An Initial Consideration of the Drinking Events in Megillat Esther

Over this recent Purim, I was curious to keep track of the drinking parties, since I knew there were multiple such events, but hadn’t quite remembered what each of them were. While tracking them, though, I was fascinated to not only have a sense of what they were, but maybe also somewhat of a pattern.

These drinking events, each mentioned as a משתה, are a distinctly significant aspect of the book of Esther, not only because they frequently occur, but also because they are disproportionately represented in this book in relation to the rest of the books of Tanakh. Specifically, the term משתה occurs 46 times in תנ”ך, nearly half of which (20) appear in the book of Esther alone: there is a disproportionate amount of drinking in this book than any other in תנ”ך (see accompanying pie graph to the left).

So what are these drinking events?

You don’t have to search for long to find the first one, occurring at the outset of the book, in which King Ahashverosh throws a huge drinking party for 180 days to show off his wealth (1.1-4), immediately followed by a week-long drinking party for those who happen to be in Shushan (1.5). Shortly thereafter, Queen Vashti throws a drinking-event for women (1.9).

Following these three drinking events at the outset of the book (setting the tone for the reader that there is a lot of drinking in this story?), there are then three drinking parties associated with Esther. The first of these is in honor of Esther’s becoming queen and is called Esther’s drinking event (2.18). The subsequent two are drinking events that Esther makes for Haman and for King Ahashverosh (5.5-8 and 7.1-8).

The final two are drinking celebrations by the Jews – one on Adar 14 by the Jews beyond Shushan (9.17) and one on Adar 15 by those Jews in Shushan (9.18) for having been survived their potential genocide.

Finally, in addition to these described drinking events, there are also prescriptions for future drinking celebrations for Jews to commemorate what had occurred and how they had survived (9.19 and 9.22).

While considering these eight described drinking events, I realized they could also be considered as pairs:

The lengthy drinking events that King Ahashverosh makes King Ahashverosh makes 180-day drinking party to show off his wealth (“בִּשְׁנַת שָׁלוֹשׁ, לְמָלְכוֹ, עָשָׂה מִשְׁתֶּה, לְכָל-שָׂרָיו וַעֲבָדָיו:  חֵיל פָּרַס וּמָדַי, הַפַּרְתְּמִים וְשָׂרֵי הַמְּדִינוֹת–לְפָנָיו.  בְּהַרְאֹתוֹ, אֶת-עֹשֶׁר כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ, וְאֶת-יְקָר, תִּפְאֶרֶת גְּדוּלָּתוֹ; יָמִים רַבִּים, שְׁמוֹנִים וּמְאַת יוֹם”) King Ahashverosh makes week-long drinking party for those who are in Shushan (“עָשָׂה הַמֶּלֶךְ לְכָל-הָעָם הַנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה לְמִגָּדוֹל וְעַד-קָטָן מִשְׁתֶּה–שִׁבְעַת יָמִים:  בַּחֲצַר, גִּנַּת בִּיתַן הַמֶּלֶךְ”)
The queens’ drinking parties Queen Vashti makes a seven day-long, “Women’s Drinking Party” (“גַּם וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה, עָשְׂתָה מִשְׁתֵּה נָשִׁים”) King Ahashverosh makes a big drinking party for all of his servants, “Esther’s Drinking Party”

(“וַיַּעַשׂ הַמֶּלֶךְ מִשְׁתֶּה גָדוֹל, לְכָל-שָׂרָיו וַעֲבָדָיו–אֵת, מִשְׁתֵּה אֶסְתֵּר”)

The drinking events that Esther makes for Haman and King Ahashverosh The first drinking session that Esther makes (“הַמִּשְׁתֶּה אֲשֶׁר-עָשְׂתָה אֶסְתֵּר”) The second drinking session that Esther makes for them (“הַמִּשְׁתֶּה אֲשֶׁר אֶעֱשֶׂה לָהֶם”)
The celebratory drinking that the Jews make Adar 14, on which the Jews outside of Shushan celebrate (“בְּיוֹם-שְׁלוֹשָׁה עָשָׂר, לְחֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר; וְנוֹחַ, בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר בּוֹ, וְעָשֹׂה אֹתוֹ, יוֹם מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה”) Adar 15, on which the Jews in Shushan celebrate (“וְהַיְּהוּדִים אֲשֶׁר-בְּשׁוּשָׁן, נִקְהֲלוּ בִּשְׁלוֹשָׁה עָשָׂר בּוֹ, וּבְאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר, בּוֹ; וְנוֹחַ, בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בּוֹ, וְעָשֹׂה אֹתוֹ, יוֹם מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה”)
Prescriptions for future drinking celebrations Etiological connection for future celebrations (“עַל-כֵּן הַיְּהוּדִים הַפְּרָזִים, הַיֹּשְׁבִים בְּעָרֵי הַפְּרָזוֹת–עֹשִׂים אֵת יוֹם אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לְחֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר, שִׂמְחָה וּמִשְׁתֶּה וְיוֹם טוֹב; וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת, אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ”) Further amplification of prescription (“כַּיָּמִים, אֲשֶׁר-נָחוּ בָהֶם הַיְּהוּדִים מֵאֹיְבֵיהֶם, וְהַחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶהְפַּךְ לָהֶם מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה, וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב; לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם, יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה, וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים”)

 

What if we took this a step further and created a 2×2 matrix of the drinking events that occurred in the book of Esther in a chiastic format?

Public drinking events Queen-related drinking events
Royal drinking parties The lengthy drinking events that King Ahashverosh makes The queens’ drinking parties
Drinking parties that Jews make The celebratory drinking that the Jews make The drinking events that Esther makes for Haman and King Ahashverosh

 

This 2×2 matrix takes from the previous table that combines each of the pairs of drinking events and seeks to determine similarities of the drinking events. This yields the beginning two drinking parties that King Ahashverosh makes for lengthy days for the public are similar to the two one-day celebrations that the Jews make, having survived genocidal aspirations of their neighbors; as well as the queens’ drinking parties being similar to the two drinking occasions that Esther makes for Haman and King Ahashverosh (even if they are different in that Queen Vashti’s drinking event that she made for the women ended in her downfall, and Esther’s drinking event was made for her, rather than the two she made for the two men).

Similarly, we can cut across and see that the first four drinking parties share in a similarity in that they are royal drinking parties, while the latter four drinking parties are being thrown by Jews.

Whether intentional or otherwise, it is certainly fascinating to get a broader sense of the drinking events in the book of Esther.

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