Tag Archives: Babylon

The whole megillah in one sentence

A quiz from when I taught Sunday school. I always thought Vashti got a raw deal in this story.

Did somebody say ‘megillah?’ It means ‘the whole ball of wax’ or ‘the whole nine yards.’ Where did that word come from? Purim is the holiday that celebrates when Esther saved the Persian Jews from being massacred. It’s a long story that’s read in its entirety every Purim—and the Hebrew word for scroll is megillah.

And, because I’m the Sweetheart of Blogdom, I’ll give the whole Book of Esther my patented Western-Lit-in-Only-One-Sentence ® treatment. The set-up: Israel had been under the thumb of the Assyrian Empire, then the Babylonian Empire who marched most of the Jews to parts East. Next, the Persians ran the show and the Jews who lived in the Persian empire kept their heads down to avoid trouble. We’re in Susa, the capital city. Ready? Hang onto your tri-corner hats ‘cause here we go:

Five months into a 6-month drinking party King Ahasuerus hollers for Queen Vashti to make an appearance but Vashti says no thanks bub so the wise men tell King Ahasuerus she has to go or else none of the wives will obey their drunk husbands so Queen Vashti gets the pink slip and Ahasuerus holds a beauty contest to choose a new wife meanwhile the Jew Mordecai tells his beautiful cousin Esther the Miss Persia pageant could be her golden ticket so Esther enters and wins now she’s the queen and lives in the palace Mordecai warns Esther be careful some bad guys want to kill the king so Esther tells the cops and they catch the bad guys later the bigshot Haman is walking around Susa everybody bows to him except Mordecai who only bows to G-d so Haman gets mad and tells King Ahasuerus he wants to kill all the Jews because they won’t bow to him Ahasuerus says okay here’s my ring with the royal seal do whatever you want Mordecai gets wind of this plan and begs Esther to get the king to stop it Esther goes to the king even though he didn’t ask to see her which was a serious crime in those days but she figures if I die I die Ahasuerus doesn’t kill her so she invites Ahasuerus and Haman to dinner Haman builds a really tall gallows to hang Mordecai later that night the king reads the newspaper story about how Mordecai stopped the bad guys who tried to kill him he orders Haman to honor Mordecai with a big parade so Haman doesn’t get to hang him which really grinds Haman’s gears that evening at Esther’s dinner King Ahasuerus asks her what would you like darling anything at all even unto half my kingdom Esther says Haman wants to kill all the Jews I’m a Jew so…Ahasuerus has Haman hanged on the same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai the king gives his ring with the royal seal to Mordecai he sends out executive orders allowing the Jews to defend themselves they destroy their enemies Mordecai takes over the bigshot job Haman had.

https://www.thespruceeats.com/jewish-hamantaschen-cookies-recipe-1136141
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/purim
https://www.israel21c.org/making-some-noise-on-purim/

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The alefbet

There’s a silver lining to all this misery. Up until the Babylonian Captivity, the books of the Hebrew Bible had been memorized and recited orally. But when the Jews found themselves far from home and their Temple, in danger of losing everything that made Jews who they are, afraid that future generations would forget G-d and His covenant with His chosen people—they started writing the Bible. They wrote down everything from Adam and Eve up to just before the prophets, then they wrote down the prophets, too.

The Bible was written and copied in beautiful Hebrew letterforms that were adopted and adapted from the Phoenician alphabet. Their alefbet made the Bible far easier to read than other holy writing. Jews learned to read (they posted words on the doorways of their houses!). People who weren’t Jews learned how to read and the Word of G-d spread far beyond Israel. The idea that each of us has a purpose and is loved by G-d is central to the Bible and central to Western culture.

And since you’re here, reading this, now seems a good time to remind you: you have a purpose and you’re loved by G-d. Hold that news in your heart because it’s absolutely true.

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/news/when-was-the-hebrew-bible-written/
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/origins-written-bible/
https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/schools/asset/hebrew-alphabet/

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Things go sideways for Israel

The divided kingdom

If you had me for a Sunday school teacher you’ve heard me drone on about the Babylonian Captivity. You can find my universally-acclaimed Major Prophets of the Old Testament cheat sheets here and here and here and here.

Tiny little Israel was different from all the other countries. Instead of worshiping a bunch of gods, Hebrews worshiped one G-d: the G-d of Abraham. So long as they were true to G-d, Israel enjoyed the independence of being a sovereign state. Unfortunately, the Hebrews were flawed people—just like the rest of us—and began turning from G-d. There was civil war and the one kingdom split into two: Judah and Israel. Oh, the prophets warned them what would happen, but nobody listened.*

* I typed G-d that way as a courtesy for Jewish readers. My audience is tiny enough—I can’t afford to turn anyone away.

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Everybody wants Egypt

For about a thousand years, mid-600s bc – ad mid 400s, the Egyptians wrote stuff down in both hieroglyphics and Demotic.


