Esther is a book in the Old Testament of the Bible. It recounts the deliverance of the Jews from persecution in the Persian Empire, a deliverance accomplished by the timely actions of two Jewish members of the foreign court: Queen Esther and her cousin and foster father, Mordecai. Popular tales from Persian times about a recalcitrant native queen, a Jewess who became queen of a foreign nation, and deadly rivalry among courtiers were worked into the account. The book was intended to strengthen Jews under persecution during the Maccabean wars and, in particular, to authorize celebration in Palestine of the Feast of Purim, otherwise unknown in the Old Testament. Jews in the Diaspora may earlier have observed this festival of deliverance from foreign persecutors.
The anti - Semitic temper, the murder of many Gentiles, and the apparently forced conversion of others described in the book indicate that it was written during the reign of John Hyrcanus, the Hasmonean Jewish king (c.135 - 105 BC; see Maccabees). The absence of the name of God, which led to religiously motivated additions of 107 verses to the Greek version of the book (forming a separate book in the Apocrypha), may be the result of wisdom influence or of a secularizing trend in the Hasmonean circles that introduced the Feast of Purim to Palestine.
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The Apocrypha includes several insertions into this Book.
Esther was the queen of Ahasuerus, and heroine of the book that bears her name. She was a Jewess named Hadas'sah (the myrtle), but when she entered the royal harem she received the name by which she henceforth became known (Esther 2: 7). It is a Syro-Arabian modification of the Persian word satarah, which means a star. She was the daughter of Abihail, a Benjamite. Her family did not avail themselves of the permission granted by Cyrus to the exiles to return to Jerusalem; and she resided with her cousin Mordecai, who held some office in the household of the Persian king at "Shushan in the palace." Ahasuerus having divorced Vashti, chose Esther to be his wife. Soon after this he gave Haman the Agagite, his prime minister, power and authority to kill and extirpate all the Jews throughout the Persian empire.
By the interposition of Esther this terrible catastrophe was averted. Haman was hanged on the gallows he had intended for Mordecai (Esther 7); and the Jews established an annual feast, the feast of Purim (q.v.), in memory of their wonderful deliverance. This took place about fifty-two years after the Return, the year of the great battles of Plataea and Mycale (B.C. 479). Esther appears in the Bible as a "woman of deep piety, faith, courage, patriotism, and caution, combined with resolution; a dutiful daughter to her adopted father, docile and obedient to his counsels, and anxious to share the king's favour with him for the good of the Jewish people. There must have been a singular grace and charm in her aspect and manners, since 'she obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her' (Esther 2:15). That she was raised up as an instrument in the hand of God to avert the destruction of the Jewish people, and to afford them protection and forward their wealth and peace in their captivity, is also manifest from the Scripture account."
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
The authorship of this book is unknown. It must have been obviously written after the death of Ahasuerus (the Xerxes of the Greeks), which took place B.C. 465. The minute and particular account also given of many historical details makes it probable that the writer was contemporary with Mordecai and Esther. Hence we may conclude that the book was written probably about B.C. 444-434, and that the author was one of the Jews of the dispersion. This book is more purely historical than any other book of Scripture; and it has this remarkable peculiarity that the name of God does not occur in it from first to last in any form. It has, however, been well observed that "though the name of God be not in it, his finger is." The book wonderfully exhibits the providential government of God.
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
(From the Hebrew meaning star, happiness); Queen of Persia and wife of Assuerus, who is identified with Xerxes (485-465 B.C.). She was a Jewess of the tribe of Benjamin, daughter of Abihail, and bore before her accession to the throne the name of Edissa (Hádássah, myrtle). Her family had been deported from Jerusalem to Babylon in the time of Jechonias (599 B.C.). On the death of her parents she was adopted by her father's brother, Mardochai, who then dwelt in Susan, the capital of Persia. King Assuerus being angered at the refusal of his wife Vasthi to respond to his invitation to attend a banquet that he gave in the third year of his reign, divorced her and ordered the most attractive maidens of the kingdom brought before him that he might select her successor from among them. Among these was Esther, whose rare beauty captivated the king and moved him to place her on the throne. Her uncle Mardochai remained constantly near the palace so that he might advise and counsel her. While at the gate of the palace he discovered a plot of two of the king's eunuchs to kill their royal master. This plot he revealed to Esther, who in turn informed the king. The plotters were executed, and a record of the services of Mardochai was entered in the chronicles of the kingdom. Not long thereafter, Aman, a royal favourite before whom the king had ordered all to bow, having frequently observed Mardochai at the gate of the palace and noticed that he refused to prostrate himself before him, cunningly obtained the king's consent for a general massacre in one day of all the Jews in the kingdom. Following a Persian custom, Aman determined by lot (pûr, pl. pûrîm), that the massacre should take place a twelvemonth hence. A royal decree was thereupon sent throughout the Kingdom of Persia. Mardochai informed Esther of this and begged her to use her influence with the king and thus avert the threatening danger. At first she feared to enter the presence of the king unsummoned, for to do so was a capital offence. But, on the earnest entreaty of her uncle, she consented to approach after three days, which with her maids she would pass in fasting and prayer, and during which she requested her uncle to have all the Jews in the city fast and pray.
On the third day Esther appeared before the king, who received her graciously and promised to grant her request whatever it might be. She then asked him and Aman to dine with her. At the banquet they accepted her invitation to dine with her again on the following day. Aman, carried away by the joy that this honour gave him, issued orders for the erection of a gallows on which he purposed to hang the hated Mardochai. But that night the king, being sleepless, ordered the chronicles of the nation to be read to him. Learning that Mardochai had never been rewarded for his service in revealing the plot of the eunuchs, he asked Aman, the next day, to suggest a suitable reward for one "whom the king desired to honour". Thinking it was himself that the king had in mind, Aman suggested the use of the king's apparel and insignia. These the king ordered to be bestowed on Mardochai. At the second banquet, when the king repeated to Esther his offer to grant her whatever she might ask, she informed him of the plot of Aman which involved the destruction of the whole Jewish people to which she belonged, and pleaded that they should be spared. The king ordered that Aman should be hanged on the gibbet prepared for Mardochai, and, confiscating his property, bestowed it upon the intended victim. He charged Mardochai to address to all the governors of Persia letters authorizing the Jews to defend themselves and to kill all those who, by virtue of the previous decree, should attack them. During two days the Jews took a bloody revenge on their enemies in Susan and other cities. Mardochai then instituted the feast of Purim (lots) which he exhorted the Jews to celebrate in memory of the day which Aman had determined for their destruction, but which had been turned by Esther into a day of triumph. The foregoing story of Esther is taken from the Book of Esther as found in the Vulgate. Jewish traditions place the tomb of Esther at Hamadân (Ecbatana). The Fathers of the Church considered Esther as a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In her poets have found a favourite subject.
BOOK OF ESTHER
In the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint the Book of Esther bears only the word "Esther" as title. But the Jewish rabbis called it also the "volume of Esther", or simply "the volume" (megillah) to distinguish it from the other four volumes (megilloth), written on separate rolls, which were read in the synagogues on certain feast days.
