pur’-rim, pur (purim, "lots"; Septuagint Phrourai): The name of a Jewish festival celebrated on the 14th and 15th days of the month Adar, the final month of the Biblical year, corresponding to February-March. 1. Scripture References:
The origin of the festival is narrated in the
2. History of Institution:
For the complete account of the institution of Purim reference must be made to the Book of Esther. Only a brief statement is possible here. Haman, son of Hammedatha the AGAGITE (q.v.; compare
3. Manner of Observance:
Already as early as the times of the Maccabees (2 Macc 15:36), the festival was observed, the 14th day being called "Mordecai’s day." Josephus refers to it as continuously and widely observed down to his time: "For this cause the Jews still keep the forementioned days, and call them days of Purim" (Ant., XI, vi, 13). In succeeding centuries as the Jews have passed from one civilization or empire to another, so many causes have arisen to remind them of the persecutions of Haman as to make the festival of a triumph over such persecutions both attractive and most significant to them. Experiences in Syria, Egypt, Rome, Russia and elsewhere have not been lacking in suggestion of the original occasion of Purim. The 13th day has been observed by fasting in commemoration of Esther’s prayer and fasting before she approached the king; in the evening, at the beginning of the 14th day, the Jews repair to the synagogues where the Book of Esther, one of the meghilloth, is read with interpretations, execrations bursting out at the reading of Haman’s name, accompanied by noise of rattles and stamping of feet, other persecutors and foes also sometimes coming in for a share of execration. The names of Mordecai and Esther receive blessings. On the following morning of the 14th synagogue services are again held, at which, in addition to the repetition of the Esther reading,
4. Theories of Origin:
Many attempts have been made to trace the origin of Purim in pagan or cosmic festivals, but to the present time without success, without approach even to probability. Supposed connections with nature myths, national festivals, polytheistic legends have all found advocates. The word itself has suggested the possibility of identification with words of similar form or sound in other languages. But the ease of finding such similarities for any word casts doubt upon the reliability of any identification.
(1) It has been traced to the Assyrian puru, and identified with the Assyrian New Year when officials entered upon their term of service.
(2) The Babylonian puhru, new year festival, has also been claimed as the origin of Purim; Mordecai becomes Marduk, Esther is Ishtar, while Haman, Vashti and Zeresh are Median gods.
(3) The most popular attempts at identification are in the Persian field, where bahr, "lot," is claimed as the source of Pur, or purdighan, "new year," or farwardighan, the feast of departed souls.
(4) Origin also in a Greek bacchanalian occasion has been sought.
(5) Others suggest origin in other Jewish experiences than that claimed by the Book of Esther itself, such as a captivity in Edom, or a persecution under the Ptolemies in Egypt, or the victory of Judas Maccabeus over Nicanor in 161 BC (1 Macc 7:49).
No one of all these theories has sufficient probability to secure for itself anything like general acceptance; the Book of Es remains as the most reasonable account; the difficulties met in it are not so great as those of the explanations sought in other languages and religions.
Bible dicts., especially HDB, Encyclopedia Biblica and Jewish Encyclopedia; Paton, commentary on "Est" in ICC, particularly pp. 77-94.