Book of Esther
|Old Testament (Christianity)|
The Book of Esther, also known in Hebrew as "the Scroll" (Megillah), is a book in the third section (Ketuvim, "Writings") of the Jewish Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and in the Christian Old Testament. It relates the story of a Jewish girl in Persia, born as Hadassah but known as Esther, who becomes queen of Persia and thwarts a genocide of her people. The story forms the core of the Jewish festival of Purim, during which it is read aloud twice: once in the evening and again the following morning. Along with the Song of Songs, Esther is the only other book in the Bible that does not explicitly mention God.
Traditionally, unlike other Tanakh scrolls, a scroll of Esther is given only one roller, fixed to its left-hand side, rather than the customary two rollers (one fixed to the right-hand side as well as the one fixed to the left-hand side).[why?]
- 1 Setting
- 2 Summary
- 3 Authorship and date
- 4 Historicity
- 5 Historical reading
- 6 Allegorical reading
- 7 Additions to Esther
- 8 Reinterpretations of the story
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The biblical Book of Esther is set in the Persian capital of Susa (Shushan) in the third year of the reign of the Persian king Ahasuerus. The name, Ahasuerus, is equivalent to Xerxes, (both deriving from the Persian, Khshayārsha) and Ahasuerus is usually identified in modern sources as Xerxes I, who ruled between 486 and 465 BCE, as it is to this monarch that events described in Esther is thought to fit the most closely.
However, classical sources such as Josephus, the Jewish commentary Esther Rabbah and the Christian theologian Bar-Hebraeus - as well as the Greek Septuagint translation of Esther, instead identify Ahasuerus as either Artaxerxes I (reigned 465 to 424 BCE) or Artaxerxes II (reigned 404 to 358 BCE).
Assuming that Ahasuerus is indeed Xerxes I, the events described in Esther began around the years 483-482 BCE, and concluded in March 473 BCE.
The text begins with Ahasuerus, ruler of a massive Persian empire, holding a lavish banquet, initially for his court and dignitaries and afterwards for all inhabitants of the capital city, Shushan. On the seventh day, Ahasuerus orders the queen, Vashti, to come and display her beauty before the guests. She refuses. Furious, Ahasuerus has her removed from her position and makes arrangements to choose a new queen from a selection of beautiful young women from throughout the empire.
One of these is the Jewish orphan, Esther. After the death of her parents, she was fostered by her cousin, Mordecai. She finds favour in the King's eyes, and is crowned his new queen. Shortly afterwards, Mordecai discovers a plot by two courtiers, Bigthan and Teresh, to assassinate Ahasuerus. The conspirators are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai's service to the King is duly recorded.
Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman's disfavour, as he refuses to bow down to him. Having discovered that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai, but all the Jews in the empire. He duly obtains Ahasuerus' permission to execute this plan, against payment of ten thousand talents of silver, and casts lots to choose the date on which to do this—the thirteenth of the month of Adar.
When Mordecai finds out about the plan, he implores her to try and intercede with the King. But she is afraid to break the law and present herself to the King unsummoned, as this was punishable by death. She orders Mordecai to have all Jews fast for three days together with her, and on the third day she goes to Ahasuerus, who stretches out his sceptre to her to indicate that she is not to be punished. She invites him to a feast in the company of Haman. During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai and at his wife's suggestion, has a gallows built to hang him.
That night, King Ahasuerus suffers insomnia, and when he orders the court records be read to him in order to help him sleep, he is reminded of the services rendered by Mordecai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is informed that Mordecai never received any recognition for this.
Just then, Haman appears, to request the King's permission to hang Mordecai, but before he can make this request, King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the King wishes to honor. Assuming that the man that the King is referring to is himself, Haman suggests that the man be dressed in the King's royal robes and led around on the King's royal horse, while a herald calls: "See how the King honours a man he wishes to reward!" To his surprise and horror, the King instructs Haman to do so to Mordecai!
Immediately after, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther's second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, including her. Overcome by rage, Ahasuerus leaves the room; meanwhile Haman stays behind and begs Esther for his life, falling upon her in desperation. The King returns in at this very moment and thinks Haman is assaulting the queen; this makes him angrier than before and he orders Haman hanged on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai.
