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March 2017

Purim, Puppet Masters, and Politics

By SHARON ALLEY 

Purim is in the air here in Israel, with its costumes and confections, and our attention turns again to reading the Esther scroll. There is an inherent irony in these celebrations—on the one hand, you have a carnival like celebration, which in many ways seems suited to this wild and crazy story, on the other hand you're dealing with serious issues like genocide. How do attempted annihilation and silly costumes and wine parties go together?

A key to understanding the Esther scroll is understanding irony. God has a supreme sense of justice, as well as a supreme sense of humor, and, occasionally, those two are combined. A sense of humor does not contradict serious subjects. Rather, it often helps us see things clearer, or get a new perspective on truth.  And the Bible, like creation itself, was meant to be enjoyed.

The scroll of Esther is uncompromising in its artistry, and is saturated in ironies, so that what appears, on the surface, to be the case, differs radically from what is actually the case. We laugh at the burlesque, when the serious is treated flippantly, or the mundane is catapulted to significance. Like good literature, the story of Esther begs us to read between the lines. Besides amusing us, irony is actually trying to teach us. “It exposes falsehood and stupidity, recognizes foolishness and pretense.  It mocks those who think they are something when they are actually nothing.”[1]

Nowhere does the author of Esther state that the Persian king is incompetent. In fact, every mention of Persian law speaks of its power and irrevocability. Yet, the actual portrayal of the king shows that these literally positive statements are meant ironically. By repeating the reputation of the law, and then imitating the foolish king, who can’t seem to remember any of the laws he passes, the author succeeds in making fun of them both.

This is emphasized in Est 8:8, “Any decree that is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring cannot be rescinded.”  The author includes this note to remind the reader of the law’s irrevocability at the exact point when Haman’s previous law is being reversed by the newly written law.

Another example of a reversed Persian law is found in Est 1:20. The intent of the law is to make all women honor and obey their husbands.  In the story, however, the wives are the ones who give advice which the husbands obey. Esther requests her two banquets, the sparing of her people, an extra day of reprieve for the Jews, and the hanging of Haman’s ten sons on the gallows, all of which the King obeys. Zeresh, Haman’s wife, along with his friends, advises Haman to build the gallows, which Haman does, and predicts his ultimate downfall. The theme of the book shows how the supposedly unchangeable Persian law is changed, and moreover, largely by a young, foreign woman.

The author makes use of both physical and abstract risings and fallings. In Est 3:5, Haman is maddened that Mordechai doesn’t bow down to him.  In Est 5:9, all of a sudden Haman is upset that Mordechai doesn’t stand up when he walks by.  When Haman tells his wife and friends of his wish for Mordechai to bow before him, they predict the reverse, calling Mordechai the start of Haman’s downfall, and foreseeing that Haman shall surely fall before him. In Est 9:2, no one could stand before the Jews, because their fear fell on all the people. There is playful shifting between standing and falling images. 

Haman builds gallows in an attempt to hang[2] Mordechai up in a shameful death. Instead, Mordechai is raised in honor to the position of second to the King, and Haman is hung in shame on those same gallows.  Haman had aspired to rise to extreme heights, politically, but ironically, his only exultation was on exaggeratedly high gallows.[3]  

This up-down motif is reminiscent of Exodus 17:8-13, which tells the story how the whole victory of the Israelites depended on whether Moses’ arms were up or down.  After some vacillation, Moses’ reinforced arms are held high and the victory is Israel’s.  This war story also contains a sense of burlesque, in that the fate of nations is pictured as an orchestra attending to the waft of the conductor’s wand.  It is significant that the enemy in Exodus are the Amalekites, who are the ancestors of Haman.[4]

Of all the books in the Bible, God is never mentioned in the scroll of Esther.[5]  As we have noted, the scroll of Esther has intentionally crafted a theme of standing and falling.  Whether this “up-and-down” motif is used figuratively, or in concrete image, it aptly fits on the stage of a grand puppet theatre.  It points to a hidden hand pulling strings—a Puppeteer directing events behind the apparent vacillating scenes of chaos.  He is above all the political maneuverings, the “irrevocable” laws, and people’s petty abilities.  Even in our world where conspiracy is suspected in every political statement and government action, the scroll of Esther emphatically affirms the sovereignty of God by, ironically, not saying it. 


[1] Good, Edwin M., Irony in the Old Testament.  Sheffield: Almond Press, 1981, p. 24

[2] Or, more likely, impale, which gives an even clearer picture of lifting up.

[3] 75 feet=23 meters

[4] According to the writer of Esther, Haman is an Agagite (Est 3:1).  Agag was the king of the Amalakites whom King Saul defeated (1 Sam. 15:8).

[5] And probably Song of Songs as well. See the critical notes on the Song of Songs 8:6. For example, see here

 

Charity Report: Your Gifts Helped these Ministries, Individuals, and Families during January and February 2017

Helen is a Christian Arab from the Galilee whose husband recently lost his job and they are living with his parents.  Helen is pregnant, working part time, and studying in college.   JCF helped cover part of her tuition fees ($200). 

Philippa is an Arab girl who has a genetic disease called Epidermolysis Bullosa that causes blisters between the dermis and the epidermis. She was sick with a virus a month ago, and it caused heart failure though she recovered.  Most of her expenses were covered by health insurance, but JCF stepped in to cover most of the remaining bill ($1300).

JCF subsidized school tuition for four children from a Christian Arab family living in Jericho ($700).

