Purim in the Bible – History and Traditions

Purim in the Bible – History and Traditions

Purim or the Festival of Lots celebrates the victory that God gave the Hebrews living in exile under the rulership of the Medes and the Persians. This is a day of rejoicing and feasting and those not familiar with the Septuagint version of the Bible, may not have the whole picture of the story of this great deliverance for our people following the Babylonian Captivity

You may or may not be familiar with Purim because it is not a High Holiday and has a few interesting traditions associated with it. Traditional observance includes the eating of Hamantaschen, the blotting out of the name of Haman when the Book of Esther is read with loud noisemakers, dressing up, and excessive drinking. 

However, Purim is a holiday that remembers how the Lord came and fought for us when there was a decreed extinction for our people. It remembers how our people turned to Elohim with prayer and fasting and with contrite hearts. It remembers how great the Lord caused our people to be in the world. The riches and the honor we had. It is a day of remembrance and joy.

Purim Traditions

Hamantaschen in German means Haman’s pockets or in Hebrew – Haman’s ears, they are triangular-shaped cookies filled with either a sweet or savory filling. The Hebrew name oznei Haman is potentially referring to the custom of cutting off a criminal’s ears before his execution.

Another theory for the triangular shape is that each corner represents the three patriarchs whose power caused Haman’s power and control to be weakened and resulted in his downfall and death. The German word Tasche means pouch or pocket and probably represented Haman’s pockets and the money he offered the king for permission to kill the Hebrews ( Wikipedia “9 Things” ). 

Blotting out the name of the Amalekites.

The practice of blotting out the name of Haman, during the reading of the book of Esther can be traced to the Tosafists – leading French and German rabbis of the 13th century ( “Purim” ). We are commanded in the Torah to remember to forget the nation of the Amalekites, of which, Haman is a descendant. 

Debarim (Deuteronomy) 25:19: “And it shall come to pass whenever the Lord thy God shall have given thee rest from all thine enemies round about thee, in the land which the Lord thy God gives thee to inherit, thou shalt blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven, and shalt not forget.”

Drinking and Dressing up

The holiday has turned into a sort of Jewish carnival or Halloween, where drinking abounds and dressing up is seen as a commandment representing the disguising of Esther’s identity to the King. Masquerading for Purim seems to have been originated by Italian Jews in the 15th century, influenced by the Roman carnival. The practice continued to spread in popularity throughout Europe during the 19th century.

Another reason given for dressing up is to emulate the way God worked in the lives of His people, which is seen as being disguised by natural events.

In addition to dressing up, it has been taught by the rabbis that people should drink until one cannot distinguish between good Mordecai and bad Haman (Wikipedia “ Purim”).

Casting lots on Purim - byZipporah Blog

The Story of Purim 

The book of Esther has been cited as the only book in the Bible that does not mention God directly, however, this is only true in the Masoretic translations of the Bible. The Masoretic text is the Hebrew text of the Bible that most English translations are translated from. The Greek Septuagint predates the Masoretic by more than 400 years and has details that were omitted by bible translators. There is information in every book of the Bible that is not present in the Masoretic texts, and the Septuagint is easier to understand (LXX – Septuagint).

The book of Esther found in the Greek Septuagint details the decrees written by King Artaxerxes and the prayers of both Esther and Mordecai, as well as, Mordecai’s dream and interpretation  (Esther 1: 1). 

It is in the third year of the king’s reign that the king held a six-month feast – 180 days, in honor of his friends, other nations, the nobles of the Persians and the Medes, and the chiefs of the satraps – provincial governors of ancient Persia. This extended feast was a marriage feast, and Artaxerxes used it as a time to show off his wealth and the great extent of his empire. Following the marriage feast, he held another banquet lasting six days only for those nobles currently present in the city. During this time, Artaxerxes wanted to crown Vashti queen and show her off to the nobles of the empire. Vashti refuses ( Esther 1: 3 – 11 ). 

Following Vashti’s Dethronement by the King

Mordecai had brought up his cousin, Hadassah as a wife for himself, and when the decree went out for the young virgins to be brought before the king, Esther(Hadassah) was taken. She had found favor with the keeper of the women and was brought before the king after 12 months of purification.

Esther went to the king in the twelfth Hebrew month – Adar, in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes’ reign. Esther was crowned queen because the king loved her and found great favor in her.  

Mordecai stayed in the palace and advised Esther to fear God and to follow His commandments. Esther did not change her manner of life after becoming queen but continued to follow the commands of Elohim. 

Later, the king had two of his chamberlains – royal attendants who wanted to kill him. They had been grieved because Mordecai had been promoted after Esther became queen. Mordecai found out about this plot, and he told Esther who told the King and the chamberlains were hanged. Mordecai was not rewarded for saving the king, but a royal note was made of the deed in the royal records ( Esther 2: 2-3; 7-13; 16-23 ). 

