The Fall of Haman the Narcissist

Haman leads Mordecai through the city, 1873. (Wikimedia Commons)

Miracles are often woven into the fabric of nature, and not obvious to the naked eye.

As the Purim holiday approaches, it is time to reflect on the lessons of what happened in Persia (modern day Iran) around 2,500 years ago.  Haman was the Viceroy to King Ahasuerus (historically, Xerxes I), and he exhibited a brand of Jew-hatred that is so remarkable that it almost resulted in the annihilation of the Jews in the entire Persian Empire.  On Purim, we spend much energy to remember Haman’s evil deeds and to curse the evil villain.  Let’s prepare for the holiday by taking a brief look at the extreme narcissist known as Haman.

Many people, especially leaders and people in power, have large egos and seek attention and praise.  Narcissists, however, are arrogant to the point of thinking that they are entitled to special status, and do not have normal levels of empathy or caring about others.  Narcissists may pursue goals that feed their egos, even if it risks harm to themselves.  They need to be pumped up and will suck the life out of those around them, if needed.  Most people of this type are not clinically diagnosed or treated, but this is classified by psychiatrists as a clinical disorder.  It results in dysfunction for the Narcissist, his family and other relationships, and certainly his victims.

Signs of Haman’s need for praise and honor are mentioned throughout the Book of Esther.  He required all Persians to bow down to him.  He became infuriated when Mordechai refused, and then launched his plan to annihilate all the Jews.  He clearly had no shame and had a sky-high opinion of himself.

But the biggest moment in Haman’s narcissism was also what led to his demise.  In Chapter 5, Queen Esther was granted an audience with the King and invited the King and Haman to a private party.  At that party, the Queen withheld her ultimate request to save her people, and rather asked for the King and Haman to join her the following day for another private party.  At that point, Haman revealed the extreme need that he had for self-aggrandizement at the expense of others:

12 Then Haman said: “In addition, along with the King, Queen Esther invited only me to the feast that she prepared. Tomorrow, too, I am invited to her [feast] along with the King. 13 Yet all this is worthless to me whenever I see Mordechai the Jew sitting at the King’s gate!” 14 Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Have gallows erected fifty cubits high, and tomorrow tell the king to have Mordechai hanged on it. Then you will be able to go in good spirits with the king to the feast.” Haman was pleased with the idea and erected the gallows. (Esther 5:12-14)

Haman was seemingly riding high and was reveling in the fact that the Queen had selected him above all the other ministers to join her private party.  But, his joy was shattered by the sight of Mordechai’s importance.  (The phrase “sitting at the King’s gate” means that Mordechai had a position of importance in the King’s palace.)  Haman’s egotistical needs were so extreme that it wasn’t enough for him to be the one selected, but he couldn’t sleep knowing that someone else might be important to.  If he wasn’t more important than all others, he felt flawed.

The only solution, as told to Haman by his wife and supporters, was to have Mordechai hanged.  That would eliminate the insult to his ego.  So, Haman immediately constructed a high pole to hang Mordechai.  Then, he ran in the middle of the night to the King’s chamber to urge the King to order the hanging.  Little did Haman know that the King’s mood was then in favor of Mordechai, due to his being reminded just then of Mordechai’s bravery in reporting an assassination attempt at an earlier time.  Just before Haman was ushered in, the King was told that Mordechai had not received any reward for his noble act.

When Haman approached the King, he was asked his opinion about how a hero of the state should be rewarded.  Being a Narcissist, Haman thought to himself that he must be the hero that the King wants to reward – he described how the hero should be paraded through the streets in a royal manner.  In a swift response that definitely shocked Haman, the King ordered Haman to arrange the parade for Mordechai and to personally lead the horse.

The stinging side effect of Haman’s arrogance was the opposite of his intention.  He wanted to kill Mordechai so that he could be the “fairest of them all”, and he ended up leading the horse while Mordechai was glorified publicly.  This degree of degradation was the worst punishment for a Narcissist like Haman, and likely caused him to act rashly when, later that day, he fell on the Queen’s bed while begging for his life.  That act led the King to order Haman’s death – ironically to be hanged on the very pole that Haman had intended for Mordechai.

So, Haman was killed, Mordechai rose in power, and the Jews of the Persian Empire were saved.  Quite a story.  An amazing sequence of events in precise timing.  But perhaps even more amazing than the timing of the events is the way the personality traits that the villain had were built into the story, and ultimately played into the incredible turn of events.  It seems that the villain was doomed to fall due to his own psychological makeup.

That is how the story of Purim reads.  Natural explanations may be found or ‘chance’ occurrences may be cited to explain the events.  But, if you think about it, attributing the cascade of unlikely events to “luck” is not the most satisfying explanation.  In the Purim chronicles, divine guidance was not obvious, but it can be glimpsed by considering the very unlikely timing and, even more amazingly, the nature of the cast of characters.

The writer is a neurologist working in Modiin, Israel and is the author of Embracing the Unknown: A Fresh Look at Nature and Science. For more information about brain health and common brain conditions, visit the website of Modiin Neurology Clinic.

About the Author
Ely Simon is a neurologist with a passion for educating others about the complexities of the brain. He specializes in developing pioneering approaches to diagnosing and managing brain diseases. In 1984, Simon graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering. He received both a master’s degree in biomedical engineering and a medical degree from Case Western Reserve University. He began his training in neurology and neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and completed it at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Simon has served on the faculty of the Department of Neurology at the Tel Aviv Medical Center in Israel and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He currently lives in Israel with his family.
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