Although the King cannot annull his previous decree, he does permit the Jews to defend themselves during the attacks. On 13 Adar, 500 attackers and Haman's ten sons are killed in Shushan, followed by a Jewish slaughter of 75,000 Persians, taking no plunder. Esther sends a letter instituting an annual commemoration of the Jewish people's redemption, in a holiday called Purim (lots). Ahasuerus remains very powerful and continues reigning, with Mordecai assuming a prominent position in his court.
Authorship and date
Esther is usually dated[by whom?] to the 3rd or 4th century BCE. Shemaryahu Talmon, however, suggests that "the traditional setting of the book in the days of Xerxes I [(485–465 BC[E])] cannot be wide off the mark." Jewish tradition regards it as a redaction by the Great Assembly of an original text written by Mordecai.
The Greek additions to the Septuagint version of Esther (which do not appear in original Jewish/Hebrew version; see "Additions to Esther" below) are dated to around the late 2nd century or early 1st BCE.
- The primary source relating to the origin of Purim is the Megillat Esther (Book of Esther), which became the last of the 24 books of the Tanakh to be canonized by the Sages of the Great Assembly. It is dated to the 4th century BCE and according to the Talmud was a redaction by the Great Assembly of an original text by Mordecai.
- The Greek Book of Esther, included in the Septuagint, is a retelling of the events of the Hebrew Book of Esther rather than a translation and records additional traditions, in particular the identification of Ahasuerus with Artaxerxes and details of various letters. It is dated to the 2nd to 1st century BCE. The Coptic and Ethiopic versions of Esther are translations of it instead of the Hebrew Esther.
- A Latin version of Esther was produced by Jerome for the Vulgate. It translates the Hebrew Esther but interpolates translations of the Greek Esther where the latter provides additional material.
- Several Aramaic targums of Esther were produced in the Middle Ages of which two survive – the Targum Rishon ("First Targum") and Targum Sheni ("Second Targum") dated c. 500 – 1000 CE. These were not targums ("translations") in the true sense but like the Greek Esther are retellings of events and include additional legends relating to Purim. There is also a 16th-century recension of the Targum Rishon sometimes counted as Targum Shelishi ("Third Targum").
The book of Esther falls under the category of Ketuvim, one of three parts of the Jewish canon. According to some sources, it is a historical novella, written to explain the origin of the Jewish holiday of Purim.
As noted by biblical scholar Michael D. Coogan, the book contains specific details regarding certain subject matter (for example, Persian rule) which are historically inaccurate. For example, Coogan discusses an apparent inaccuracy regarding the age of Esther's cousin (or, according to others, uncle) Mordecai. In Esther 2:5–6, either Mordecai or his great-grandfather Kish is identified as having been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BCE: "Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jeconiah king of Judah." If this refers to Mordecai, he would have had to live over a century to have witnessed the events described in the Book of Esther. However, the verse may be read as referring not to Mordecai's exile to Babylon, but to his great-grandfather Kish's exile.
In her article “The Book of Esther and Ancient Storytelling,” biblical scholar Adele Berlin discusses the reasoning behind scholarly concern about the historicity of Esther. Much of this debate relates to the importance of distinguishing history and fiction within biblical texts, as Berlin argues, in order to gain a more accurate understanding of the history of the Israelite people. Berlin quotes a series of scholars who suggest that the author of Esther did not mean for the book to be considered as a historical writing, but intentionally wrote it to be a historical novella. The genre of novellas under which Esther falls was common during both the Persian and Hellenistic periods to which scholars have dated the book of Esther.
There are certain elements of the book of Esther that are historically accurate. The story told in the book of Esther takes place during the rule of Ahasuerus, who has been identified as the 5th-century Persian king Xerxes (486–465). The author also displays an accurate knowledge of Persian customs and palaces. However, according to Coogan, considerable historical inaccuracies remain throughout the text, supporting the view that the book of Esther is to be read as a historical novella which tells a story describing historical events but is not necessarily historical fact. Edwin M. Yamauchi has questioned the reliability of other historical sources, such as Herodotus, to which Esther has been compared. Yamauchi wrote, “[Herodotus] was, however, the victim of unreliable informants and was not infallible.” The reason for questioning the historical accuracy of such ancient writers as Herodotus is that he is one of the primary sources of knowledge for this time period, and it has been frequently assumed that his account may be more accurate than Esther's account.
