The March/April 2014 edition of Biblical Archaeology Review includes an article by Lawrence Mykytiuk entitled “Archaeology Confirms Fifty Real People in the Bible.” Among the fifty is Xerxes, whom the author identifies with King Ahaseurus of the Book of Esther.  The author of this article is not the first to make this claim.   In 2010, Mitchell First, for example, made a similar claim and cited earlier Orthodox authorities like Rabbi Isaac HaLevy, Rabbi Shlomo Danziger, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz who accept the identification.  

The question of the historicity of the Book of Esther remains in question.  Scholars have long noted that neither the story not the principal characters appear anywhere in the annals of the otherwise prolific Persian historians.  Further, by Persian law, the kings could only marry from within a select group of seven noble families so the very idea of an open contest to replace a deposed queen is preposterous.  Scholars consider the book to be a kind of satire favored by Jewish writers of the Greek period, much like the apocryphal Book of Ahiqar.  Even the Talmud challenges the view that Xerxes and Ahaseurus are one in the same since the Talmud (Megillah 11b) says he reigned even before the Temple was rebuilt. 

But the drive to prove the Purim story real borders on the obsessive.  It may be ascribed to the thinking that if any story in the Bible is proven fabulous, then the entirety of the Biblical corpus might be held in contempt, thus undermining the authoritativeness of any law. 

However, there is a difference between considering the Purim story factual and accepting it as true.  The reality that the Jewish people as a minority have historically been a people at risk is undeniable.  And the idea that without courageous individuals who have put themselves in personal danger in order to protect the people of which they are a part is irrefutable.  Thus the truths of the story are incontrovertible even though the details may be less than factual.  Confusing what scholars call “facticity” with the fundamental truths of the story is the root of the problem.

Rather than expending time and energy in trying to verify the details, it is far wiser to absorb the transcendent message. 


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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