‘How shall we kill him? By sword, fire or lions?’: The Aramaic Targum and the Midrashic narrative on Haman’s gallows

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The Midrashic literature and biblical translations focus majorly on the verses that describe the gathering in Haman’s house and the preparing of the gallows for Mordechai the Jew (Es 5:14). The goal of this study is to discuss the narrative shaped by the Targum and Midrashic sources and to examine both the realistic domain concerning methods of punishment that were suggested and the theological–educational meaning of the punishment and the type of tree chosen. Targum Rishon develops the contents of the conversation in Haman’s house as to how Mordechai should be executed. While according to the text, the suggestion to hang Mordechai appears to have been the only method agreed upon by all those present at the meeting, Targum Rishon includes several forms of killing and torture that were proposed and considered. While Targum Rishon presents the theological meaning of the choice to kill Mordechai specifically by hanging him from a gallows, a Midrash aggadah attempts to clarify the species of the tree used to prepare Mordechai’s gallows and comes to the surprising conclusion that it was a type of thorn tree. Regarding Haman’s search for a suitable beam on which to hang Mordechai, Midrash Abba Gorion relates that the beam was found in the king’s palace or, according to another opinion, the sawed beam found originated from Noah’s ark. Contribution: The Midrashic sources portray an entire scene that includes discourse, deliberations and choice in Haman’s house and in heaven. It seems that the authors of the Midrash and the Targum not only clarify the text and complement the story by adding missing realistic details, they also enrich the text with new meanings that serve their theological concepts.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbera5839
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalHTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - 15 Jul 2020


  • Ancient punishment methods
  • Book of Esther
  • Crucifixion
  • Esther Rabbah II
  • Execution
  • Gallows
  • Haman
  • Midrash Abba Gorion
  • Mordechai
  • Targum Rishon


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