As this one was read on the feast of Purim and consisted largely of epistles (cf. Esther 9:20, 29), it was called by the Jews of Alexandria the "Epistle of Purim". In the Hebrew canon the book was among the Hagiographa and placed after Ecclesiastes. In the Latin Vulgate it has always been classed with Tobias and Judith, after which it is placed. The Hebrew text that has come down to us varies considerably from those of the Septuagint and the Vulgate. The Septuagint, besides showing many unimportant divergencies, contains several additions in the body of the book or at the end. The additions are the portion of the Vulgate text after ch. x, 3. Although no trace of these fragments is found in the Hebrew Bible, they are most probably translations from an original Hebrew or Chaldaic text. Origen tells us that they existed in Theodotion's version, and that they were used by Josephus in his "Antiquities" (XVI). St. Jerome, finding them in the Septuagint and the Old Latin version, placed them at the end of his almost literal translation of the existing Hebrew text, and indicated the place they occupied in the Septuagint. The chapters being thus rearranged, the book may be divided into two parts: the first relating the events which preceded and led up to the decree authorizing the extermination of the Jews (i-iii, 15; xi, 2; xiii,7); the second showing how the Jews escaped from their enemies and avenged themselves (iv-v, 8; xiii-xv).
The Book of Esther, thus taken in part from the Hebrew Canon and in part from the Septuagint, found a place in the Christian Canon of the Old Testament. The chapters taken from the Septuagint were considered deuterocanonical, and, after St. Jerome, were separated from the ten chapters taken from the Hebrew which were called protocanonical. A great many of the early Fathers clearly considered the entire work as inspired, although no one among them found it to his purpose to write a commentary on it. Its omission in some of the early catalogues of the Scriptures was accidental or unimportant. The first to reject the book was Luther, who declared that he so hated it that he wished that it did not exist (Table Talk, 59). His first followers wished only to reject the deuterocanonical parts, whereupon these, as well as other deuterocanonical parts of the Scriptures, were declared by the Council of Trent (Sess. IV, de Can. Scripturæ) to be canonical and inspired. With the rise of rationalism the opinion of Luther found many supporters. When modern rationalists argue that the Book of Esther is irreligious in character, unlike the other books of the Old Testament, and therefore to be rejected, they have in mind only the first or protocanonical part, not the entire book, which is manifestly religious. But, although the first part is not explicitly religious, it contains nothing unworthy of a place in the Sacred Scriptures. And any way, as Driver points out (Introduc. to the Lit. of the Testament), there is no reason why every part of the Biblical record should show the "same degree of subordination of human interests to the spirit of God".
As to the authorship of the Book of Esther there is nothing but conjecture. The Talmud (Baba Bathra 15a) assigns it to the Great Synagogue; St. Clement of Alexandria ascribes it to Mardochai; St. Augustine suggests Esdras as the author. Many, noting the writer's familiarity with Persian customs and institutions and with the character of Assuerus, hold that he was a contemporary of Mardochai, whose memoirs he used. But such memoirs and other contemporary documents showing this familiar knowledge could have been used by a writer at a later period. And, although the absence in the text of allusion to Jerusalem seems to lead to the conclusion that the book was written and published in Persia at the end of the reign of Xerxes I (485-465 B.C.) or during the reign of his son Artaxerxes I (465-425 B.C.), the text seems to offer several facts which may be adduced with some show of reason in favour of a later date. They are:
an implied statement that Susan had ceased to be the capital of Persia, and a vague description of the extent of the kingdom (i, 1);
an explanation of Persian usages that implies unfamiliarity with them on the part of the readers (i, 13, 19; iv, 11; viii, 8);
the revengeful attitude of the Jews towards the Gentiles, by whom they felt they had been wronged, and with whom they wished to have little to do (iii, 8 sqq.);
a diction showing many late words and a deterioration in syntax;
references to "the Macedonians" and to the plot of Aman as an attempt to transfer "the kingdom of the Persians to the Macedonians" (xvi, 10, 14).
On the strength of these passages various modern critics have assigned late dates for the authorship of the book, as, 135 B.C., 167 B.C., 238 B.C., the beginning of the third century B.C., or the early years of the Greek period which began 332 B.C. The majority accept the last opinion.
Some of the modern critics who have fixed upon late dates for the composition of the book deny that it has any historical value whatever, and declare it to be a work of the imagination, written for the purpose of popularizing the feast of Purim. In support of their contention they point out in the text what appear to be historical improbabilities, and attempt to show that the narrative has all the characteristics of a romance, the various incidents being artfully arranged so as to form a series of contrasts and to develop into a climax. But what seem to be historical improbabilities are in many cases trivial. Even advanced critics do not agree as to those which seem quite serious. While some, for instance, consider it wholly improbable that Assuerus and Aman should have been ignorant of the nationality of Esther, who was in frequent communication with Mardochai, a well-known Jew, others maintain that it was quite possible and probable that a young woman, known to be a Jewess, should be taken into the harem of a Persian king, and that with the assistance of a relative she should avert the ruin of her people, which a high official had endeavoured to effect. The seeming improbability of other passages, if not entirely explained, can be sufficiently explained to destroy the conclusion, on this ground, that the book is not historical. As to artful contrasts and climax to which appeal is made as evidences that the book is the work of a mere romancer, it may be said with Driver (op. cit.) that fact is stranger than fiction, and that a conclusion based upon such appearances is precarious. There is undoubtedly an exercise of art in the composition of the work, but no more than any historian may use in accumulating and arranging the incidents of his history. A more generally accepted opinion among contemporary critics is that the work is substantially historical. Recognizing the author's close acquaintance with Persian customs and institutions, they hold that the main elements of the work were supplied to him by tradition, but that, to satisfy his taste for dramatic effect, he introduced details which were not strictly historical. But the opinion held by most Catholics and by some Protestants is, that the work is historical in substance and in detail. They base their conclusions especially on the following:
the vivacity and simplicity of the narrative;
the precise and circumstantial details, as, particularly, the naming of unimportant personages, the noting of dates and events;
the references to the annals of the Persians;
the absence of anachronisms;
the agreement of proper names with the time in which the story is placed;
the confirmation of details by history and arheology;
the celebration of the feast of Purim in commemoration of the deliverance of the Jews by Esther and Mardochai at the time of the Machabees (2 Maccabees 15:37), at the time of Josephus (Antiq of the Jews, XI, vi, 13), and since.
The explanation of some that the story of Esther was engrafted on a Jewish feast already existing and probably connected with a Persian festival, is only a surmise. Nor has any one else succeeded better in offering an explanation of the feast than that it had its origin as stated in the Book of Esther. (See also HERODOTUS, History, VII, 8, 24, 35, 37-39; IX, 108)
Publication information Written by A.L. McMahon. For Esther Woodall The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
Editions and Critical Helps.
The Dream of Mordecai.
The Destruction of the Jews Decreed.
The Prayer of Esther.
Esther Before the King.
The New Edict.
Interpretation of Mordecai's Dream.