JCF helped with the costs for dental work for an 18 year old Christian Arab girl living in the Old City of Jerusalem ($800).

Iris is an Israeli mother, married with six kids between the ages of 4 and 13.  Social services has been working with the family for years due to financial instability, parenting difficulties, and emotional issues with the kids. About four months ago, the mother was diagnosed with cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment and, later, radiation treatment. She is too weak and unable to care for her children properly.  The father is not able to take on the responsibility either, due to his health problems. The family received financial help from the government to hire someone to help the family several times a week with cooking, cleaning and helping put the kids to bed. JCF is helping the family financially so that they can continue receiving this help for the next two months ($822).

Eric and Ruth are an older married Israeli couple with two grown kids. Eric has four other grown kids from a previous marriage.  Ruth works as a kindergarten teacher’s aide, and Eric has not worked for several years.  Eric was an alcoholic in the past and since recovery is very confused and needs Ruth’s help in everyday things and cannot manage on his own. Recently their washing machine broke down.  JCF is helping cover the cost of buying a washing machine ($274).

News in Israel and the Middle East

  • 2,000 Year Old Road Excavated near Bet ShemeshMore.
  • First Temple Period Wall at Tel Dan collapses after winter downpour.  More.
  • The name “Judea” was discovered on a 2nd century underwater column at Tel Dor.  “This is only the second time that a reference to the name Judea was revealed in any inscription from the Roman period.”  More.
  • 4,000-year-old ancient rock art found in Upper Galilee.  It’s the first of its kind ever documented in the Middle East.  More.
  • New 12th Dead Sea Scroll Cave found, but with no scrolls.  More.
  • Palace of Sennacherib, the famous Assyrian ruler who laid siege to Hezekiah in Jerusalem, has been recently discovered at Nineveh after ISIS destroyed the Tomb of Jonah the Prophet.  More.
  • Colossus statute of Ramses II discovered in Cairo slum.  A 26-foot statue of Ramses II, who some believe to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus, has been found submerged in groundwater on the outskirts of Cairo.  More.
  • Israel for the first time in the World Baseball Classic.  Ranked #41 in the world, Israel is a heavy underdog but has advanced to the second round after three straight shocking wins over South Korea, Taiwan, and the NetherlandsMore.
  • Cable car to Jerusalem’s Old City expected to be operational in 3 years.  More.
  • There are over 37,000 registered archaeological sites in IsraelMore.
  • Elias Feinzilberg, a 99 year old Holocaust survivor, who lives in Jerusalem, recently spoke about his experience as the only one of his family from Lodz, Poland to survive nine different concentration camps as well as a 200 kilometer death march. Liz Kopp played piano for Elias’ 99th birthday celebration last year. More on Elias, here.

    Below photo: Liz Kopp with Elias Fenzilberg on his 99th birthday (2016). 
     

 Below photo from 1934, Elias Feinzilberg (17 years old), in the back row, with his family who were all killed in the Holocaust.  From the Yad Vashem Photo Archive.

 

Come See the Land of the Bible in 2017 with
Yoni Gerrish and JCF Biblical Study Tours

  • Tour with Pastor Charlie Bing from New York (Mar 25 – Apr 5, 2017)
  • Tour with Pastor Hylan Slobodkin from Seattle (May 3 – 17, 2017)

  • Tour with Pastor Doug Baker from Los Angeles (June 10 – 24, 2017)

  • Tour with Pastor Carl Johnson from Minneapolis (Sept 6 – 18, 2017)

  • Tour with Dr. Larry Ehrlich from San Francisco and Chicago (Oct 28 – Nov 11, 2017)

  • Tour with Tom and Eliza Henderson from Denver (Nov 11 – 22, 2017)

 For more information on how you can join one of these tours, here.

 

Come Learn Biblical Hebrew
in Israel this Summer 2017

Randall Buth and the Biblical Language Center (BLC) will be offering a four week beginners course (June 18-July 14) and a four week intermediate course (July 16-Aug 11) for Biblical Hebrew in Israel this summer.  The beginners class is designed specifically for students with little or no background in Biblical Hebrew.  BLC's classroom is a fun and interactive environment with instruction and activities all conducted in Hebrew.  For more information, here.

 

 

 
There are approximately twelve needy and very lonely Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem who have been receiving loving care and companionship from an aid organization with whom we partner.   These Survivors receive monthly checks to support them economically and receive regular volunteer visitors, which is also very important to them.  A very nice program was begun to link boys from a local institution for disadvantaged children and youth, to some of these Holocaust Survivors.  This has greatly benefited both the teenage boys and the elderly survivors.
 
Loneliness is a huge problem to people who have lost all their family and often their spouse.  Visiting some of these Jerusalem Survivors regularly ourselves, we know how important this program is which supplies both financial and emotional support.  
 
The donations of JCF have been used in part with help to maintain the ongoing expense of supporting these survivors in Jerusalem with monthly help in form of coupons for food items.  The other part has been used to cover maintenance problems in their homes. For example, when our staff visited a 90 year old Survivor, her small, modest apartment was quite dark owing to a broken slatted shutter which could not be raised and had been like this for more than a week.   Having received the gift from JCF, we were in a position to immediately arrange its replacement.  One of hermost  terrible memories is from her home town of Yasi in Romania where she suffered terribly from violence and terror.  She lost most of her family and witnessed people being pulled out of their homes and killed.  She finds it very difficult to talk about those memories. She is suffering from many health problems, does not have children, and lost her husband many years ago.  Visits from Christians like us mean the world to her.