On the very day that Haman had chosen by lot for the Jews to be annihilated (3:7), the Jews instead gain victory over their enemies. Emboldened by a second decree from the king and from Mordecai, the king’s new vizier, the Jews assemble in all the provinces of the Persian Empire to kill their enemies. The ten sons of Haman are killed (and then hanged for good measure – 9:7-10, 14), as well as 75,000 other people.
The violent ending to the book of Queen in Persia who prevented an anti-Jewish pogrom More, with the killing of more than 75,000 people by the Jews, is a moral and theological problem for interpreters, and has been through the centuries. Martin Luther, for instance, characterized the story as “bloodthirsty” and “vengeful” while making the mendacious claim that the Jews of his time were also bloodthirsty, vengeful, and murderous (“On the Jews and Their Lies”).
Modern interpreters, without making that reprehensible leap in logic, are also often disturbed by the violence in the text. There are a few things that can be said in response:
- The large number of people killed – 75,000 – is likely just another example of the hyperbole found in the book, like the 180-day feast in chapter 1 or the 75-foot gallows constructed by Haman.
- Esther is not written as a historical tale but as something more akin to historical fiction (hence the hyperbole, satire, and coincidences of the book). The killing at the end of the book is likely fiction as well, a kind of revenge fantasy devised by an oppressed and marginalized people. Hence, the killing and then hanging of Haman’s ten sons. The revenge, like the original threat (3:13), is overblown for the sake of good storytelling.
- It is worth noting that the king’s original edict against the Jews, as well as the one that he issues authorizing the Jews to defend themselves, both allow for the taking of plunder (3:13; 8:11). But the narrator is careful to repeat several times that the Jews did not in fact take any plunder from their enemies (9:10, 15, 16). While this may seem like a small point, it is significant that the Jewish violence is enacted for self-defense (8:11), not for monetary gain.
While such responses do not entirely mitigate the moral and ethical problems of the violence at the end of the book of Esther, they may help make the story of that violence more understandable.