Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
Being president is stressful. Even the presents you receive can turn your hair gray.
Take the gift Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bestowed upon President Obama on Monday: a copy of the Book of Esther. This book, which appears both in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament tells a tale that Jews commemorate on Thursday with the holiday of Purim.
In this tale, set in the Persian Empire in the 5th century BCE, Persians plot to destroy the Jews. The villain of the story is Haman, whom Netanyahu described in his AIPAC speech on Monday as “a Persian anti-Semite [who] tried to annihilate the Jewish people.” The hero is Esther’s cousin Mordecai, who urges Esther, the queen to Persian king Ahasuerus, to prevail upon her husband on behalf of the Jews.
In the end, Ahasuerus, who initially supported the evildoers, flip-flops, allowing the Jews to go to war against their Persian enemies. The Jews are victorious and 75,000 Persians are killed in an orgy of “slaughter and destruction.”
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It’s not hard to imagine how Netanyahu wants Obama to read this ancient story. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is Haman, threatening Israel with destruction by a nuclear bomb. Netanyahu is Mordecai. And Obama is King Ahasuerus who needs to decide whose side he is really on.
But this isn’t the only way to read the story.
I was in Jerusalem on the eve of Purim a couple years ago. It's a raucous celebration that commemorates the events of the Book of Esther. I say raucous because it is actually a commandment during this joyous holiday to drink to excess. Jews are supposed to drink until they cannot distinguish between the evil Haman and the virtuous Mordecai.
In a Purim sermon I heard at the Wailing Wall, an Orthodox rabbi spoke of driving into the city every day through an Arab section, and greeting the Muslims he saw there not with fear and anxiety but with love and joy. He then urged his listeners to drink of wine and God until they could not tell the difference enemies and friends, Arabs and Israelis, the cursed Haman and the blessed Mordecai.
So perhaps the Book of Esther is telling Obama to play the king, to give the Jews a green light to destroy their Iranian enemies, and lay waste to 75,000 Iranians in the process.
But perhaps this Bible story is telling the president to see beyond the virtues of the Israelis and the vices of the Iranians to the common humanity in all of us — to drink until he cannot tell the difference between our enemies and our friends.
It is up to the president to decide how to read this story, and how to read the mixture of intelligence and nonsense that is emerging out of Iran and the Middle East in recent days. Will he listen to Republican presidential candidates who are beating the drums of war? To Netanyahu, who seems to be doing the same? To the Israeli public, which is wary of a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities?
In times like these, prior presidents have turned to God in prayer. But one curiosity of the Book of Esther is that it does not mention God. In extreme times, the story seems to be telling us, we cannot wait for God to act. We must act ourselves, or refuse to act. And in either case we and we alone bear the intended (and unintended) consequences.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
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There is nothing in the Bible that said the Jews should drink to excess to commemorate Purim. That is a man-made rule. There is plenty in the Bible about manmade rules.
Netanyahu and Israel does NOT CARE about OUR service men and women's lives being put in line to defend them. They are rushing wars without exhausting all logical, reasonable diplomatic talks. Netanyahu is arm twisting the President and this country into this, when WE DO NOT NEED more wars.
Israel will not use force against Iran unlesss as a last resort in case there will be no other way to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. If it happens, however, Israel will not ask for anyone's permission tp defend itself.
By the way, Israel NEVER started any war without being attacked first. You're barking on a wrong tree, my friend.
Well they said they're the chosen one! Perhaps its because they crucified Jesus Christ! So when jesus returns, perhaps the jews are the ones chosed to perish in hell! Makes a whole lot of sense now!
I am of Israeli background. I have a lot of family and friends in Israel and in the US. I love both countries and their people. However, Israel, and I did serve in the army, is not rushing into unnecessary wars. Israel engages in a war of survival since 1948 with nations Israel has a common borders and with lunatics afar. Like...Iran for one.
Rushing into wars is something, unfortunately, being a characteristic of rich nations such as the US. The rushed war in Iraq is the cause of the rise of Iran, now that is left unchecked. Saddam, as vile as he was, kept Iran under control. not anymore. Also, and what you say is offensive, Israelis don't want Americans to die for Israel. We can fight our wars when needed. no American soldier has dies for Israel or fought for Israel. Get your facts straights.
