Category Archives: Holidays

Purim in the Bible – Part 4: Esther’s Victory

queen esther

The Hebrew Bible never gives us paragons, flawless humans that we are called to emulate. Instead, all biblical heroes are deepened by tragic flaws, blemishes that remind us that even imperfect people can do great things and inspire great things in others. Esther is one of the greatest women of the Hebrew Bible, after all: she saved the Jews! But does she make all the right choices? As we close up our look at the book of Esther, we look at a decision that Esther made that seems to prolong the violence. If that really what this passage says? If so, would this make her less of a heroic figure? Perhaps, but perhaps not. We will also look at the human cost of Haman’s stupidity and a bit on when Purim is celebrated today.

If you are just joining us, you probably want to catch up on Esther’s story before proceeding:

So how did Esther prolong the violence? And did she? Read on for the conclusion of the story of Esther.

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Purim in the Bible – Part 2: Esther’s Bravery

Esther_haramThe Jews were less than a year away from being wiped out. Haman, a Persian noble, sought revenge against a Jewish man who refused to show him deference by conspiring to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire. Haman played his close relationship with King Ahasuerus and the order was quickly given that nearly all the Jews in the world would be destroyed. But all was not lost! Esther, a secret Jew and now Queen of Persia, and her adopted father Mordecai were hatching a plan to save the Jews once again.

This is part two of the story of Esther and the Jewish holiday of Purim. If you have not read it already, you probably want to read part one first. When you are ready to hear the exciting next chapter, read on for more! Continue reading Purim in the Bible – Part 2: Esther’s Bravery

Purim in the Bible – The Book of Esther

1024px-Homemade_hamantaschen2A friend once told me that all the good holidays in Judaism fall into the same mold: “They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat.” And while that may be true for a few holidays, it is never truer than on Purim, the holiday which celebrates the Jews’s escape from a Persian genocide thanks to the attractiveness and intelligence of a secret Jew, Esther, the queen of Persia. Esther’s story is told in the Book of Esther, one of the last books to be added to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

Especially in Israel, Purim has become something like Halloween mixed with Saint Patrick’s Day. Children wear costumes and eat special cookies– my wife makes amazing hamentaschen– while religiously observant men are commanded to get so drunk that they cannot even “distinguish between ‘[…] Haman’ and ‘[…] Mordecai.'”, the antagonist and protagonist of the Esther story.  I did not believe that when I was told, but yes– it’s in the Talmud (Tractate Megillah, Ch. 1, 7b).

In this post, we will be introduced to the world of the Persian Jews, a competition to become queen, and finally the decree of the king of Persia to massacre all of the Jews in his kingdom.  Spoiler alert: the Jews survive. Read on for this fantastic story.

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Lent in the Bible and the Temptation of Jesus

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“What are you giving up for Lent?” is a common question on my Facebook feed this week as my Catholic and some Protestant friends confront their inner demons or look to bring themselves closer to God for in preparation for Easter. A few friends are giving up alcohol, one is becoming a vegetarian, and at least one poor soul is trying to use his iPhone less often. Even those who are not deeply religious, or whose denomination does not celebrate Lent, are getting into the act. The act of giving up something solemnizes the season and serves as a daily reminder to be thankful for the things that we have.

Not all Christian denominations celebrate Lent, and even those that do disagree on some of the specifics, but Lent commemorates and prepares believers for the coming of the crucifixion. For most, it is a period of around forty days from Ash Wednesday (better known in some circles as “the morning after Mardi Gras”) and ending the friday before Palm Sunday, Holy Week. Lent also brings the story of Jesus full circle: as Christians prepare for the end of Jesus’s time on Earth, Lent calls back to just prior to his ministry, one of the first stories of the New Testament: the Temptation of Jesus. Jesus’s forty days in the desert, culminating as he resists three temptations by Satan, was his call to arms to begin teaching the masses. Even for non-Christians, it’s a great story with explicit connections to the Hebrew Bible.

Forty days, three temptations, and only one link to click. Read on for more.

