Reading TheWanderingJew’s post the other day about Purim porn got me thinking about where Purim comes from. Most people would say, “well, of course, it comes from Shushan (Susa).” That’s only marginally correct.
Isn’t it weird that the hero of our story Esther has a name so much like the Assyrian/Babylonian goddess Ishtar?
We have Mordechai. Sumerian/Babylonian and Akkadian civilization had (has?) Marduk.
The Secular Humanists have more:
The original characters appear to have been Babylonian gods: Ishtar, the goddess of fertility; Marduk, the chief guardian of the heavens; and Haman, the underworld devil. Ishtar and Haman, life and death, vie with each other for supremacy. Ishtar triumphs; spring returns; and life is renewed. YHVH, the Hebrew God, played no part in the celebration, which was filled with theatrical renditions of the contest. Noisemaking and masquerading were necessary to trick the evil gods and to aid the good ones. Sexual orgies promoted fertility. Merriment was the order of the day.
I wonder if this fertility rite, which gave birth to Purim, has left it’s initial meaning with us in the form of tri-cornered yannic sweets full of tiny seeds. The hamentashen, of course, originally were filled with poppy seeds. The yiddish word for these seeds, mun, when combined with the name for pocket, taschen, gave rise to the modern word. I first heard this linguistic history from Marga Hirsch. I suspect though, that it isn’t so simple as being an Akkadian fertility cookie since it seems to have popped up in Eastern Europe. Is there a Sephardi or Mizrachi equivalent?
I should also point out that, as tight as the case may seem there is some substantial dispute on whether our near-eastern holiday with similar sounding characters is, in fact, related to older near-eastern rituals, holidays, etc. I haven’t weighed deeply into the linguistic analysis but my initial read is that most of the blowback is by Jews who are shocked, SHOCKED, to hear that many of our hagim are re-framings of pre-existing holidays. Perhaps they believe that someone else having something similar clouds our specialness or makes it seem less clear that ours is holy and theirs is a corruption of God’s word. I don’t worry about those things. (More accurately I worry about them insofar as people worrying about them is worrisome and damaging to world peace.) The case seems a pretty good fit, so let’s sit back, read megillat Ishtar and enjoy our deeply western-semitic story. Perhaps if you want to get very close to the original Purim, you might want to edge more in the direction of bacchanalia.