The canonical Book of Esther undoubtedly presents the oldest extant form of the Esther story. In times of oppression the Jews found comfort in this narrative, for it presented an example of sudden divine salvation in the days of distress (Esth. ix. 22, 28), and it strengthened their hope of being liberated from their desperate condition, especially in the days of the Maccabees. Naturally, the Jews' well-known skill in transforming and enriching traditional narratives was applied especially to those incidents which were touched but lightly in the Biblical Book of Esther. Such variations and additions have been preserved in Greek, but the assumption that they were based on a Hebrew original has been proved erroneous (comp. Scholz, "Kommentar über das Buch Esther mit Seinen Zusätzen," 1892, pp. 21 et seq.), the difficulty of translating many of these additions into Hebrew being especially significant (Fritzsche, "Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apokryphen des Alten Testaments," 1851, p. 71; Wace, "The Apocrypha," in "The Speaker's Commentary," i. 361-365). The additions were probably made in the time of the Maccabees, when the people were hoping for another sudden liberation by divine intervention. They aimed chiefly to supply the religious element signally lacking in the canonical book (comp. Reuss, "Geschichte der Heiligen Schriften des Alten Testaments," 2d ed., §§ 470 et seq.; Bleek-Wellhausen, "Einleitung in das Alte Testament," 5th ed., § 120; J. S. Bloch, "Hellenistische Bestandtheile im Bibl. Schriftum," 2d ed., p. 8; Ryssel, in Kautzsch, "Die Apocryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments," i. 197). Fritzsche (l.c. p. 73) has pointed out linguistic similarities between the additions and the second Book of the Maccabees.
Editions and Critical Helps.
The latest date that can be given to the additions is the year 30 B.C., when the Ptolemaic rule came to an end (comp. B. Jacob in Stade's "Zeitschrift," 1890, p. 290). These additions are contained in the uncial manuscript of the Codex Sinaiticus (Sin.), Codex Vaticanus (B), and Codex Alexandrinus (A). Among the printed editions may be mentioned those of R. Holmes and J. Parsons, Oxford, 1798-1827; E. Nestle, "Vet. Test. Græce Juxta LXX. Interpretum," Leipsic, 1850; H. B., Swete, "The Old Testament in Greek," 2d ed., Cambridge, 1895-99; O. F. Fritzsche, "Libr. Apoc. V. T. Græce," 1871. The text of the additions has been preserved in two forms, namely, that of the Septuagint, and that revised by Lucian, the martyr of Antioch (comp. B. Jacob, l.c. pp. 258-262). Lagarde has published both texts with complete critical annotations in his "Librorum Veteris Testamenti Canonicorum," 1883, i. 504-541; and later on A. Scholz ("Kommentar über das Buch Esther," pp. 2-99, Würzburg and Vienna, 1892) published a small edition in four parallel columns, showing side by side the Hebrew text of the canonical book, the two Greek texts, and Josephus' text (comp. Ryssel in Kautzsch, l.c. pp. 198, 199).
For textual criticism there are, also, the two Latin translations; not so much the Vulgate-in which Jerome translated very freely, and in part arbitrarily-as the Old Latin, which, in spite of its arbitrariness and incompleteness, and its additions, probably made in part by Christians, has preserved a few good readings of the Codex Vaticanus (comp. Fritzsche, l.c. pp. 74 et seq.; Ryssel, in Kautzsch, l.c. p. 199; B. Jacob, l.c. pp. 249-258). On the forthcoming new edition of pre-Jerome texts of Esther, comp. Ph. Thielmann, "Bericht über das Gesammelte Handschriftliche Material zu einer Kritischen Ausgabe der Lateinischen Uebersetzung Biblischer Bücher des A. T." Munich, 1900; "Sitzungsberichte der Königlichen Bayerischen Academie der Wissenschaften," ii. 205-247. For an explanation of the Greek additions to the Book of Esther see Fritzsche, l.c. (the older interpreters, p. 76; the later, pp. 69-108); F. O. Bissel, "The Apocrypha of Old Testament," New York, 1880; Fuller-Wace, l.c. i. 361-402; O. Zöckler, "Die Apocryphen des Alten Testaments," Munich, 1891; Ball, "The Ecclesiastical, or Deuterocanonical, Books of the Old Testament," London, 1892; V. Ryssel, in Kautzsch, l.c. i. 193-212.
The Dream of Mordecai.
The dream of Mordecai precedes in the Septuagint, as i. 11-17, the canonical story of Esther, and corresponds in the Vulgate to xi. 2-12 and xii. (Swete, "The Old Testament in Greek," ii. 755 et seq.). This version contradicts the account in the canonical book, for, according to the apocryphal version (i. 2), Mordecai is already in the service of King Artaxerxes, and has this dream in the second year of that king's reign, whereas in the canonical version (ii. 16) Esther was not taken into the royal house until the seventh year of his reign, and Mordecai did not sit "in the king's gate"-that is, enter the king's service-until after that event (ii. 19-20). The author of the apocryphal Esther speaks of two conspiracies against Artaxerxes, and says that Mordecai preceded Esther in coming to court. His account is as follows: Mordecai as a servant in the palace sleeps with the courtiers Gabatha and Tharra (Esth. ii. 21, "Bigthan" and "Teresh"; Vulg. "Bagatha" [whence "Gabatha"] and "Thara"), and overhears their plot against the king. He denounces the conspirators, who are arrested and confess. The king and Mordecai write down the occurrence, and Mordecai is rewarded. As the conspirators are condemned to death (according to B. Jacob in Stade's "Zeitschrift," x. 298, the words of Codex B, διότι ἀνέρήθησαν, are to be added here; comp. Jerome: "qui fuerant interfecti"), Haman, who evidently was in league with them, plans to take vengeance on Mordecai (Apocr. Esth. ii. 12-17).
There is a second conspiracy after Esther has been made queen, in the seventh year of the king's reign (Esth. ii. 21 et seq.). Mordecai in his dream (Apocr. Esth. i. 4-11) sees two dragons coming to fight each other (representing Mordecai and Haman, ib. vi. 4); the nations make ready to destroy the "people of the righteous," but the tears of the righteous well up in a little spring that grows into a mighty stream (comp. Ezek. xlvii. 3-12; according to Apocr. Esth. vi. 3, the spring symbolizes Esther, who rose from a poor Jewess to be a Persian queen). The sun now rises, and those who had hitherto been suppressed "devoured those who till then had been honored" (comp. Esth. ix. 1-17).
The Destruction of the Jews Decreed.
The second addition contains an edict of Artaxerxes for the destruction of all the Jews, to be carried out by Haman (Apocr. Esth. ii. 1-7; it follows Esth. iii. 13; comp. Swete, l.c. pp. 762 et seq.). The mere mention of the fact that an edict for the destruction of the Jews had gone forth, was a temptation to enlarge upon it. The "great king" (verse 1), as in Esth. i. 1, sends a letter to the governors of the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of his kingdom-that extends from India even unto Ethiopia-saying that although personally he is inclined toward clemency, he is bound to look to the security of his kingdom. In a conference on the matter, he said, Haman, the councilor ranking next to him in the kingdom, had pointed out that there was one evilly disposed class of people in his realm, which, by its laws, placed itself in opposition to all the other classes, persisted in disregarding the royal ordinances, and made a unified government impossible. Under these circumstances, he said, nothing remained but to adopt the suggestion of Haman, who, having been placed in charge of the affairs of the state, could in a sense be called the second father of the king; this suggestion was to destroy by the sword of the other nations, on the fourteenth day of Adar (thirteenth of Adar in Esth. iii. 13, viii. 12, ix, 1), all those designated as Jews, together with their wives and children. After these disturbers of the peace had been put out of the way, the king believed the business of the realm could again be conducted in peace.
