Haman's Disgrace

Introduction

This description of Haman's final downfall and execution is taken from the book Esther and Haman, an expanded version of the biblical book of Esther, incorporating midrashic elements found in the Midrash Rabba, the Babylonian Talmud and the two extant Targumim or Aramaic versions of the book.

The biblical book of Esther describes how King Ahasuerus chooses a beautiful Jewish young woman, Esther, as his queen. Her kinsman Mordecai, who had discovered a plot against the king and saved his life, incurs the enmity of an upstart courtier named Haman, who seeks to encompass not only Mordecai's death, but that of all the Jews. Esther bravely intercedes for her people, Haman is unmasked and hanged on the gallows he had ready for Mordecai. In celebration of this event the feast of Purim (Lots) is established.

The version offered here adds a number of items not found in the biblical story. Haman's untoward presence on the queen's couch, which bring about the death sentence, is caused by an angel who throws him on it; Haman is declared to be an accomplice in the plot which Mordecai discovered, and this is the reason for his enmity; the speeches are greatly expanded, particularly Haman's pathetic plea for mercy. Harbona, a minor official in the biblical story, is really the prophet Elijah in disguise, Elijah being a favorite figure in oriental Jewish folklore, where he may be known by his Arabic surname al-Hidra, "the Green Man."

The story is not a morally lofty one. This was the one occasion in the year when the Jews could fantasize themselves as oppressors rather than oppressed, as victors rather than victims. This version squeezes every vicarious drop of pleasure possible from the oppressor's downfall.

The large type volume from which this selection is taken was probably intended as a gift for children. It was printed in Bagdad in 1929, and probably represents the final stage of an oral tradition eventually written down.

The Story

Haman stood before Esther weeping and begging her to forgive his sin and intercede for him with the king. Esther, 7.7 He declared to her: "From this day on, I undertake to love all the Jews, and I will do only good to them with all my might." When the king returned to the house, an angel came from heaven, and threw Haman on Esther's couch on which she was sitting. When the king returned to Esther, and saw Haman stretched on Esther's couch, and Esther shouting: "Haman, damn you, you pain, leave off, get off my couch. Don't disturb my couch," the king said to Haman: "What kind of business is this, you brainless bastard? You have caused me trouble inside and out. You even came to rape the queen in front of me in my house."

Thereupon Elijah came in the shape of Harbonah, who was one of the king's eunuchs, and said to him: "Sire, this Haman has long been your enemy, and this is the proof: he has placed a gallows in his house on which he wants to hang Mordecai since he spoke good concerning the king and killed Bigthan and Teresh Esther 2.21 who plotted with Haman to kill you. From that day he became Mordechai's enemy, and attempted to kill him. If you do not believe me, send someone to see the gallows in his house. Immediately the king sent and gave orders to hang Haman and his sons upon the gallows.

The king said to Haman: "Get up, take Haman your enemy and the enemy of all the Jews, and garrote him and hang him on the gallows which he himself set up, and I hope you will torture him as severely as you can."

Mordecai then took the wicked Haman from the king's presence, and said to him: "Get up Haman, you contentious bastard! I am going to do to you as you planned to do to me. You want to hang me, but I shall hang you on the gallows you prepared, as criminals are hanged. "

Haman replied: "Mordecai, I hope you won't hang me as they hang thieves and profligates, for I belong to a family of heroes and prime ministers. Yet they could not match up to me, and I accounted them as nothing. A word from me, and kings were rocked. I beg you, Mordecai, have pity on me, and do not kill me, and make me notorious with the chroniclers, just as your ancestors killed my ancestors. Righteous Mordecai, act with me according to your good will, and do not take account of the sins of my predecessors and the enmity of Agag and Amalek. Do not hold enmity in your heart. In accordance with what is written in your law, do not take vengeance on me, or hold enmity in your heart. I have no eyes to look at you, because I am ashamed in your presence; my eyes are dim so that I cannot look you in the face; I have no face with which to reply to you, or knees to bow to you, because I listened to what my wife and friends told me, for they incited me to rise above you and become your enemy. I implore you, righteous Mordecai, pity me and do not blot out my name and memorial from the world. On account of my advanced age and gray hair, do not hang me on the gallows. Kill me as you wish, cut off my head with the king's sword with which the prime ministers who deserve it are killed. "

Haman walked along with Mordecai, weeping and beseeching him. Mordecai was walking and paying no attention, and not listening until he came to Haman's house, right to the gallows. When Haman saw that there was no hope, and that Mordecai was paying no attention to him, he went to the gallows, and shouted in a loud voice and called to his wife and sons. Their faces grew dark; they hid themselves away and were desperately sad for him. Mordecai raised his voice in great joy and said: "My God, and God of my righteous fathers, blessed are you that you let me have vengeance on my enemy, and delivered him into my hands, and put him at my disposal, and raised me above all my enemies. "

Thereuupon Mordecai came forward, and tied Haman with a cord, and lifted him onto the gallows and said: "Thus may all enemies be hanged and perish. Blessed are you, God of heaven and earth, who took vengeance on our enemies."

Notes

  1. In the original story Haman's falling on the couch is a gesture of supplication which the king, with a typical lack of comprehension, interprets as attempted rape, the last thing that Haman might have been expected to be thinking about under the circumstances. The Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 16a, holds that an angel was involved, deriving this from the participle "falling" used in the Hebrew of Esther 7.8 ("and Haman was falling on the couch") where a past tense would be expected. If he had simply fallen by accident or in supplication, he could have gotten up. As it was, he was held in the "falling" position. Accordingly, R. Eleazar declares that "an angel came and threw him on the bed." It is also possible that the participle is understood as a conative form, meaning "someone tried to make him fall." Cf. the Targum translation of a similar form in Deuteronomy 26.5. According to the Talmud, the king's comment was: "Woe within, woe without!" which is included here.«--
  2. Cf. Midrash Esther Rabba X.9. Louis Ginzberg Legends of the Jews, vol. 7 p. 325 suggests that the identification of Harbonah with Elijah was prompted by the phrase "May he be remembered for good" traditionally applied to Elijah, and applied also to Harbonah. This hardly seems necessary; Elijah typically appears at times of crisis and is usually disguised. Cf. A. D. Corré, "The Man with the Mat" Sephardic Scholar Series 2 (1972-3) p. 11. «--
  3. Haman was an Agagite Esther 3.1. Agag was a descendent of Amalek I Samuel 15.8. Amalek was a bitter enemy of Israel, the reputed ancestor of Haman Deuteronomy 25.17-19.«--
  4. This speech is based upon Targum Sheni to Esther 7.10.«--

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Alan D. Corré
corre@uwm.edu