a 38-page book that’s mostly pictures, and turned it into a two-hour horror movie that was basically The Revenant meets HR Puffinstuff. I drew most of my information from Volume IV of Louis Ginzburg’s 7-volume masterpiece of lore-gathering, The Legends of the Jews.
Part of the celebration of Purim is the telling of the story. And I shall be hitting some of the highlights:
King Ahashverus, of whom there is no historical record, ruled all the world from Ethiopia to India, so says the Megillah. Targums say that, before the events of the story, the king sent several armies out to conquer India. Mordecai, his Jewish advisor, had a battalion. Haman, one of his Amalek advisors, had a battalion. Various other commanders had battalions. And each commander had a war chest. And Haman, like a jerk, squandered his war chest on chicken tikka masala and mango lassis, so when he couldn’t pay his troops, he goes begging to Mordecai, and Mordecai says, can’t help ya bruh. But Haman begs so pitifully, Mordecai says, Okay, but you have to agree to be my slave for the remainder of the India campaign. Haman agreed, and they wrote up a contract. But they didn’t have any paper. So they wrote it on Mordecai’s knee. Mordecai apparently had it tattooed on his knee, because even years later, to get on Haman’s nerves, every time he’d pass by Haman in the palace or in the street, he’d lift up his knee in a very silly walk, and point to it, so Haman could see this shameful reminder of his stupidity, and Mordecai would go, “Hey, man! How you doin’?” This may be the root of Haman’s grudge against Mordecai and the other Jews.
I’m not making this up. Someone else made this up, about 1,600 years ago. Targum person. Targum scribe. What should we call them. T-something. In the manner of Harold Bloom. T-bone.
More details in the expanded version. King Ahashverus throws a big party for everyone. Remember, the Persians and Medes were heathen trash, just really low-class. And one of the nights of the party, Ahashverus is totally bombed and like, “Oh, you wanna talk about the hottest woman? My wife is the so the hottest woman. Vashti! Show us your tits! Show us your coochie! Shake your moneymaker!” But Queen Vashti refuses – not out of any sense of modesty – come on, she’s a heathen, she’d be more than happy to flash her goodies at a party – no, according to T-bone, God gave Vashti a full-body rash, that’s why she wouldn’t strip. And Ahashverus didn’t just spurn her, he had her executed. That’s in the fan fiction version, the Targums.
Some have reclaimed the Esther story for female empowerment, and I applaud that. These stories belong to those who tell them – but there’s a beauty contest for virgins, for the king to pick his next wife, and I find that problematic. But here T-bone steps up: according to the Targums, Esther, Mordecai’s niece, wasn’t shallowly beautiful in the conventional sense. In fact, at the time she was brought before Ahashverus she was 75 years old. According to T-bone. She was just brimming with grace, that was the attraction, her amazing grace, although T-bone does say that her good looks held on well into her dotage. We don’t know how the Biblical people lived so long. They WERE on the Mediterranean diet.
T-bone says Esther never had to do the nasty with the king. Every night an angel came down in the form of Esther and took that bullet for her. They could’ve called the book the 75-year-old virgin.
Esther keeps secret that she’s Mordecai’s niece and that she’s Jewish. Really, it never came up in conversation. Shushan, the city where this all takes place, and for which there also is no historical record, is a very cosmopolitan place full of Zoroastrians and animists and Mithraites and Greeks, I assume, and the king didn’t care what she was as long as she was attractive.
The Megillah loves to dwell on the comeuppance Haman and his family and all Jew-haters got for being dicks. T-bone takes that further. It’s the most unprogressive thing about the Esther story and especially its later versions: make sure your enemies are as humiliated as possible before you destroy them utterly.
I’m not against this, I’m just saying it’s not Rabbi Hillel standing on one leg saying, “Do not do to others what you would not appreciate someone else doing to you, that is the whole of law.” Apparently, it’s not the whole of the law.
First, God has Ahashverus raise Haman to the office of highest advisor. No one knows why. Mordecai had earlier exposed a plot to poison the king, but he got nothing, and somehow Haman got all these rewards. It’s a little like when God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Egypt; it’s a set-up for the great fall of the antagonist. God’s just not very subtle or clever with the foreshadowing.
