Purim: Haman’s Kneeling Order was an invalid hearsay

Forensic and Legal Investigation:

The Kneeling Order

The Persian Honorary Custom

And the king “set his seat above all the ministers that were with him. And all the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, kneeled down, and prostrated themselves before Haman; for so ordered the king to him.” (Est. 3:1-2) From these statements, we learn that the king created a new position of “minister above all the ministers.”[1] But the duties and the respect given to the highest-ranking minister are not explained.[2] Herodotus describes the Persian’s honorary system, which is based on rank.[3] It is not clear from the king’s orders if Haman was promoted to the position of second-to-the-king, thus entitling him to almost all of the king’s honorary privileges, or if he was promoted only above the other king’s ministers. When Pharaoh promoted Josef, the new right-hand-man to the king was showered with respect from both countrymen and foreigners. Josef got the king’s second chariot and signet, a gold necklace, new silk clothes and a servant whose job was to announce his presence upon his arrival. Haman did not get any of these items, so it is likely that he was not promoted to the position of second-to-the-king.

The king’s order promoted Haman “above all the ministers”. But, it limited the ministers to those “that were with him” (3:1). In the third year of the king’s reign, the king had only “seven ministers of Persia and Media, who saw the king’s face” (1:14). Thus Haman was promoted only above the group that was with the king, and not over “all his ministers and his servants; the army of Persia and Media, the nobles and ministers of the provinces, being before him;” (1:4). Those dignitaries were invited to the king’s banquet, and returned to their command and provinces after the banquet, to continue with their official duties for the king as commanded (9:3).

The king’s servants were not mentioned in the royal promotion declaration.  Nevertheless, Haman told his wife that the servants were included (5:11) and ordered the royal servants at the king’s gate to kneel to him (3:2). In order to settle this discrepancy further proof is required to verify that Haman expanded the king’s promotion.

Judges and Leaders Were Seated In the King’s Gate

The Scroll defines the people who were subjected to Haman’s order as the “king’s slaves.” It is well established that the seating arrangements of the “king’s slaves,” within the royal gates, refers to the most respected judges and leaders of the king.[4] Etshaloms states that the new order obligated only those dignitaries that were seated or standing in the king’s gate to kneel before Haman, and only while officiating at the king’s gate. This means that, when not at the king’s gate, dignitarieswere exempt from the kneeling order,[5] because the order was not published all over the kingdom as was customary (3:12).[6] In summary, Mordecai the Jew—who sat at the king’s gate (5:13)—was one of those dignitaries subjected to the kneeling order (3:3), as Haman so declared (5:11).

Mordecai to Haman: You Are Not Second in Command to the King

It is possible that kneeling and prostrating oneself are two distinct, honorary actions. The dignitaries, who were sitting, had to kneel and the lower ranked officials, who were standing, had to prostrate themselves in submission. Mordecai did not do either one of those acts (3:2); but the Scroll does not declare that he did not take any action at all—as opposed to the time when he did not stand or tremble before Haman, in the king’s gate, after the first banquet at the queen’s chamber (5:9). We can conclude that Mordecai did give Haman the respect owed a minister; but, by doing so, he inferred that Haman was not second in command to the king.

The Kneeling Order Was Hearsay

Hearsay is defined as evidence based not on a witness’s personal knowledge, as stated in court, but based on another’s oral or written statement. Unless there is an exception, hearsay is inadmissible because the truthfulness of the secondhand statement cannot be verified. A document signed with the king’s signet is a valid exception; but if it is established that the king’s signet was improperly used, the status of the document reverts back to being inadmissible. Hearsay statements might be true but, still, the court regards them suspiciously.

