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 (
The history of the festival is as follows. Haman the Agagite (
In Maccabean times (
It has been suggested that the feast mentioned in
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 (
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(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
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.