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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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1. In the OT . On the 14th and 15th of the month Adar (March) fell the celebration of the Feast of Purim or Lots. This commemorated the deliverance of the Jews from Haman, who in b.c. 473 had plotted their extermination throughout the Persian empire ( Esther 3:7 ; Esther 9:15-32 ). In 2Ma 15:36 it is called ‘Mordecai’s day.’ The observance of this festival was probably not at first universal, but Josephus mentions its occurrence, and it held an established position before the time of Christ. At first no special religious services were enjoined to mark it, nor was there any prohibition of labour. It was a time of feasting and joy, of the giving of presents and alms. In later times it was celebrated by a synagogue meeting on the evening of the 13th and the morning of the 14th, when the Book of Esther was read through, special prayers and thanks were offered, and the congregation ejaculated curses on Haman and blessings on Esther and Mordecai. The rest of the feast was given up to good cheer and boisterous enjoyment of an almost Bacchanalian character. In 1Ma 7:49 and 2Ma 15:36 , as also in Josephus, the 13th of Adar is recorded as a feast-day in commemoration of the defeat of the Syrian general Nicanor in b.c. 161. But later ages observed it as the Fast of Esther (cf. Esther 9:31 ; Esther 4:3 ), the celebration taking place on the 11th, if the 13th happened to be a Sabbath.

The origin of the Purim feast is a matter of dispute. It is difficult to identify any known Persian word with pur ( Esther 3:7 ; Esther 9:26 ), which gave the festival its name. Various theories have been put forward, of which the most noteworthy are: ( a ) that which derives it from a Persian spring festival; ( b ) that which regards it as a transformation of an old Zoroastrian festival of the dead; ( c ) that which traces its origin to a Babylonian New Year’s festival.

2. In the NT . Some have supposed that the nameless feast mentioned in John 5:1 was Purim. But this is not convincing, for ( a ) Purim was never one of the great national solemnities which called for attendance at Jerusalem: it was observed locally and not only at the capital; ( b ) Christ would naturally go up for the Passover in the next month. And it is more probable that the Passover is the feast here intended. Cf. art. Chronology of NT, I. § 2 .

A. W. F. Blunt.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Purim'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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