The remaining additions are closely connected with this affair. The next in order is Mordecai's prayer for help (Apocr. Esth. iii. 1-11; Vulg. xiii. 8-18); in the Septuagint it is added to iv. 17 (Swete, l.c. pp. 765 et seq.). It follows the story of Esth. iv. 1-16, according to which Esther commanded Mordecai to assemble all the Jews for a three-days' fast before she herself interceded for them before the king. The prayer begins with the usual praise of divine omnipotence. Heaven and earth are a paraphrase for the idea τὸ πᾶν(verse 2; comp. Gen. i. 1;Isa. xlv. 18). The plight of the Jews was occasioned by the refusal to kiss Haman's feet (comp. Esth. iii. 2-5), a refusal caused not by pride, but because honor as high as that which such an act implied belongs to God alone (comp. the refusal of the προσκύνησις of the Greek ambassadors to Darius). "This scrupulousness is characteristic of post-exilic Judaism; in ancient Israel the honor was unhesitatingly accorded to every nobleman (I Sam. xxv. 23 et seq.; II Sam. xviii. 21, 28): even Judith (x. 23 ) honored Holofernes in this way in order to allay his suspicions.
But, Mordecai continues, this refusal was merely a pretext to destroy God's chosen people (κληρονομία, verse 8; comp. Apocr. Esth. iv. 20; vii. 9 = Hebr. ; Ps. xxviii. 9, xciv. 5, etc.; μερίς, verse 9; comp. LXX. on Deut. xxxii. 9; κλῆρος, verse 10 = , Deut. iv. 20), and he implores God to protect them now as He had their fathers in Egypt (comp. in Deut. ix. 26). The prayer closes with the supplication to save His people and turn their mourning into gladness (really "feasting"; comp. vi. 22 et seq.; see also Esth. ix. 17-19, where the prayer also ends in feasting and in the sending of gifts of food to one another). Here, as in Ps. vi. 6 (A. V. 5), xxx. 10 , cxv. 17; and Ecclus. (Sirach) xvii. 25, the reason for harkening to the prayer is the desire ascribed to Yhwh of hearing songs of praise and thanks, which only the living can offer (verse 10, where the reading στόμα is preferable to αιμα; Swete, l.c. p. 765). Finally, emphasis is laid on the people's loud calling and crying to God (ἐξ ἰσχύος αὐτῶν . . . ἐκήκραξεν; comp. Dan. iii. 4, ; Isa. lviii. 1, ) when they stood face to face with death (ἐν ὀφϑαλμοῖς αὐτῶν).
The Prayer of Esther.
Closely connected with this is the prayer of Esther (Apocr. Esth. iii. 12-30; Septuagint, xiii. 8-18, xiv. 1-19; Swete, l.c. pp. 766 et seq.; Vulg. xiv. 1-19): she takes off her royal garments (τὰ ἱμάτια τῆς δόξης αὐτῆς [in Esth. i. 11, ii. 17 only the royal crown is mentioned]), and, putting on mourning-robes (, Judges viii. 5 ; Neh. ix. 1), strews ashes on her head (comp. Isa. iii. 24; Mal. ii. 3; II Sam. xiii. 19, commonly ; Job ii. 9). She winds her hair about her (verse 13) and takes off all adornments (ἐ;ταπείνωσεν comp. , Lev. xvi. 29, 31; Isa. lviii. 3). In this way the pity of God would be aroused and His anger allayed (I Kings xxi. 21-29). The prayer refers to the threatening danger (comp. iii. 11): as God once released Israel's ancestors from the Egyptian yoke (verse 16), so Esther beseeches him now to save the Jews from their impending fate, though they deserve it for having participated in Persian idolatry (verses 17, 18 refer to this, and not to the preexilic idolatry; comp. II Kings xvii. 29-33, 41). Following Lagarde and Ryssel, the reading in verse 19 is ἔθηκαν τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῶν επῖ τὰς χεῖρας τῶν εὶδώλων ("they put their hands in the hands of the idols"; on , to confirm an agreement by clasping of hands, see Ezra x. 19). This means: "The Persian oppressors have vowed to their gods [verse 19] to make vain the divine promise, to destroy Israel [i.e., the divine heritage], to close the mouths of those that praise God, and to extinguish the glory of the house and the altar of God [verse 20]. Furthermore, they swear that the mouth of the heathen will be opened in praise of their impotent [gods], and their mortal king [the Persian] will be for ever admired" (verse 21). Hence God is besought not to give His scepter into the hands of the "non-existing" (τοῖς μὴ οὖσιν; comp. I Cor. viii. 4), and not to make the Jews a laughing-stock to the heathen, but to let the plans of the latter turn against themselves. "Mark him [παρλδιγμάτισον; comp. Heb. vi. 6] who began [to act] against us."
In verse 24 Esther adds a prayer for the success of the petition which, according to Esth. iv. 16, she intends to make to the king. "Put orderly speech into my mouth in face of the lion" (the Persian king is thus called also in the Aramaic version of Mordecai's dream; see Merx, "Chrestomathia Targumica," p. 164, 3; comp. Ecclus. [Sirach] xxv. 16, 19). The object of her petition-to turn the anger of the king against Israel's persecutors-anticipates the events of Esth. vii. 9. She prays God to help her, the desolate one (τῇ μόνῃ; corresponding to in Ps. xxv. 17 [A. V. 16], where it occurs next to , "lonely and deserted," differing from verse 14, σὺ εἶ μόνος, referring to the singleness of Yhwh), who has no one else to turn to (verse 25). She refers to the fact that Yhwh knows the splendor of her royal position did not tempt her to yield to the king (in Esth. ii. 7-20 this is not mentioned), but that she submitted to the force of circumstances (verse 25). She continues by affirming that she hates the glitter of the lawless ones (δόξαν ἀνόμων the ἀνόμων here are the heathen; their δόξα is their power), and abhors the bed of the uncircumcised (verse 26). Yhwh, she says, knows her distress in being forced to be the king's wife. She abhors the symbol of pride on her head (i.e., the royal crown she wears in public); she abhors it like a filthy rag (ὡς ῥάκος κλταμηνίων= ; Isa. lxiv. 5 [A. V. 6]), and does not wear it when sitting quietly at home (verse 17). Finally, she has not sat at table in Haman's house, nor graced by her presence the banquet of the king (according to the canonical version [ii. 18], Esther kept her own feast); nor did she drink any of the sacrificial wine of the heathen gods (οῦνον σπονδῶν; comp. LXX. Deut. xxxii. 38; Fuller, in Wace, l.c. p. 390, verse 28). Since her arrival there, God, she says, has been her sole joy. The phrase ἀφ' ἡμήρας μεταβολῆς refers to the change in her dwellingplace (comp. Merx, "Chrestomathia Targumica," p. 163, 11 [Ryssel]), not to the day of her reception into the royal palace (Esth. ii. 16), as Zöckler and Fuller (in Wace, l.c. p. 390) have it. The prayer closes with a petition for a confirmation of faith and a release from all fear (comp. Judith ix. 11).
Esther Before the King.
