Antiquities of the Jews, by Flavius Josephus
Translation and Dissertations by William Whiston
BOOK XI. Containing The Interval Of Two Hundred And Fifty-Three Years And Five Months.—From The First Of Cyrus To The Death Of Alexander The Great.
CHAPTER 6. Concerning Esther And Mordecai And Haman; And How In The Reign Of Artaxerxes The Whole Nation Of The Jews Was In Danger Of Perishing.
5. Now there was one Haman, the son of Amedatha, by birth an Amalekite, that used to go in to the king; and the foreigners and Persians worshipped him, as Artaxerxes had commanded that such honor should be paid to him; but Mordecai was so wise, and so observant of his own country’s laws, that he would not worship the man 18 When Haman observed this, he inquired whence he came; and when he understood that he was a Jew, he had indignation at him, and said within himself, that whereas the Persians, who were free men, worshipped him, this man, who was no better than a slave, does not vouchsafe to do so. And when he desired to punish Mordecai, he thought it too small a thing to request of the king that he alone might be punished; he rather determined to abolish the whole nation, for he was naturally an enemy to the Jews, because the nation of the Amalekites, of which he was; had been destroyed by them. Accordingly he came to the king, and accused them, saying, “There is a certain wicked nation, and it is dispersed over all the habitable earth that was under his dominion; a nation separate from others, unsociable, neither admitting the same sort of Divine worship that others do, nor using laws like to the laws of others, at enmity with thy people, and with all men, both in their manners and practices. Now, if thou wilt be a benefactor to thy subjects, thou wilt give order to destroy them utterly, and not leave the least remains of them, nor preserve any of them, either for slaves or for captives.” But that the king might not be damnified by the loss of the tributes which the Jews paid him, Haman promised to give him out of his own estate forty thousand talents whensoever he pleased; and he said he would pay this money very willingly, that the kingdom might be freed from such a misfortune.
6. When Haman had made this petition, the king both forgave him the money, and granted him the men, to do what he would with them. So Haman, having gained what he desired, sent out immediately a decree, as from the king, to all nations, the contents whereof were these: “Artaxerxes, the great king, to the rulers of the hundred twenty and seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia, sends this writing. Whereas I have governed many nations, and obtained the dominions of all the habitable earth, according to my desire, and have not been obliged to do any thing that is insolent or cruel to my subjects by such my power, but have showed myself mild and gentle, by taking care of their peace and good order, and have sought how they might enjoy those blessings for all time to come. And whereas I have been kindly informed by Haman, who, on account of his prudence and justice, is the first in my esteem, and in dignity, and only second to myself, for his fidelity and constant good-will to me, that there is an ill-natured nation intermixed with all mankind, that is averse to our laws, and not subject to kings, and of a different conduct of life from others, that hateth monarchy, and of a disposition that is pernicious to our affairs, I give order that all these men, of whom Haman our second father hath informed us, be destroyed, with their wives and children, and that none of them be spared, and that none prefer pity to them before obedience to this decree. And this I will to be executed on the fourteenth day of the twelfth month of this present year, that so when all that have enmity to us are destroyed, and this in one day, we may be allowed to lead the rest of our lives in peace hereafter.” Now when this decree was brought to the cities, and to the country, all were ready for the destruction and entire abolishment of the Jews, against the day before mentioned; and they were very hasty about it at Shushan, in particular. Accordingly, the king and Haman spent their time in feasting together with good cheer and wine, but the city was in disorder.
7. Now when Mordecai was informed of what was done, he rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth, and sprinkled ashes upon his head, and went about the city, crying out, that “a nation that had been injurious to no man was to be destroyed.” And he went on saying thus as far as to the king’s palace, and there he stood, for it was not lawful for him to go into it in that habit. The same thing was done by all the Jews that were in the several cities wherein this decree was published, with lamentation and mourning, on account of the calamities denounced against them. But as soon as certain persons had told the queen that Mordecai stood before the court in a mourning habit, she was disturbed at this report, and sent out such as should change his garments; but when he could not be induced to put off his sackcloth, because the sad occasion that forced him to put it on was not yet ceased, she called the eunuch Acratheus, for he was then present, and sent him to Mordecai, in order to know of him what sad accident had befallen him, for which he was in mourning, and would not put off the habit he had put on at her desire. Then did Mordecai inform the eunuch of the occasion of his mourning, and of the decree which was sent by the king into all the country, and of the promise of money whereby Haman brought the destruction of their nation. He also gave him a copy of what was proclaimed at Shushan, to be carried to Esther; and he charged her to petition the king about this matter, and not to think it a dishonorable thing in her to put on a humble habit, for the safety of her nation, wherein she might deprecate the ruin of the Jews, who were in danger of it; for that Haman, whose dignity was only inferior to that of the king, had accused the Jews, and had irritated the king against them. When she was informed of this, she sent to Mordecai again, and told him that she was not called by the king, and that he who goes in to him without being called, is to be slain, unless when he is willing to save any one, he holds out his golden scepter to him; but that to whomsoever he does so, although he go in without being called, that person is so far from being slain, that he obtains pardon, and is entirely preserved. Now when the eunuch carried this message from Esther to Mordecai, he bade him also tell her that she must not only provide for her own preservation, but for the common preservation of her nation, for that if she now neglected this opportunity, there would certainly arise help to them from God some other way, but she and her father’s house would be destroyed by those whom she now despised. But Esther sent the very same eunuch back to Mordecai [to desire him] to go to Shushan, and to gather the Jews that were there together to a congregation, and to fast and abstain from all sorts of food, on her account, and [to let him know that] she with her maidens would do the same: and then she promised that she would go to the king, though it were against the law, and that if she must die for it, she would not refuse it.
8. Accordingly, Mordecai did as Esther had enjoined him, and made the people fast; and he besought God, together with them, not to overlook his nation, particularly at this time, when it was going to be destroyed; but that, as he had often before provided for them, and forgiven, when they had sinned, so he would now deliver them from that destruction which was denounced against them; for although it was not all the nation that had offended, yet must they so ingloriously be slain, and that he was himself the occasion of the wrath of Haman, “Because,” said he, “I did not worship him, nor could I endure to pay that honor to him which I used to pay to thee, O Lord; for upon that his anger hath he contrived this present mischief against those that have not transgressed thy laws.” The same supplications did the multitude put up, and entreated that God would provide for their deliverance, and free the Israelites that were in all the earth from this calamity which was now coming upon them, for they had it before their eyes, and expected its coming. Accordingly, Esther made supplication to God after the manner of her country, by casting herself down upon the earth, and putting on her mourning garments, and bidding farewell to meat and drink, and all delicacies, for three days’ time; and she entreated God to have mercy upon her, and make her words appear persuasive to the king, and render her countenance more beautiful than it was before, that both by her words and beauty she might succeed, for the averting of the king’s anger, in case he were at all irritated against her, and for the consolation of those of her own country, now they were in the utmost danger of perishing; as also that he would excite a hatred in the king against the enemies of the Jews, and those that had contrived their future destruction, if they proved to be contemned by him.
9. When Esther had used this supplication for three days, she put off those garments, and changed her habit, and adorned herself as became a queen, and took two of her handmaids with her, the one of which supported her, as she gently leaned upon her, and the other followed after, and lifted up her large train [which swept along the ground] with the extremities of her fingers. And thus she came to the king, having a blushing redness in her countenance, with a pleasant agreeableness in her behavior; yet did she go in to him with fear; and as soon as she was come over against him, as he was sitting on his throne, in his royal apparel, which was a garment interwoven with gold and precious stones, which made him seem to her more terrible, especially when he looked at her somewhat severely, and with a countenance on fire with anger, her joints failed her immediately, out of the dread she was in, and she fell down sideways in a swoon: but the king changed his mind, which happened, as I suppose, by the will of God, and was concerned for his wife, lest her fear should bring some very ill thing upon her, and he leaped from his throne, and took her in his arms, and recovered her, by embracing her, and speaking comfortably to her, and exhorting her to be of good cheer, and not to suspect any thing that was sad on account of her coming to him without being called, because that law was made for subjects, but that she, who was a queen, as well as he a king, might be entirely secure; and as he said this, he put the scepter into her hand, and laid his rod upon her neck, on account of the law; and so freed her from her fear. And after she had recovered herself by these encouragements, she said, “My lord, it is not easy for me, on the sudden, to say what hath happened, for as soon as I saw thee to be great, and comely, and terrible, my spirit departed from me, and I had no soul left in me.” And while it was with difficulty, and in a low voice, that she could say thus much, the king was in a great agony and disorder, and encouraged Esther to be of good cheer, and to expect better fortune, since he was ready, if occasion should require it, to grant her the half of his kingdom. Accordingly, Esther desired that he and his friend Haman would come to her to a banquet, for she said she had prepared a supper for him. He consented to it; and when they were there, as they were drinking, he bid Esther to let him know what she desired; for that she should not be disappointed though she should desire the half of his kingdom. But she put off the discovery of her petition till the next day, if he would come again, together with Haman, to her banquet.
10. Now when the king had promised so to do, Haman went away very glad, because he alone had the honor of supping with the king at Esther’s banquet, and because no one else partook of the same honor with kings but himself; yet when he saw Mordecai in the court, he was very much displeased, for he paid him no manner of respect when he saw him. So he went home and called for his wife Zeresh, and his friends, and when they were come, he showed them what honor he enjoyed not only from the king, but from the queen also, for as he alone had that day supped with her, together with the king, so was he also invited again for the next day; “yet,” said he, “am I not pleased to see Mordecai the Jew in the court.” Hereupon his wife Zeresh advised him to give order that a gallows should be made fifty cubits high, and that in the morning he should ask it of the king that Mordecai might be hanged thereon. So he commended her advice, and gave order to his servants to prepare the gallows, and to place it in the court, for the punishment of Mordecai thereon, which was accordingly prepared. But God laughed to scorn the wicked expectations of Haman; and as he knew what the event would be, he was delighted at it, for that night he took away the king’s sleep; and as the king was not willing to lose the time of his lying awake, but to spend it in something that might be of advantage to his kingdom, he commanded the scribe to bring him the chronicles of the former kings, and the records of his own actions; and when he had brought them, and was reading them, one was found to have received a country on account of his excellent management on a certain occasion, and the name of the country was set down; another was found to have had a present made him on account of his fidelity: then the scribe came to Bigthan and Teresh, the eunuchs that had made a conspiracy against the king, which Mordecai had discovered; and when the scribe said no more but that, and was going on to another history, the king stopped him, and inquired “whether it was not added that Mordecai had a reward given him?” and when he said there was no such addition, he bade him leave off; and he inquired of those that were appointed for that purpose, what hour of the night it was; and when he was informed that it was already day, he gave order, that if they found any one of his friends already come, and standing before the court, they should tell him. Now it happened that Haman was found there, for he was come sooner than ordinary to petition the king to have Mordecai put to death; and when the servants said that Haman was before the court, he bid them call him in; and when he was come in, he said, “Because I know that thou art my only fast friend, I desire thee to give me advice how I may honor one that I greatly love, and that after a manner suitable to my magnificence.” Now Haman reasoned with himself, that what opinion he should give it would be for himself, since it was he alone who was beloved by the king: so he gave that advice which he thought of all other the best; for he said, “If thou wouldst truly honor a man whom thou sayest thou dost love, give order that he may ride on horseback, with the same garment on which thou wearest, and with a gold chain about his neck, and let one of thy intimate friends go before him, and proclaim through the whole city, that whosoever the king honoreth obtaineth this mark of his honor.” This was the advice which Haman gave, out of a supposal that such a reward would come to himself. Hereupon the king was pleased with the advice, and said, “Go thou therefore, for thou hast the horse, the garment, and the chain, ask for Mordecai the Jew, and give him those things, and go before his horse and proclaim accordingly; for thou art,” said he, “my intimate friend, and hast given me good advice; be thou then the minister of what thou hast advised me to. This shall be his reward from us, for preserving my life.” When he heard this order, which was entirely unexpected, he was confounded in his mind, and knew not what to do. However, he went out and led the horse, and took the purple garment, and the golden chain for the neck, and finding Mordecai before the court, clothed in sackcloth, he bid him put that garment off, and put the purple garment on. But Mordecai, not knowing the truth of the matter, but thinking that it was done in mockery, said, “O thou wretch, the vilest of all mankind, dost thou thus laugh at our calamities?” But when he was satisfied that the king bestowed this honor upon him, for the deliverance he had procured him when he convicted the eunuchs who had conspired against him, he put on that purple garment which the king always wore, and put the chain about his neck, and got on horseback, and went round the city, while Haman went before and proclaimed, “This shall be the reward which the king will bestow on every one whom he loves, and esteems worthy of honor.” And when they had gone round the city, Mordecai went in to the king; but Haman went home, out of shame, and informed his wife and friends of what had happened, and this with tears; who said, that he would never be able to be revenged of Mordecai, for that God was with him.
Footnotes by William Whiston
Whether this adoration required of Mordecai to Haman were by him deemed too like the adoration due only to God, as Josephus seems here to think, as well as the Septuagint interpreters also, by their translation of Esther 13:12-14, or whether he thought he ought to pay no sort of adoration to an Amalekite, which nation had been such great sinners as to have been universally devoted to destruction by God himself, Exodus 17:14-16; 1 Samuel 15:18, or whether both causes concurred, cannot now, I doubt, be certainly determined.