The order to kneel was not put into writing, was not sealed with the king’s signet (3:12), was not sent to all of the provinces (1:22), and was not written in the official king’s record book (2:23). The language of the Scroll is: “so ordered the king to him.” The word “so” (“כן”) is superfluous, and is not needed. The purpose of the word is to give authority and truthfulness to the statement, which follows it.[7] In the Scroll, the word “so” is indicative of a royal declaration.  The statement “so ordered the king to him” must be interpreted as: the king instructed Haman to order the king’s servants to bestow Haman with respect. It was not the king or his chamberlains who declared this order, but Haman himself. As can be seen, Haman’s assertion would be considered hearsay, as the assertion, of a single witness, is not enough to prove the validity of an event (Deut’ 19:15); and we will see later that the killing order was hearsay, as well, and both were invalid orders.[8]

Mordecai Protected Queen Esther

From the Scroll, we can deduce that the king was constantly under threat. At that time, it was customary after a revolt to abuse the wife of the king, just as Absalom did to the concubines of King David (2 Samuel 16:22), and King Solomon purged Adonijah’s men (1 Kings 1, 2). So, in order to protect Esther (Est. 2:11), Mordecai appointed himself as the guardian angel to the king. Mordecai established a network of informers and loyalists to track the king and all his servants wherever they were: at the palace or at their own homes.[9] The king’s servants recognized Mordecai’s value, as he provided them with safety; they enlisted in his service, especially after he demonstrated his ability and loyalty to the king by exposing Bigthan and Teresh, who talked about raising a hand against the king (2:21-23).

Mordecai Knew All That Occurred

In the Scroll we see that communication in the palace was lacking. For example, the king and Haman did not know that Esther was Jewish; the king and Esther did not have knowledge of the decree to kill the Jews; Haman was unaware that Esther and Mordecai were working together and already had exposed an attempt to kill the king; and Haman did not know what was read to the king prior to the second banquet with the queen. On the other hand, Mordecai “knew all that was done” (4:1). Mordecai was able to communicate with Esther in the women’s house, which was a haram with no access to males except the king and the king’s chamberlains; he guided her to a successful coronation as a queen.  In addition, Mordecai exposed a murder attempt and was able to communicate the information to Esther. Later we will see that Mordecai knew about a conversation between the king and Haman regarding Haman’s plan to kill the Jews and the silver Haman promised to pay into the royal treasure for that act (4:7).  Mordecai also knew about the conversation that occurred in Haman’s home concerning the high tree that was made for his own execution (5:14).

Haman Knew That The Kneeling Order Was Invalid

In most cases, people must obey the orders of the authorities. Government representatives are required to enforce the law, even if there is uncertainty as to the legality of a particular law. Mordecai’s informers apparently did not disclose to him that Haman was promoted to second in command, or that the king ordered his servants, at the king’s gate, to kneel to Haman (3:1). The fact that they did not receive such information does not mean that such an order was not made. Mordecai saw the possibility of a contradiction; and he had to verify the legality of the order. Mordecai could not have asked the king, but he could refuse to kneel and observe Haman’s response (3:2). Mordecai understood that if there was no such valid order, Haman would not be able to harm him or complain to the king. Haman knew the seriousness of his malfeasance: demanding royal honor reserved only for the king. Haman could not have enforced the alleged order to kneel to him; and he could not complain to the king or Zeresh, his wife.  To prevent being charged with disgracing the king, Haman ignored Mordecai’s outrageous show of contempt for the king’s decree (3:2-6). This confirmed, for Mordecai, that the royal decree to kneel to Haman was invalid.

There Is No Jewish Law That Prohibits Kneeling Before Another Person

On one hand, Mordecai did not want to explain the reason for his refusal; on the other, he could not remain silent. Mordecai explained his refusal based on the fact that he was Jewish, which means either his religion prohibit him from kneeling before Haman, or the king gave the Jews this exemption. It is hard to believe that Mordecai was so orthodox in his faith that he used it as a reason not to kneel to Haman. After all, his name honored the Babylonian god Marduk.  He also changed Esther’s name from Hadassah, in honor of Ishtar the goddess of love, futility and war, to improve her chances of winning the competition for queen.[10] Furthermore, he instructed Esther to conceal her religion before (2:10) and after (2:20) her coronation; thus, she avoided the obligatory Jewish customs expected of women at the time. Biblical scholar, Prof. Michael Fox explained that Mordecai knew that his explanation was false because, later, he refused to stand or even tremble before Haman without a further explanation for this increased humiliation—in addition, Mordecai commanded (4:8) Esther to crouch at the king’s feet (8:3).[11]