On May 7, 1940 Leo Amery spoke in the Commons, attacking Neville Chamberlain's government, quoting Oliver Cromwell: "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"
On May 10, 1940, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister.
There is nobody to play Leo Amery's role today. But it is obvious that Netanyahu is destined to play Churchill's role and become the leader of the Free World, and with that happening Obama does not stand a chance on Nov 7.
Thanks for the laugh.
Wow. Can I have some of what you're smoking?
Whatever you smoke, Mladen, it makes you delusional.
I think your bummy wabbit got out of his cage.
Better catch him before he goes down the hole.
Assasinate the Ayatolahs and blame it on the Syrian resistance.
Them empower secularists and give tham a mandate to kill the remaining Muslim leaders.
Have the CIA bomb a chem weapons warehouse (blame it on whatever sect we want to thin the ranks of, and then introduce some hemoragic fever into the capital, blaming it on the bombing)
Then put a pupet into power , Think : "Shah II"!
There is nobody to play Leo Amery's role today. But it is obvious that Netanyahu is destined to play Churchill's role and become the leader of the Free World, and with that happening Obama does not stand a chance on Nov 7
Scenes like this are the apex of what we secular minded people fear most about religion. Bronze Age Middle Eastern mythology has no place in the calculation of whther or not to attack a rival country.
Now, I know that 90% of relgious pronunciations and actions by political leaders are simply made to mollify the strong believers in their electorates, but once I see Bibles carried and quoted in discussions over attacking a Muslim country, I begin to perspire.
One day, one day hopefully soon, we will stop wasting resources and endangering ouselves based upon the perceived wishes of non-existent gods or on the wishes of registered voters who base their views on non-existent gods.
Further, BOTH Obama and Netanyhahu are no more religious than you and I.
Thinker23, I suspect you are right on Obama. I suspect he is an atheist, or its functional equivalent, an agnostic who doesn't give the issue much thought. I have no idea about N.
Even so, that still leaves the indirect influence of the sky-faries, though political pressure placed on these leaders by those who do still believe in the mythology.
"Israel will not use force against Iran unlesss as a last resort in case there will be no other way to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons."
Unfortunately, as we've seen in the past, facts have a way of being fit into one's own pespective, and "no other way" is always open to interpretation.
Colin... Every religion is based on a set of unprovable beliefs. So is atheism. Most religions declare that other religions are 'mythology' and, again, atheism is not an exception. It is usually wise to open one's eyes and check if his/her views and beliefs are actually better than the alternatives.
Nonimus... Did you disagree with something I've said? If so WHAT WAS IT? Please realize that as long as you're unable to answer this question it will mean that you've agreed with EVERY SINGLE WORD.
Thinker23, you say, "Every religion is based on a set of unprovable beliefs. So is atheism." Example please.
Colin – no one can prove the existence of a god, so religion is based on an unprovable belief. No one can disprove the existence of a god, so atheism is based on an unprovable belief.
I don't know about "EVERY SINGLE WORD" but generally yes I agree. The Israelis aren't nuts and realize that a military strike on Iran would be extremely dangerous for everyone, but would probably risk it if they felt their military strength threatened. I was just clarifying that not every one would agree on what "last resort in case there will be no other way" means, exactly (WMDs come to mind.)
I think Iran is overrated. They are no threat to anyone.
Are you telling us that Iranian leaders are LIARS and that YOU know their intentions better than the Iranian leaders themselves? Can you show your credentials please?
Assuming they are comporable to Iraq (but MUCH larger) we could expect to see anywhere from a half to three quarters of a million dead, about two trillion in expenses, and alot of young Americans maimed and killed.
Are they really worth it?
War makes jobs and money! Bring it on. the soldiers signed up for this, they might as well use what they are taught!
"Are you telling us that Iranian leaders are LIARS"
I thought that was a given. (IEAE inspections, sanctions, Iranian weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan, continual bluster and threats that aren't carried out, e.g. Strait of Hormuz, etc.)
