10

In the Megillah, we read (6:1):

בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא נָדְדָה שְׁנַת הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיֹּאמֶר לְהָבִיא אֶת־סֵפֶר הַזִּכְרֹנוֹת דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים וַיִּהְיוּ נִקְרָאִים לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ

On that night, the king's sleep was disturbed. He said to bring the book of chronicles, and they read it before the king.

Likewise, in Ezra 4:18, Artachshasta (who was either Koreish/Daryavesh, according to Rashi, or Achashveirosh, according to Ralbag) says that he had a letter read to him:

נִשְׁתְּוָנָא דִּי שְׁלַחְתּוּן עֲלֶינָא מְפָרַשׁ קֱרִי קָדָמָי

The letter which you have sent to me has been explained and read before me.

Why didn't these kings read the text themselves? At first, I thought maybe it was just the way of kings to have others read things to them, but we find that Jewish kings did read (Yehoram in Melachim 2:5:7, Yoshiah in ibid. 22:16 and 23:2), as well as Babylonian ones (Sanhedrin 22a explains that the handwriting on the wall was written in code, implying Belshatzar could read it otherwise).

According to the Ralbag, perhaps since Achashveirosh's father was a stable boy (Megillah 12b), he simply didn't have the education to know how to read. But Rashi learns that Artachshasta was a different king; what was his excuse?

I see three possibilities here:

  1. Specifically Persian-Median kings had the custom to be read to, rather than reading themselves.
  2. Persian-Median kings were incapable of reading.
  3. Persian-Median kings could read, but Achashveirosh was ill-educated, and Koreish...?

Which of these is correct?

  • Maybe it is easier to fall asleep when someone reads to you than when you read yourself? Might have to do with being able to stay in the dark when someone else reads – mbloch Mar 22 at 4:26
  • Why generalize - "were they all..."? Even if some of them were what's the Nafka Mina? How vital is this for running a country? While the question is legit, I'd like you to specify your intention - what could be learned from it. – Al Berko Mar 22 at 10:47
  • @AlBerko Why does it matter? Maybe it’s just a curiosity in the Pesukim. – DonielF Mar 22 at 14:48
  • A guess: cuneiform writing was still in use at that time, which far fewer people could read than the simpler Alphabetic scripts. Perhaps the archives' "books" were cuneiform on clay or more perishable tablets, and only scribes could easily read them? Or your possibility #1 was in effect--It's good to be The King(thanks, Mel!)and he didn't have to read anything if he didn't want to. – Gary Mar 28 at 5:11
  • See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behistun_Inscription for info on a cuneiform monumental inscription of that era. – Gary Mar 28 at 5:25
11

In the case of Achashveirosh, Rashi writes:

(from sefaria)

לְהָבִיא אֶת סֵפֶר הַזִּכְרֹנוֹת. דֶּרֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים, כְּשֶׁשְּׁנָתָן נוֹדֶדֶת, אוֹמְרִים לִפְנֵיהֶם מְשָׁלִים וְשִׂיחוֹת עַד שֶׁשְּׁנָתָם חוֹזֶרֶת עֲלֵיהֶם.‏

To bring the book of archives. It is the custom of kings that when their sleep is disturbed, parables and tales are recounted before them until their sleep is restored.

Thus, regardless of whether he was literate or not, it would have been read to him.

In the case of Artachshasta, R. Mordechai Zer-Kavod quotes someone (I'm not sure who it is)1 who suggests that it was translated for him from Aramaic to Persian - again, not an indication that he was illiterate.


1 R. Mordechai Zer-Kavod agrues with this explanation, but JPS also explains it like this.

1

Books were cumbersome and heavy at the time, not the Capitalist small paperbacks the companies make today for profit!

Do you expect a king to take a 5kg book to bed at night to read or a 5m long scroll papyrus?

  • 2
    It's not about "capitalist paperbacks". My soviet-printed books are just as small. It's about paper, and the printing press. Parchment is thicker and heavier than paper, and a human using ink and the pens of that time wouldn't be able to write as small as modern print without the ink smearing and the letters becoming unreadable. – Galastel Mar 22 at 14:39
  • I also asked about a letter sent to Artachshasta. Certainly that was smaller. – DonielF Mar 22 at 14:49

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