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Midrash Esther XIX-Who Were The Partemim?

“The Partemim.” Robbie Eliezer said: The Partemim are the two Imperial Legions of the King; for a king is not called Augustus Caesar unless they first proclaim him. And they, the legions, are the following: Rabbi Isaac said: they are the Decumanian and Augustan legions. (The reference is probably to the Praetorian Guards, which frequently deposed and set up emperors until they were finally disbanded by Constantine the Great.) It was these which suggested to Nebuchadnezar (Vespasian) that he should go up and destroy the Temple, and God exterminated them and raised up others in their place. These are, according to Rabbi Judah the son of Rabbi Simon speaking in the name of Rabbi Eliezer, the Joviani and Herculanei. (A bodyguard instituted by Diocletian bore the name of Joviani.) Rabbi Huna said: They, the Partemim, where his counselors and viceroys. Rabbi Isaac said: “Benei ta’amaya means counselors, as we read, “Then Daniel returned an answer with counsel and advice (Daniel 2:14).”


This Midrash is clearly an example of the Sages using the Purim story to parallel their experiences with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, by the Romans. Nebuchadnezar is used to describe Vespasian. Achashveirosh’s counselors are used to describe the Roman Legions.

Some of the Sages focused their ire on the military, while others focused their anger on the counselors of the King. I believe that they do this because although with the Romans it was clearly a military effort,  the story in the Book of Esther is not is not a story of war as much as a story of strategy.

The Midrash closes with a reminder that we must study the Book of Esther as a confrontation between great strategists.

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