I actually agree with Prothero. I think Israel is going to attack Iran. My hope is that Russia and the U.S. do not enter the fray. Mutual Assured Destruction could screw up our weekends...
Netanyahu may have wasted a perfectly good bible but it was worth the risk and very telling. The Jews understand the history of that region very well however, I don't believe that Obama really cares about what happens to Israel does he?
I dont care what happens to israel. they need to stop using the US for their own personal gain
Actually, I suspect Obama wants to return Israel to its rightful owners.
Then we will see how much the rednecks really like the Jews, once they emigrate into Misissippi!
Synagouges in Monatana and Tenesssee!
That would be RICH!
I'm sure that Obala cares about Israel. Not because he particualrly like the Jews or the Jewish state but because as the President of the United States he understands that a large scale war in the Middle East means a catastrophe for the entire world.
Has anyone actually considered that the reactor at Bushehr is operating as we speak?
I am not so sure blowing up operating reactors is such a good idea!
I mean regardless of the environmental impact, does anyone want Hezbollah targeting Indian Point?
With enough conventional explosive, and proximity to a reactor, one no longer needs a bomb.
Reactors house enough spent fuel rods to make WIDE swaths of land uninhabitable for 20,000 years.
If just two of the 9-11 planes had hit reactors, we would have had to nuke half the middle east just to be able to deter anyone ever again.
Can you offer a BETTER way to knock off the Iranian nuclear program? If you can not it means that destroying Iranian nuclear facilities is the BEST way to achieve this goal you CAN offer.
Let loose the dogs of war! woof!
How can I make some money off the impending blood bath?
I was think about a weapons grade lubricant based on pork fat, so as they kill each other they ALSO damn each other to hell?
Perhaps a home briss kit so if the Iranians capture any kids they can keep them kosher?
If he wanted to give him some good fiction, doesn't Tom Clancy have a new book out?
it will soon super warriors http://bit.ly/zLkb0p
Yes but have you ever accidentally the whole thing
Prayer changes things
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!
Spare us. Please choke to death on your own vomit ... and soon.
Prayer changes things
It didn't work too well for some of the families in the path of the recent tornadoes – among other natural disasters.
Perhaps. But not always for the better. A lot depends on who's doing the praying & what they're praying for.
Yes, and the God of Israel has well and timely equipped His people to bring in His Help and no evil on earth can overcome His Spirit...
I don’t recall, in the story of Esther, that King Ahasuerus gave any military assistance to the Jews to kill any of their enemies.
I'm not saying that the U.S. would get into a war with Iran, but if Israel goes to war it is going to be hard for the U.S. to be neutural. “King” Obama had better go into his counting room and count all his money, and also consider Luke 14:31.
The same with the “war drum beating” Republicans.
Aside from the “Bible story" gift to Obama, isn’t this a political issue?
Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things
LSD changes things, you should try it.
Have a bad trip.
BB is a war mongering zionist
Obama LOATHES him to his core.
I hope Israel takes a swipe at Iran, and then we let the Iranians stomp the snot out of them.
Those Bronze Age zealots are gonna use their imaginary God to start World War 3!
The entire nations of Israel and Iran combined are not worth one American son, nor one American dollar
I hope they slaughter each other.
They all want to start the religious WW3 because every religion thinks "God" is on their side and they can't lose. The only thing they will lose they don't really care about anyway which are the women, children and innocent lives that get caught in the middle of the zealots vicious hateful stubborn playground brawl. If you would choose to follow your supposed "God"s commands to hurt any other humans you are a traitor to mankind and your allegiance is to an imaginary alien calling for mankind's destruction.
As far as WW 3 I am more worried about Syria, because Syria has China, Russia, and Iran on their side.
Read the Jewish history book – the Jewish people won when they were on the right side of God. Today if there are disobedient Jews, they have us, the righteous in the Moschiah Yeshua (Jesus) who are standing in for them in His Power to protect them, our Spiritual kin. We stand and intercede for their forgiveness and for evil not to account to them because the Blood of Jesus has paid the price. They brought us the Moshciah (Messiah) and have been hid for a season; we stand for them till they come into their inheritance in Moschiah.