Egypt was one half of the Fertile Crescent—which is desirable real estate. Egypt grew its own food and had a booming economy. People who didn’t live there wanted to take it over. You Bible students probably recognize this tired old story from reading the prophets: in 670 bc the Assyrians took over, then in 605 bc the Babylonians took over. Then, in 525 bc the Persian King Cambyses II took over and Egypt became part of the Persian Empire.

Around two hundred years after that, north of the Mediterranean Sea, a guy named Alexander the Great was busy building his own empire. Alexander was a big fan of Greece and Greek culture so of course he wanted to spread it around.

http://museopics.com/Ancient-World-Wonders-History-Antiquities/MuseoPics-Ancient-Mespotamian-Civilisations/Assyrians-Ancient-Civilisation-Artefacts-Art/2-Assyrian-History/9-Conquest-Egypt-Assyrian-History/9%20-%20Assyrian%20Conquest%20of%20Egypt%20History.html
https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/ancient-history-middle-east-biographies/nebuchadnezzar
https://www.ducksters.com/history/ancient_egypt/late_period_and_persian_rule.php

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I, Darius, proclaim

And in what language were Darius’ messages written? The Persian Empire was a big place. By the time Darius was in charge, he ruled over different cultures that spoke/read different languages. To make sure everybody got the message when he made official announcements, Darius had them translated. For instance, there’s a royal proclamation carved in stone near Behistun, a village in Iran. It’s written 3 times, in 3 languages: Babylonian, Old Persian, and Elamite. To drive the message home, there are pictures helpfully carved into the stone for people who couldn’t read.

The proclamation at Behistun tells the story of how Darius’ throne was stolen while he was away, how Darius returned and killed the usurper, how Darius then conquered the nations that were now part of the Persian Empire, and how those nations would be overseen by Persian governors (satraps). When Darius took over he had these proclamations put up all over his empire.

https://www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2017/04/03/1364911/the-behistun-inscription-a-multilingual-inscription
https://www.livius.org/articles/concept/satraps-and-satrapies/
https://www.ancient.eu/Persian_Governor/

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Darius the Great

As you look at those old, old clay tablets with the weird, impossible-to-read cuneiform inscriptions, you have to wonder: how do we know what’s written on them? None of those symbols seem to resemble anything we recognize today. Yet somehow we got the epic of Gilgamesh.

Who figured it out? Who cracked the code? How was cuneiform deciphered?

Good question. To be honest, it was only a hundred or so years ago that archæologists even found out there were Sumerians living in Mesopotamia. The land between the rivers was very desirable real estate—people who didn’t live there really wanted to live there. When a nation wants to take over a piece of land, its army usually straps on armor and makes war on the people who live there. It’s a bad old world we live in, gang. So the Sumerians were conquered by the Akkadians who were conquered by the Babylonians who were conquered by the Persians.

At one point, the Persians’ head guy—the emperor, the shahanshah (king of kings)—was Darius the Great. What made him so great? Well, for one thing, he was a monster for organization and standardization. In other words, he liked understandable systems for complicated things. He liked it when merchandise weighed and cost the same wherever he went. Darius made weights and measures standard throughout the empire. He instituted universal currency—coins—which made it a whole lot easier to do business, because everybody knew how much something cost.

https://www.livius.org/articles/person/darius-the-great/6-organizing-the-empire/

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Daniel

Continuing our everything-you-need-to-know-about-the Major-Prophets series, here’s Daniel.

Daniel lived to see the end of the Babylonian empire and the rise of the Persian empire—directly serving Emperors Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius. From Daniel we get expressions like ‘feet of clay’ and ‘the handwriting on the wall’ (do people still say that?) As a girl my mom learned to remember Daniel’s pals Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego by memorizing ‘Shake a bed, make a bed, and to bed we go’, so I pass it along. The Larks have a pretty snappy take on the story. Here’s Satchmo’s version. ‘Seven times hotter, hotter than it oughta be!’

 

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Jeremiah

Sunday school tomorrow—here’s the second of our Major Prophets of the Old Testament, Jeremiah. Of the four, Jeremiah is probably the gloomiest. Although God promises sunnier days ahead once He’s finished punishing Israel & Judah for their sins, large chunks of this 52-chapter book + Lamentations is about how the Chosen People have gotten seriously off the rails.

Don’t gloat—how well-behaved have we been lately?

Jeremiah has been called the ‘weeping prophet’. So much that his own people could hardly stand him and were forever throwing Jeremiah into cisterns and jails. But who can blame him for weeping? He witnessed everything he loved and took for granted be swept away.

Most of the things Jeremiah foretold came true in his lifetime. Last week we met Isaiah, whose prophesies about the virgin birth and Messiah wouldn’t come true for 600 years. So far as I can tell, only one bit of Jeremiah foretells New Testament events—31:15 is thought to predict the slaughter of the innocents found in Matthew. Jeremiah is believed to be the author of 1 and 2 Kings, where you can read about how—starting with Solomon—things unraveled.

jeremiah72