This is a draft of chapter 7 of Esther, part of the book I propose to publish in 2016 “Unusual Bible Interpretations: Ruth, Esther, and Judith.” I will post chapters 8, 9, and 10 next week and then begin work on Judith.   


                                                                      Chapter 7                               

                                                      Haman falls and is strung up


Chapters 7 of Esther describe how Esther saved her people. During the second banquet, with trepidation, she informs the king that Haman plans to kill her and her people. Upset and angered, the king leaves the feast to stroll in the garden, perhaps to cool his anger. He returns to find Haman prostrate on Esther’s lounge and shouts: “Do you also want to assault the queen while I am here in the house!” Haman’s face is “covered.” One of the king’s eunuchs suggests that the king hang Haman on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai, and the king does so.


Was Esther diplomatic?

            Esther states in 7:4 that “I and my people were sold”? Doesn’t this suggest the bribe that Haman offered/gave to Ahasuerus? Doesn’t it implicate Ahasuerus in the proposed extermination of the Judeans? Wouldn’t it prompt the king to become defensive and reject Esther’s plea? This bothered many of the traditional commentators, such as ibn Ezra, who explain that the word “sold” is used in Scripture as a metaphor for “”given over,” and does not suggest a purchase.[1] It is possible that although our author used the metaphor, Esther was more careful and did not do so. However, it seems more likely that Esther used the word “sold” and this reminded Ahasuerus that he was implicated in the plot. This, together with Ahasuerus’ agitation what to do with his favored advisor Haman, may have been what prompter Ahasuerus to leave the room to ponder what had been revealed. It is likely that he would have ruled against Esther if he did not see Haman sprawled on Esther’s couch when he returned.

Double language

            Reacting to Esther’s revelation that she is a Judean and someone (she had not yet revealed who the person is) wants to kill her and her people, 7:5 states, “King Ahasuerus said, and he said to Queen Esther (who is this person)?” Why the doubling of “said”? Rashi[2] states that at first Ahasuerus spoke to her through an intermediary, but now that she revealed her ancestry, that she was a descendant of King Saul, he spoke to her directly. Ibn Ezra suggests that the doubling reflects his excited sputtering anger, as does his repetitious words, “Who is he, and where is he!”

It should also be noted, from a literary point of view, that there are other repetitions in this episode. For example, Ahasuerus makes a two-fold request twice, “What is your petition…what is your request” in 5:6 and 7:2, and Esther repeats the double language in 5:7, and the king does so in 9:12. The doubling is simply poetic-type language highlighting and emphasizing the desire.

Esther’s reply

            Esther’s answer to her husband is likewise excited, and almost staccato in form: “adversary, enemy, this wicked Haman” (Fuerst, page 75).

Why did Haman fall in 7:8?

            After Esther revealed that Haman proposed to kill her people and the king left the chamber, Haman, fell on Esther’s couch. The book does not reveal why he did so. The Babylonian Talmud[3] and Midrash Esther Rabba[4] state that an angel came and pushed Haman onto Esther’s settee to lead the king to think he meant to rape her.[5] Ibn Ezra wrote in his first commentary that that he began to petition Esther to save his life when the king left the room, but fell out of fear when he saw the king return. In his second commentary, he suggests that it was only after he saw the king return that Haman fell before Esther to petition her to save his life.

His falling before Esther rather than before the king ironically seals his fate. Besides Ahasuerus being angered with finding Haman on Esther’s divan, he may have also been angered that Haman made his request to Esther; he is the king and he makes decisions.

Who was Harbonah?

            Ibn Ezra notes that there are Midrashim[6] that claim that Harbonah, who suggested to the king that Haman be hung on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai was the prophet Elijah. Ibn Ezra interprets this to mean that Harbonah acted to aid the Judeans, just as Elijah had done during his lifetime. He feels that Harbonah is the same man mentioned in 1:10 where the name is spelled with an aleph ending, but a hay last letter here.

Verse 8 states that Haman’s “face was covered,” which many understand to mean that when Ahasuerus’ attendants saw that the king was angered at Haman, “they covered his face.” “This was the practice among the Greeks and the Romans, but is not elsewhere mentioned of the Persians” (Cohen, page 229). However the Hebrew ufeneu haman chafii, “and Haman’s face was covered” and mean that Haman became depressed. The author of Esther uses same verb chafui in 6:12 to describe his reaction after having to drive Mordecai through the city and shout out that Mordecai is being honored. The author may have paralleled the usage here as a clever literary device to highlight Haman’s reactions to the stages of his downfall.

Final ironies

            The final irony in Haman’s career is his last moment, losing his life on the very instrument which he had hoped would complete his happiness (Fuerst, page 76).

The last verse of chapter 7 relates that Ahasuerus’ anger subsided with Haman’s death, an anger created when he thought Haman intended to assault his wife. Our author uses the same word in 2:1 when Ahasuerus’ anger over Vashti’s refusal to obey his command to come to his banquet subsided. In both cases the king resolves his problem by eliminating the person who caused his anger. The king of 127 provinces is ironically shown as lacking control over himself and unable to resolve his problems in both instances without a servant’s advice.


[1] As in Judges 4:9.

[2] Relying on Megillah 15a. Rashi and the author of this talmudic view followed the interpretative methodology of Rabbi Akiva who insisted that the Bible is the word of God and God can speak clearly and does not repeat words. Therefore whenever something is repeated it should be understood to be saying something new. Rabbi Ishmael rejected this methodology and said the Torah is written for humans in the way humans speak. In this case, as I explained above, the repetition should be understood as sputtering anger.

[3] Megillah 16a.

[4] 10:9. This an unusual interpretation for no one in his right mind would think he had sufficient time to rape Esther with the king nearby, and raping the queen would certainly not aid his cause.

[5] Maimonides defined “angels” as any force of nature that carries out the divine will, including wind, rain, snow. Perhaps the Midrash should not be taken literally and interpreted to be saying that under the circumstances, Haman lost control of his better judgment and was pushed by foolishness to act as he did.

[6] Pirkei d’Rabi Eliezer 3 and Esther Raba 10:9.