Eze 3:17 Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.
Eze 3:18 When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked [man] shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
Eze 3:19 Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
ahhhh, ezekiel can eat my scroll! that is most clearly a fantasy book which is just a part with the largest fantasy book ever written!
i don't have an issue with you kieth its the simple fact that the book of ezekiel blows the bibles spot for being a complete make believe fantasy world... there are some parts in the bible that do that also but ezekiel does it very well and perfectly clear!
Since almost every believer can and will translate that passage (and any other) according to their own desires, simply quoting it won't work.. Why don't we get about 500 different opinions on what it means from 500 different believers and go from there.. :)
Keith, I think you are putting a meanining to that pasage in Exe. that just isn't there.
Hey, Keith, still think Obama is a Muslim?
too bad humans more stupid that us wrote those words.
Bo, I provided no commentary on the verses-just the verses.
You are missing the point. Esther is not history, this is true. But the meaning of Netanyahu giving this book to Obama, can't be ignored.
David, i got the point – its reflected in my oringal post – the first one on the article :) lol... i just saw keith quoting ezekiel and nothing errks me like ezekiel! its just blatant fastasies written in the light of a supposed god, nothing like ancient sci-fi to get your motor running. hungry – here, have this lovely scroll – its half off....because ezekiel already ate half! lol
Bah!. Nobody can tell what Netty will do next!
Bringing Netanyahu, Obama and Prothero up to speed in the 21st century:
origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.
New Torah For Modern Minds
“Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.
Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.
The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."
Hit report abuse on every reality garbage post
A story does not have to be true, for its meaning to have significance. Netanyahu's giving this book to the President, at this time of crisis, is curious.
The Jews have been trying to find the truth behind religion
the Catholic church does everything it can to hide the truth.
If the truth came out, it would destroy the Catholic Church.
I take no side in this, i am not religious.
If Jesus cant return until the church under the (whats it called)
rock of the dome is rebuilt, wouldnt it make sense to blow it up, blame it on Iran ?
Does it have to be completely rebuilt or can a model/mockup do ?
The reason i throw this out to you is this.
There are those who do believe in this "apocalypse/rapture thing.
Would those who believe this not want to help make it come true ?
That end time stuff scares me, not because its written in some book,
but because of those who believe the book.
Jerusalem seems to be ground zero.
This is like a bad play, but when you look at all the actors involved
US – Israel – Syria – Iran – Russia – China –
All the religions involved – Christianity – Islam – Judaism
Mix it all up – let it simmer for a while
Toss in a match............................
This is some scarey sheet.
no i don't think it means war. it is more a "read this and be prepared" type gift. its a forethought. i can see the meaning in the gift and its as plain as day...those types of books are to draw morals from not take seriously as the word of anyone or thing. Its like handing a child aesops fables... it is a tool for the mind. In that sense it was a great gift!
Dude I am surprised at you
If some Scientologist gave your daughter Dianetics, would you still think it a good idea?
The Bible is a cult handbook that is used as a rational for genocide bigotry and war.
It has no place near our government.
i often suprise, its cool....i am just talking about the need to understand where the enemy's mind lives...thats in the bible, and when they hand you a book from the bible as a gift when it is nearly all about war and death it normally strikes a different cord then the one the gifter had intended because they view it differently then the opener of said gift. So for it to make sense and to not offend the giver of the gift you take it in stride by taking what you can from the book even thou you may not believe in any of the reasons why the book exists in the first place. The bible is a book of morals that i agree with any who claim such but then most go on to claim that morals stem from god and thats clearly bs. there are many books of morals and ethics out there... my favorites are aristotle's ethics even thou they are very outdated – also the 12 tablets of rome...very moral...
Good point hippypoet.
While reading your post, it popped into my mind (and i spit my beer out)
at the thought of Netanyahu giving Obama "Meine Kamp" (spelling) by Hitler.
But after a good think, it may also have been a good gift.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.