Gary Epstein
And now for something completely different . . .

Another Jewish Salvation Story, Another Scroll, Another Holiday–Enough Already


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Archeologists have unearthed this contemporary book review (or, more properly, scroll review) of Megilat Esther. Originally published in the Sunday Supplement to the Shushan Times (“All the news that fits, we print”), the review reveals a modern sensibility that could not have been anticipated. It almost seems like it was written yesterday. But it also highlights a few of the mysteries that were previously inaccessible to the modern reader.

(21 Adukanaisa, 452 B.C.E.)  The Scroll of Esther, a self-published, self-congratulatory bit of fluff, would customarily not even merit a mention in these dignified pages. The Shushan Times Scroll Review customarily deals with more elevated literature. But in light of (i) the King’s recent, nearly inexplicable, decision to allow the Jews to rampage throughout the empire, disproportionately killing their enemies with impunity (which, we can assure you, gave our Editorial Board serious concerns, some of them even considering converting back to Judaism), (ii) the establishment of a raucous holiday, combining all the worst elements of  Persian Halloween and Persian St. Patrick’s Day, and (iii) the imposition of a fiscally destructive, non-progressive universal tax, some note must be taken of this ephemeral text, even though it is not likely to survive or acquire much of an audience.

The plot is well-known, prosaic, and hackneyed. Someone tries to kill Jews. The Jews unify, fast, and pray. The Jews are saved. The Jews celebrate.

Why should any of the rest of us care? Especially since many of these Jews are likely to become settlers in their ancient Judean homeland once they are permitted to return to their homes after the exile in Babylonia/Persia is complete, notwithstanding the future superior claims of a people that may not yet exist, but intends to become indigenous in that land more than a thousand years from now. Why should we relate to yet another story of Jewish redemption and salvation?

Perhaps the answers reside in a number of what appear to be subordinate themes or irrelevancies that shine a light on our civilization and its discontents, the latter including those aforementioned Jews.

For example: the eunuchs. There are eunuchs all over the Scroll of Esther.  You can’t unroll a column without bumping into one eunuch or another, more eunuchs than you can shake a stick at. [Trigger notice: do not shake sticks at eunuchs; some of them misinterpret the gesture and take it very seriously.] There is Hegai, who is in charge of the harem, and some eunuchs guarding the Queen, and some eunuchs guarding the king’s bedchamber, and seven eunuchs as the king’s attendants. The eunuch Hatach pops up at various key intervals. The two treasonous eunuchs, Bigtan and Teresh, contribute, somewhat implausibly, in the narrative of the downfall of Haman and the ascension of Mordechai. And, for no discernible reason, you are supposed to remember Charvonah for good, though this reviewer has difficulty remembering even which eunuch he was.

We are told nothing about them. Why so many eunuchs? Was there some sort of reciprocal staffing deal with the US State Department? Was there a mass outbreak of gender dysphoria?  Do they frequently travel in packs of seven? What are the preferred pronouns of a bunch of eunuchs? Did the authors check with the Editorial Board of The Shushan Times, or various United Nations Human Rights agencies as to their protected status? How did they dress, and how did they identify? In other words, could this be the long-sought validation that the transgender community has earnestly sought?

Moreover, some readers have noticed that this is the only Megilla (indeed the only Biblical text) in which both of the following are true: the action takes place in Persia and there is a profound emphasis on eunuchs. Coincidence? Perhaps. But if some future government leaders in Persia, or a successor, become obsessed with missiles, projectiles, and delivery systems that go boom, psychologists and statesmen may take more note of this literary curiosity.

As an aside, this reviewer has wondered why there is no “E” (for eunuch) in the lexicon of the LGBTQ+? subculture. A vowel would make it easier to pronounce as a word rather than an endless series of consonants. And if we added “Uncertain” instead of the “?” we would have a letter “U” to place after the “Q” and have a more memorable grouping. QUTBLGE, perhaps (pronounced “cute bulge”). Better than legibtuq, which sounds like that Mr Mxyzptlk who used to be in DC comics. But I digress.