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Those arguing in favour of an historical reading of Esther, most commonly identify Ahasuerus with Artaxerxes II (ruled 405–359 BCE) although in the past it was often assumed that he was Xerxes I (ruled 486–465 BCE). The Hebrew Ahasuerus (ʔaḥašwērōš) is most likely derived from Persian Xšayārša, the origin of the Greek Xerxes. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Xerxes sought his harem after being defeated in the Greco-Persian Wars. He makes no reference to individual members of the harem except for a domineering Queen consort named Amestris, whose father, Otanes, was one of Xerxes's generals. (In contrast, the Greek historian Ctesias refers to a similar father-in-law/general figure named Onaphas.) Amestris has often been identified with Vashti, but this identification is problematic, as Amestris remained a powerful figure well into the reign of her son, Artaxerxes I, whereas Vashti is portrayed as dismissed in the early part of Xerxes's reign. Alternative attempts have been made to identify her with Esther, although Esther is an orphan whose father was a Jew named Abihail.
As for the identity of Mordecai, the similar names Marduka and Marduku have been found as the name of officials in the Persian court in over thirty texts from the period of Xerxes I and his father Darius, and may refer to up to four individuals, one of which might after all be Mordecai.
The "Old Greek" Septuagint version of Esther translates the name Ahasuerus as Artaxerxes, a Greek name derived from the Persian Artaxšaϑra. Josephus too relates that this was the name by which he was known to the Greeks, and the Midrashic text, Esther Rabba also makes the identification. Bar-Hebraeus identified Ahasuerus explicitly as Artaxerxes II; however, the names are not necessarily equivalent: Hebrew has a form of the name Artaxerxes distinct from Ahasuerus, and a direct Greek rendering of Ahasuerus is used by both Josephus and the Septuagint for occurrences of the name outside the Book of Esther. Instead, the Hebrew name Ahasuerus accords with an inscription of the time that notes that Artaxerxes II was named also Aršu, understood as a shortening of Aḫšiyaršu the Babylonian rendering of the Persian Xšayārša (Xerxes), through which the Hebrew ʔaḥašwērōš (Ahasuerus) is derived. Ctesias related that Artaxerxes II was also called Arsicas which is understood as a similar shortening with the Persian suffix -ke that is applied to shortened names. Deinon related that Artaxerxes II was also called Oarses which is also understood to be derived from Xšayārša.
Another view attempts to identify him instead with Artaxerxes I (ruled 465–424 BCE), whose Babylonian concubine, Kosmartydene, was the mother of his son Darius II (ruled 424–405 BCE). Jewish tradition relates that Esther was the mother of a King Darius and so some try to identify Ahasuerus with Artaxerxes I and Esther with Kosmartydene.
Based on the view that the Ahasuerus of the Book of Tobit is identical with that of the Book of Esther, some have also identified him as Nebuchadnezzar's ally Cyaxares (ruled 625–585 BCE). In certain manuscripts of Tobit, the former is called Achiachar, which, like the Greek Cyaxares, is thought to be derived from Persian Huwaxšaϑra. Depending on the interpretation of Esther 2:5–6, Mordecai or his great-grandfather Kish was carried away from Jerusalem with Jeconiah by Nebuchadnezzar, in 597 BCE. The view that it was Mordecai would be consistent with the identification of Ahasuerus with Cyaxares. Identifications with other Persian monarchs have also been suggested.
Jacob Hoschander has argued that evidence of the historicity of Haman and his father Hamedatha is seen in Omanus and Anadatus mentioned by Strabo as being honoured with Anahita in the city of Zela. Hoschander argues that these were not deities as Strabo supposed but garbled forms of "Haman" and "Hamedatha" who were being worshipped as martyrs. The names are indeed unattested in Persian texts as gods, however the Talmud (Sanhedrin 61b) and Rashi both record a practice of deifying Haman and Josephus speaks of him being worshipped. Attempts have been made to connect both "Omanus" and "Haman" with the Zoroastrian term Vohu Mana; however this denotes the principle of "Good Thoughts" and is not the name of a deity.)
Whenever the book was written and whatever the historicity of the events recounted in it, clearly by the time it was written the term "Yehudim" (יהודים – Jews) already gained a meaning quite close to what it means up to the present—i.e. an ethnic-religious group, scattered in many countries, organised in autonomous communities and a target of hatred.
There are many classical Jewish readings of allegories into the book of Esther, mostly from Hasidic sources. They say that the literal meaning is true but that hidden behind this historical account are many allegories.
Though God is never explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, some Christians believe that his influence during the story is implied.