There are several explanations for Mordecai’s refusal that are rooted in the idea that Haman practiced idolatry or claimed divine stature. There are no references in the Scroll to such displays or declarations, however; and, as Etshalom stated, Haman wanted honor bestowed on himself, not his gods.[12] In the Bible we find that: Abraham kneeled to the three strangers who came to his tent (Gen. 18:2) and he kneeled to Chat’s leaders (23:7);[13] the sons of Jacob kneel to Josef when they thought that he was an Egyptian official (43:26, 28); just before Moses received the ten commandments and the prohibition to bow before other gods (Ex. 20:3-4), he stood up and walked toward Jethro, the priest of Midian, knelt before him and kissed him (18:6); and, many years later, Nathan the prophet bowed down to the ground in front of King David (1 Kings 1:23). There are claims that Mordecai was prohibited from kneeling before Haman under the Persian’s law because he was the father of the queen. This does not seem reasonable because Mordecai was known to be Jewish, and he instructed Esther to hide her religion and her relationship to him.  Furthermore, he was not actually her father and she did not take his name when she introduced herself to the king (Est. 9:29).[14] One could claim that Mordecai, a relative of the father of King Saul, was prohibited to bow before Haman, the Agagite, who was related to the king of the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:8)—as these people were cursed by Moses in the name of God “from generation to generation” (Ex. 17:16).  But, even if there was personal animosity, Mordecai’s actions are based on calculations and knowledge and not on a childish and capricious attitude.

In summary, there is no question that Mordecai knew that there was no Jewish law prohibiting kneeling before another person; instead, his explanation was designed to push Haman deeper into a trap because Haman could not have risked being discovered as a disgraced minister.

In A Tyrannical Monarchy It Is Hard To Know What The Law Is

In Persia, there were no special privileges based on religion, except if one received the king’s permission. For example, in the king’s coronation celebration, every person was allowed to eat and drink in accordance with his national customs (Est. 1:8); and the king gave tax discounts to all his nations in celebration of his wedding to queen Esther (2:18). It was possible that Haman accepted Mordecai’s explanation that the Jews are exempt from kneeling, which prevented him from guessing that Mordecai had informers in the palace and that a royal degree to knell did not exist.[15] Haman continued, happily, to seek royal displays of respect and to circumvent the king’s orders. Mordecai, also, could not have exposed Haman because the king could have claimed that he bestowed royal honors on his best friend and drinking buddy—and Mordecai could not contradict him. Mordecai had to wait patiently.

Haman Was Unable To Assassinate Mordecai

The Scroll states that Mordecai was the only person who did not kneel before Haman, (3:2) claiming his religion as the reason (3:4). This would mean that Mordecai was the only Jew in the king’s gate. We know that in the Persian kingdom there were many different nations, and many languages spoken (3:8). It is obvious that the king needed translators to deliver his orders in all the languages of his kingdom (3:12). It is likely that at least one Jewish person was required to translate the king’s orders to the Jews and to be responsible to his people and the king for any mistakes he might make. It is possible that that person was Mordecai. Prof. Jon Levenson noted that Mordecai was the leader and representative of the Jews in the king’s court.[16][17] The ruler had the sole power of official execution. As we can see, Haman was not permitted to execute Mordecai without giving a notice to the king (5:14). Esther asked for an additional slaying day in the capital Shusan, and the authority to hang the dead bodies of Haman’s children who were killed in retribution for their father’s planned murder of the Jews (9:13); and this was to demonstrate that the children were killed by the king’s postmortem consent. It is reasonable to think that Haman could not have assassinate Moredcai without permission because a new Jew would be appointed to be the Jewish representative, and this person might refuse to kneel too. Thus the only solution available to Haman was to eliminate the whole nation of Mordecai (3:6), and then there would be no need for a new representative at all.

Mordecai Knew How To Game The System

Mordecai, as the official translator and leader of the Jews, was in an excellent position to collect and distribute information, throughout the whole kingdom, to and from the Jews scattered in all the states.[18] Mordecai was able to take advantage of new discoveries, as well as political and economic conditions, to channel the information and better his position, and to empower and assist his friends (10:3).[19] This position suited him well and he might not have wanted to be promoted to a minister; but, when Haman was promoted to a minister above the other ministers, Mordecai was tempted to usurp Haman of his position and still keep control of his network though direct contact with the Jews (8:8).

