Purim and Stoicism

Purim is coming up beginning the evening of February 25th thru the 26th of this year (2021). There is, in fact, an important connection between this Jewish holiday, and Stoicism.

Purim commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, an Achaemenid Persian Empire official who was planning to kill all the Jews, as recounted in the Book of Esther.

Haman sought to destroy the Jewish people, and to do so thru an element of random chance, casting lots to choose the day for their intended destruction. Haman placed his faith in random chance, having a view that the universe is nothing but a collection of random occurrences.

By contrast the Jews were saved by providence, by the influence of the Logos, the rational mind that permeates the universe. The Jews were saved, not by supernatural intervention, but by nature and the natural unfolding of the universe in a series of seemingly unrelated “coincidences”.

Thru these seemingly unrelated events; a drunken and boastful king, a self-respecting queen, a beauty pageant, a sensuous girl, an overheard plot, and a timely insomnia, the Logos works behind the scenes to the benefit of the Jews and against the plans of Haman and his trust in a universe guided only by randomness.

In his foundational book On Creation, the first Century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, concludes that a created universe, leads to the the corollary of the concept of “providence”. Philo writes:

And those who describe it [the universe] as being uncreated, do, without being aware of it, cut off the most useful and necessary of all the qualities which tend to produce piety, namely, providence: (10) for reason proves that the father and creator has a care for that which has been created; for a father is anxious for the life of his children, and a workman aims at the duration of his works, and employs every device imaginable to ward off everything that is pernicious or injurious, and is desirous by every means in his power to provide everything which is useful or profitable for them. But with regard to that which has not been created, there is no feeling of interest as if it were his own in the breast of him who has not created it. (11) It is then a pernicious doctrine, and one for which no one should contend, to establish a system in this world, such as anarchy is in a city, so that it should have no superintendant, or regulator, or judge, by whom everything must be managed and governed.
(Philo; On Creation 9b-11)

And later Philo concludes:

The fifth lesson that Moses teaches us is, that God exerts his providence for the benefit of the world. For it follows of necessity that the Creator must always care for that which he has created, just as parents do also care for their children.
(Philo; On Creation 171b-172a)

So as Purim arrives this year, let us remember that this universe is not governed by random chance like casting of lots, but by the providence of the rational mind which permeates the universe and binds it together.

As Hebraic Stoics, we should live our lives in accordance with this nature of the unfolding universe, as Philo also writes:

 (3) And his exordium, as I have already said, is most admirable; embracing the creation of the world, under the idea that the law corresponds to the world and the world to the law, and that a man who is obedient to the law, being, by so doing, a citizen of the world, arranges his actions with reference to the intention of nature, in harmony with which the whole universal world is regulated. (Philo; On Creation 3)

And as he states elsewhere:

…for he [Moses] was not like any ordinary compiler of history, studying to leave behind him records of ancient transactions as memorials to future ages for the mere sake of affording pleasure without any advantage; but he traced back the most ancient events from the beginning of the world, commencing with the creation of the universe, in order to make known two most necessary principles. First, that the same being was the father and creator of the world, and likewise the lawgiver of truth; secondly, that the man who adhered to these laws, and clung closely to a connection with and obedience to nature, would live in a manner corresponding to the arrangement of the universe with a perfect harmony and union, between his words and his actions and between his actions and his words.
(On the Life of Moses 2, 48)

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