Fun with the Bible: 7 Fun Facts About the Book of Esther This Purim

Rather than go through the entire book of Esther, which would be an enormous undertaking and not what Fun with the Bible is all about, I’m going to point out a few fun things about the biblical book of Esther.

1. It’s one of the scrolls, or megillot, that the Jews read in full at particular times throughout the liturgical calendar year.

2. In Judaism, the holiday surrounding the Book of Esther is called Purim, and it is a particularly fun holiday with partying, games, costumes and revelry, celebrated in a fashion much akin to Halloween. It is the one holiday during which it is sanctioned to get wasted – so wasted in fact, that you are not supposed to be able to tell the difference between the names of the good guy and the bad guy in the Purim story (think Carnival).

3. The bad guy in the story is named Haman, and in episode 309 of South Park, “Jewbilee,” some cryptic references to this arch-enemy of the Jews are made. Curiously, they have nothing to do with Purim. Haman, the king’s vizier, was planning on killing all of the Jews across Shushan (ancient Persia) because one Jew, Mordechai refused to bow down to him. Mordechai, using his niece who had recently married the king, managed to thwart Haman’s plan and have Haman killed instead. And in the general telling, that’s where the story ends. What people often leave out is that the Jews were able to rise up and kill 75,000 of their enemies on the same day (legally sanctioned by the king, fyi). Twisted and often ignored.

4. The holiday begins with the Fast of Esther, the name of Mordechai’s niece who helped save the Jews from Haman. Before executing her plan she fasted for three days. Jews commemorate this fast with one fast day of their own.

5. The book of Esther is the ONLY book in the Bible that doesn’t mention God in any way.

6. Strangely enough, the book of Esther is the only Old Testament book (the only books around at the time, mind you) not discovered at Qumran amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls.

7. My girlfriend’s name is Eszter (the Hungarian spelling of Esther), so I have a particular affinity for this book…if only for this reason.

If you’re celebrating, Happy Purim!

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Around the World Pic of the Day: Daoist Temple in Malaysia

Me at a Daoist temple in Malaysia

Nearly two years ago Eszter studied abroad in Hong Kong. She did more cultural studies than book studying, though, not remaining in Hong Kong for more than one or two of her five day weekends (yes, she’d put all of her classes into two days to travel around South East Asia more effectively). I went to visit her for 10 days or so and since I was coming from Israel, I had to fly Air France through Paris: the service was quality but I must say, Charles deGaulle airport is perhaps one of the worst on the planet. Seven dollars (5+ Euro) for a goddamn Coke? Are you kidding me? Anyhoo, the rest of the trip was definitely better than that airport so don’t worry.

We spent three days in Hong Kong, which is not my favorite city because all of their historical sites have been replaced by steel buildings. It’s like New York with a lot more Asian people. The view from the highest point is beautiful (the picture on About the Author at www.thezenofsouthpark.com is from there) and if you like to shop it’s the city for you, but I was glad when we left for Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur was amazing. Every meal should be eaten from the food stalls on the street. You get the craziest things like shark-fin dumplings. Really an incredible city. After a day there (we would spend another day there on the back-end of our trip) we took a bus to the coast and from there believed we had reservations on an island. As it turns out, we didn’t, but at a place that claimed to be on the island – a resort facing it. Was it providence that booked us the reservation we hadn’t wanted or planned on (the answer I’m looking for is “no”) but I’ll sure say that it was fortunate. From our room in this resort not on the fantasy island we’d envisioned we watched two days of storm fall nonstop on the island across the way while we had great weather on the mainland. For our last day it stopped raining and we went over to explore the island. The picture above is a Daoist Temple on the island.

I love Daoism, its emphasis on harmony and nature, its attitude and approach towards life. This Temple was interesting, primarily because its colors shocked me. I expected more of a Zen garden (though I know that’s Buddhist) than a colorful temple but here I was. Winding paths brought you high above the shanty town that was next to this Temple and overlooking the sea. It was quite beautiful and a lovely experience. This is the first section of the Tao Te Ching, the Daoist text allegedly said by Lao Tzu:

The Two that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.

The named is the mother of ten thousand things.

Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.

Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.

These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness.

Darkness born from darkness.

The beginning of all understanding.

Have you ever been to Malaysia or Hong Kong? What did you think? Did you visit any temples? Send me your pictures, please!

South Park tonight: “Bebe’s Boobs Destroy Society” is a great episode about growing up and not letting women come between friends. “Toilet Paper” has a great part where Butters has confessed to the boys’ crime of teepeeing a teacher’s house and Cartman calls his confession a gift from God, an early Easter present all wrapped up from Jesus himself with a little bow. Wow? I mean, I know God likes to punish one guy for everybody else’s sins but that seems a little extreme – more extreme than anything He had done before, right?