Esther's reception by the king (iv. 1-15; Swete, l.c. pp. 767 et seq.) follows in the Septuagint immediately upon the prayer (xv. 4-19; Vulg. xv. 1-19). Here the events told in Esth. v. 1, 2 are amplified. In xv. 1 (Septuagint) the "third day" corresponds to Esth. v. 1. According to Septuagint v. 1 she took off the garments she had worn at divine service; in the apocryphal version (iii. 13) she had put them on. Divine service consistedin fasting, according to Esth. iv. 16; in praying, according to Apocryphal Esther iii. 12. In iv. 1 (Apocr. Esth.) she puts on her royal apparel, to which the crown probably belongs, according to ii. 17. After a supplication to God, she appears (iv. 1) accompanied by two handmaidens (ἅβραι= "favorite slaves"; comp. Judith viii. 33); according to Esth. ii. 9, she had seven handmaids. In Apocryphal Esther iv. 2 it is said she was escorted to the king by two maidens, "and upon the one she leaned, as carrying herself daintily" (verse 3: ῶς τρυφευομήνη); "and the other followed, bearing up her train." In the canonical Book of Esther no mention is made of this escort.
iv. (Apocr. Esth.) describes the impression her beauty produced: she was ruddy through the perfection of her beauty, and her countenance was cheerful and love-kindling; but her heart was heavy with fear of the danger of appearing uncalled before the king (comp. Esth. iv. 11). Having passed through all the doors, she stood before the king, who sat upon his throne clothed in the robes of majesty (see Fuller in Wace, l.c.; compare the representation of the king on his throne in the picture of Persepolis according to Rawlinson). Verse 7: Then, lifting up his countenance (that shone with majesty), he looked very fiercely upon her; and the queen fell down, and was pale, and fainted; after she had regained consciousness she bowed herself upon the head of the maid that went before her. Verse 8: Then God changed the spirit of the king into mildness. In concern he leaped from his throne, and took her in his arms till she recovered her composure, comforting her with loving words. In Verse 9 he asks: "Esther, what is the matter? I am thy brother," thereby placing her on the same level with him. In verses 10 et seq. he assures her that the death penalty is meant to apply only to the unauthorized entrance of the king's subjects (comp. Esth. iv. 11), and that it does not apply to her: "Thou shalt not die. . . ." Touching her neck with his golden scepter, he embraced her, and said, "Speak unto me." Then said she unto him, "I saw thee, my lord, as an angel of God [comp. Ezek. viii. 2], and my heart was troubled for fear of thy majesty." And as she was speaking, she fell down for faintness. Verse 16: Then the king was troubled, and all his servants comforted her.
The New Edict.
The king now issues an edict canceling the former edict, and decreeing protection to the Jews (Apocr. Esth. v. 1-24; Vulg. xvi. 1-24; Septuagint addition to viii. 12; comp. Swete, l.c. pp. 773-775, the amplification of the edict mentioned in Esth. viii. 13). The first edict against the Jews is revoked; its instigator, Haman, is accused of conspiracy against the king; and every aid is ordered to be given to the Jews. Verses 2-4: "Many, the more often they are honored with the great bounty of their gracious princes, the more proud they are waxen, and endeavor to hurt not our subjects only, but, not being able to bear abundance, do take in hand to practise also against those that do them good, and take not only thankfulness away from among men, but also, lifted up with the glorious words of lewd persons that were never good, they think to escape the justice of God, that seeth all things, and hateth evil." Verses 5-6: "Oftentimes, also, fair speech of those that are put in trust to manage their friends' affairs [comp. Jacob in Stade, l.c. x. 283, note 2] hath caused many that are in authority to be partakers of innocent blood, and hath enwrapped them in remediless calamities [comp. I Sam. xxv. 26; II Sam. xvi. 4], beguiling with the falsehood and deceit of their lewd disposition the innocency and goodness of princes." Verse 7: "Now ye may see this, as we have declared, not so much by ancient histories, as by observing what hath wickedly been done of late through the pestilent behavior of them that are unworthily placed in authority." Verses 8-9: "We must take care for the time to come that our kingdom may be quiet and peaceable for all men, by changing our purposes and always judging things that are evident with more equal proceeding." Verses 10-14: The king had accorded this gentle treatment to Haman, but had been bitterly deceived by him, and was therefore compelled to revoke his former edict. (According to Dan. vi. 9, 13 this was inadmissible, but Fuller, l.c. pp. 397 et seq., cites a number of cases in which it was done. Verse 10 is about Haman, called in i. 17 "the Agagite," here "the Macedonian"; in verse 14 he is accused of having betrayed the Persian empire to the Macedonians.) "For Aman, a Macedonian, the son of Amadatha, being indeed a stranger to the Persian blood [comp. Vulg. "et animo et gente Macedo"], and far distant from our goodness, and a stranger received of us, had so far obtained the favor that we show toward every nation that he was called our 'father,' and was continually honored of all men, as the next person unto the king. He had also been bowed down to [comp. Esth. iii. 2-6]. But he, not bearing his great dignity, went about to deprive us of our kingdom and life; having, by manifold and cunning deceits, sought of us the destruction, as well of Mordecai, who saved our life, and continually procured our good, as of blameless Esther, partaker of our kingdom with the whole nation. For by these means he thought, finding us destitute of friends, to have translated the kingdom of the Persians to the Macedonians." According to these verses Haman was guilty of a threefold sin, since he tried to wrest from the king wife, kingdom, and life.
v. 15-16, 18-19: "But we find that the Jews, whom this wicked wretch hath delivered to utter destruction, are no evil-doers, but live by most just laws; and that they are children of the Most High and Most Mighty God, who hath ordered the kingdom both unto us and to our progenitors in the most excellent manner. Therefore, ye shall do well not to put in execution the letters sent unto you by Aman, the son of Amadatha; for he that was the worker of these things is hanged [ήσταυρωσθσι = "impaled"] at the gates of Susa with all his family [according to Esth. vii. 10, viii. 7, Haman alone was hanged; according to Esth. ix. 10, the Jews killed his ten sons; in Dan. vi. 25 the wives and children were thrown into the lions' den], God, who ruleth all things, speedily rendering vengeance to him according to deserts. Therefore he shall publish the copy of this letter in all places [ἐκτιθήναι; Stade, l.c. x. 282, a phrase used in the promulgation of royal commands], that the Jews may live after their own laws" (comp. Ezra vii. 25 et seq.; Josephus, "Ant." xii. 3, § 3, xvi. 6, § 2).
v. 20-24: "Ye shall aid them, that even the same day, being the l3th day of the 12th month Adar, they may be avenged on them who in the time of their affliction shall set upon them [comp. Esth. ix. 1; but see above Apocr. Esth. ii. 6, where the 14th day is fixed upon; according to Esth. iii. 13, Haman had appointed the thirteenth day for exterminating the Jews]. For Almighty hath turned to joy unto them the day wherein the chosen people should have perished. Ye shall therefore, among your solemn feasts, keep it an high day with all feasting [following Grotius, Fritzsche, and Ryssel κλήρων (sc. ὴμιν) is to be added after; according to this the Persian king instituted the Jewish Feast of Purim, as a day to be celebrated also by the Persians], that both now and hereafter there may be safety to us [the reading here should be ὑμιν instead of ἡμιν] and the well-affected Persians, and that it may be, to those which do conspire against us, a memorial of destruction. Therefore every city and country whatsoever which shall not do according to these things, shall be destroyed without mercy with fire and sword, and shall be made not only impassable for men, but also most hateful for wild beasts and fowls forever."
Interpretation of Mordecai's Dream.