This reviewer, for one, would like to read this story as told from the perspective of the eunuchs, which would make it much more relevant, timely, and interesting.  As is, the omniscient narrator seems quite unreliable. We have no doubt that a Scroll of the Eunuchs (Megillat Sarisei Hamelech) would quickly find favor in both the mainstream and the counterculture, and would swiftly be incorporated into the canon.  It would certainly be more compelling than this Esther fantasy.   [Editor’s Note:  Apparently, unbeknownst to the reviewer, Messrs. Walt, Mearsheimer, Beinart, and Friedman, speaking on behalf of intellectual and physical eunuchs everywhere, have combined with the UN Special Rapporteur to produce such a text; it will be reviewed next week.  Not surprisingly, it calls for a two-state eunuch solution, overseen by Saudi Arabia.]

I do note that the decor at the various parties in the Megilla (there are almost as many banquets as eunuchs) suggest a certain flair that surely did not come from the heteronormative, cisgendered, unaltered Persians: “swaths of fine white fabric, of precious cotton and sky blue wool, all corded with strands of the finest linen and scarlet, and draped over silver bars and columns of marble . . . gold, silver, alabaster, mother of pearl, black onyx.”  Ah, it brings back memories of pleasant get-togethers over canapes back at Harvard, but hardly accords with our notion of the fashion-challenged Ayatollahs.  But I digress.  Again.

There are other textual mysteries.  Let’s talk for a moment about the golden scepter of Achashverosh, which also plays a major role in the narrative.  No one may approach the King unless and until he extends the golden scepter.  The Queen worries that she will not be admitted to the King’s presence, because he hasn’t extended the golden scepter to her in months. Miraculously, when the King sees her, he extends his golden scepter.  It is clearly a metaphor.  For something.  But the text does not offer a single clue.  This sort of Jewish obscurantism is, among many, many, many other things, what causes some to dislike them, not because they are Jewish, of course, but because they act in this clannish way, which you can only understand if you are a . . . member.

Another thing:  when Mordechai dons sackcloth and ashes, and wails in the town square, Queen Esther sends him a set of clean clothing to wear.  Why was there a set of men’s clothing in Queen Esther’s quarters?  Is she a trans-esthite? Could that be the reason that the King hadn’t entertained her for so many months?  We have no idea.  Intrigue is one thing, but all these inexplicable unanswered features and cliffhangers lead us to conclude that the authors are setting us up for a long series of Esti and Mordy adventures, along the lines of the Fast and Furious Chariot franchise, but with more fluid gender definition.

Another thing:  Memuchan, the key adviser to the King, has been identified by some Jewish reviewers with Haman.  He is the one who suggests that Vashti never again be allowed into the presence of the king.   Killed?  Banished? An anchor on CNN?  We don’t know, for they all involve disappearance into the ether.  All we know is that Memuchan/Haman launches into this misogynistic rant about wives obeying husbands, and the shame that accompanies any woman’s assertion of independence from her man.  It would appear that this position is identified with Haman and his ilk, but is disfavored by the Jewish authors of the Scroll of Esther.

This would imply that the enemies of the Jews also hate women.  And yet, women’s groups line up to support the enemies of the Jews.  Another mystery.

There is only one element in the text that rings totally, 100% true.  Mordechai, through Esther, saves the Jewish people from annihilation.  The Scroll reports that thereafter Mordechai was “ratzui larov echav,” beloved among a majority of his brethren.  This is an unassailable truth: If you are a Jewish leader who brings about the extraordinary salvation of your people, plucking them from the jaws of disaster, you can expect that, maybe, 51% of them will subsequently support you.

The Scroll is available on Amazon. If you are a Prime member, the scribe will begin work immediately upon receipt of your order and you can expect delivery in three or four months after he, she, or they finish, depending on the condition of the horses ridden by the achashdarpanim.  If UPS is involved, overnight.


Happy Purim Kattan!

About the Author
Gary Epstein is a retired teacher and lawyer residing in Modi'in, Israel. He was formerly the Head of the Global Corporate and Securities Department of Greenberg Traurig, a global law firm with an office in Tel Aviv, which he founded and of which he was the first Managing Partner. He and his wife Ahuva are blessed with18 grandchildren, ka"h, all of whom he believes are well above average. He currently does nothing. He believes he does it well.