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Esther 5 describes how Haman was incensed by Mordechai’s arrogance and couldn’t tolerate his existence anymore. V. 10 describes how Haman convened with his cronies to plot and devise a plan how to deal with Mordechai. Then (v. 14) Zeresh pipes up with a (not-so) brilliant idea:

Then Zeresh his wife and all his friends said, “Have a pole made 50 cubits[g] high, and then in the morning speak to the king and have Mordecai hanged[h] on it. Then go with the king to the banquet happy.” This advice pleased Haman, and he had the pole made.

Zeresh’s plan strikes me as downright stupid. Why would the king agree to hang Mordechai, a good and loyal citizen, on a pole?

Furthermore, the text tells us that Mordechai was a respected government official who sat at the king’s gate (see v. 9). Why, in heavens name, would the king execute Mordechai just because Haman dislikes him. Zeresh does not even seem to address this concern!

Now one might suggest that Haman was so loved by the king that he was given free reign over his kingdom (and was able to hang whomever he pleased), but this only intensifies the problem; namely, what kind of advice was Haman looking for, and how did Zeresh's advice play a role in solving her husband's problem (whatever that problem may have been)?

The form of execution sounds trivial compared to the bigger problem: how to get the King to execute Mordechai; yet the text seems to be focused on this trivial matter (hang or impale on a high 50 cubit pole) but ignore the elephant in the room!

So my questions in summary: What in Zeresh’s input did Haman find so appealing? What was Haman’s dilemma and how did Zeresh solve it?


P.S. To clear up some confusion here: I'm not interested in what Zeresh thought or what went through her mind when she spoke (i.e., that she wanted to placate her husband or other suggestions that were posted by other users), I'm only interested in understanding the authorial intent. What did the author intend when he wrote down Zeresh's response (is the author satirizing the incident, portraying Haman's family as shortsighted, or is he presenting a real and solid plot), how did he intend to portray her (as a conniving sly woman, or as a foolish dope), why did the author feel it was important to include, and most importantly, how did it play a role within the larger framework of this complex narrative.

1

I think you overstate a basic problem, which can be resolved simply in a number of ways.

1. The traditional explanation:
Haman had already succeeded in getting the King's permission to wipe out all of the Jews. There were undertones of accusing them of plotting against the king (see Esther 3:8, and various commentaries), and if he would finally go to the king and get his permission, he could probably hang Mordechai. This does not mean he was all-powerful, but rather, that he could suggest this to the king, and the king would likely listen. (After all, at this point Mordechai was an official, but the king had no special debt to him. This is then the perfect place in the plot for the king to be reminded of his debt to Mordechai, ruining Haman's chances at convincing the king the following morning.) According to this understanding, the tall gallows may have been meant as using Mordechai as an example for what would happen to the Jews. See for example, the Cambridge Bible Commentary:

Zeresh and the rest considered it a safe assumption that one who had such influence with the king as to be permitted to condemn a whole nation to be exterminated within a few months, might reckon absolutely on obtaining authority to put an individual of that nation to death at once. Hence the order for the erection of the ‘gallows’ might be made beforehand, although according to Persian law the power of life and death resided in the king alone.

2. She is just spouting garbage:
Alternatively, we can look to commentaries like Ibn Ezra, who suppose that this was not a brilliant idea, rather, a stupid one:

ותאמר לו זרש אשתו – החלה זרש לדבר כי מנהג הנשים לעשות תאותן ואינן רואות את הנולד.

Haman accepted it either because he too was not the brightest, or because he was in a really bad mood...

3. She was trying to be a good wife, and calm him down:
This suggestion, while new, has a lot of merit. Haman is terribly angry with Mordechai. His wife, in her wisdom, realizes that he is on a rampage and terribly unstable. So she tells him "Dear, I understand you're angry. I think you should make gallows 50 cubits tall for Mordechai, and then tomorrow, you can go and speak to the king about him." She has no intentions of this happening, but rather, uses it as an outlet to calm her upset husband down, and then push it off until he is calmed. He can put in the physical labour now, and then "sleep on it". (For all we know, Haman was already planning to build gallows for Mordechai...) In fact, it could be that she didn't even expect him to build the gallows! As a result, he would be able to go to the king's banquet in peace of mind, and not be bothered with these issues...

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  • I have to say that I don't see much originality in your answer (although I usually do). The two last answers are basically a reiteration of Gina's weak attempt to do away with the problem, but as I already pointed out it doesn't help much (In fact, I myself suggest in the OP that that the author is employing satire, i.e., that Zeresh is spewing garbage, but I reject it until more evidence can be brought to support such an interpretation). – Bach Mar 15 '19 at 0:19
  • As for the traditional interpretation, I make abundantly clear in my post that this only intensifies the problem, since if Haman had the power to do so he wouldn't have had the need to convene and get advice from his friends as to how to get rid of Mordechai. – Bach Mar 15 '19 at 0:20
  • When you read v. 10 you get the feel that Haman is in a quandary: he wants to get rid of his enemy but doesn't know how to (that is, he needs a good plot to convince the King that Mordechai threatens his kingdom, and should be executed). We expect to find, in the following verses, a creative and ingenious way how to get rid of him. But instead we find Zeresh offering the 'kind' of execution Mordechai should get, when that never seemed to be the problem! It almost looks like we are missing a few verses! So I reiterate, none of your answers solve the problem. – Bach Mar 15 '19 at 0:20
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I'll give it one more try, inspired by some comments of Rabbi/Professor E.S. Artom on the Megillah:

In Esther 3, Haman is first upset with Mordechai. He decides that it is not enough to simply kill Mordechai, but rather, it's important to destroy Mordechai's entire nation and he takes a lottery to decide when this should happen (3:6-7). Unfortunately, he resigned himself to waiting until this time to kill everyone, which was 11 months later. Based on the superstition that Haman had to decide that the best date for destruction of the Jews was so far away, he was constantly angered by it, but it didn't occur to him to try to get Mordechai killed first, because in his mind, killing Mordechai and the Jewish nation went hand in hand. This was Zeresh's ingenious idea: get Mordechai hanged now, and kill the rest of them later. The king would be very likely to accept this - being that Mordechai was a very open Jew, he was anyways going to be executed in a few months when the king's ruling would be carried out.