In the Septuagint the interpretation of Mordecai's dream is separated from the dream itself, which forms the beginning of the additions, and constitutes the end of the whole apocryphon (vi. 1-10), with verse 11 as subscription (Swete, l.c. pp. 779 et seq.). In the Vulgate the passage stands at the end of the canonical Book of Ezra (x. 4-11), preceding all other apocryphal additions as well as the dream itself, which here occupies xi. 2-11. Neither dream nor interpretation is found in Josephus. The expression "God hath done these things" (comp. Matt. xxi. 42) refers to the whole story of the Book of Esther. Verse 2 refers to the dream told in the beginning of the book, which has been fulfilled in every respect. "The little fountain that became a river" (vi. 3) signifies the elevation of Esther (see i. 9), who became a stream when the king married her and made her queen. The light and the sun (see i. 10) signify the salvation and joy that Esther brought to the Jews (comp. Esth. viii. 16). The two dragons are Mordecai and Haman. The nations that assembled to destroy the name of the Jews (see i. 6) are theheathen (comp. Esth. iii. 6-8). "And my nation is this Israel, which cried to God and were saved" (vi. 6; comp. iii. 11). "Therefore hath he made two lots, one for the people of God, and another for all the Gentiles" (vi. 7; comp. Esth. iii. 7). "And the two lots were drawn [ἦλϑον; lit. "they came, sprang out at the right time"]: one for his people [Fritzsche and Ryssel add τῷ λαῶ αὐτοῦ], the other for all the other peoples." "So God remembered his people and justified [decided in its favor; compare Deut. xxv. 1; I Kings viii. 32; Ecclus. (Sirach) xiii. 22; Vulg. freely rendered, "misertus est"; compare old Latin "salvavit"] his inheritance" (vi.9). "Therefore those days shall be unto them in the month of Adar, the fourteenth and fifteenth day of the same month, with an assembly, and joy, and with gladness before God, according to the generations forever among his people" (vi. 10; comp. Esth. ix. 18, 21). In II Macc. xv. 36 the fourteenth day is called ἥ Μαρδοχαικὴ ἡμέρα. The subscription, verse 11 (in Swete, ii. 780, inserted in the German Bible between Esther's reception by the king and Ahasuerus' second edict), refers to the whole Book of Esther together with the apocryphal additions, as does also the expression τὴυ προκειμέυηυ ἐπιστολὴυ τῶυ φρουραί (Swete), meaning "the above letter on Purim" (compare Esth. ix. 20, 29).
This letter was taken to Egypt by Dositheus-who called himself a priest and Levite (?)-and his son Ptolemy, who maintained that it was the original (Apocr. Esther). Lysimachus, Ptolemy's son, an inhabitant of Jerusalem, translated the letter in the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemy and Cleopatra (according to some in 455; see Fritzsche, l.c. pp. 72 et seq.). Four Ptolemies had wives by the name of Cleopatra (Epiphanes, Philometor, Physkon, and Soter). Soter II. lived about that time; but all these notices are untrustworthy; compare, on the date of the letter, Jacob in Stade's "Zeitschrift," x. 274-290, especially p. 279.E. G. H. C. S.
Emil G. Hirsch, Carl Siegfried
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
Haman and Mordecai.
-In Rabbinical Literature:
The Rabbinic Account.
Mordecai and Esther.
Esther Before Ahasuerus.
Improbabilities of the Story.
Name of the chief character in the Book of Esther, derived, according to some authorities, from the Persian "stara" (star); but regarded by others as a modification of "Ishtar," the name of the Babylonian goddess (see below).
The story of Esther, as given in the book bearing her name, is as follows: The King of Persia, Ahasuerus, had deposed his queen Vashti because she refused, during a festival, toshow at his command her charms before the assembled princes of the realm (i. 10). Many beautiful maidens were then brought before the king in order that he might choose a successor to the unruly Vashti. He selected Esther as by far the most comely. The heroine is represented as an orphan daughter of the tribe of Benjamin, who had spent her life among the Jewish exiles in Persia (ii. 5), where she lived under the protection of her cousin Mordecai. The grand vizier, Haman the Agagite, commanded Mordecai to do obeisance to him. Upon Mordecai's refusal to prostrate himself, Haman informed the king that the Jews were a useless and turbulent people and inclined to disloyalty, and he promised to pay 10,000 silver talents into the royal treasury for the permission to pillage and exterminate this alien race. The king then issued a proclamation ordering the confiscation of Jewish property and a general extermination of all the Jews within the empire. Haman set by lot the day for this outrage (iii. 6), but Mordecai persuaded Esther to undertake the deliverance of her compatriots.
Haman and Mordecai.
After a three days' fast observed by the entire Jewish community, the queen, at great personal risk, decided to go before the king and beg him to rescind his decree (iv. 16). Ahasuerus, delighted with her appearance, held out to her his scepter in token of clemency, and promised to dine with her in her own apartments on two successive nights (v. 2-8). On the night before the second banquet, when Esther intended to make her petition, the king, being sleepless, commanded that the national records be read to, him. The part which was read touched upon the valuable services of Mordecai (vi. 1 et seq.), who some time before had discovered and revealed to the queen a plot against the king's life devised by two of the chamberlains (ii. 23). For this, by some unexplained oversight, Mordecai had received no reward. In the meantime the queen had invited the grand vizier to the banquet. When Haman, who was much pleased at the unusual honor shown him by the queen, appeared before the king to ask permission to execute Mordecai at once, Ahasuerus asked him, "What shall be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honor?" Haman, thinking that the allusion was to himself, suggested a magnificent pageant, at which one of the great nobles should serve as attendant (vi. 9). The king immediately adopted the suggestion, and ordered Haman to act as chief follower in a procession in honor of Mordecai (vi. 10).
The next day at the banquet, when Esther preferred her request, both the king and the grand vizier learned for the first time that the queen was a Jewess. Ahasuerus granted her petition at once and ordered that Haman be hanged on the gibbet which the latter had prepared for his adversary Mordecai (vii.). Mordecai was then made grand vizier, and through his and Esther's intervention another edict was issued granting to the Jews the power to pillage and to slay their enemies.
Before the day set for the slaughter arrived a great number of persons, in order to avoid the impending disaster, became Jewish proselytes, and a great terror of the Jews spread all over Persia (viii. 17).
The Jews, assisted by the royal officers, who feared the king, were eminently successful in slaying their enemies (ix. 11), but refused to avail themselves of their right to plunder (ix. 16). The queen, not content with a single day's slaughter, then requested the king to grant to her people a second day of vengeance, and begged that the bodies of Haman's ten sons, who had been slain in the fray, be hanged on the gibbet (ix. 13). Esther and Mordecai, acting with "all authority" (ix. 29), then founded the yearly feast of Purim, held on the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar as a joyous commemoration of the deliverance of their race.E. G. H. J. D. P.
-In Rabbinical Literature:
The story of Esther-typical in many regards of the perennial fate of the Jews, and recalled even more vividly by their daily experience than by the annual reading of theMegillah at Purim-invited, both by the brevity of some parts of the narrative and by the associations of its events with the bitter lot of Israel, amplifications readily supplied by popular fancy and the artificial interpretation of Biblical verse. The additions to Esther in the (Greek) Apocrypha have their counterparts in the post-Biblical literature of the Jews, and while it is certain that the old assumption of a Hebrew original for the additions in the Greek Book of Esther is not tenable (see Kautzsch, "Die Apocryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments," i. 194), it is not clear that the later Jewish amplifications are adaptations of Greek originals.
