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This book and the book of Ruth are the only OT books named after women. As the orphaned daughter of her father Abihail, Esther grew up in Persia with her older cousin, Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his own daughter , The author remains unknown, although Mordecai, Ezra, and Nehemiah have been suggested. Whoever penned Esther possessed a detailed knowledge of Persian customs, etiquette, and history, plus particular familiarity with the palace at Shushan —7. He also exhibited intimate knowledge of the Hebrew calendar and customs, while additionally showing a strong sense of Jewish nationalism.

Possibly a Persian Jew, who later moved back to Israel, wrote Esther.

How the Book of Esther Changed | My Jewish Learning

Esther appears as the 17th book in the literary chronology of the OT and closes the OT historical section. The account in Esther ends in B. The latest reasonable date would be prior to B. Esther occurred during the Persian period of world history, ca. Ahasuerus ruled from ca. The name Ahasuerus represents the Heb. The events of Esther occurred during the wider time span between the first return of the Jews after the 70 year captivity in Babylon Dan. Ezra 1—6 and the second return led by Ezra ca. Ezra 7— Esther and Exodus both chronicle how vigorously foreign powers tried to eliminate the Jewish race and how God sovereignly preserved His people in accordance with His covenant promise to Abraham ca.

Purim became one of two festivals given outside of the Mosaic legislation to still be celebrated in Israel Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, is the other, cf. John The Greek Septuagint LXX added an extra apocryphal verses which supposedly compensated for this lack. The historical genesis for the drama played out between Mordecai a Benjamite descendant of Saul— and Haman an Agagite—, 10; , 5; goes back almost 1, years when the Jews exited from Egypt ca. God pronounced His curse on the Amalekites, which resulted in their total elimination as a people Ex.

Although Saul ca. Samuel finally hacked Agag into pieces 1 Sam. Because of his lineage from Agag, Haman carried deep hostility toward the Jews. The time of Esther arrived years after the death of Agag, but in spite of such passage of time, neither Haman the Agagite nor Mordecai the Benjamite had forgotten the tribal feud that still smoldered in their souls. This explains why Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman , 3 and why Haman so viciously attempted to exterminate the Jewish race , 6, Esther later added a new feature of fasting with lamentation Purim is not biblically mentioned again, although it has been celebrated throughout the centuries in Israel.

Esther could be compared to a chess game. God and Satan as invisible players moved real kings, queens, and nobles. Later, Herod slaughtered the infants of Bethlehem, thinking Christ was among them Matt. Satan tempted Christ to denounce God and worship him Matt. The most obvious question raised by Esther comes from the fact that God is nowhere mentioned, as in Song of Solomon. Nor does the writer or any participant refer to the law of God, the Levitical sacrifices, worship, or prayer. He both overheard their deliberations and inquired into their ambitions, and learned that they were preparing to lay hands on Artaxerxes the king, and he told the king about them.

Then the king interrogated the two eunuchs, and when they confessed, they were led away. And the king wrote these things in the record, and Mardochaios wrote concerning these things. And the king ordered Mardochaios to serve in the court and gave to him gifts for these things. But Haman son of Hamadathos, a Bougean, was highly esteemed by the king, and he sought to harm Mardochaios and his people because of the two eunuchs of the king.

F, vss. For I remember about the dream that I saw concerning these matters, for not even a word of them has failed to be fulfilled. There was the little spring that became a river, and there was light and sun and abundant water; Esther is the river, whom the king married and made queen. The two dragons are myself and Haman. The nations are those that gathered to destroy the name of the Judeans. And my nation, this is Israel, who cried out to God and were saved.

The Lord has saved his people, and the Lord has rescued us from all these evils, and God has done signs and great wonders that have not happened among the nations. For this purpose he made two lots, one for the people of God and one for all the nations, and these two lots came to the hour and the right time and to the day of decision before God, and for all the nations.

And God remembered his people and vindicated his own inheritance. As Bickerman shows, mantic dreams are to be met everywhere. His soothsayers immediately interpreted the vision as promising him dominion over the North as well as the South of Egypt. The retarded interpretation, given post-factum, nullifies the prophetic value of a vision.

The reader, however, recognizes the fulfillment of the prophecy in the forthcoming events.


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The development of the action enlightens him and, like Mordecai, he is then able to interpret his vision. Unlike in the Masoretic version, he does not have to wait for the development of his career at court.

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They will last till the end of 1st century CE. Prophetic books became sources of norms of prediction. Moore had already remarked this inappropriateness. As Addition F clearly explains, this means that Israel —the Chosen People- fights against all the other nations.