Haman’s Rise to Power

The King honored Haman above all his other friends and ordered everyone to honor him. Mordecai didn’t obey this command, which caused Haman great anger and, as a result, he wanted to kill all the Hebrews in the empire. Haman made a decree in the twelfth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, to cast lots daily and monthly to decide when to kill all of the race of Mordecai, the lot fell on the fourteenth of Adar. Haman went to the king with his plan and offered to give of his own money- ten thousand silver talents- to make sure that the decree was fulfilled. 

King Artaxerxes thought that the plan was good and made the law permanent, saying that Haman could keep his money. The king’s recorder wrote that everyone in the kingdom could on the first day of the twelfth month – Adar- plunder the goods of the Hebrews ( Esther 3: 1 – 13 ).

At the hearing of the decree, Mordecai wept and Esther and the Hebrews in Susa fasted and prayed to the Lord for help in this trying time ( Esther 4: 3-17 ). The rest of chapter four details the moving and mournful prayers of both Mordecai and Esther, pleading to the Lord on behalf of their people.  

Esther goes to the king unsummoned and Haman gets bad advice

‘Esther having called upon God the Overseer and Preserver of all things’ she went to see the king unsummoned. Before the second banquet requested by Esther, Haman was angry at Mordecai again and was advised by his wife and friends to prepare gallows for Mordecai – 50 cubits high ( Esther 5 ). 

Praise for Mordecai

The Lord removed the sleep of the King, which caused Mordecai to be honored for saving his life the second time, by the hand of Haman. After which, Haman covered his head and went home mourning, and told his wife and friends what had happened. They said that because Haman was humbled by Mordecai, who being of the race of the Hebrews, the Lord was with Moredcadi and that Haman would fail in his plan to destroy them ( Esther 6 ).


At the second banquet, Esther tells the king that her request and petition are her life and the lives of her people. And Haman was hanged on the gallows that were intended for Mordecai for his plot against the Hebrews ( Esther 7 ). 

Esther was given by the king everything that had belonged to Haman the slanderer, and she gave it to Mordecai. The scribes were called on in the month of Nisan, the first Hebrew month, on the twenty-third day to write a decree saying that the Hebrews everywhere could defend themselves against their attackers on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar.

The king tactfully overturned his previous decree in a letter to all of the 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia that were in his kingdom. Mordecai was dressed in royal apparel, wearing a gold crown and a diadem of fine purple linen. The Hebrews of Susa rejoiced when they saw him. Rejoicing with gladness, feasting, and mirth, “and many of the Gentiles were circumcised and became Hebrews for fear of the Hebrews” ( Esther 8: 15-17 ).

In the twelfth month of Adar on the thirteenth of the month, the letters arrived. The adversaries of the Hebrews perished because they feared the Hebrews. The Hebrews killed in total, on the 13th of Adar, fifteen thousand of their enemies, including, the ten sons of Haman. They rested on the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar, with joy and gladness. 

Esther 9: 19 – 28: 19 On this account then the Jews dispersed in every foreign land keep the fourteenth of Adar as a holy day with joy, sending portions each to his neighbor. 20 And Mordecai wrote these things in a book, and sent them to the Jews, as many as were in the kingdom of Artaxerxes, both them that were near and them that were afar off, 21 to establish these as joyful days, and to keep the fourteenth and the fifteenth of Adar; 22 for on these days the Jews obtained rest from their enemies; and the month, which was Adar, in which a change was made for them, from mourning to joy, and from sorrow to a good day, to spend the whole of it in good days of feasting and gladness, sending portions to their friends, and to the poor. 23 And the Jews consented accordingly as Mordecai wrote to them,

24 showing how Haman the son of Amadathes the Macedonian fought against them, how he made a decree and cast lots to destroy them utterly; 25 also how he went in to the king, telling him to hang Mordecai: but all the calamities he tried to bring upon the Jews came upon himself, and he was hanged, and his children. 26 Therefore these days are called Pur, because of the lots because of the words of this letter and all they suffered on this account, and all that happened to them. 27 And Mordecai established it, and the Jews took upon themselves, and upon their seed, and upon those that were joined to them to observe it, neither would they on any account behave differently: but these days a memorial kept in every generation, and city, and family, and province. 28 And these days of Purim, shall be kept for ever, and their memorial shall not fail in any generation. 

Purim is not a High Holiday commanded by Elohim, however, it is a time to be reminded of the great deliverance He gave when we were under threat of extinction. It is a holiday to remember the goodness of the Lord. It is a day of feasting and rejoicing. We should not, however, celebrate Purim to a greater extent than the High Holidays, but it is a time that I believe we should celebrate and remember. Shalom!

All Old Testament scriptures are from the Septuagint.

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