Purim and the Pagan Names of Persia
Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr
Just as many who come to the Messianic/Natsari faith take on new names to reflect ones new found faith; similarly when a conquering nation would submit a nation, the people of that vassal state would take on new names to reflect that the people are under “new management.” Also, this was done to symbolize the defeat of the defeated nation’s god(s), because back in the day, most names reflected the religion of that nation. For example; Daniel, Dan-El, meaning “God is my judge.” Or Eliyahu (Elijah) meaning, “Yahweh is my God.” It was not uncommon for a conquering nation to give new names to the people they captured, for Daniel and the Three Hebrew Children all wer given pagan names and it is by those names we know the three Hebrew young men; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Daniel was given the name Belteshazzar (Dan. 1:7).
Did you know that Esther, the Heroine of Purim is not a Hebrew name? It is actually a derivative of the name of the pagan goddess Ishtar. Her real name was Hadassah. Hadassah means myrtle tree. Myrtle branches are used in the lulav and etrog bouquet we wave unto the L-RD during Sukkot. The Lulav and etrog represents the human body, each element a part of the body. The hadass leaves are shaped like eyes and represent the eyes. The four species of the lulav also represent a type of person. The hadass is and aromatic species and is representory of one who has good deeds. Indeed, Hadassah (Esther) had the eyes of the king, but she also had eyes to see the trouble around her and wisely took action by fasting and her good deed was risking her life to approach the king without being summoned. What greater deed is there than self-sacrifice (John 15:13)!?
Ishtar, from where the name Esther derives, was the goddess of fertility, love and war. Esther won the love of King Ahauerus and was the catalyst that brought war to the kingdom, saving the Persian Jews, and allowing the Jewish people to survive and continue the perpetuation of their various lines as well as defeating Haman and bring his line to an end. Esther’s actions fulfilled what her pagan name meant!
Names, whether pagan or Hebraic have prophetic meaning in a person’s life and their name will shape their life. For example Nabal was foolishly crass enough to snub David when he was on the run from King Saul and it cost Nabal his life, and indeed his name meant folly (I Sam. 25:25). Solomon, means “son of Peace” and He was the peace child that brought back equilibrium between G-d and David as well as there was peace and prosperity during Solomon’s reign.
Ahasuerus, the king of our story, means “lion king,” which shows how he was seen by everyone and showed that he was a mighty conquering king not to be trifled with. And we see what happened to Haman when the king though Haman was trying to seduce Queen Esther right under his nose; he was hung (Esther 7:9-10). A lion, when attacking his prey to kill him immediately goes for the neck! Ahasuerus sure did live up to his name.
Haman was a descendant of Esau and Amalek, enemies of Israel. Israel was commanded to wipe out Amalek and his descendants but failed to do so and the Jewish people reaped the consequences of their disobedient as we read in the book of Esther (Deut. 25:19), for Haman, an Amalekite attempted to wipe out Israel!
Haman means magnificent, and indeed Haman was very vain and conceited and thought of himself so magnificent that everyone should bow in recognition of that magnificence. His name also means, “noisy tumult” and indeed he was always flapping his lips causing trouble where ever he went. And traditionally, during the reading of Esther, we make a noisy tumult in order to drown out his name.
Mordechai’s was named after the god Marduk, the god of war and order. Haman, meaning noisy tumult is symbolic of chaos and Mordechai/Marduk is all about order and hence the clash between the two! Also a warrior does not bow to someone just because one thinks there magnificent, the warrior will only bow to a superior, and Haman was anything but. Mordechai only bowed to the G-d of Israel, for He is supreme and worthy of a warriors worship and allegiance.
In Esther Rabbah 7:8 it says, “Haman said to the courtiers: ‘Tell him his ancestors bowed to my ancestor, for it says: ‘Joseph and Rachel… bowed down [to Esau] .’’ Mordechai replied: ‘But Benjamin was not born.’”
Mordechai was a descendant of Benjamin, who was prophetically represented by a wolf, a warrior of the woods and seeing as when Joseph and Rachel bowed before Esau, Benjamin was not born yet and so Mordechai’s descendants never bowed to Esau and his line and he wasn’t about to start.
You see, even when one is conquered one is not defeated. And in order to attempt to wipe out Hebrew life, religion and culture the Persians gave the Jews pagan names, yet that was their downfall because they failed to see the prophetic significance in a name. By giving Hadassah the name Esther and Mordeerchai the name Marduk, the Persian were actually christening them warlords of the Hebrew people! God truly does work everything out for the good (Rom. 8:28).
Chag Semeach Purim!
Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr