Thursday, July 20, 2017

Four Diadems


Behold, three more kings are going to arise in Persia.  Then a fourth will gain far more riches than all of them; as soon as he becomes strong through his riches, he will arouse the whole empire against the realm of Greece. 

Daniel the Prophet 605-535 BC

Cyrus the Great was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II, in 530 BC.  In his short eight year reign, he added the kingdom of Egypt to the vast empire assembled by his father.

In 525 BC, Cambyses defeated Pharaoh Psammetichus III first on the Nile Delta and then at the key city of Memphis.  He continued south destroying the Egyptian temples along the way knowing full well that men were demoralized by the desecration of their gods.

After his successful campaign in Egypt, Cambyses hastened homeward to crush an attempt to usurp his throne.  In 522 BC, before reaching Persia, a sword wound inflicted to his leg became infested with gangrene and he died an untimely death.

Sibling rivalries were common among the Persian princes sometimes resulting in fratricide.  Before Cambyses invaded Egypt, he secretly murdered his brother, Bardiya. 

Now Bardiya had a double whose name was Gaumata.  He was a member of the Magi, a tribe of Medes who served as priests and diviners under the Persian kings.  Posing as Bardiya, he took control of the Persian throne.  Those who recognized his masquerade were expeditiously eliminated. 

While Gaumata replicated Bardiya's appearance, there was one difference.  The Mede was missing both of his ears.  Like other ancient cultures, the Persians practised mutilation.  It was not uncommon to lop off ears, noses, and even tongues as punishment for impropriety.

That difference was recognized by Darius the Great, Cambyses' third cousin and an elite fighting officer who served with Cambyses in Egypt.  Thus Darius and six other members of the nobility murdered Gaumata and his followers.  Over the next few weeks, Darius seized control of the Persian throne.

In an effort to solidify his claim to the throne, he took over the royal harem.  Atossa, daughter of Cyrus, was not only Cambyses’ sister but also his wife.  She was a key member of the harem whose second marriage to Gaumata preceded her role as Darius' chief wife and queen of Persia.  Atossa bore Darius four sons, the most distinguished being Xerxes who succeeded his father to the Persian throne.

Xerxes used his great wealth to gain military power and pursue the one jewel that evaded his predecessors, the kingdom of Greece.

In 480 BC, Xerxes declared war against Greece.  He defeated 300 valiant Spartans at Thermopylae and captured the city of Athens.  However his fortunes began to wane.  In a gulf near Athens, the Greeks destroyed a third of his fleet.  Xerxes turned over command of the Persian army to his general, Mardonius, and sought refuge in Asia Minor. 

The Persian fate was sealed.  Their army was decisively defeated and the remainder of their navy destroyed.  Xerxes had failed miserably in his quest to conquer the kingdom of Greece.

And a mighty king will arise, and he will rule with great authority and do as he pleases.  But as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom will be broken up and parceled out toward the four points of the compass, though not to his own descendants, nor according to his authority which he wielded; for his sovereignty will be uprooted and given to others besides them. 

Daniel the Prophet 605-535 BC

Ahasuerus


Darius the Great was succeeded by his son who was the seventh member of the dynasty to become king of Persia.  Not only would he become richer than his father but wealthier than all his predecessors combined.  His name was Xerxes, the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther.

In 482 BC, his third regnal year, he threw a banquet for the Who’s Who of Persia and Media. He displayed the wealth and splendour of his majesty for 180 days after which he held a seven day banquet in the palace courtyard open to everyone in the capital of Susa, from the richest to the poorest.

The courtyard was filled with luxuriant gardens and stunning, mosaic walkways created of marble, mother of pearl, and purple, crystal-laden, Egyptian stone.  Guests were seated around marble columns on couches of gold and silver and treated to the finest wine which was lavishly served in cups of pure gold.

Simultaneously, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women inside the king’s palace.

On the seventh day, when Xerxes and his guests were merry with wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs, who served as his attendants, to bring Vashti before him with her royal crown so he could display her physical beauty, for she was truly a genetic wonder.  Now it was against Persian custom for a woman, let alone a queen, to appear in public.  Thus Vashti refused the king’s command.

As a result, Xerxes flew into a rage and summoned his seven wise counsellors, princes of Persia and Media.  He asked them what was to be done, under the law, with a queen who refused to obey the command of her king. 

They replied that a man is the master of his own household and that tales of Vashti’s conduct would surely permeate the entire kingdom resulting in all women, rich or poor, showing disrespect towards their husbands.  As a deterrent, they advised the king to issue an edict to be written into Persian law, thus rendering it irrepealable.  It would read that because Vashti refused to come at the king’s command, she would no longer be summoned into his presence.  Furthermore, she would be demoted in the royal harem and her position filled by another, more worthy than she.  And so it was decreed.  Letters were sent to all 127 Persian provinces outlining the king’s edict that a man is lord over his own house. 

So the quest began for the most voluptuous woman in the kingdom, a maiden whose divine pulchritude could quell the broken heart of a king.  Men were appointed to scour all 127 provinces for the most ravishing virgins in Persia.  Their bountiful bevy was then transported to Susa and placed under the tutelage of Hegai, the king’s eunuch.

Now among the bevy of beauties, chosen for the harem of virgins, was a lovely Jewess from Susa by the name of Esther.  She was the ward of her cousin, Mordecai, who became her legal guardian at the time of her parent's death.  On his advice, she kept her ethnic origin a secret.

Esther didn’t play the harlot.  It was the Persian custom for a maiden to enter the king’s chambers from the harem of virgins.  Then, after spending a nuptial night consummating their marriage, she emerged as the king’s wife.  That very next morning, she was sent to the second harem, the harem of concubines, to live with his lower ranking wives.  However, she might never set foot in His Majesty’s chambers again, unless expressly summoned by him. 

Like all maidens, it was necessary for Esther to undergo the Persian beautification ritual before entering the king’s palace.  Her body was pampered for six months with oil of myrrh followed by another six months with the finest exotic spices and cosmetics that money could buy.  As a result, Esther’s body became impregnated with the most celestial fragrances known to man. 

In the tenth Jewish month, in the seventh year of the king, an enchanting Esther entered the palace of Xerxes, emperor of Persia, who wore the diadem of 127 nations.  She pleased the king more than all the other virgins.  Xerxes rewarded Esther by making her his new chief wife and queen of Persia.

Haman the Terrible


During that time, Xerxes elevated a man called Haman above all the princes of Persia.  Every citizen, rich or poor, bowed down in respect to the man who was second only to the king, himself.  However, Mordecai refused to bow before the pompous Haman.  Because Mordecai was responsible for foiling an assassination attempt on His Majesty’s life, he was held in high esteem by the king.  Thus Haman would seek revenge through a back door.  He would target Mordecai’s race rather than the man directly.

So Haman approached Xerxes and informed him about a despicable people who refused to observe the laws of Persia.  He urged the king to destroy these enemies of the empire.  Xerxes gave his most trusted prince his signet ring and bade Haman to do as he pleased with the delinquent race. 

On the 13th day of the first month of Xerxes’ twelfth regnal year, Haman composed an edict, sealed with the king’s ring, which called for the ethnic cleansing of all Jews in the kingdom of Persia.  The holocaust was scheduled to take place eleven months later, on the 13th day of the twelfth month which the Jews call Adar.  Copies of the genocide decree were dispatched by courier to all 127 provinces in the Persian Empire commanding them to destroy, kill, and annihilate the Jews and to plunder their possessions and treasures.

When Mordecai learned of the edict, he was deeply grieved and mourned publicly in the city of Susa dressed in sackcloth and ashes, the customary garb of Jews bereft of hope.  Upon hearing of Mordecai’s grief, Esther sent her servant to determine the cause of his anguish.  Through her servant, Mordecai begged Esther to intervene before the king on behalf of the Jewish race.

However, it was unlawful to approach Xerxes uninvited and Esther had not been summoned for some thirty days.  Royal bodyguards, armed with axes, were stationed around the king’s throne to lop off the heads of any intruders.  The only salvation for uninvited guests was if Xerxes held out his golden sceptre to them and there were no guarantees even for members of the royal harem.  Besides, a decree issued and sealed by the king was irrevocable under Persian law, even by the king, himself.  Esther relayed that message to Mordecai through her servant, Hathach.

Now Providence intervened to preserve the Jewish race.  Esther relented and approached Xerxes on behalf of all Jews throughout the empire.  The golden sceptre was extended to her and she revealed her ethnic origin as well as Haman’s treachery.  Ironically, Haman was hanged from the same gallows he prepared for Mordecai.  A counter-decree was issued by Mordecai, in the name of the king, allowing Jews everywhere to assemble and defend themselves, to destroy, kill, and annihilate their foes, and to plunder the possessions and treasures of their enemies. 

In the end, all Jews residing in the Persian Empire were successful in their defence against the enemies of their race.