Our painting represents the final banquet organised by Queen Esther when she exposed prime minister Haman’s plan to kill all the Jews in the Persian empire. Haman begs Esther for her help, but at right appears a buffoon holding a rope (he will be hanged) and a skeleton with an hourglass (indicating his time, his life is over). Behind Haman stands King Ahasuerus.
The Book of Esther, which is part of both the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) and the Christian Old Testament is a complicated story set in the 5th century BC in the Persian capital of the Achaemenid empire, Susa.
Having exiled Queen Vashti King Ahasuerus (identified as Xerxes I) married a beautiful girl, Esther, whom he did not know to be Jewish. Following the Babylonian Captivity Jews were still living in the Persian empire.
At the demand of his prime minster, Haman, the king decided to wipe out all Jews within Persia, because “they are useless people inclined to disloyalty”. Haman was of Amalekite origin, a people who in the past had been partly wiped out by the Jews.
Another Jew, Mordechai, who was a minster of the king, discovered this plan and told it to his niece, Queen Esther. During a banquet she confronted her husband, the king, and the prime minister, Haman, with this information, telling them she is Jewish.
Infuriated King Ahasuerus leaves the table, the Queen goes to her apartments, followed by Haman, who begs her for help. The unfortunate prime minster stumbles and falls onto the queen who sits in bed. At that moment the king comes in, thinks that Haman tries to rape his wife and takes a new decision: Haman is to be hanged and the Jews are now allowed to kill the Amalekite (Haman’s people) within the Persian empire.
About the subject of our painting
Esther was a Hebrew girl born in Persia. After her marriage with King Ahasuerus she became Queen of Persia, living in the capital, Susa. Ahasuerus is usually identified with the Achaemenid king Xerxes I, who ruled between 486 BC and 465 BC. Xerxes I is known in Western history for having beaten King Leonidas I of Sparta at the Battle of Thermopylae, he then burned down Athens and was finally beaten at the Battle of Salamis.
The story of the Book of Esther is rather strange. It is the only Book in the Bible, in the Old Testament, that originally did not mention God: additions in the Greek and Latin translations are accepted by Catholics, but not by Protestants.
Esther was an orphan raised by her cousin Mordechai, who became a minister of King Ahasuerus. Mordechai had saved the king after he discovered and exposed a plot to assassinate the king.
After Mordechai refused to bow down, actually to prostrate, for him the new prime minster, Haman, decides to kill Mordechai and all Jews in the empire. Interesting detail: Haman was of Amalekite origin, a people who in the past had been partly wiped out by the Hebrew Kings Saul and David.
King Ahasuerus gave his permission for this elimination of all Persian Jews. But when Mordechai finds out about this new plot he tells it to his niece, Esther.
The Book of Esther is build around banquets. During the final banquet Esther invites the King and his prime minster. King Ahasuerus wants to offer something, anything, to his wife. She reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to kill all Jews. Enraged the king leaves the table, Haman begs Esther to help him and in despair even falls upon her in her bed.
Just then the King returns, he thinks Haman is raping his wife and orders that Haman will be hanged, actually from the gallow where Haman had planed to hang Mordechai.
Then the King reverses his first order: the Jews are allowed to attack Haman’s men and people. The Jews throughout the Persian empire mobilized and killed the Amalekite, the hereditary enemies who wanted to kill them, among them the ten sons of Haman. To commemorate these events Jews celebrate on the 14th or on the 15th of Adar Purim, their most joyous holiday.
When the high-ranking and virulently anti-Semitic German Nazi, Julius Streicher, was about to be executed by hanging in Nuremberg, October 16th 1946, he not only screamed out “Heil Hitler”, but also “Purimfest 1946” (Purim celebration 1946).