The birthday of Herod (Mk 6:21-6:21)

“But an opportunity came

When Herod,

On his birthday,

Gave a banquet

For his noble courtiers,

His military officers,

And the prominent leaders

Of Galilee.”


Καὶ γενομένης ἡμέρας εὐκαίρου ὅτε Ἡρῴδης τοῖς γενεσίοις αὐτοῦ δεῖπνον ἐποίησεν τοῖς μεγιστᾶσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῖς χιλιάρχοις καὶ τοῖς πρώτοις τῆς Γαλιλαίας,


Mark has a long descriptive story about this birthday party of Herod.  Matthew, chapter 14:6-12, has a more summary statement about this party, while Luke made no mention of it.  Mark explained about the guests at this birthday party.  He said that an opportunity arose for a festival day (Καὶ γενομένης ἡμέρας εὐκαίρου) on the celebration of King Herod’s birthday (ὅτε Ἡρῴδης τοῖς γενεσίοις αὐτοῦ).  King Herod gave a banquet dinner (δεῖπνον ἐποίησεν) for his courtiers or noblemen (τοῖς μεγιστᾶσιν αὐτοῦ), his military officers or captains (καὶ τοῖς χιλιάρχοις), and the other prominent leaders of Galilee (καὶ τοῖς πρώτοις τῆς Γαλιλαίας).  Anybody who was of any importance in Galilee would have been there, since Herod was the tetrarch or so-called king of Galilee, under Roman rule.

Haman is in charge (Esth 3:1-3:6)

“After these events, King Artaxerxes promoted Haman son of Hammedatha, a Bugean. He advanced Haman. He granted him precedence over all the king’s officials. He set his seat above all the princes who were with him. All who were at court used to do obeisance to Haman. The king had so commanded this to be done. Mordecai, however, did not do obeisance. Then the king’s courtiers said to Mordecai.

‘Mordecai, why do you disobey the king’s command?’

Day after day, they spoke to him, but he would not listen to them. Then they informed Haman that Mordecai was resisting the king’s command. Mordecai had told them that he was a Jew. When Haman learned that Mordecai was not doing obeisance to him, he was infuriated. However, he thought it beneath him to lay hands on Mordecai alone. Having been told who Mordecai’s people were, Haman plotted to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of King Artaxerxes.”

It was not clear why Haman was promoted to this important role at the royal court. He was a Bugean or Agagite that probably refers to an Amalekite or an Assyrian, but it is not clear. This group may have been traditional enemies of the Jews. Since he was in charge of the other officials, it was only right that they obeyed him and offered obeisance. Judith did this to General Holofernes in chapter 10 of that work. This was a common courtesy. Mordecai gave his reason for not doing obeisance to Haman because he was a Jew. Day after day, the others told Mordecai to do it. When Haman found out about this he was furious. However, he did not want to single out Mordecai since that might look pompous. Instead he decided to destroy Mordecai’s people, all the Jews. Some have referred to this as the original genocide. Once again, it is hard to conceive of why he should have made such a jump from one person to his whole ethnic background unless it was just old fashioned stereotyping. Anti-Semitism has a long history and can be found here in the Bible itself. The European experience of anti-Semitism from Italy, France, England, Spain, Portugal, and Holland reached its apex in Germany in the 20th century.