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Book of Esther

Books of Ketuvim
Song of Solomon

The Book of Esther is a book of the Old Testament and Jewish Tanakh.

The Biblical Book of Esther is set in the time of Xerxes I (in Greek; Persian: Khshayarsha; Hebrew: Ahasuerus), the Persian king, who ruled 486 - 465 B.C.. The exploits of the historical Xerxes do not enter into the Book of Esther which is a tale of palace intrigue, attempted genocide and a brave Jewish queen. Esther was written possibly as late as 130 B.C., after historical details had become legendary.

In the story, Xerxes is married to Vashti, whom he puts aside after she rejects his offer to visit him during a feast (484 B.C.). Mordecai's cousin Hadassah is selected from the candidates to be Xerxes's new wife and assumes the "throne name" of Esther (480 B.C.). His prime minister Haman (an Amalekite) and Haman's wife Zeresh plot to have Xerxes kill all the Jews, without knowing that Esther is Jewish. Esther saves the day for her people: her loyal servants warn Xerxes of Haman's plot to kill all the Jews. Haman is hanged on the gallows he had had built for Mordecai, and Mordecai becomes prime minister in Haman's place.

Mordecai is described as having been carried away from Jerusalem with Jeconiah by Nebuchadnezzar, which happened in 597 B.C., some 110 years before. Xerxes's wife in the late 480s was Amestris, a daughter of one of his generals. The Elamites had been a people whose capital city was Shushan and whose traditional enemy was Babylon. Elam had been crushed (in 640 B.C.) by the Assyrians, whose campaign against the Elamites drew the Assyrian forces away from Judah, thus saving the Jews; at the same time, the Assyrians were so weakened by their efforts that Assyria fell to Persia, and Darius I built Susa where Shushan had been. 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; thus the Apocryphal version has Xerxes call Haman a Macedonian instead of an Amalekite, who had been the Jews' enemies at an earlier time.

Esther is the only book of the Bible that does not mention God. It is the only book of the Tanakh that is not represented among the Dead sea scrolls.

Later additions were made to Esther in its translation into Greek in the Septuagint, which then was used by Jerome in compiling the Latin Vulgate, who recognized them as later additions, placing them at the end of his work. 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. Luther's complaints against the book carried past the point of scholarly critique, and led in part to the complaint of anti-semitism. The Roman Catholic Council of Trent, the summation of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation, declared the entire book, both Hebrew text and Greek additions, to be canonical. While modern Roman Catholic scholars openly recognize the Greek additions as clearly being additions to the text, it should be noted that 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 is ever used.

Most readers consider this story a work of didactic fiction because the events it relates never occurred. The story begins in the third year of the reign of Xerxes, which would be 484 B.C. He did not have a wife named Vashti, (or "Esther," either) then or ever (his wife at this time was Amestris, daughter of a Persian general), but "Vashti" was the name of an Elamite goddess. "Esther," too, is the name of a goddess -- it's Aramaic for "Ishtar," the chief Babylonian goddess. ("Hadassah," the name Esther's family called her, comes from the Babylonian for "bride" and was one of Ishtar's titles.) "Shushan" is identified with Xerxes's capital, Susa. In addition, Mordecai is also probably a reference to the Babylonian god Marduk. So the story seems to derive from the time when the Babylonian gods replaced the Elamite gods in Susa in the last years of the Assyrian Empire, appropriating this event for Judaic purposes.

The classic Hollywood film version of the story is the 1960 Esther and the King starring Joan Collins and Richard Egan and directed by Raoul Walsh.

There are several paintings depicting Esther, including one by Millais.

External link

  • Jewish Encyclopedia : Esther

External References

  • The Book of Esther
    Full text from (also avaiable in Arabic

Last updated: 02-10-2005 13:02:26
Last updated: 05-03-2005 02:30:17