Esther

RESOURCES:

Beal, Timothy K..  Esther.  Part of the Berit Olam / Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry commentary series edited by David W. Cotter.  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville MN, 1999).

Berlin, Adele.  Esther.  Part of the JPS Bible commentary series edited by Nahum Sarna.  (Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 2001).

Crawford, Sidnie White.  The Book of Esther.  Part of the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary series (in volume III) edited by Leander Keck and others.  (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1999)

Levenson, Jon D..   Esther.  Part of the Old Testament Library commentary series edited by James L Mays, Carol Newsom, and David Petersen.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1997).

Zlotowitz, Rabbi Meir.  The Megillah / The Book of Esther / A new translation with a commentary anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic and Rabbinic sources.  (Mesorah Publications, New York, 1976).

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Crawford p 855: “It contains all the elements of a popular romance novel: a young and beautiful heroine; a wicked, scheming villain; a wise older father figure; and an inept and laughable ruler.  In the story good triumphs, evil is destroyed, and all ends happily.  It is no surprise, then, that the book of Esther was so popular that, despite certain objections, including its failure to mention God even once, it made its way into the Jewish canon by popular acclaim.  Beneath its lighthearted surface, however, the book of Esther explores darker themes: racial hatred, the threat of genocide, and the evil of overweening pride and vanity.  These layers of meaning make this book a worthwhile object of study.”

Crawford p. 856: written in the late 4th or early 3rd centuries B.C.E.  Most likely written in Persia / Babylon for the Jews still living there (who did not return after captivity).

Read in its entirety as part of the Purim festival, with noise makers and more, usually  done as a play.  It is a work of fiction that is meant to be read as if it were not.  Crawford p. 859:  It DOES contain some historical elements but it is a work of fiction.  Xerxes = Ahasuerus, non-Persians could rise to high rank in the empire, Susa was one of four capital cities, etc.   But – no Queen Esther, no massacres, no Haman or Mordecai etc..   The book itself establishes the Purim festival.

Beal p. x: “Long before Christian anti-Judaism and modern anti-Semitism, Esther tells a story of (among other things) anti-Judaism, of the survival of the Jewish people in the face of a government-supported attempt to project them as quintessentially other, or “not us,” and to annihilate them as such.  It also is a story of sexism, in which the projection of women as other parallels the projection of Jews as other.  As such it raises strikingly contemporary questions concerning relations between sexism, ethnocentrism, and national identity.”

Has numerous banquets which help establish the structure and flow of the work.  Characters appear in two’s .  Lots of subtle poking-fun at the Gentile ruling Persians, exaggeration.

Crawford p. 857: major theme of the book is ironic reversal as the powerful fall and the weak become strong.  (Jesus emphasis that in the Kingdom of God the first will be last etc….).  Note that there are multiple reversals through the story.   They begin in chapter 1 with Queen Vashti refusing the king and therefore being cast aside.

The current NAB text has 6 additional chapters that the Hebrew text of Jewish bibles do not have (Rabbi Starr was surprised – Mordecai had a dream?…).  These were in the Greek Septuagint and came into the Catholic bible with the book.   They do, in fact, change the story some.  Queen Vashti is not the sympathetic  figure that she is in the Jewish version of the text.

Beal, throughout his introduction, focuses on the absence of God.  Eshter’s very name has the Hebrew root of str, meaning to hide.  Who is hiding?  Certainly Esther hides her Jewishness, but also – God is hiding.  Not mentioned at all in the Hebrew chapters.  The Jewish folks are “on their own” to deal with the problems they face.  Another derivation for the name may be “Ishtar” – an ancient love goddess.

throughout the text the eunuchs, who are neither male (any longer) nor female are the go-betweens, the facilitators.  Their status makes them able to speak with anyone, to be anywhere.

