Photo Credit: Wikimedia
Esther before Achashverosh, Franc Kavčič, circa 1815

Since the fall of the Pahlavi shahs in Iran in 1979, Jews both there, Israel, and elsewhere have once again become endangered species…this time with would-be atomic mullahs threatening them (especially Israelis) with massive conventional and/or nuclear attack from multiple sides.

With this mind, please think once again of the Jewish holiday of Purim (spelled out in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Esther) which is now upon us.


In some ways, some things change, but in others they do not. Instead of Purim’s (“casting of lots”—referring to the day Haman chose by lot to carry out the massacres) Iranian emperor’s wicked prime minister plotting their demise some twenty-five centuries ago and recorded in the Hebrew Bible, Jews now face attack and extermination by Arabized Iranian Islamists instead.

Jews have lived in Iran at least since the days when Cyrus the Great liberated many of them from Babylonian captivity in what’s now Iraq. The great king allowed those who wanted to do so to return to Judah, the surviving kingdom (along with the tribe of Benjamin) of the Jews after the split with the ten northern tribes of Israel following the death of King Solomon and the conquest of the north by Assyria…all together, about 2,700 years ago.

Not all returned, and many chose to stay behind and formed prominent Jewish communities as they spread eastwards.

Judah became a thankful vassal state to the vast Iranian empire, with Jewish warriors serving as part of the Iranian military. Judean garrisons served in places such as Elephantine, Egypt, near today’s Aswan. Ancient papyri have been discovered which give additional testimony to this vibrant community which actually pre-dated the Iranian conquests and, among other things, had its own temple.

Corroboration is very important to the historian.

Besides the account of Cyrus the Great’s liberation in the Jews’ own scriptures (Ezra 1:1-8, Hebrew Bible), we have amazing historical corroboration of this in ancient Iranian records as well. Below are excerpts from the Kurash Prism, the decree of Cyrus the Great for the return of the Jews to the current nation of Israel in 539 BCE. This version is found in the website of the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies:

“I am Kurash, King of the World, Great King,…King of Babilani, King of Kiengir and Akkade, King of the four rims of the earth, Son of Kanbujiya…to the region from as far as Assura and Susa, Akkade, Eshnunna, the towns Zamban, Me-turnu, Der as well as the region of the Gutians, I returned to these sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned them to their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Kiengir and Akkade whom Nabonidus had brought into Babilani to the anger of the lord of the gods, unharmed, in their former temples, the places which make them happy.”

Several years back the Kurash Prism went on tour and spent time in Washington, D.C. See about this here.

Within a half century of Cyrus’s decree, the threatening events which led to the story of Esther (the Iranian name for the Hebrew Jewess, Hadassah) unfolded. Every Purim, Jews read about this in The Megillah—the Book of Esther—the story of yet another near miss in their 4,000 year-old history.

The new Iranian ruler was Xerxes, and he began his rule in 486 B.C.E. His English name, Ahasueurus, seems to be derived from a Latinized form of the Hebrew, Achashverosh, which in turn was a rendering of the Babylonian Achshiyarshu.

Now, as the above source points out, it’s important to also note that the Hebrew rendering of his name may have actually been a title that the king was also known by–not his actual name. So, now it really gets interesting—some things which most folks simply are not aware of…

My friend, fellow author, and Kurdish freedom fighter (peshmerga), Hamma Mirwaisi, is–among other things–well-versed in the various related languages of the Airyanem Vaejah nations. He came to America around the same time that Secretary of State Kissinger pulled the rug out from under America’s Kurdish allies’ feet during their revolt against Saddam Hussein in Iraq in the 1970s, resulting in mass slaughter which would be repeated down the road a bit. Yes, he was around for that long….

When the Shah of Iran made his temporary peace with Saddam, America then betrayed the Kurds. Again, this would not be the last time Washington would act in less than honorable ways towards these people (including now, as I write this). The late great New York Times columnist, William Safire, wrote a series of articles in the ‘70s about this disgraceful sellout. The lucky ones got to flee for their lives, and some were allowed into America. Thousands upon thousands were slaughtered instead.

While Hamma and I have disagreements over some facts and interpretations of history, his own first book, Return of the Medes (ancestors of the Kurds), has many interesting revelations …And some of these have to do with Purim.

Here are some of Hamma’s notes on the ancient Iranian ruler, “Ahasveros”: The word means “it is a revolt now.” “Aha” means “now.” “Sveros” means “revolution” or “revolt.” It is a call to revolt.

Iranian Emperor Cyaxares–Xerxes–was nicknamed (or “titled,” as noted above) Ahashverosh or Ahasuerus because he called the Medes’ enemies, the Scythians, to a feast and, on signal, had his supporters revolt and slaughter the drunken Scythians. Note that the Book of Esther also tells of feasts that King Achashverosh liked to have at his palace.