The following post-Biblical writings have to be considered:
(1) The first Targum. The Antwerp and Paris polyglots give a different and longer text than the London. The best edition is by De Lagarde (reprinted from the first Venice Bible) in "Hagiographa Chaldaice," Leipsic, 1873. The date of the first Targum is about 700 (see S. Posner, "Das Targum Rishon," Breslau, 1896).
(2) Targum Sheni (the second; date about 800), containing material not germane to the Esther story. This may be characterized as a genuine and exuberant midrash. Edited by De Lagarde (in "Hagiographa Chaldaice," Berlin, 1873) and by P. Cassel ("Aus Literatur und Geschichte," Berlin and Leipsic, 1885, and "Das Buch Esther," Berlin, 1891, Ger. transl.).
(3) Babylonian Talmud, Meg. 10b-14a.
(4) Pirḳe R. El. 49a, 50 (8th cent.).
(5) Yosippon (beginning of 10th cent.; see Zunz, "G. V." pp. 264 et seq.).
(6) Midr. R. to Esther (probably 11th cent.).
(7) Midr. Leḳaḥ Ṭob (Buber, "Sifre di-Agadta," Wilna, 1880).
(8) Midr. Abba Gorion (Buber, l.c.; Jellinek, "B. H." i. 1-18).
(9) Midr. Teh. to Ps. xxii.
(10) Midr. Megillat Esther (ed. by Horwitz in his "Sammlung Kleiner Midrashim," Berlin, 1881).
(11) Ḥelma de Mordekai (Aramaic: Jellinek, "B. H." v. 1-8; De Lagarde, l.c. pp. 362-365; Ad. Merx, "Chrestomathia Targumica," 1888, pp. 154 et seq.).
(12) Yalḳ. Shim'oni to Esther.
The Rabbinic Account.
With the omission of what more properly belongs under Ahasuerus, Haman, and Mordecai, the following is briefly the story of Esther's life as elaborated by these various midrashim: A foundling or an orphan, her father dying before her birth, her mother at her birth, Esther was reared in the house of Mordecai, her cousin, to whom, according to some accounts, she was even married (the word , Esth. ii. 7, being equal to = "house," which is frequently used for "wife" in rabbinic literature). Her original name was "Hadassah" (myrtle), that of "Esther" being given her by the star-worshipers, as reflecting her sweet character and the comeliness of her person. When the edict of the king was promulgated, and his eunuchs scoured the country in search of a new wife for the monarch, Esther, acting on her own judgment or upon the order of Mordecai, hid herself so as not to be seen of men, and remained in seclusion for four years, until even God's voice urged her to repair to the king's palace, where her absence had been noticed. Her appearance among the candidates for the queen's vacant place causes a commotion, all feeling that with her charms none can compete; her rivals even make haste to adorn her. She spurns the usual resources for enhancing her beauty, so that the keeper of the harem becomes alarmed lest he be accused of neglect. He therefore showers attentions upon her, and places at her disposal riches never given to others. But she will not be tempted to use the king's goods, nor will she eat of the king's food, being a faithful Jewess; together with her maids (seven, according to the number of the week-days and of the planets) she continues her modest mode of living. When her turn comes to be ushered into the royal presence, Median and Persian women flank her on both sides, but her beauty is such that the decision in her favor is at once assured. The king has been in the habit of comparing the charms of the applicants with a picture of Vashti suspended over his couch, and up to the time when Esther approaches him none has eclipsed the beauty of his beheaded spouse. But at the sight of Esther he at once removes the picture. Esther, true to Mordecai's injunction, conceals her birth from her royal consort. Mordecai was prompted to give her this command by the desire not to win favors as Esther's cousin. The king, of course, is very desirous of learning all about her antecedents, but Esther, after vouchsafing him the information that she, too, is of princely blood, turns the conversation, by a few happy counter-questions regarding Vashti, in a way to leave the king's curiosity unsatisfied.
Mordecai and Esther.
Still Ahasuerus will not be baffled. Consulting Mordecai, he endeavors to arouse Esther's jealousy-thinking that this will loosen her tongue-by again gathering maidens in his courtyard, as though he is ready to mete out to her the fate of her unfortunate predecessor. But even under this provocation Esther preserves her silence. Mordecai's daily visits to the courtyard are for the purpose of ascertaining whether Esther has remained true to the precepts of her religion. She had not eaten forbidden food, preferring a diet of vegetables, and had otherwise scrupulously observed the Law. When the crisis came Mordecai-who had, by his refusal to bow to Haman or, rather, to the image of an idol ostentatiously displayed on his breast (Pirḳe R. El. lxix.), brought calamity upon the Jews-appeared in his mourning garments, and Esther, frightened, gave birth to a still-born child. To avoid gossip she sent Hatach instead of going herself to ascertain the cause of the trouble. This Hatach was afterward met by Haman and slain. Still Mordecai had been able to tell Hatach his dream, that Esther would be the little rill of water separating the two fighting monsters, and that the rill would grow to be a large stream flooding the earth-a dream he had often related to her in her youth.
Esther Before Ahasuerus.
Mordecai called upon her to pray for her people and then intercede with the king. Though Pesaḥ was near, and the provision of Megillat Ta'anit forbidding fasting during this time could not be observed without disregarding Mordecai's plea, she overcame her cousin's scruples by a very apt counter-question, and at her request all the Jews "that had on that day already partaken of food" observed a rigid fast, in spite of (Esth. iv. 17) the feast-day (Pesaḥ), while Mordecai prayed and summoned the children and obliged even them to abstain from food, so that they cried out with loud voices. Esther in the meantime put aside her jewels and rich dresses, loosenedher hair, fasted, and prayed that she might be successful in her dangerous errand. On the third day, with serene mien she passed on to the inner court, arraying herself (or arrayed by the "Holy Ghost," Esth. Rabbah) in her best, and taking her two maids, upon one of whom, according to court etiquette, she leaned, while the other carried her train. As soon as she came abreast with the idols (perhaps an anti-Christian insinuation) the "Holy Ghost" departed from her, so that she exclaimed, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Ps. xxii. 1); thereupon, repenting having called the enemy "dog," she now named him "lion," and was accompanied by three angels to the king. Ahasuerus attempted to ignore her, and turned his face away, but an angel forced him to look at her. She, however, fainted at the sight of his flushed face and burning eyes, and leaned her head on her handmaid, expecting to hear her doom pronounced; but God increased her beauty to such an extent that Ahasuerus could not resist. An angel lengthened the scepter so that Esther might touch it: she invited the king to her banquet. Why Haman was invited the Rabbis explain in various ways. She desired to make the king jealous by playing the lover to Haman, which she did at the feast, planning to have him killed even though she should share his fate. At the supreme moment, when she denounced Haman, it was an angel that threw Haman on the couch, though he intended to kneel before the queen; so that the king, suspecting an attempt upon the virtue and life of his queen, forthwith ordered him to be hanged.
To the Rabbis Esther is one of the four most beautiful women ever created. She remained eternally young; when she married Ahasuerus she was at least forty years of age, or even, according to some, eighty years ( = 5, = 60, = 4, = 5 = 74 years; hence her name "Hadassah"). She is also counted among the prophetesses of Israel.
