PURIM (pūr'ĭm, Heb. pûrîm, lots). A Jewish festival celebrated on the fourteenth and fifteenth of the month Adar (February-March), commemorating the deliverance of the Hebrews from the murderous plans of the wicked Haman in the postexilic period (Esth.3.7; Esth.9.26). This festival is named from the casting of the lot to determine the most expeditious time for the mass murder of the Jews.

The history of the festival is as follows. Haman the Agagite (1 Sam 15:8, 32) was the prime minister of King Xerxes of Persia, and an inveterate enemy of the Jews. After the deposition of Queen Vashti (Esth 1:9-12) Esther, adopted daughter of Mordecai, became queen. Haman plotted the annihilation of all the Jews of the realm. Superstitious as he was, he cast lots for the best time for the execution of his plan (3:7). The lot fell on the thirteenth day of Adar (3:12ff.). Through Mordecai’s loyalty to the king whereby he foiled a plot to assassinate the king, his wisdom in behalf of his people, Esther’s courage, and the fasting and prayers of the Jews, the diabolical scheme was frustrated, Israel was saved, and Haman with his ten sons was hanged on the gallows prepared for Mordecai. A new decree of Xerxes permitted the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies on the day they were to be destroyed. In the royal city of Shushan, another day—the fourteenth—was given the Jews to avenge themselves on their adversaries (9:11-16). Because of the deliverance, Mordecai urged the Jews to keep the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar as a memorial (9:20-22).

In Maccabean times (2 Macc 15:36) the feast was called “Mordecai’s day.” Josephus claimed that in his time all the Jews of the world kept the festival (Jos. Antiq. XI. vi. 13): “For this cause the Jews still keep the aforementioned days, and call them days of Purim.” The Talmud told those celebrating the feast to drink until they could no longer distinguish between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordecai.”

It has been suggested that the feast mentioned in John 5:1 was the Feast of Purim. This is opposed to the Jewish custom of celebrating Purim anywhere in the land; thus there was no need to go up to Jerusalem. Only at the time of the three pilgrimage feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) was it obligatory on the Israelite to appear in Jerusalem (Deut 16:16).

Purim always has been popular among the Jews. On the thirteenth of Adar a fast is observed, called the Fast of Esther. That evening, the synagogue is frequented where after the evening service the Book of Esther is read. When the name of Haman is read, the congregation says in unison, “Let his name be blotted out.” The young add their part with noisemakers and Purim rattles. The public reader recites the names of Haman’s sons in one breath to convey the idea that they were hanged together. The next morning (the fourteenth of Adar) the congregation assembles again in the synagogue to conclude the formal religious exercises. The rest of the day is devoted to mirth and rejoicing. Large numbers of hymns have been composed for public service, also plays, dramas, and recitations. The theme of the festival has been rehearsed many times in the centuries of persecution in ancient and modern times. A prominent feature of the feast is sending food and gifts to the poor (Esth 9:19). Thus the observance of Purim through the centuries argues strongly for the historicity of the events recorded in the Book of Esther.

However, there have been and still are those who cast doubt on the reliability of the events recorded. It has been argued that the book is not historical and does not have even a historical kernel underlying the account (A Standard Bible Dictionary, 230, 231). J. C. Rylaarsdam (IDB, III, 968, 969) maintains that the ultimate sources of the account are not Jewish at all. It is rather a case where, in the flush of the Maccabean triumphs of the 2nd cent. b.c., the Jews revamped the drama into history. He feels that the names in the record point to a mythological legend about the victory of certain Babylonian deities. Attempts have been made by those who reject the historicity of the Book of Esther to find the origin of the Feast of Purim in a Maccabean, Persian, Parthian, Zoroastrian, Hellenic, or Babylonian source. They are mutually negating and lack conviction (HDB, IV, 174, 175). See Pur.


H. Schauss, The Jewish Festivals (1938), 237-271; B. M. Edidin, Jewish Holidays and Festivals (1940), 117-130; J. H. Greenstone, Jewish Feasts and Fasts (1946); The Jewish People Past and Present, II (1948), 277-279; Jew Enc. X, 274-279.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

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 Book of Esther, and indeed is the motive of the book, as the time, reason and manner of its celebration are given in detail (Es 3:7; 9:24 ). Reference also is made to it in apocryphal literature (Additions to Esther 10:10-13; 2 Macc 15:36) and in Josephus (Ant., XI, vi, 13). No reference is made to this feast in the New Testament, as it was celebrated locally, and is therefore not to be connected with any of the festal pilgrimages to Jerusalem. For this reason the supposition of some that the feast of Joh 5:1 was Purim is to be rejected, mention of it being immediately followed by the words, "And Jesus went up to Jerusalem."

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 1Sa 15:8,32), who had been made prime minister by King Ahasuerus (Xerxes), bitterly hated the Jews, some of whom, as Mordecai, were rising to prominence in the empire. After Queen Vashti had been put away from her royal position for cause (Es 1:9-12), a Jewess named Esther, kinswoman and adopted daughter of Mordecai, was chosen to become the royal consort. This only increased the hatred of Haman, who in his jealous fury soon began to seek an opportune day to work his hate upon Mordecai and the whole Jewish people, and therefore resorted to the casting of the lots for the auspicious time: "They cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, which is the month Adar" (3:7). Beginning with the 1st month, all the days and months were tried with unfavorable result, until the last. At Haman’s request Ahasuerus caused his scribes to send into all the realm on the 13th day of the 1st month a decree that all Jews should be put to death on the 13th day of the 12th month (3:12 ff). As the narrative shows, the wisdom of Mordecai, Esther’s heroism, and fasting and prayer availed to foil the dastardly scheme of Haman, who had already built the gallows on which his hated rival should be hanged. Haman was himself hanged on this gallows, while Mordecai was honored yet more (7:10; 8:1,2). A second decree was issued on the 23rd day of the 3rd month that on the 13th day of the 12th month (8:9,12), the day appointed in the first decree for their extermination, the Jews should gather together and defend themselves against their foes. On that fateful day not only did the Jews successfully resist the malice of their enemies, but the public officials also, seeing that the royal favor was with the Jews, espoused their cause. In Shushan, the royal city, a second day, the 14th, was granted the Jews for vengeance on their foes (9:11-16). In view of so great a deliverance "Mordecai wrote these things .... unto all the Jews .... to enjoin them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same, yearly, as the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies (9:20-22).

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, Ex 17:8-16, which records the destruction of the Amalekites (compare Es 3:1), is also read as the lesson from the Law, presents are given to the poor and to friends, and the rest of the day, as also the 15th, observed with feasting and rejoicing, even excesses being condoned in the exuberance of national spirit.

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.

Edward Mack