pur'-rim, pur (purim, "lots"; Septuagint Phrourai): The name of a Jewish festival celebrated on the 14th and 15th days of the month Adar, the final month of the Biblical year, corresponding to February-March.
1. Scripture References:
The origin of the festival is narrated in the Book of Esther, and indeed is the motive of the book, as the time, reason and manner of its celebration are given in detail (Es 3:7; 9:24 ff). Reference also is made to it in apocryphal literature (Additions to Es 10:3; 2 Macc 15:36) and in Josephus (Ant., XI, vi, 13). No reference is made to this feast in the New Testament, as it was celebrated locally, and is therefore not to be connected with any of the festal pilgrimages to Jerusalem. For this reason the supposition of some that the feast of Joh 5:1 was Purim is to be rejected, mention of it being immediately followed by the words, "And Jesus went up to Jerusalem."
2. History of Institution:
For the complete account of the institution of Purim reference must be made to the Book of Esther. Only a brief statement is possible here. Haman, son of Hammedatha the AGAGITE (q.v.; compare 1Sa 15:8,32), who had been made prime minister by King Ahasuerus (Xerxes), bitterly hated the Jews, some of whom, as Mordecai, were rising to prominence in the empire. After Queen Vashti had been put away from her royal position for cause (Es 1:9-12), a Jewess named Esther, kinswoman and adopted daughter of Mordecai, was chosen to become the royal consort. This only increased the hatred of Haman, who in his jealous fury soon began to seek an opportune day to work his hate upon Mordecai and the whole Jewish people, and therefore resorted to the casting of the lots for the auspicious time: "They cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, which is the month Adar" (Es 3:7). Beginning with the 1st month, all the days and months were tried with unfavorable result, until the last. At Haman's request Ahasuerus caused his scribes to send into all the realm on the 13th day of the 1st month a decree that all Jews should be put to death on the 13th day of the 12th month (3:12 ff). As the narrative shows, the wisdom of Mordecai, Esther's heroism, and fasting and prayer availed to foil the dastardly scheme of Haman, who had already built the gallows on which his hated rival should be hanged. Haman was himself hanged on this gallows, while Mordecai was honored yet more (7:10; 8:1,2). A second decree was issued on the 23rd day of the 3rd month that on the 13th day of the 12th month (8:9,12), the day appointed in the first decree for their extermination, the Jews should gather together and defend themselves against their foes. On that fateful day not only did the Jews successfully resist the malice of their enemies, but the public officials also, seeing that the royal favor was with the Jews, espoused their cause. In Shushan, the royal city, a second day, the 14th, was granted the Jews for vengeance on their foes (9:11-16). In view of so great a deliverance "Mordecai wrote these things .... unto all the Jews .... to enjoin them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same, yearly, as the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies (9:20-22).
3. Manner of Observance:
Already as early as the times of the Maccabees (2 Macc 15:36), the festival was observed, the 14th day being called "Mordecai's day." Josephus refers to it as continuously and widely observed down to his time: "For this cause the Jews still keep the forementioned days, and call them days of Purim" (Ant., XI, vi, 13). In succeeding centuries as the Jews have passed from one civilization or empire to another, so many causes have arisen to remind them of the persecutions of Haman as to make the festival of a triumph over such persecutions both attractive and most significant to them. Experiences in Syria, Egypt, Rome, Russia and elsewhere have not been lacking in suggestion of the original occasion of Purim. The 13th day has been observed by fasting in commemoration of Esther's prayer and fasting before she approached the king; in the evening, at the beginning of the 14th day, the Jews repair to the synagogues where the Book of Esther, one of the meghilloth, is read with interpretations, execrations bursting out at the reading of Haman's name, accompanied by noise of rattles and stamping of feet, other persecutors and foes also sometimes coming in for a share of execration. The names of Mordecai and Esther receive blessings. On the following morning of the 14th synagogue services are again held, at which, in addition to the repetition of the Esther reading, Ex 17:8-16, which records the destruction of the Amalekites (compare Es 3:1), is also read as the lesson from the Law, presents are given to the poor and to friends, and the rest of the day, as also the 15th, observed with feasting and rejoicing, even excesses being condoned in the exuberance of national spirit.
4. Theories of Origin:
Many attempts have been made to trace the origin of Purim in pagan or cosmic festivals, but to the present time without success, without approach even to probability. Supposed connections with nature myths, national festivals, polytheistic legends have all found advocates. The word itself has suggested the possibility of identification with words of similar form or sound in other languages. But the ease of finding such similarities for any word casts doubt upon the reliability of any identification. (1) It has been traced to the Assyrian puru, and identified with the Assyrian New Year when officials entered upon their term of service. (2) The Babylonian puhru, new year festival, has also been claimed as the origin of Purim; Mordecai becomes Marduk, Esther is Ishtar, while Haman, Vashti and Zeresh are Median gods. (3) The most popular attempts at identification are in the Persian field, where bahr, "lot," is claimed as the source of Pur, or purdighan, "new year," or farwardighan, the feast of departed souls. (4) Origin also in a Greek bacchanalian occasion has been sought. (5) Others suggest origin in other Jewish experiences than that claimed by the Book of Esther itself, such as a captivity in Edom, or a persecution under the Ptolemies in Egypt, or the victory of Judas Maccabeus over Nicanor in 161 BC (1 Macc 7:49). No one of all these theories has sufficient probability to secure for itself anything like general acceptance; the Book of Est remains as the most reasonable account; the difficulties met in it are not so great as those of the explanations sought in other languages and religions.
Bible dicts., especially HDB, Encyclopedia Biblica and Jewish Encyclopedia; Paton, commentary on "Est" in ICC, particularly pp. 77-94.