Some Christian[who?] readers consider this story to contain an allegory, representing the interaction between the church as 'bride' and God. This reading is related to the allegorical reading of the Song of Solomon and to the theme of the Bride of God, which in Jewish tradition manifests as the Shekhinah.
Additions to Esther
An additional six chapters appear interspersed in Esther in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the bible. This was noted by Jerome in compiling the Latin Vulgate. Additionally, the Greek text contains many small changes in the meaning of the main text. Jerome recognized the former as additions not present in the Hebrew Text and placed them at the end of his Latin translation as chapters 10:4–16:24. However, some modern Catholic English Bibles restore the Septuagint order, such as Esther in the NAB.
These additions include:
- an opening prologue that describes a dream had by Mordecai
- the contents of the decree against the Jews
- prayers for God's intervention offered by Mordecai and by Esther
- an expansion of the scene in which Esther appears before the king, with a mention of God's intervention
- a copy of the decree in favor of the Jews
- a passage in which Mordecai interprets his dream (from the prologue) in terms of the events that followed
- a colophon appended to the end, which reads: In the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemy and Cleopatra, Dositheus, who said he was a priest and Levite, and his son Ptolemy brought the present letter of Purim, saying that it was genuine and that Lysimachus, son of Ptolemy, of the community of Jerusalem, had translated it.
By the time Esther was written, the foreign power visible on the horizon as a future threat to Judah was the Macedonians of Alexander the Great, who defeated the Persian empire about 150 years after the time of the story of Esther; the Septuagint version noticeably calls Haman a "Bougaion" (βουγαῖον) where the Hebrew text describes him as an Agagite.
The canonicity of these Greek additions has been a subject of scholarly disagreement practically since their first appearance in the Septuagint— Martin Luther, being perhaps the most vocal Reformation-era critic of the work, considered even the original Hebrew version to be of very doubtful value. Luther's complaints against the book carried past the point of scholarly critique and may reflect Luther's antisemitism, which is disputed, such as in the biography of Luther by Derek Wilson, which points out that Luther's anger at the Jews was not at their race but at their theology.
The Council of Trent, the summation of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation, reconfirmed the entire book, both Hebrew text and Greek additions, as canonical. While modern Roman Catholic scholars openly recognize the Greek additions as clearly being additions to the text, the Book of Esther is used twice in commonly used sections of the Catholic Lectionary. In both cases, the text used is not only taken from a Greek addition, the readings also are the prayer of Mordecai, and nothing of Esther's own words is ever used. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses the Septuagint version of Esther, as it does for all of the Old Testament. The additions are specifically listed in the Thirty-Nine Articles, Article VI, of the Church of England: "The rest of the Book of Esther".
Reinterpretations of the story
In 1992, a 30-minute, fully animated video, twelfth in Hanna-Barbera's The Greatest Adventure series, titled Queen Esther features the voices of Helen Slater as Queen Esther, Dean Jones as King Ahasuerus, Werner Klemperer as Haman, and Ron Rifkin as Mordecai.
The 1999 TV movie Esther starred Louise Lombard as Esther and F. Murray Abraham as Mordecai.
The 2006 film One Night with the King is a reenactment of the biblical story of Esther.
There are several paintings depicting Esther, including one by Millais.
- Rossel, Seymour (2007). The Torah: Portion by Portion. Los Angeles, CA, USA: Torah Aura Productions. p. 212. ISBN 978-1-891662-94-2. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
- "The Book of Esther Doesn't Mention God, Why is It in the Bible?". Discoverymagazine.com.
- Baumgarten, Albert I.; Sperling, S. David; Sabar, Shalom (2007). Skolnik, Fred; Berenbaum, Michael, eds. Encyclopaedia Judaica 18 (2nd ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA. p. 216.
- Larkin, Katrina J. A. (1996). Ruth and Esther (Old Testament Guides). Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press. p. 71.
- Crawford, Sidnie White (1998). "Esther". In Newsom, Carol A.; Ringe, Sharon H. Women’s Bible Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox. p. 202.
- Moore, Carey A. (1971). Esther (Anchor Bible). Garden City, NY: Doubleday. p. XXXV.