A regrettable incident born by a rivalry between two courtiers has now become a universal struggle. As Moore points out, darkness, gloom, affliction and anguish belong to biblical imagery connected to eschatological salvation cf. As Soggin 4 remarks, they also turn the Book of Esther into an anti- Gentile manifesto proper. The inclusion of Adds. A and F in his paraphrase of Esther would have been counter-acting. He nevertheless knew Add. A, as he writes that the king commanded Mordecai to wait upon him in the palace, thus repeating a statement included in Add.

A Jewish Antiquities The situation is more similar to the one described in the Third Book of Maccabees see par. They may also symbolize the morning, i. A, but they are introduced into Add. F, with a meaning quite different from that in canonical portions of Esther. According to Moore , either Egyptian or Mesopotamian provenance is possible, but neither is necessary. Even if this episode is very similar to the one in Add. A, he personally warns the monarch; 6. The Masoretic version limits itself to say that the affair was investigated; Add.

A specifies that the king has interrogated the eunuchs; 7. A maintains that the eunuchs have confessed; the Masoretic version is silent on the matter; 8. The Masoretic version claims that both eunuchs were executed immediately after the investigation; Add. According to Add. A, the king personally compiles a record of the incident; these details are lacking in the Masoretic version; As far as Add. F is concerned, Moore and supposes that its Vorlage is Semitic, too.

A is not even mentioned in Add. The word can refer to the events which take place at a certain time, as it is clear in Dan. The events in the Egyptian Diaspora could have contributed to such a change; but —according to Moore - it seems more probable that this sort of nationalism was stronger in Palestine. Thus we can suggest a Palestinian provenance for Adds. A and F. C, vss. You are Lord of all, and there is no one who can withstand you, the Lord. But I did this so that I might not set human glory above divine glory, and I will not do obeisance to anyone but you, my Lord, and I will not do these things in pride.

And now, O Lord, God, King, God of Abraam, spare your people, for they are looking to ruin us, and they desired to destroy the inheritance that has been yours from the beginning. Do not neglect your portion, which you redeemed for yourself out of the land of Egypt. Hear my petition, and have mercy upon your allotment; turn our mourning into feasting, that we may live and sing hymns to your name, O Lord; do not silence the mouth of those who praise you.

Then Esther the queen fled to the Lord, seized with the agony of death. Taking off the garments of her glory, she put on the garments of distress and mourning, and instead of costly perfumes she covered her head with ashes and dung, and she utterly humbled her body; every part that she loved to adorn she covered with her tangled hair. I have heard from my birth in the tribe of my family that you, O Lord, took Israel out of all the nations and our fathers from among all their forebears, to be an everlasting inheritance, and you did for them all that you said.

And now we have sinned before you, and you have delivered us into the hand of our enemies, because we honored their gods. You are righteous, O Lord! And now they were not satisfied that we are in bitter slavery, but they have put their hands into the hands of their idols, to annul the stipulation of your mouth and to destroy your inheritance and to stop the mouths of those who praise you and to extinguish the glory of your house and your altar, to open the mouth of the nations for the mighty deeds of vain things, and that a mortal king be admired forever.

Remember, O Lord; make yourself known in a time of our affliction, and embolden me, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion! But save us by your hand, and help me, who are alone and have no one except you, O Lord. You have knowledge of everything, and you know that I hate the glory of the lawless and abhor the bed of the uncircumcised and of any foreigner. You know my predicament —that I abhor the sign of my proud position that is upon my head on days when I appear in public.

I abhor it like a menstrual cloth, and I do not wear it on the days when I am in private. Your slave has not rejoiced since the day of my change until now, except in you, O Lord, God of Abraam. O God who has power over all things, hear the voice of those who despair, and save us from the hand of evildoers. And save me from my fear! As Talmon reports, by and by they became fairly standardized and attained a fixed place in the cultic life of the Jews.


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  • Moore points out that this does not reflect the actual practice in either the Persian or Hellenistic periods, inasmuch as Jews, like everyone else then, did obeisance. Thus it is not surprising that the proskynesis —as Ego states- was also an integral part of the Persian court ceremonial. The Greeks answer that only he who does not know his freedom can give such advice. In front of the king himself, they say that it is not their custom to do obeisance to a mortal man 7. This will be granted if he honors the king as the image of that god who is the preserver of all things.

    It thus becomes evident that the proskynesis, according to the Greek understanding, also implied a theological dimension. This episode belongs to the Alexander tradition. Whilst one by one everyone else followed suit, Callisthenes took the bowl and —whilst the king was deep in conversation- drank and directly stepped forward to Alexander to kiss him. According to him, the sophist Anaxarchos had argued in favor of Alexander being worshipped like a god. But the Macedonians were displeased and Callisthenes argued that this custom was worthy of the gods alone; only barbarians, not Greeks, rendered a reverence like this to people.