Follow these excerpts from Hamma’s Story #10,”Emperor Cyaxares I Plan To Liberate the Medians “Kurds) from the Scythia,” in The Return of the Medes:

“…Cyaxares invited Madius (the Scythian ruler and subjugator of Medes) and a large number of his warriors to a festival…many laid down their arms and became drunk, but no Median warriors did so…When Cyaxares called out “Ahashverosh,” the code word, the Medes attacked…Most Scythians were killed, some seized and arrested.”

“…Cyaxares became known as the liberator of the Median people and was reinstated as the King of Kings of the Median Empire. He was nicknamed Ahashverosh, or Ahasuerus, for his attack on the Scythians.”

Subsequent chapters of Hamma’s book discuss Cyrus, Queen Vashti, Assyria, Babylonia, Esther, and so forth–all important to the history and in the writings of the ancient Jews as well.

When discussing Purim and ancient Persia, it’s important to remember that, despite the events of Purim, prior to the Arab conquest and spread of the Dar ul-Islam into the country, Iran actually had a fairly positive balance sheet in its relations with both Jews and the latter’s own state. Iran was an ally of Judea in its fight for freedom against Rome–for whatever its reasons. And, some six centuries later, ancient, non-Jewish sources recorded an army of tens of thousands of Jews from the Galilee and adjacent areas who joined Iranian armies to fight the hated Byzantines. This happened just on the eve of the Arabs’ own extensive imperial Caliphal conquests of the entire region in the 7th century C.E.

But, back to the future, a nation made up of a people, many of whose families were already subjected to one Holocaust (not to mention what happened before in history as well), cannot afford to take genocidal threats of a nation like post-Pahlavi Iran in any other way except at face value.

The 12’er Shi’a Islamist leaders calling the shots today–figuratively and literally–do not share that love for human life which they mock the Jews about.

The mullahs used their own children to clear mine fields in their 1980s war with Iraq, have slaughtered countless thousands of those who oppose them, hang Kurds and others who just seek human rights (let alone political ones) almost daily, and deliberately seek world turmoil and chaos (a la nuclear conflagration?) to bring about the return of their “Hidden Imam,” the Mahdi. They have supplied scores of thousands of sophisticated missiles and other armaments to their surrogate stooges who surround Israel and don’t care how many of their own people die in their direct and proxy wars to slaughter Jews.

We don’t have the same breathing space today as we had years ago when Israel first warned the world and was ignored about this.

Unlike a geographically much larger Iran of 21st century Hamans, with a population approaching 90 million, Israel is a nation which–as I like to point out–requires a magnifying glass to find on a world globe.

Furthermore, some 85% of its six million Jews (why am I nervous about that number?) live in that narrow 9 to 15-mile wide waistband in the middle of the country (courtesy of the ’49 armistice lines)–as concentrated, easy bulls-eyes for strikes coming at them from almost all directions.

In the broader picture and as a footnote to all of this, I have been involved with the struggle of one of the Middle East’s truly stateless peoples and descendants of the Medes, the Kurds, for over four decades now. And, unlike the Arabs’ quest for a 22nd state via the destruction of the sole, minuscule, resurrected nation of the Jews, some 35 million Kurds have yet to see the birth of their first one.

As I get ready to take my grandchildren to hear our people’s ancient story of Mordechai and niece Esther’s actions to save our people, I hope for the day when at least two ancient, great peoples, those of all of the Airyanem Vaejah nations and my own, may once again live together in peace. And extra icing on the cake would be improved relations between the Iranian and Kurdish cousins as well, along with their other neighbors.

Perhaps it will take the rise of a powerful–but altruistic–ruler to set Iran on a new course that will benefit not only its own diverse peoples but others as well. Such a leader could truly prepare Iran for the same democracy that its giant neighbor to the east, India, has shown is possible.

The trick will be in finding such a courageous, rare gem–neither megalomanical shah nor murderous mullah–a leader who truly loves his people and nation and wants what is best for them not only in Paradise but in the here and now in which we all live. Admittedly, it is not only in Iran where such leaders are hard to find. But Cyrus the Great once lived…so there is hope.

What is needed as we approach Purim 5778 is the rise of a new and improved Achashverosh–a ruler who, as my Kurdish friend, Hamma, translated and explained above, will live up to that title and lead Iran in a revolt for the good of the entire nation and of the world at large.

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Gerald A. Honigman is an educator who has done extensive doctoral studies in Mid-East Affairs and has conducted counter-Arab propaganda programs for college youth. He gives lectures and participates in debates around the U.S. His latest book is “The Quest for Justice in the Middle East.”