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The Demoness Lillith in the Bible

As we celebrate the increasingly “secular” holiday of Halloween, young and old embrace the spooky and the macabre and perhaps score some candy in the process. Since Halloween is about as far from the Bible as you can get, I want to turn instead to something that is both biblical and spooky: demons. Although demons are only directly mentioned in the New Testament, Jewish legends had demons playing a greater part in the Old Testament/Hebrew bible than our received text would indicate. The first and most well known of these demons is actually a demoness, Lillith.

If pop culture is any judge, Lillith is one of the most famous biblical figures to never actually appear in the bible. Whether she’s Adam’s first wife, a demon, a feminist symbol, or a combination of all three; she is a force to be reckoned with. She has been the namesake of a music festival, at least three comic book characters, several songs and films, the subject of paintings, astrology, and even a villainess on Doctor Who. There’s even an early personal computer named for her, though I’m not quite sure I see her appeal as a company mascot.

Who was Lillith? And where did this legend begin? Those questions are tough, but the answer starts in the bible– not with a capital-L Lillith, but with a type of demon, lowercase-L lilliths. In this post, I’ll follow the story of Lillith as it appears in the bible, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and eventually blossoms into her first incarnation as a feminist symbol in the Talmud. The full legend of Lillith as Adam’s wife is an 8th century invention of Jewish mysticism and outside the scope of this blog, but all of her roots are here. Read on… if you dare.

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Ash Wednesday (and Ashes) in the Bible

For Roman Catholics, today is Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent. In 43 more days, it will be Easter. When I was growing up as a Roman Catholic, this was an exciting time: though it was still cold and snowy, springtime was coming soon. For others, Ash Wednesday is the day after Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi gras. The partying is over, time to get to the serious business of repenting and fasting.

Like most Christian holidays, Ash Wednesday isn’t a biblical holiday in quite the same way as, for example, Passover. To the best of my recollection, nothing particularly interesting happened to Jesus 43 days before his resurrection. The number forty was considered special, and perhaps holy, in Judaism and recurs in many stories from Noah’s flood, to Moses’ asking of repentance after the golden calf incident, and even to the amount of time Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert.

But while the holiday itself isn’t biblical, the key tradition of the holiday is: Catholics will be given ashes on their foreheads during Ash Wednesday services. This sign of mourning and repentance may be one of the oldest (and oddest) artifact of early Jewish culture that survives in modern Christianity.

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Advent in the Bible

As a child, Advent wasn’t one of the holidays that I understood. I was raised Roman Catholic, so during those years it was as familiar to my 6-year old self as Lent– which is to say they were periods of anticipation for Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. (Oh, the crazy ways that idolatry invades everything, but I digress.) Maybe we had an advent wreath or am advent calendar around, and I remember getting them in my Catholic elementary school, but that was the limit. As I grew a little older, my family rotated through a few varieties of Protestantism, some of which certainly had Advent and some of which did not. I probably didn’t notice.

Curious about Advent in the bible? Read on!
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Happy Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah! It’s the first night of Hanukkah for Jews, a celebration of the restoration the Temple after it was profaned by Greeks around two hundred years BCE.

Hanukkah is a post-biblical holiday, but strangely one that is in the bible for Roman Catholics but not Jews or Protestants. I wrote up quite a bit about Hanukkah in the Bible last year, so please check it out.

Don’t want to tour memory lane? That’s fine! So check out this fun music video by the Maccabeats explaining the history of this fantastic holiday:

 

(It’s catchy, isn’t it?)

Up next: Thoughts on Advent

Yom Kippur in the Bible

Today was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, probably the holiest day in Judaism. Technically Yom Kippur ended at sundown (and I’m chasing midnight with this post), but it’s difficult to keep a schedule and my fasting today turned my brain into mush. For the last several years, I have done my best to fast alongside my wife in support for her and her religion. I don’t know that it helps her, but it’s worth doing for the chance that it does.

As I mentioned in my previous post, this is the month of Tishri in the Jewish calendar (generally September or October) and it is a month with many holy days. Last week was Rosh Hashanah, this week is Yom Kippur, and we’re just a few days from Sukkot and Simchat Torah. After that, we get a break until Hanukkah. I have resolved this year to try and offer (as best I can) a biblical explanation for each of the holy days (and holidays) as they come around.

And even if you aren’t Jewish, Yom Kippur has the distinction of being the holiday that we get the term “scapegoat” from, using a real live goat. Read on!

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