    He insistently advises against confounding those customs, due to the gods, with those due to heroes, as the gods would be angry with those who claim divine honors for themselves. C is concerned, does it operate a synthesis of Jewish and Greek motifs? It seems linked to the Hellenistic king ideologies, instead. As Ego notes, the Ptolemaic and Seleucid rulers claimed divine kingship and were worshipped like gods. He had also been worshipped like a deity in the attendance of the Pharaoh since his stay at the oasis of Siwa. We have already discussed the religious implications of bowing down.

    Unlike the Masoretic version, Add. Her penitence is no ordinary one: she covers her head not only with ashes, but also with dung, which —as Moore points out- was obviously a more extreme gesture. Or, at least, mortal rulers are lessened in front of the Divine Ruler of Israel. Moreover, the Greek Esther shows a concern with the loss of the Temple and of the ancestral heritage which was quite unknown to the Masoretic version p.

    As we have seen in 3 Maccabees and in Adds. A and F, the attack is no more directed against the Jews, but against Judaism. You know my predicament — that I abhor the sign of my proud position that is upon my head on days when I appear in public. Given the Jewish taboos on menstruation cf. However, Moore supposes that the mentioned libations must be those to the gods, not simple wine parties cf.

    C also underlines a feature which is characteristic of Greek Esther: the link between faithfulness to the Torah and secrecy, to avoid troubles in keeping Jewish identity, and the deceptiveness of appearance in this sense see also pp. No consideration, not even the physical safety of the Jewish people, comes before dedication to God. In her Prayer, she openly abhors sexual intercourse with her husband. C, she is not innocent, as she skillfully conceals her abhorrence towards her heathen husband.

    Lerner remarks that this also means that her personal piety has been sacrificed to the needs of her community. As Lerner says, she remains trapped in the palace and bedroom of a drunken Persian king.

    They have different manners to live their religious feelings in the Diaspora and they are linked to their gender —according to an interesting article by Scorch Or do they exhibit a transparent diachronic dimension? Schorch chooses a synchronic approach. He notes that: 1. Thus, Scorch concludes that both Prayers are probably original and synchronically coherent literary compositions. In this way, the two Prayers mirror each other from the perspective of literary structure.

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    As we have said, this statement reveals her faithfulness to the Torah in a situation which is shaped by circumstances beyond her own power. She is in contact with the Jewish tradition, but she herself is no part of it. She heard what others told her, not what she herself explored.

    Schorch concludes that Esther is the antitype of a Jewish scholar. They are the same as in the Septuagint: the separation between human obeisance and divine honors. As Feldman points out, Josephus clearly underlines a theme which was dear to Greek readers. As Feldman —quoting Bickerman - notes, there was no such Jewish law; but this explanation would make a particular appeal to a Greek audience, for the reasons we have seen. This element is added to her request for eloquence, which comes from the Septuagintal Addition C.

    D, vss. Then, when she had become majestic, after calling upon the all-seeing God and savior, she took along two of her attendants; on one she leaned gently for support, while the other followed, holding her train. She was radiant with the full flush of her beauty, and her face looked happy as if she were cheerful, but her heart was in anguish from fear. When she had gone through all the doors, she stood before the king. He was seated on the throne of his kingdom, clothed in the full array of his splendor, all covered with gold and precious stones.

    And he was most terrifying. And when he raised his face inflamed with glory, he gazed at her in the full flush of anger. The queen staggered, her color turned pale from faintness, and she collapsed on the head of the attendant who went before her. Then God changed the spirit of the king to gentleness, and alarmed, he jumped from his throne and took her in his arms until she was quieted.

    I am your brother. Take heart! You shall not die, for our ordinance is only for the common person. Come here. For you are marvelous, lord, and your face is full of grace. Then the king and all his servants were troubled, and he reassured her. This is particularly evident in the case of Addition D.

    This leads us to remember the theme of dissimulation, which we have seen as typical of Esther pp. Similarly, in Add. D- reassures the king by virtually losing control of herself. D the purpose to highlight the constraints within which the queen young lady must operate and the burden of social expectations that she must overcome as she steps into the breach. According to Moore, this is the culminating point of the LXX Esther, while the Masoretic version was more concerned with the establishment of Purim.

    Human agency and initiative would recede in favor of piety and divine governance. Moore underlines the occurrences of this term particularly in the First Book of Maccabees , where it is employed in diplomatic correspondence 1: 30; 5: 48; 7: 10, 15, 27; 3, 47 Moore underlines the dramatic character of such a misunderstanding. But —as Moore notes- of such ignorance and courage is great drama made. Only God has proved able to change his mind. Moore presents several occurrences of the comparison between a men and an angel of God.

