The festival celebrated on the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar, the last month of the Jewish year, corresponding to late February and early March. (Esther 9:21) The name comes from the act of Haman in casting pur (lot) to determine the auspicious day for an extermination plot against the Jews to be carried out. Being an Agagite, perhaps a royal Amalekite, and a worshiper of pagan deities, he was resorting to this as “a species of divination.” (Esther 3:7, Le, 7th ed., ftn.; see DIVINATION.) In King Ahasuerus’ (Xerxes I) twelfth year, on Nisan 13, 475 B.C.E., the official extermination decree that Haman had induced the king to approve was sent out to all the Persian provinces, commanding the destruction of the Jews.
COMMEMORATION OF DELIVERANCE
The festival commemorates the Jews’ deliverance from destruction through Haman’s plot. Consequently, the name Purim was probably given by the Jews in irony. (Esther 9:24-26) It is also called in the Apocryphal book of Maccabees “Mordecai’s day,” since Mordecai played an important part in the events pertaining to the festival. (2 Maccabees 15:36, AT) Through the efforts of Queen Esther, at the risk of her life and as directed by her older cousin Mordecai, the Jews were delivered. Esther fasted for three days before seeking an audience with the king, to invite him to a banquet, and then to a second banquet where her petition could be presented. (Esther 4:6–5:8) The petition was favorably heard and, since the original decree could not be changed on account of the unchangeable law of the Medes and Persians (Dan. 6:8), another decree was issued on the twenty-third day of Sivan. This document granted the Jews the right to defend themselves and enabled them to prepare. It was written by Mordecai and translated into many languages for various districts of the Persian Empire. The Jews fought, with the help of the princes, satraps and governors, and turned the tables on the anti-Jewish enemies. A great slaughter took place on Adar 13, not of the Jews, but of their enemies. It continued in the royal city of Shushan through the fourteenth. On the fourteenth day of Adar the Jews in the jurisdictional districts rested, and those in Shushan on the fifteenth day, with banqueting and rejoicing.—Esther 8:3–9:19.
To commemorate this deliverance, Mordecai. imposed upon the Jews the obligation to observe Adar fourteenth and fifteenth each year with banqueting and rejoicing and sending portions to one another and gifts to the poor people. (Esther 9:20-22) Later, another letter was written with the confirmation of Esther the queen commanding this festival. It was to be held in each generation, family, jurisdictional district and city at the appointed time each year.—Esther 9:28-31.
The festival, first observed Adar 14-15, 474 B.C.E., is celebrated by the Jews to this day in a detailed way, with many additions. One of the traditional enlargements that came in the process of time was the setting aside of the thirteenth day of Adar as a day of fasting, called the Fast of Esther. Trade or labor is not prohibited during this festival.
A QUESTION ON JOHN 5:1
There is no direct mention of the Festival of Purim in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Some have claimed that there is a reference to it at John 5:1: “After these things there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” The application of this verse to the Festival of Purim is unsubstantiated. Certain manuscripts have the definite article, reading: “the festival of the Jews.” This would indicate that it must have been one of the three solemn seasonal festivals listed at Deuteronomy 16:16, especially when we note that Jesus went up to Jerusalem, which he would not be required to do to keep the Festival of Purim. Purim was connected more with the local synagogue and the local area than with the temple; the festival was to be kept in the city of one’s residence. It is also improbable that Jesus would travel all the way to Jerusalem and then leave again for Galilee, with Passover only a month away. Furthermore, if one adopts the view that John 5:1 refers to Purim and John 6:4 to Passover a month later, it would crowd an impossible number of events into this short space of time, for it would include the ministry of Jesus in Capernaum, travels in Galilee, and a return to Capernaum and to Judea and Jerusalem. (See JESUS CHRIST [Chart of Main Events of Jesus’ Earthly Sojourn].) There is reason to believe, then, that the “festival of the Jews” at John 5:1 was actually the Passover festival of 31 C.E.—See JESUS CHRIST (Evidence for a three-and-a-half-year ministry).
While it is said by some commentators that the Festival of Purim as celebrated by the Jews in the present day has more of a secular than a religious nature and is sometimes accompanied by excesses, this was not so at the time of its institution and early celebration. Both Mordecai and Esther were servants of the true God Jehovah, and the festival was established to honor Him. The deliverance of the Jews at that time can be attributed to Jehovah God, because the issue arose by reason of Mordecai’s integrity in his course of exclusive worship of Jehovah. Haman was probably an Amalekite, whose nation Jehovah had specifically cursed and condemned to destruction. Mordecai respected God’s decree and refused to bow to Haman. (Esther 3:2, 5; Ex. 17:14-16) Also, the words of Mordecai to Esther (Esther 4:14) indicate that he looked to a higher power for deliverance for the Jews, and Esther’s fasting before entering the king’s presence with her original petition, a banquet invitation, indicated her appeal to God for help.—Esther 4:16.
Purim is also called the Festival of Lots.—See LOT, I; ESTHER, BOOK OF.