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Post Nowruz and Purim
Created by John Eipper on 03/20/17 4:24 PM

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Nowruz and Purim (Massoud Malek, USA, 03/20/17 4:24 pm)

If you start telling a story, you must finish it.

To become a Muslim, you just have to say: "There is no god, except one."

In Saudi Arabia, if you do not mention the second part, you would lose your head.

When I was a young boy, I loved listening to the Persian stories told by my grandfather, who could actually add and multiply large numbers in his head.

When I was reading the Babylonian Talmud and the book of Esther, I discovered that most of the stories were almost identical to the tales told to me by my grandfather.

In 2007, I visited Hamadan in Iran; there, I saw a structure over a large burial cave. In the cave, there are two large wooden gravestones. The tomb on the right is attributed to Esther the Queen and the tomb on the left belongs to Esther's uncle, Mordechai. There is now some scholarly controversy about whether Queen Esther really did indeed exist.

In 539 BCE, the Persian king Cyrus defeated the Babylonian king and the Jews came under Persian rule; thus exposing both groups to each others' customs. For over 2,500 years, Persians and Jews coexisted peacefully. As a result of this long-term peaceful coexistence and basic similarity in worldview, we might well have expected what in fact we find: a large number of parallels, mutual and one-way influences and borrowings, etc. These manifest themselves in several areas of Babylonian-Jewish rabbinic life: in lifestyle, in legal and theological borrowings, and in sensibility.

The story of Purim as told in the Book of Esther may be adapted from a Persian legend about the shrewdness of Queen Vashti, suggesting that Purim may be a transformation of the Persian New Year, Nowruz. By Googling Purim and Nowruz, you may notice many similarities between these two spring festivities.

In 2015, the day before the Jewish holiday Purim, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought up the biblical story in his speech to Congress to urge US lawmakers to reject a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

In his speech, Netanyahu evoked the Book of Esther. He said: "We all read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago."

Haman was a Semite from Canaan, an area covering Israel, Philistia and Phoenicia. No historical sources outside the Bible mention a plot to kill the Jews in ancient Persia; Jews aren't even mentioned in ancient Persian sources.

At the end of the Book of Esther, after the Jews are saved, they are given the Persian King's permission to go on a killing spree against their enemies, Persians! On the 13th and final day of the Nowruz holiday, Iranians leave the house and picnic. This tradition is meant to recall the ancient Persians who ran away from the massacring Jews of the biblical story!

Every year around the Purim holiday, Netanyahu likes to repeat the first part of the biblical tale of Purim, but never mentions the end of the story.

Main sources:

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/talmud-middle-persian-culture

https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-03-25/iranians-and-israelis-are-battle-over-history-and-holiday-purim

JE comments:  This is a curious case of syncretism.  If I understand correctly, Purim is a celebration of the Jews' salvation from the Persians, and Nowruz celebrates the Persians' salvation from the Jews.  Or maybe both holidays are just two takes on the equinox?  (Throw Passover and Easter into the mix, and the plot gets complicated.)

Has WAIS discussed Purim before in the context of contemporary Iran?  At least once:  see this Ronald Hilton post from 2006:

https://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=9393&objectTypeId=3643&topicId=1


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