As to the historical value of the foregoing data, opinions differ. Comparatively few modern scholars of note consider the narrative of Esther to rest on an historical foundation. The most important names among the more recent defenders of the historicity of the book are perhaps Hävernick, Keil, Oppert, and Orelli. The vast majority of modern expositors have reached the conclusionthat the book is a piece of pure fiction, although some writers qualify their criticism by an attempt to treat it as a historical romance. The following are the chief arguments showing the impossibility of the story of Esther:
Improbabilities of the Story.
1. It is now generally recognized that the Ahasuerus (), mentioned in Esther, in Ezra iv. 6, and in Dan. ix. 1, is identical with the Persian king known as Xerxes (Ξέρζης, "Khshayarha"), who reigned from 485 to 464 B.C.; but it is impossible to find any historical parallel for a Jewish consort to this king. Some critics formerly identified Esther with Amastris (Ionic, "Amestris"), who is mentioned by Herodotus (viii. 114, ix. 110; compare Ctesias, 20) as the queen of Xerxes at the time when Esther, according to Esth. ii. 6, became the wife of Ahasuerus. Amastris, however, was the daughter of a Persian general and, therefore, not a Jewess. Furthermore, the facts of Amastris' reign do not agree with the Biblical story of Esther. Besides all this, it is impossible to connect the two names etymologically. M'Clymont (Hastings, "Dict. Bible," i. 772) thinks it possible that Esther and Vashti may have been merely the chief favorites of the harem, and are consequently not mentioned in parallel historical accounts.
It is very doubtful whether the haughty Persian aristocracy, always highly influential with the monarch, would have tolerated the choice of a Jewish queen and a Jewish prime minister (Mordecai), to the exclusion of their own class-not to speak of the improbability of the prime ministry of Haman the Agagite, who preceded Mordecai. "Agagite" can only be interpreted here as synonymous with "Amalekite" (compare "Agag," king of the Amalekites, the foe of Saul, I Sam. xv. 8, 20, 32; Num. xxiv. 7; see Agag). Oppert's attempt to connect the term "Agagite" with "Agaz," a Median tribe mentioned by Sargon, can not be taken seriously. The term, as applied to Haman, is a gross anachronism; and the author of Esther no doubt used it intentionally as a fitting name for an enemy of Israel. In the Greek version of Esther, Haman is called a Macedonian.
2. Perhaps the most striking point against the historical value of the Book of Esther is the remarkable decree permitting the Jews to massacre their enemies and fellow subjects during a period of two days. If such an extraordinary event had actually taken place, should not some confirmation of the Biblical account have been found in other records? Again, could the king have withstood the attitude of the native nobles, who would hardly have looked upon such an occurrence without offering armed resistance to their feeble and capricious sovereign? A similar objection may be made against the probability of the first edict permitting Haman the Amalekite to massacre all the Jews. Would there not be some confirmation of it in parallel records? This whole section bears the stamp of free invention.
3. Extraordinary also is the statement that Esther did not reveal her Jewish origin when she was chosen queen (ii. 10), although it was known that she came from the house of Mordecai, who was a professing Jew (iii. 4), and that she maintained a constant communication with him from the harem (iv. 4-17).
4. Hardly less striking is the description of the Jews by Haman as being "dispersed among the people in all provinces of thy kingdom" and as disobedient "to the king's laws" (iii. 8). This certainly applies more to the Greek than to the Persian period, in which the Diaspora had not yet begun and during which there is no record of rebellious tendencies on the part of the Jews against the royal authority.
5. Finally, in this connection, the author's knowledge of Persian customs is not in keeping with contemporary records. The chief conflicting points are as follows:
(a) Mordecai was permitted free access to his cousin in the harem, a state of affairs wholly at variance with Oriental usage, both ancient and modern.
(b) The queen could not send a message to her own husband (!).
(c) The division of the empire into 127 provinces contrasts strangely with the twenty historical Persian satrapies.
(d) The fact that Haman tolerated for a long time Mordecai's refusal to do obeisance is hardly in accordance with the customs of the East. Any native venturing to stand in the presence of a Turkish grand vizier would certainly be severely dealt with without delay.
(e) This very refusal of Mordecai to prostrate himself belongs rather to the Greek than to the earlier Oriental period, when such an act would have involved no personal degradation (compare Gen. xxiii. 7, xxxiii. 3; Herodotus, vii. 136).
(f) Most of the proper names in Esther which are given as Persian appear to be rather of Semitic than of Iranian origin, in spite of Oppert's attempt to explain many of them from the Persian (compare, however, Scheftelowitz, "Arisches im Alten Testament," 1901, i.).
In view of all the evidence the authority of the Book of Esther as a historical record must be definitely rejected. Its position in the canon among the Hagiographa or "Ketubim" is the only thing which has induced Orthodox scholars to defend its historical character at all. Even the Jews of the first and second centuries of the common era questioned its right to be included among the canonical books of the Bible (compare Meg. 7a). The author makes no mention whatever of God, to whom, in all the other books of the Old Testament, the deliverance of Israel is ascribed. The only allusion in Esther to religion is the mention of fasting (iv. 16, ix. 31). All this agrees with the theory of a late origin for the book, as it is known, for example, from Ecclesiastes, that the religious spirit had degenerated even in Judea in the Greek period, to which Esther, like Daniel, in all probability belongs.
Esther could hardly have been written by a contemporary of the Persian empire, because (1) of the exaggerated way in which not only the splendor of the court, but all the events described, are treated (compare the twelve months spent by the maidens in adorning themselves for the king; the feasts of 187 days, etc., all of which point rather to the past than to a contemporary state of affairs); (2) the uncomplimentary details given about a great Persian king, who is mentioned by name, would not have appeared during his dynasty.
It is difficult to go so far as Grätz, who assignsEsther to an adherent of the Maccabean party in the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. The vast difference in religious and moral tone between Esther and Daniel-the latter a true product of Antiochus' reign-seems to make such a theory impossible. Nor is the view of Jensen, followed by Nöldeke, more convincing to the unprejudiced mind. He endeavors to prove that the origin of the whole story lies in a Babylonian-Elamitic myth. He identifies Esther with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar (Aphrodite); Mordecai with Marduk, the tutelary deity of Babylon; and Haman with Hamman or Humman, the chief god of the Elamites, in whose capital, Susa, the scene is laid; while Vashti is also supposed to be an Elamite deity. Jensen considers that the Feast of Purim, which is the climax of the book, may have been adapted from a similar Babylonian festival by the Jews, who Hebraized the original Babylonian legend regarding the origin of the ceremonies. The great objection to such a theory is that no Babylonian festival corresponding with the full moon of the twelfth month is known.
The object of Esther is undoubtedly to give an explanation of and to exalt the Feast of Purim, of whose real origin little or nothing is known. See Megillah; Purim.
Emil G. Hirsch, John Dyneley Prince, Solomon Schechter
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the O. T. pp. 449 et seq.; Cheyne, Esther, in Encyc. Brit. 1878; Founders of Old Testament Criticism, pp. 359 et seq.; Kuenen, Onderzoek, iii. 551 et seq.; Lagarde, Purim, in Abhandlungen, der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Göttingen, 1887; Wildeboer, Esther, in Nowack's Handkommentar zum Alten Testament; Toy, Esther as a Babylonian Goddess, in New World, vi. 130-145; Nöldeke, Esther, in Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. ii. 1400-1407; M'Clymont, in Hastings, Dict. Bible, pp. 772-776; Frazer, Golden Bough, 2d ed., iii. 153, 157, 158.E. G. H. J. D. P.
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