Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hanging Haman High (Esther 7:10)

Who was hanged on a gallows he built for someone else? Haman (Esther 7:10)

The Book of Esther is the story of the titular character becoming queen of Persia and saving the Jewish people from genocide at the hands of Haman. Haman has gigantic gallows built on his own property for the sole purpose of hanging his perceived rival, Esther’s uncle, Mordecai (Esther 5:14, 6:4). Ironically, it would be Haman himself who was hung on these gallows (Esther 7:9-10).

Haman the Agagite is a villain straight out of central casting. He was an honored official in King Ahasuerus’ court (Esther 3:1) whose vendetta against Mordecai began when the Jew cited his religious beliefs as reason not to kneel before Zod Haman (Esther 3:2, 4, 5). In response, Haman decided not only to punish Mordecai but to extinguish the entire Jewish race (Esther 3:6, 8). Like many villains, Haman is motivated by pride and viewed Mordecai’s religious convictions as an affront to his self value. Full of his own self importance, Mordecai’s defiance ate at him so much that no matter what blessing was given him, Haman could not be content as long as Mordecai lived (Esther 5:9, 13). Mordecai’s very presence represented that Haman’s importance in the eyes of others was imperiled.

As the comic villain might do, Haman constructs a unique weapon to eliminate his enemy. Haman does not simply construct gallows (Esther 5:14, 6:4), but gallows that are fifty cubits (75 feet) tall (Esther 5:14, 7:9)! This brings new meaning to the expression “hang ’em high”. Haman planned to make Mordecai an object lesson for all to see.

In his book The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth, James N. Frey (b. 1943) identifies five characteristics of the villain: big headed, an outlaw, clever and resourceful, may be wounded, and may have great sex appeal. He adds that the villain is often motivated by greed, vanity, or lust for power, has self-serving motives, never acts out of idealism, is often cruel, may win by luck (which never happens to the hero), is not forgiving, might quit, may whine and grovel, may turn on friends and followers, is not usually physically superior (though a sidekick might be) and has no special birth or destiny though may claim one.

In what ways does Haman fit into James Frey’s characterization of an epic villain? Compare and contrast Haman and Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). Why was Haman thwarted so quickly and Hitler allowed to cause so much destruction?

In the end, Haman’s plans are foiled, God’s people are saved and the archetypical villain is hanged on his own instrument of death. Haman’s poetic demise seems to embody karma, a foundational principle in Hindu and Buddhist teachings. Karma is a system of moral reaction applied to both good and evil actions i.e. what goes around comes around. Reincarnation and the caste system hang upon the principle of karma.

Christianity agrees with a general ideas of cause/effect and personal responsibility. Paul writes that “for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap (Galatians 6:7, NASB).” He also says “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (II Corinthians 5:10, NASB).” Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) also echoes these sentiments (Luke 16:25).

Conversely, Jesus also says that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45 NASB)” and that the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 19:30, 20:16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30). History is replete with examples of righteous sufferers.

In what ways is karma compatible with Christianity? In what ways is it not? Are grace, mercy, and atonement ever compatible with karma?

In Mark Jesus is said to have been a tekton (Mark 6:3), a builder which almost all translations render “carpenter” (ASV, CEV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV). Could Jesus have built crosses? Could he have hung from a gallows that he built?

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