chapter 1:  sexual politics and posturing, caricaturing, scapegoating.  Why did Vashti refuse?  Text gives no clues.  Possibly she was to wear the crown and nothing but the crown and she was offended.  Perhaps either  the king or she were too drunk to clearly command or to hear a command.  Note dramatic reversal – king goes from pleased to burning with rage.  Note how one act is perceived to have universal (and social order shattering) significance!  And how we continue to do this today!

chapter 2:  Beal points out (p. 18, 19)  that “remembering” normally has an element of fondness and compassion (God remembers God’s people) – hence the king may either be mad or be sad about what has happened and what it may mean.   Real name of Esther is given – Hadassah (a type of flower – myrtle).   A new party at the end of chapter 2 celebrates a new queen and what the king and officials expect to be a full return to the proper order of things.

chapter 3: note that Haman gets promoted – not Mordecai!  Another reversal (of expectations?).   Beal points out p. 44:  (look up the text from 1 Samuel) that Haman and Mordecai are now linked by the text to King Agag and Saul as described in 1 Samuel 15.  Saul did NOT kill Agag then and suffered, Mordecai WILL take care of Haman in the end.   Mordecai now defies Haman in much the same way Vashti defied the king earlier.  As earlier – the text does not tell us why.  Mad that he was promoted instead of him?  Religious reasons?   “Lots” “Pur” are cast to determine the date of the destruction of the Jews – here is the name of the later festival.  It highlights the central and hidden tension of the book – are things by chance?  or is God in charge behind the scenes?

chapter 4: note the reversal of power that takes place between Mordecai and Esther.  She takes the lead in actions and in determining a plan.  Esther cannot just go in to see the king, one had to be summoned.  Who (what) is the “other quarter” that Mordecai thinks may come to their aid if she fails?  God?  A palace revolt led by the eunuchs?  Something or someone else?  The text does not say.  Beal p. 68: “She is simultaneously self and other, “us” and “them.”  This tensive convergence of identities, if revealed, would bring about a political explosion.  Indeed, its revelation will be dynamite, and Esther will need to strategize carefully so that it blows up in Haman’s face and not her own.”

chapter 5: this chapter increases the tension – what will Esther do or say?  What does she want? both the King and Haman must be asking.  In contrast to the fasting Jews outside the palace and power structure – inside there is banqueting and feasting and drinking.  Esther, in her person, bridges the two realities.  Beal points out on page 71 that there is an erotic component to the interaction between Esther and the king.  Haman Is lifted up higher and higher, being set up for the greatest possible reversal.

chapter 6: Why can’t the king sleep?  Guilt over the fate of the Jews?  Growing fear or jealousy that perhaps Esther desires Haman or is plotting with him against the king?  An excess of food and drink?  The text doesn’t tell us.  Another reversal – Mordecai (without even knowing about it) goes from being hung by Haman to honors from the king.

chapter 7: The party / banquets signify a king and court that is powerful and “in control”.  Hence the king and others are enraged when their control / power is disrespected…   The reversal is set up.  Beal p. 88: “By the end of the episode the combination of Esther’s words and Haman’s actions, as interpreted by the king, ironically place Haman in his loftiest public position yet: impaled on a stake fifty cubits high.’  Esther treads dangerous ground (and knows it) for both Haman and the king are responsible for the decree against the Jews.  Another reversal for Haman – from insider to enemy, as he had made the Jews.

chapter 8: The decree remains as a threat – so it must be countermanded.  From this point forward Esther recedes into the background and Mordecai emerges from it to prominence.  The Jewish people of the land experience a great reversal – from threatened to victorious, from being killed to being authorized to kill their enemies.

chapter 9: it is very possible that the remaining material was added to the text of an original that stopped at chapter 8.  Beal p. 111: The slaughter links back to 1 Samuel 15 – where Saul had been commanded to slaughter the Agagites/ Amelikites  and did not.  However – by not taking the plunder they do not full “undo” what Saul had done (not done).  This is a fantasy ending.  (Anyone see “Inglorious Basterds”?)

 

Comments are closed.