Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Revisionist Purim and the (traditional) Tomb of Esther

Iran revises story of Esther, labels Purim a day of mourning

Monday, January 10, 2011 | Ryan Jones (Israel Today Magazine)

In a couple of months, Israelis and Jews around the world will celebrate Purim, marking the deliverance of the Jews of the Persian Empire from extinction 2,300 years ago. In Iran, the center of the ancient Persian Empire, the date will be marked with mourning and anger.

For years already, Iran has been teaching schoolchildren that Purim marks the massacre of 75,000 Persians by the Jews under the command of Queen Esther. It is presented today as an ancient Iranian holocaust perpetrated by the Jews.

The Iranian version leaves out the part where Haman, the royal advisor, convinces the Persian king to sign a decree permitting the wholesale slaughter the Jews of the empire. When Esther reveals her Jewish background to the king and reveals that Haman was tricking him, the king issues a second decree, allowing the Jews to defend themselves. By God’s grace, the Jews are largely spared, while their enemies are slaughtered.

This year, Iran may go further than simply revising the biblical account. Iranian authorities have decided to downgrade the status of the “Tomb of Esther and Mordechai the Jews” in the city of Hamadan in central Iran. The tomb had previously enjoyed that status of an official pilgrimage site.

Following the downgrading, the Iranian news agency Fars began pushing the idea that Esther and her uncle Mordechai were responsible for a massacre of Iranians, and that their burial place had merely been tolerated until now.

The Iranian news agency MEHR reported reported that a couple of weeks ago, a group of 250 militant Iranian students gathered at the tomb and threatened to tear it down.
I have mentioned the (traditional) tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Iran here and here. The story of Esther is a legend, and a pretty brutal one, but if the Iranians want to make something out of it, they should take it on its own terms. The Persians don't come out very well in that case. But everyone would be better off if we just take it as a story. And if we must find a moral to it, the lesson that small ethnic groups under threat in a larger nation have the right to protect themselves against persecution seems to fit.

Arutz Sheva has more on the threats to the shrine here. Excerpt:
According to the official Iranian news agency MEHR, a group of about 250 student-members of the Basij militia gathered in front of the tomb in December and threatened to tear it down The Basij members sent to threaten the landmark were students from Abu Ali Sina University. They said they were responding to alleged Israeli plans to damage the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem

"Muslims, be aware that [the Israelis] have started the destruction of Al-Aqsa mosque while their second sacred site in Iran, the Esther and Mordecai tomb, is at peace and no Muslims make a sound," the protesters stated. "We, the student basijis... warn Zionist regime leaders if they assault the Al-Aqsa mosque in any way we will destroy the tomb of these lowly murderers," they said.
If the Iranian government suddenly finds it politically expedient to tolerate, let alone encourage, threats to an historic shrine tied to a Jewish legend, it will only make itself look barbaric.

I was aware of these developments in Iran and I was sure I had noted this story before, but if I did, I can't find the post now. There is a somewhat related post here.