Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why the ten thousand talents of silver?

Summary: Administrative expenses, I would suggest.

Post: As part of his proposal to destroy the Jews, Haman offers ten thousand talents of silver. Esther 3:9:

ט  אִם-עַל-הַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב, יִכָּתֵב לְאַבְּדָם; וַעֲשֶׂרֶת אֲלָפִים כִּכַּר-כֶּסֶף, אֶשְׁקוֹל עַל-יְדֵי עֹשֵׂי הַמְּלָאכָה, לְהָבִיא, אֶל-גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ.9 If it please the king, let it be written that they be destroyed; and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those that have the charge of the king's business, to bring it into the king's treasuries.'

Why this money? I think the typical, traditional understanding is that this is a form of bribe. He is not going to give it directly, but to those in charge of the king's business, to bring into the king's treasuries. Thus, the king becomes wealthier.

Another possibility occurred to me this morning. Did Achashverosh really micro-manage all 127 provinces / countries? My guess is that, in general, he let them govern themselves, though on occasion, his federal government issued a command which had to be heeded by all. But still, there were local laws, which might differ slightly from one place to another. This might well be peshat in the previous pasuk:

ח  וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן, לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ--יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם-אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים, בְּכֹל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתֶךָ; וְדָתֵיהֶם שֹׁנוֹת מִכָּל-עָם, וְאֶת-דָּתֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֵינָם עֹשִׂים, וְלַמֶּלֶךְ אֵין-שֹׁוֶה, לְהַנִּיחָם.8 And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus: 'There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king's laws; therefore it profiteth not the king to suffer them.

with the difference between "the laws of every people" and "the king's laws". In the megillah, only three times was a federal proclamation put out -- the first, after Vashti's rebellion, about how the women in each country should conduct themselves; the second, Haman's decree; and the third, the countering of Haman's decree by issuing a new, reversed decree.

These federal decrees took a lot of time, effort, and likely, expense. Consider what needed to be done. The decree needed to be written in the script of every province, in the language of every province. That was a lot of work for scribes and translators. Since a province was big, it is possible that there were also multiple copies of each of these letters that needed to be copied, and thus, plenty of work for scriveners. Then, they needed to send out messengers on the fastest steeds, all over the world.

One could imagine that there would be a tremendous expense associated with all of this. Thus, Haman offers to cover the expense, and to pay this money עַל-יְדֵי עֹשֵׂי הַמְּלָאכָה, to those who would do all of this work. Achashverosh declines to accept the money, not because he likes the concept of a bribe but he is a tremendous anti-Semite himself, but because he accepts Haman's profferred premise that it is in his own best interest to do away with this population, and so this is a normal administrative expense.

Complicating this interpretation is the stress upon the sum paid later in the megillah -- in perek 4:

ז  וַיַּגֶּד-לוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר קָרָהוּ; וְאֵת פָּרָשַׁת הַכֶּסֶף, אֲשֶׁר אָמַר הָמָן לִשְׁקוֹל עַל-גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ ביהודיים (בַּיְּהוּדִים)--לְאַבְּדָם.7 And Mordecai told him of all that had happened unto him, and the exact sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the king's treasuries for the Jews, to destroy them.

and in perek 7:

ד  כִּי נִמְכַּרְנוּ אֲנִי וְעַמִּי, לְהַשְׁמִיד לַהֲרוֹג וּלְאַבֵּד; וְאִלּוּ לַעֲבָדִים וְלִשְׁפָחוֹת נִמְכַּרְנוּ, הֶחֱרַשְׁתִּי--כִּי אֵין הַצָּר שֹׁוֶה, בְּנֵזֶק הַמֶּלֶךְ.  {ס}4 for we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my peace, for the adversary is not worthy that the king be endamaged.' {S}

1 comment:

J. C. Salomon said...

Rabbi Yehuda Landy’s Purim and the Persian Empire calculates that the 10,000 talents is an “astounding figure which almost matched the annual revenue of the entire empire (based on Herodotus).”


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