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Book of Esther

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The Book of Esther is a work from the Tanakh in the Hebrew Bible, or the "Old Testament" in the Christian Bible. It is a story of Palace Intrigue and a single woman who thwarts a genocide.

The book is the basis for the Jewish celebration of Purim. This is one of the books of the Bible that doesn't mention God (the others being Ruth and Song of Solomon. The book is part of the "Writings" (Ketuvim), but traditionally it was considered a history written directly by one of the characters, Mordichai. It was likely written in the 4th or 3rd century BCE. Modern scholarship has generally considered it at best a "historical romance" fictionalizing historical characters. Facts about Persia and Persian traditions and laws are inaccurate, leading to that conclusion.

Story[edit]

The story opens with the Persian King, Ahasuerus, at the 180-day feast celebrating his power and wealth. He commands his wife, Vashti, to show her face, so all could see her beauty and know how powerful a king he must be. Custom in the day was for women to keep their faces hidden[1] so Queen Vashti refused his order. The king consulted the wise men of the kingdom and they said he should put a stop to wifely disobedience or all women would start disobeying their husbands.

Dumping his first wife for her disobedience, Ahasuerus seeks out the most beautiful woman in his lands, and lays eyes on the Jewish woman Esther, cousin of Mordecai who was an official in the King's court, and takes Esther for his Queen.

Sometime after the marriage of Esther to King Ahasuerus, Mordecai (her cousin) figures out a plot to assassinate the King. He tells Esther, who tells the king, and he becomes favored in the King's eye. However, Haman is even more favored - so favored all in the land are to bow to him. Mordecai refuses, ticking off the High Noble, who in retribution for this insult demands that all Jews in Persia be killed. Mordecai puts on sackcloth and ashes and proceeds to wail and tear his clothes in front of the palace gates until a servant of Esther's approaches him. Through the messenger, Mordechai informs Esther of the plan and commands her to plead to her husband, the king, telling her "Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews."[2] Though frightened, Esther pleads with the court to let her have dinner with the king.[3] Esther reads to the King his Chronicles, and carefully reminds him that it was Mordecai who saved his life. The king plays a "role reversal" trick on Haman, elevating Mordecai into Haman's favored place, and of course humiliating Haman.

So, then the great King Ahasuerus decides to have a feast in Mordecai's honor, and at the feast Esther reveals to him Haman's plot to kill all Jews, and states that both she and Mordecai are Jewish. Ahasuerus in a fit of rage at Haman, leaves the room, then returns to find Haman begging in Esther's lap. Ahasuerus determines that Haman is assaulting his queen, so he orders Haman killed on the very gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai and the Jews.

Moral[edit]

What goes around comes around, and sometimes a man in a woman's lap is really just begging for his life.

Seriously, though, the Jews hold this story in special regard because of parallels it holds with the Holocaust; that is, it is the story of a narrowly averted attempt to exterminate the Jews. Unfortunately, the Holocaust didn't end in quite the same fashion as the Esther story, but at the Nuremberg Trials, Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher reportedly shouted out "Purim Fest 1946."[4] Some Jewish people speculate that Streicher was drawing a parallel between the story of Purim, in which Haman's ten sons were executed on a gallows, and the Nuremberg trials, where ten Nazi leaders were ultimately hanged. [5]

Babylonian connections[edit]

The fictionalized text uses the names "Esther" which is a corruption of the God Ishtar, and Mordecai, which has a corrupted meaning of "Servant of Marduk".[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Yes, boys and girls, veiling stared with Jewish traditions, not Islamic ones
  2. http://ebible.org/bible/kjv/Esther.htm 4:6
  3. By Persian royal tradition it was highly uncommon for the King or any high-ranking male to dine with women. Wives filled two roles only, prostitute and incubator.
  4. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/nuremberg/NurembergNews10_16_46.html
  5. http://www.aish.com/ho/i/48950431.html
  6. John Huehnergard, 2008