Novel Interpretation of the Purim Story

Joe* emails: Here is a good question for anyone with a deep understanding of Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther).

At the second feast prepared by Esther for the King and Haman, Esther reveals that she is a Jew and that Haman has plotted to kill her people. The King is enraged and leaves the feast to the garden. Haman pleads for mercy from Esther and while pleading with Esther, Haman falls on the bed so that when the King returns from his spell, he sees Haman, who has plotted to kill his wife’s people, actually trying to sleep with his wife. He utters a famous statement “Will you also conquer the queen with me in the house”?

Immediately Haman’s face was covered, signifying that he would be executed, but it was not clear how.

All of a sudden, into a very private party enters Charvona, “one of the king’s chamberlains” and said to the king:

“There is a gallows that Haman made for Mordecai( who spoke well for the king) standing at Haman’s house at a height of some 75 feet.”

Immediately upon getting wind of this juicy information, the King ordered Haman executed on those gallows. In a snuff, and just like that, Haman was dead and the plot to kill the Jews was decapitated. It was tantamount to killing Hitler and Himmler and their ilk with a grenade. Had Haman been allowed to linger, he might have argued his way out of sudden death and the plot against the Jews may not have been foiled.

So, the question is, how does Charvona know that Haman made the gallows explicitly for Mordecai at a height of 75 feet (did he have a measuring tape?). The gallows were constructed earlier that morning. The only people who actually know the purpose of the gallows belong to a select group, namely, Haman, his wife, and his sons/advisers (these were the people who were at the meeting at Haman’s house when the hanging of Mordecai was conceived).

So assuming Charvona was not one in that group, how did he find out the purpose of the gallows? Haman did not tell anyone, the minute he tried to tell the King he wanted to hang Mordecai, he was forced to lead Mordecai on the King’s horse, so obviously Haman knew that Mordecai was not going to be hanged that same day.

Haman’s wife would not have betrayed him and she realized as well that the plot to hang Mordecai was probably suspended.

His advisers might have told someone of the plan to kill Mordecai, but there is no evidence of that – plus there was not a lot of time to spread the word and surely, had the advisers thought the gallows was known about outside of the group, they would have taken it down because they knew the plot was suspended.

So, absent some Midrashic supernatural explanation that Charvona was in fact Elijah the Prophet, how would Charvona know. Remember the timeline.

At night following the first feast, Haman is riding high. He comes home and says that the only thing awry is Mordecai. SO his advisers tell him to make the gallows and go in the morning to the King.

So, the gallows are constructed and then Haman goes to the King and the turnabout occurs with Mordecai being led on the horse with Haman crying out in front of him that Mordecai is the King’s favorite.

He then comes back home, and his advisers tell him that if he has begun to fall before Mordecai, it will only get worse. Before plans could be made to deal with the turn of events, Haman is hurried to the feast, probably about late afternoon.

There is simply no way that any of Haman’s advisers would inform anyone of what seems to be a terrible idea to hang Mordecai.

So, again, how does Charvona seem to be such a font of information?

I have a pretty good theory, and the actual clues are part of a much larger plot encoded in certain words and phrases in the scroll. Maybe I will share that over the weekend.

* Going back to the mystery of Charvona’s incredible information gathering ability, one thing to notice is the incredible security detail the King has.

If you want to see the King, you must be invited. Just showing up to see the King, without the proper invitation, results in death.

This applies to everyone, with the only after the fact exception, perhaps, being for Esther (who got lucky and was granted an exception) and Haman, who shows up unannounced to ask to have Mordecai hanged. These are the only exceptions, and, just to show how important this security detail is, even Haman is only brought to the King’s feasts by having the “chamberlains” bring him to the King. Haman is the prime minister, but even he is only allowed to get near the King under escort of chamberlains of the King.

It is clear that the King trusts this security detail, and that these chamberlains have earned the trust of the king.

However, there was an attempted act of betrayal. Early on, two of the chamberlains responsible for monetary matters, Bigtan and Teresh, hatched a plot to kill the King. Mordecai uncovers the plot, and in what makes absolutely no sense, he tells Esther who then relays it to the King in the name of Mordecai.

Why didn’t Mordecai take this information to the King? I mean, if you learned of a plot to have the President killed, would you tell his wife? Maybe you tell some other person if you want to remain anonymous, but Esther told the King that the source was Mordecai.

Now we begin to peel the onion. Mordecai learned of a plot to kill the King from those in his innermost security detail, the chamberlains. The King was no friend of the Jews. The sources and methods of Mordecai’s information was worth its weight in gold. Clearly, Mordecai did not want the King killed – he had already installed his cousin as the queen. However, the data he obtained on the King’s security and the ability to mount an assassination plot could not be disclosed. The way to pass on the information, but only to the extent necessary to save the King, was to use Esther as a conduit. The King learned just enough to investigate the matter, which was done immediately according to the Megillah (but Mordecai is not questioned), and have the plotters killed. Mordecai was ingenious – he saved the King’s life, got credit for doing so, and apparently was never questioned as to what he knew about the methods that could be used to kill the King.

So, while the King had impressive security, Mordecai knew the lapses in the security system. And it all rested on the “chamberlains” – the Hebrew word is “sarisim” often translated as “eunuchs” these were essentially tools of the King that formed his security entourage. In fact, the term eunuch (literally one who was castrated) is apt, these are men devoted just to the King’s security, without interference by passion (such as sexual passion) and who would not betray the King.

We now know that Mordecai knows of a way to kill the King, and in a way that a chamberlain would do so without being caught (because Bigtan and Teresh obviously thought they would get away with it, suicide killings were not in vogue in pre-medieval Persia). Only if someone else ratted on the chamberlain could the chamberlain be caught, but the king’s massive security system had a hole, and Mordecai knew it.

Now, to give you a big hint, as to Charvona’s role. When did Mordecai actually threaten to have Queen Esther killed (not the King, but the Queen), and was he bluffing?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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