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Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

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"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Contra Mitchell First. Again.

Over on the Seforim blog (http://seforim.blogspot.com/2013/02/identifying-achashverosh-and-esther-in.html), Mitchell First has written another attack on the Jewish historical tradition of the chronology of the Persian Empire and the events of Purim.

It isn't his first.  He is the author of Jewish History in Conflict: A Study of the Major Discrepancy Between Rabbinic and Conventional Chronology (Jason Aronson, 1997), in which he attempts to make a case against the Jewish view of history.

I wanted to address some of his claims here, in the spirit of שתיקה כהודאה, just to make sure his claims don't go uncontested.

I find it interesting that First speaks of "the simplest understanding of Ezra 4:6 without quoting the verse itself, and the surrounding verses.  In this way, the reader is left with the choice of either looking it up himself, or taking First's word for it.  So in order to make this easier for at least readers of Areivim, let's have a look.

ד  וַיְהִי, עַם-הָאָרֶץ--מְרַפִּים, יְדֵי עַם-יְהוּדָה; ומבלהים (וּמְבַהֲלִים) אוֹתָם, לִבְנוֹת. 4 Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and harried them while they were building,
ה  וְסֹכְרִים עֲלֵיהֶם יוֹעֲצִים, לְהָפֵר עֲצָתָם--כָּל-יְמֵי, כּוֹרֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ פָּרַס, וְעַד-מַלְכוּת, דָּרְיָוֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ-פָּרָס. 5 and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
ו  וּבְמַלְכוּת, אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, בִּתְחִלַּת, מַלְכוּתוֹ--כָּתְבוּ שִׂטְנָה, עַל-יֹשְׁבֵי יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם.  {ס} 6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. {S}
ז  וּבִימֵי אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתָּא, כָּתַב בִּשְׁלָם מִתְרְדָת טָבְאֵל וּשְׁאָר כְּנָו‍ֹתָו, עַל-אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתְּא, מֶלֶךְ פָּרָס; וּכְתָב, הַנִּשְׁתְּוָן, כָּתוּב אֲרָמִית, וּמְתֻרְגָּם אֲרָמִית.  {פ} 7 And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of his companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Aramaic character, and set forth in the Aramaic tongue. {P}

Copied from Machon Mamre (http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt35a04.htm).

First appears to be using the same oversimplistic reading methodology used by advocates of the documentary hypothesis when he says that "The simplest understanding of Ezra 4:6 and its surrounding verses is that Achashverosh is the Persian king who reigned after the Daryavesh who rebuilt the Temple, but before Artachshasta."  In fact, the opposite is true.

The enemies of the Jews hired counselors against us from the time of Cyrus through the time of Darius the Persian.  Which means that they stopped hiring those counselors after the time of Darius the Persian.  So if those counselors wrote accusations against us during the reign of Ahasuerus, Ahasuerus must have reigned between Cyrus and Darius.

Of course, it's possible that it was the enemies themselves who wrote those accusations, and not the counselors, but if so, it's an entirely different subject, and the text first tells us about counselors who were hired from the time of Cyrus to the time of Darius, and then talks about accusations which were written.  If that's so, there's no chronological order involved.  It would be like me saying: "Ron Paul served as a Congressman from Bill Clinton's presidency through Barack Obama's presidency.  Paul ran for president in 2008."  That's completely true.  But reading it the way First is reading Ezra would suggest that he ran for president after Obama's presidency.  Which is factually incorrect.

That's far from the only problem with First's analysis.  He attributes his contra-Chazal view of Persian history to a number of Jewish scholars purely on the basis of them agreeing that the name Achashveirosh and the name Xerxes are the same.  But that's a truism that I don't think anyone disagrees with.  It doesn't mean that Achashveirosh/Xerxes reigned after Bayit Sheni was built.  It's been many years since I read R' Avigdor Miller's history series, but I'm willing to assert that he would have been greatly offended by First's suggestion that he agreed with the Greek version of history and disagreed with the Jewish one.