Mordecai Already Demonstrated His Ability

Vashti was deposed because she thought the king was a womanizing drunkard, and that he ordered her to come to his party naked, save for her royal crown (1:11) (Midrash Raba, Megillat Esther, chapter 3). Her refusal exposed her contemptuous thought. At the order of the king, young virgins from the whole kingdom were taken to the palace so that the king could select a suitable queen (2:2). As Vashti’s refusal was publicized in the whole empire (1:19-22), the young virgins were ready to do their best to please the king. The virgins proudly demonstrated their strange, foreign, alien culture during the king’s evening dinner with his guests and proceeded to entertain the king during the night—and by doing so they were found suitable for the concubines’ house (2:14). Mordecai, being the manipulator that he was, understood that the king was eager to exhibit his vast wealth (1:4) and to demonstrate the glory of his queen by adorning her in magnificent, royal attire (1:11). Mordecai changed the name of Hadassah to Esther (2:7) after the goddess Ishtar. Esther obeyed Hegai and Mordecai’s instructions (2:15, 20) and presented a glorious goddess of a queen to the king and his cheering guests. The king was moved, and to complete the show he put the royal crown on her head, fell in love with his creation and made her his queen (2:17).

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Bibliography

Briant P., Alexander le Grand, Presses Universitaires de France, 1974, Alexander the Great and His Empire, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2010.

Etshalom Y., And He Did Not Bow Nor Bend: Explaining Mordechai’s Zealotry, 2009

Ferguson N., The House of Rothschild, the World’s Banker; 1849-1998, Penguin Books, NY, 1998.

Fox M. V., Character And Ideology In The Book Of Esther, Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 1991.

Herodotus, The History of Herodotus, Translated by George Rawlinson.

Lang A., Magic and Religion, Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, and Bombay, 1901. Elibron Replica Edition, Adamant Media Corp., 2005.

Levenson J. D., Esther: a commentary, London: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.

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[1] Compare to Josef that Pharaoh said:  “I have set thee over all the land of Egypt” (Gen. 41:41)

[2] Briant, Alexander the Great and his empire. Pg. 123. Honorary display to acknowledge a superior: standing up, upper body inclination, kneeling and prostration.

[3] Herodotus, The History of Herodotus. Book I – 134.

[4] Brown, Hebrew and English Lexicon,  “עבדי המלך” Pg. 714. The word refers to judges and leaders

[5] It is possible that the other people had to kneel and prostrate to Human under other laws.

[6] Etshalom, And He Did not Bow Nor Bend: Explaining Mordechai’s Zealotry

[7] Brown, Hebrew and English Lexicon, “כן” Pg. 485. The word appears seven times in connection with royal decrees (1:8; 1:13; 2:4; 2:12, 6:10; 7:5; 9:14).

[8] Further in the story, Esther asked the king to recall the killing decree because she thought that as hearsay the order is void (8:5).

[9] See an example: Herodotus, The History of Herodotus. Book I – 100.

[10] Lang Andrew, Magic and Religion, Pg. 161.

[11] Fox, Character and Ideology in the book of Esther. Pg. 44

[12] Etshalom, And He Did not Bow Nor Bend: Explaining Mordechai’s Zealotry

[13] Etshalom, And He Did not Bow Nor Bend: Explaining Mordechai’s Zealotry

[14] Mordecai “took her for his own daughter” (2:7), but he was not her official father, and when Esther took her real name she took her father, Abihail‘s name (9:29).

[15] Actually Haman could not have investigate and verify if the Jews do have such religion reason not to kneel to rulers, because Mordecai was the leader of the Jewish community and had the power to suspend the Jewish rules for Esther, and order the Jews to have a new holiday, especially that the majority supported him (10:3).

[16] Levenson, Esther: a commentary. Pg. 78

[17] After Haman was hanged and Mordecai got his job, there was further risk to Mordecai and Esther, but as the leader of their people they continue to take care of them.

[18] Ferguson, The House of Rothschild, the World’s Banker; 1849-1998. Prof. Niall Ferguson describes a similar system of managing money and information.

[19] There is no hint in the Scroll that Mordecai established such a network, but he was able to do it and derive significant benefit from early knowledge about inventions and discoveries in the kingdom. Another example is ability to get prior knowledge of the amount of water in southern Iraq in the summer based on the amount of snow in Turkey during the winter.

Engineer, Lawyer, Registerd Patent Attorney, Real-Estate Investor

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