Iranian Jews bought tomb of Queen Esther and Mordechai, Israel’s National Library reveals

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The mausoleum of the biblical Esther and her cousin Mordechai in Hamadan, one of the most important Jewish sites in Iran, May 2002. Credit: Philippe Chavin via Wilimedia Commons.
The shah’s government facilitated the purchase of the land in 1971 to mark 2,500 years to Cyrus the Great’s edict allowing Babylonians to worship the god of their choice.

 Ahead of the Purim holiday, Israel’s National Library has revealed an exchange of historical letters proving that Iranian Jews purchased the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai in the Iranian city of Hamadan in 1971. The purchase marked 2,500 years to Persian King Cyrus the Great’s edict allowing Babylonians to worship the god of their choice.

The letters reveal negotiations between Jewish representatives in the country and officials in Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s government regarding the purchase of the plot in which according to tradition, Mordechai and Esther, whose story is read in the Book of Esther on Purim, are buried. The extraordinary exchange was preserved by the ORT organization, maintained in the central archive in the National Library’s Central Zionist Archives.

Initial evidence of the mausoleum’s ties to the Jewish figures was provided by medieval Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela in the twelfth century, who estimated Hamadan to have around 50,000 Jewish residents and described the tomb as being situated in front of the synagogue.

According to Dr. Samuel Thrope, the curator of the National Library’s Middle East and Islam Collection, the letters are a testament to Iran’s last shah having seen himself as Cyrus’s successor and having sought to portray that image to his country’s Jews. The 2,500-year anniversary to the Edict of Cyrus was precisely the event the shah had been looking for, said Thrope.

In a 1968 letter to the Iranian Jewish community’s representative in parliament, Lotfollah Hay, Iranian Archaeology and Public Education Department Director-General Abdolali Pourmand clarified that the country’s Education Ministry would assist the Jewish community in Iran with purchasing the tomb and the surrounding lands from its owner at the time, the Bazargani Bank. The acquisition would be paid for through the sale of tickets to enter the tomb, they explained.

Thrope explained: “This story sheds a unique light on the Jewish community’s ties to authorities in Iran over the years and Cyrus’s special status, both among Jews and the Persian public.”

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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