I'm not sure what role the 50 cubit tall pole would play according to this understanding - perhaps this would serve some political purpose of sorts?

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  • This answer is useful. Esther 3:6 may confirm your interpretation. Haman initially scorned the idea of killing Mordechai only (see verse), but Zeresh understood that Mordechai is really the cause of Haman's hatred to the Jews, and that he would be much happier if he got rid of him, and that's what she suggested in 5:14. However, it still needs some work. – Bach Mar 15 '19 at 17:17
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It seems likely that Zeresh's suggestion is supposed to signify a new level of arrogance and feeling of impeccability that prevailed in the family of Haman (right before his demise). Its not like the plan was bound to fail, on the contrary, given Haman's success rate up until now, one gets the feeling that Haman is likely to succeed in his request to get Mordechai hanged. The point of recording this response is to highlight the arrogance of Haman and the great stature and authority he had right before his downfall. This also serves to add suspense to the unfolding narrative.

Up until now, Haman wanted to get rid of Mordechai his archenemy but didn't know how to do it, Mordechai, after all, was well liked by the king and the ministers, and there was nothing he could do to eliminate him. Indeed that is why Haman invited over his friends to devise a plan. As Haman was recounting his big wealth and success, and how close he was to the king, Zeresh original suggestion was that no complicated plot was needed to eliminate Mordechai, all Haman needs to do is tell the king to do so and he can rest assured that the king will listen to him, since Haman was so liked by the king and Esther! Haman sure was flattered and actually believed that it will work.

This marks a new level of arrogance or shortsightedness within the family, Haman and his family started considering themselves invincible, they no more needed a plan or a plot as they came to believe that the king already recognized Haman's genius and that nothing can go wrong, and indeed as is the end of most arrogant people, their demise was very swift and painful.

We are not told if the plan was bound to succeed were the chronicles not read before the king that night, and there is always a possibility that it would have succeeded given his success rate up until this point (so the drama in chapter 6 is not lost). Nevertheless it reveals an unprecedented shortsightedness and arrogance of Haman and Zeresh to think that merely telling the king to kill Mordechai was a viable solution to their problems. And this I think is the way we ought to read Zeresh's somewhat ambiguous response.

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Haman's problem was his pride. It stung that Mordecai refused to bow before him (Esther 3:2-6). But, Haman's wife had a different problem. Her world-view was limited to the pleasure of her husband. Her quality of life was determined from how happy her husband was. Many women all over the world are dependent upon their husband's happiness even today, but in the Middle East even more so. Moreover, about 2400 years ago during that time period, a wife was a servant. If the husband was happy, he was less likely to strike her or any of the household servants.

Not to say that all husbands / men were prone to beat their wives, but many self-absorbed people, which Haman appears to have been, think nothing of taking out their frustrations on other people. So, Zeresh was most concerned with her immediate circumstances which was the peacefulness of her household, and how to keep her husband happy.

Her thought was how to remove a particular thorn from her husband's side. Her suggestion was narrow, only aimed at Mordecai. Haman went home to spill his hurts and complaints out before his wife and his friends. Zeresh may only have been thinking about things from her husband's perspective because that was all that she heard.

Even today, a husband tells his woes to his wife, complains about his boss, or other people at work, and his wife believes him. The wife is concerned for her husband, and if her husband's view of the situation is all she hears, she knows nothing of all the circumstances, and her "advise" is one-sided, or short-sighted.

Zeresh began to see the problem in the next chapter.

"13 And Haman told Zeresh his wife and all his friends every thing that had befallen him. Then said his wise men and Zeresh his wife unto him, If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him." (Esther 6:13, KJV)

Now Zeresh is very worried, because Haman had not told her that Mordecai was a Jew. If she had known that, her first advise to her husband may have been completely different. When a husband falls, so does the wife and all the family.

Haman's ten sons were slain in the battle (Esther 9:10), and subsequently hung at Esther's request (vs. 14). The house of Haman was given to Queen Esther (Ch. 8:1), from which many presume she then turned over its management to Mordecai. But the scriptures do not tell us what happened to Zeresh.

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  • Gina you are just reaffirming my question! Indeed you think that Zeresh's plan was not a plan at all, just a silly attempt to solve Haman's problem. The text however suggests that Zeresh and Haman had something up their sleeve, but that their plot was somehow busted when the King, that night, discovered Mordechai's attempt to save him from his assassins. Otherwise there was no imminent danger to Mordechai, since the plan never any chance to succeed! I cannot accept this. – Bach Mar 14 '19 at 13:41
  • I thought Esther 8:13 made it very plain that Zeresh only had part of the info from Haman, that she had not known Mordecai was a Jew. She could not have had full info and could only have been appeasing Haman. Haman's plan all along was to do away with Mordecai any way he could. – Gina Mar 14 '19 at 15:10

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