Jewish Historical outlook
by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf
When we think of the ancient world, we think of civilizations like Egypt, Persia, Babylon, Greece and Rome. We think of rivers like the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates; and of rulers like Ramses, Hammurabi, Xerxes and Alexander.
The truth be known, for many of us this jumble of names is a historical stew of people and places which has little, if any, relevance. At the same time, for Jews of another epoch -- Jews who were Jews just like we are -- these names and places were as real to them as Warsaw, Berlin and Stalin were to our great-grandparents, and as alive as Chicago, Miami and Saddam Hussein are to us.
The story of Purim is set in an era which saw the Jewish people sovereign in the Land of Israel. That same period was witness to the end of their sovereignty and the destruction of the First Temple at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.
The following chronology, followed by a brief historical overview, will provide a working knowledge of the major events which precede and surround the story of Purim. Far from exhaustive, this section is meant only to provide general historical context in the place of general historical fuzziness.
Saddam Hussein declares himself to be the "new Nebuchadnezzar," attacks Israel, and is defeated in the Persian Gulf War which ends on Purim
Abraham and Sarah
Egyptian slavery begins
Exodus and Torah at Mount Sinai
Jewish people enter Israel
First Temple built
Temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar; Babylonian exile begins
Media and Persia join forces to conquer Babylonia
Cyrus becomes king of Persian empire
Achashverosh ascends throne of Persian empire
Haman becomes Persian prime minister; Esther becomes queen
Miracle and victory of Purim; Mordechai is new Persian prime minister
Second Temple built
Miracle of Chanukah
Second Temple destroyed; Roman exile begins
Babylonian Talmud compiled
Expulsion of French Jewry
Spread of Chassidism
First Zionist Congress
Rebirth of Israel
SOME EXTRA DETAILS
The Jewish people, led by Joshua, entered the Land of Israel in the year 1272 BCE. After settling and developing the land and establishing both a monarchy and a sophisticated legal and judicial system, the building of the First Temple was begun in 832 BCE by King David, and completed three years later by his son King Solomon.
The First Temple stood for 410 years. During that time, a vibrant Jewish community flourished in the Israel -- with Jerusalem and the Temple as its spiritual, cultural and political center.
In the Near Eastern world which surrounded Israel, empires in Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia vied for power and prestige. After the allied forces of Egypt and Asyria failed in their attempt to conquer Babylonia, the Babylonians, with Nebuchadnezzar as their king, became the preeminent regional power. They controlled the trade routes from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, amassed enormous wealth, and became the overlords of numerous cities and peoples. It was this Babylonian superpower headed by Nebuchadnezzar which employed its army to conquer Jerusalem and destroy the Temple on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av (commemorated as Tisha B'av).
The destruction of Jerusalem began the period of Jewish history known as the Babylonian Exile. The Jews who survived the Babylonian onslaught were taken in humiliation to Babylon. There, with time, they were able to build a vibrant Jewish community and were, to a great degree, afforded the ability to conduct their religious and communal lives with a good deal of social independence.
Some 50 years after the beginning of the Babylonian Exile, King Darius of Media and King Cyrus of Persia embarked on a campaign which sought to subdue much of the Near and Middle East, including Babylonia. Shortly after Babylonia fell, Cyrus became the king of the entire Persian-Mede empire, and as such inherited the Jews of Babylonia as his subjects.
Having been slaves in ancient Egypt, sovereign in Israel during the First Temple period, defeated and exiled by the Babylonians, the Jews were now subject to the rule of one of the greatest empires ever to appear on the stage of history -- that of the Persians. It would be that empire and those kings, Cyrus and his successor Achashverosh, who would provide the stage, setting and landscape upon which the story of Purim took place.
For the rest of the story, read the Megillah!
Adapted from "One Hour Purim Primer," by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf. www.leviahanpress.com