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Eszter’s Birthday and Curbing Writer’s Obsession

In addition to a review of The Happening which is coming later this afternoon, I am going to share something a little different than I usually do today. For you see, yesterday was Eszter’s birthday. Unfortunately, we were not able to spend the entire thing together because she was on a retreat for her job in Miami (Prophet, a consulting firm, brings together everyone in their company from all over the world for 48 hours of learning and fun) and didn’t fly back into Atlanta until 7 p.m. yesterday evening. Since she had a flight out of Atlanta (to Hungary) this morning at 7 a.m., and still had some packing to do, I decided that the best plan was not dinner reservations.

So, I made dinner myself. Eszter’s favorite foods are mango, asparagus, salmon, avocado and corn. Thus, I made Eszter’s Favorite Foods dinner. We had grilled corn on the cob, guacamole, mango-avocado salad, and salmon-asparagus fettuccine. Most of the recipes came from The Joy of Cooking which is available on my website, click here, under Lisa’s Pics. In addition I gave her a pearl bracelet (which matched pearl earrings and necklace I had given her two years ago). For dessert, there were homemade chocolate covered strawberries and a scrapbook that I made with photos of us around the world.

Now, it may sound like this was simple and easy, but let me tell you, I spent the day running around like crazy. I dragged my sister out of bed to help me pick out the bracelet, and the idea for the scrapbook was hers. She helped me grocery shop, assemble the book, and keep me calm. I owe the day’s successes to her. Fortunately, it was a great success and Eszter loved the whole thing (despite her exhaustion and oncoming cold). My stepmom also helped with some of the cooking and gave me good advice about order and technique.

So, it may sound like I did a good boyfriend thing but let me tell you, I walk around obsessed with my book every day and I thought that for putting up with me, Eszter deserved an evening of total attention and everything that she likes. As a writer, and many of my writer-readers understand this, it’s hard to think about anything else and stop being so egocentric. But it’s exceedingly necessary and having someone in your life to ground you and remind you of what’s really important in life is quite valuable. So treat that person, whoever he or she is, right.

Did I do good boyfriend work? What’s the nicest thing your significant other ever did for you? Did it make a difference?

Status Report: Jesus Didn’t Murder Me at the Water Park

Despite the challenge I issued to Jesus yesterday, I am still alive. This doesn’t say anything about Jesus’ existence or power of course – only that I didn’t piss him off. I said, Jesus, if I’ve angered you with the inaccuracy of my statements about you, then I’ll be at a water park today and you’ll have your opportunity. Well, I’m happy to report that it was an awesome day at the water park – filled with fun rides, great times and lots of wetness. Eszter and I floated around the river, road every ride in the park and waited in virtually no lines. If I had to say so I’d say that Jesus was pretty pleased about my recent blogging. Thanks big guy!

Indiana Jones and the Temple of something something – plus Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls

(If you’re looking for a post about the South Park episode making fun of this movie, click HERE)

A blog about South Park and religion, you say. Yes, I do, but there are other things to be discussed as well and that’s what I’m going to do. Since I just saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull I thought I’d take a moment to tell you what I thought. It was good. I used to write a newsletter called The Catalyst (maybe if I can find the old files then I’ll get them up online for all to read), and in it I did movie reviews. Even back then I loved South Park and my standard was Chocolate Salty Balls (CSB) – yes, Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls. I would assign 1 to 10 CSBs as my rating system. So, the new Indiana Jones movie gets 7.5 CSBs.

Now, bear in mind – if you think that’s a little high – that I am a fan of movies generally. So long as I have no expectations for a movie I can generally sit down and just enjoy it for its entertainment value. That being the case, I am very opinionated and crap is crap. This, however, was good. Harrison Ford was his usual quality self and Shia LeBeouf gave a rousing performance as well. It got a little cheesed up at the end, but it was an Indiana Jones movie and you could tell throughout that a cheese ending was coming. Fortunately, the action, though not nonstop, was regular enough and pretty decent. At first I was surprised by the supernatural plotline, but then I remembered that most Indiana Jone’s movies are actually that way. So, if you can set aside the supernatural and the cheese and realize that you’re watching a good old fashioned Indiana Jone’s movie in standard Lucas-Indiana Jones style, then you will probably enjoy.

One of the great parts about going, though, is that my girlfriend, Eszter (who you’ll be hearing from tomorrow), saw Sex and the City while I saw Indiana Jones. The only men in line for Sex and the City (and the 200 people preparing to go in were waiting together to go into the theatre, were a gay couple, an old man with his wife who was rather excited and one younger man, clearly with his significant other and looking depressed, ashamed and emasculated. It was pitiful and hilarious. All the other people were women.

Want your own copy? Get it: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

For another, check out my friend and fellow writer, Chandler Craig’s blog: chandlermariecraig.wordpress.com.

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