But fall he does. Haman convinces the king to declare that all the Jews of the whole land be destroyed, and apparently there’s the usual kind of widespread Jew-hatred there and in the provinces, and all the fascists are getting their cudgels ready. The Jews cry out unto Heaven.
God says to Moses, “What’s with all those sheeps weeping and wailing?” Moses, always the straight man, says, “Those aren’t sheep you idiot! Those are the Children of Israel!” “Oh!” says God, feigning surprise, “well that simply won’t do, will it?”
It all starts to come apart when King Ahashverus can’t sleep one night. T-bone has an angel toss him out of bed 365 times. So the king has his royal readers read back the record of goings-on about Shushan in the past few years, and discovers that Mordecai was never rewarded for saving the life of the king. That’s why he couldn’t sleep!
The next morning Ahashverus calls in Haman, his top advisor, and says, “How should we celebrate he whom the king delights to honor?” And egotistical, narcissistic Haman, thinking the king means him, says, “Oh, have him dressed in your finest coronation purples, and your most
gigantic but comfortable crown, and let him carry that stick with all the jewels on it, and have him mounted on your mightiest, sexiest war steed, and led through the streets by one of the chamberlains or whatever, who shall herald him thus: ‘Behold the one whom the king delights to honor!’” And the king says, “That’s great. Go do all that stuff for Mordecai.”
The next bit is a little slapstick, and I believe it appears in a 16th century play, the earliest existing full-length play in Yiddish, in a tradition of purimshpil called, “The Ahashverusspiel.”
Haman’s like, Mordecai? I’m sorry, I’m drawing a blank, who is that?
The king says, Mordecai the Jew.
Haman’s like, There must be 600 Mordecai the Jews in Shushan. There are six on my block. The king says, Mordecai who sits in the king’s gate.
Haman says, There are 18 gates to the city, can you be more specific?
The king says, Mordecai who sits four seats to your left in the council chambers!
Haman says, OH! That Mordecai. Why didn’t you say so?
So Haman has to bathe and shave Mordecai, dress him in all that great garb, let Mordecai use him as a step-stool to get on the royal steed, and lead him, resplendent in the king’s best raiment, through town, announcing like a common herald, “Behold how the king honors he whom the king delights to honor.”
In the original, Haman’s daughter sees her father thus humiliated, and when she does, she collapses. The whole Haman family was in on this and they thought the day was gonna go completely different.
But T-bone was not content with a collapsing daughter. No. She sees the procession down below, looking out from an upper story window, and, thinking it’s her father on horseback and the hated Jew Mordecai leading his horse through town, she dumps a chalice of poo on him from the window. Why a chalice? Why not a bucket? Cuz these people are heathen trash. They don’t know how to treat fine dinnerware. Anyway, she sees that she’s just dumped excrement on her own father’s head, leaps from the window and goes splat on the pavement and dies. Right at Haman’s feet.
Meanwhile, Esther tells Ahashverus she’s a Jew and that Haman is a brute and a no-goodnik and a perv, and some angels come down and disguise themselves as Haman’s ten sons and chop down some precious trees in the royal orchard so they get in trouble. Haman and all his sons, says T-bone, are crucified on one gigantic cross made of some tree that really wants to be used that way.
But the king can’t rescind the order to kill all the Jews, because it was a command given with the royal seal, but he allows the Jews to prepare and fight back. And they kill all the Proud Boys and incels other alt-right scum of Shushan and the surrounding environs. The Megillah delights in reporting how many hundreds of thousands of Jew-haters are killed, and the Targums even more so.
Which is good. When we laugh at that video of Richard Spencer getting punched in the face, or at that Hungarian fascist dying of a heart attack during his speech, and some candy-ass centrist says, “If we mock their pain we’re no different from them,” you just tell them the God of Sarah, Rachel, Judith and Esther is on your side. Feminism is anti-fascist. Judaism ought to be feminist and anti-fascist. Our milk of human kindness need not extend to those who would facilitate policies promoting genocide, especially when they have attained high positions in government, like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka, and of course the biggest, most undeserving dick of them all, who somehow rose to ridiculously high office: that lumpy old twat, Haman.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!