- E A W Budge, The Chronography of Bar Hebraeus, Gorgias Press LLC, reprinted 2003
- Esther chapters 9–10
- Shemaryahu Talmon, "Wisdom in the Book of Esther", Vetus Testamentum 13 (1963), p. 453 (at JSTOR, free subscription needed)
- Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Bathra 15a
- Freedman, David Noel; Allen C. Myers; Astrid B. Beck Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000 ISBN 978-0-8028-2400-4 p.428 books.google.co.uk
- NIV Study Bible, Introductions to the Books of the Bible, Esther, Zondervan, 2002
- Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Bathra 15a
- George Lyons, Additions to Esther, Wesley Center for Applied Theology, 2000
- Prof. Michael Sokoloff, The Targums to the Book of Esther, Bar-Ilan University 's Parashat Hashavua Study Center, Parashat Tezaveh/Zakhor 5764 March 6, 2004
- S. Kaufman, CAL TARGUM TEXTS, Text base and variants, The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion
- Alan J. Hauser, Duane Frederick Watson, A History of Biblical Interpretation: The Ancient Period, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003
- Coogan, Michael David Coogan, A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament: The Hebrew Bible in Its Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 396.
- Sidnie White Crawford, “Esther,” in The New Interpreters Study Bible New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, ed. Walter J. Harrison and Donald Senior (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 689–690.
- New King James Version, translation of Esther 2:6
- Bromiley, Geoffrey W. (Editor), International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume II, 1982, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 159 (entry: Book of Esther)
- Wiersbe,Warren W., Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament History, David C Cook, 2004 p. 712
- Adele Berlin, “The Book of Esther and Ancient Storytelling,” Journal of Biblical Literature 120. no. 1 (Spring 2001): 3–14.
- Adele Berlin, “The Book of Esther and Ancient Storytelling,” Journal of Biblical Literature 120. no. 1 (Spring 2001): 6.
- "The archaeological background of Esther : archaeological backgrounds of the exilic and postexilic era, pt 2." Bibliotheca sacra 137, no. 546 (1980), 102.
- http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/17-esther-nets.pdf Note on two Greek versions of the book of Esther
- Jacob Hoschander, The Book of Esther in the Light of History, Oxford University Press, 1923
- "Esther: "Missing" Sections? Explanation.". Element Christian Church. July 7, 2010.
- see the NAB online for the passages
- Frederic W. Bush, "The Book of Esther: Opus non gratum in the Christian Canon", Bulletin for Biblical Research 8 (1998), p. 39
- Article VI: Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation[dead link]
- Hanna-Barbera's Greatest Adventure Series Videos – Queen Esther
- The Greatest Adventure Stories From The Bible
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Text and translations
- Jewish translations
- Christian translations
Introduction and analysis
- Beal, Timothy K (Timothy Beal). The Book of Hiding: Gender, Ethnicity, Annihilation, and Esther. NY: Routledge, 1997. Postmodern theoretical apparatus, e.g. Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas
- Extract from The JPS Bible Commentary: Esther by Adele Berlin: Liberal Jewish view.
- Fox, Michael V. Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther, 2nd ed. Wipf & Stock, 2010 — highly regarded literary analysis
- Sasson, Jack M. “Esther” in Alter and Kermode, pp. 335–341, literary view
- The Historicity of Megillat Esther: Gil Student's survey of scholarship supporting an historical reading of Esther
- Esther, Book of: A Christian perspective of the book.
- Thespis: Ritual, Myth, and Drama in the Ancient Near East by Theodor Gaster. 1950.
- White, Sidnie Ann. “Esther: A Feminine Model for Jewish Diaspora” in Newsom
Commentaries and other books
- Esther (Judaica Press) translation [with Rashi's commentary] at Chabad.org
- Clines, David J.A. The Esther Scroll. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 30. Sheffield, England: Sheffield, 1984.
- Cumming, Rev. J. Elder DD The Book of Esther : Its spiritual teaching London: The Religious Tract Society, 1913
- Ecker, Ronald L. The Book of Esther, Ecker's Biblical Web Pages, 2007.
- Fischer, James A. Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther. Collegeville Bible Commentary. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1986.
- Fox, Michael V. Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001.
- Hudson, J. Francis Esther: For Such a Time as This. From Character and Charisma series. Kingsway, 2000.
- Levenson, Jon D. Esther. Old Testament Library Series. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1997.
- McConville, John C.L. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985.
- Moore, Carey A. Esther. Anchor Bible, vol. 7B. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971.
- Paton, Lewis B. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1908.
- "Esther, Book of". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
- "Esther, Apocryphal Book of". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
Book of Esther
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