    In 1 Sam. D to Add. C, as their combined effect would alter appreciably the image of Queen Esther from that presented in the Masoretic version. Feldman remarks that the drama staged in this passaged had been prepared by the author before. Such peculiarities are to be summed with those mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Bickerman adopts another explanation for their existence. Bickerman remembers that colophons similar to the present one were used in the Alexandrian Library to note the provenance of newly acquired manuscripts. He states that the libraries and archives of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora were most likely organized on the pattern of the Greek collections.

    Torrey remarks that this clue is ambiguous, as the colophon may refer to quite a number of Ptolemies. Bickerman remarks that there were only three Ptolemies associated with a Cleopatra in the fourth year of their reign. He was expelled in 58 BCE. As Moore reminds us, this verb could have two meanings.

    Bickerman actually states that the Jewish commentators distinguished such letters from the Scroll of Esther itself. Bickerman also supposes that the Hebrew Esther had been published shortly before the Greek translation was made —let us say about BCE- as he finds improbable that a book relating the origins of a festival and the triumph of the Chosen People should remain unnoticed for a long time. Menelaus was the usurper who obtained to be recognized as high priest by Antiochus IV and put an end to the legitimate priestly dynasty in BCE.

    This is a concern for genealogy which Bickerman points out as typical of the Jews. As Moore notes, this suggests that the translator had an Egyptian father. He connects the question to the whole problem of scriptural canon. On the contrary, the Book of Esther celebrated a new spontaneous feast, and even appeared to be its festal message. Torrey opts for the hypothesis according to which all designations of God would be studiously avoided. Torrey underlines one significant phrase, which has been noticed —as he says- by all commentators but hardly given its full value.

    He refers to Est. As Torrey notices, she acts upon it fasting for three days: a purely religious act. Bickerman remarks that his adaptation furnished the Book of Esther with pious formulas and rites, like the two Prayers. A and F , barely mentioned in the Hebrew text 3: 8. About the same time, Apollonios Molon published the first Greek pamphlet Against the Jews, underlining their cruelty, effrontery, impiety and hatred of mankind.

    The translation of the Book of Esther was a sort of answer to such a situation. Bickerman remembers that the historical background of this kind of literature was the war between the Maccabees and the Greek cities in Palestine, which developed since c. Moore, Daniel, Esther and Jeremiah…, p.

    Otto Eissfeldt, op. Carey A. Bickerman, op. Alberto Soggin, op. See also note 32 on p. Louis H. Moore in Daniel, Esther and Jeremiah…, p. Moore, Daniel, Esther and Jeremiah…, pp. Clinton J. See also: Josephus, Jewish Antiquities When we say that Menelaus put an end to the legitimate priestly dynasty, we follow the version that can be found in 2 Mac. According to it, Menelaus was the brother of Simon of Bilgah, who was the superintendent of the Temple in Jerusalem 2 Mac.

    III, Lipsiae, sumptibus et typis B. Italian translation of: Das Alte Israel. Mohr Paul Siebeck ]. IV: Il canone e il testo. II, pp. Clark, LTD, vol. Clark International. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Eerdmans, , pp.

    I am heartily grateful towards Professor Elio Jucci, who has given me fundamental pieces of advice for my bibliographical researches. Francesco Genovese, for his psychological support and his patience in being neglected during the most intense phase of thesis-writing. I take such a compliance as a manifestation of the purest love. Of course, I am dutifully grateful to my family, who has partly financed the present work. I thank Collegio Universitario S. Caterina da Siena, which has been my home in Pavia.

    I thank Scuola Superiore IUSS for its scholarships, which have made my years at university quite more comfortable than they could have been. But it is equally important to remember my classmates at IUSS and —even more- my college mates, who have tolerated me in the ups and downs of everyday life. They have filled my mental bag with histories. Some are sweet; some others are a little more bitter; all are precious. I thank my colleagues in the editorial staff of Inchiostro, who have given me precious occasions to meet people and to take an interest in up-to-date matters.

    They have also encouraged me to pursue an ideal of journalism which abhors censure, but also intellectual dishonesty. They have shown me that pluralism and tolerance in editorial work are possible. I thank Coordinamento per il diritto allo studio — UDU, for their work at the side of students. I embrace Dr. We are actually more akin then we should have suspected a year and a half ago. I am grateful towards Lorenzo Nicola R. We learn from the Encyclopedia of Judaism that Jerome removed verses in the text of his Latin translation.

    Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls, written by a little-known group of abstemious followers of Moses, who received their original training and inspiration in Africa, preserved the oldest known copies of the Old Testament, predating the Masoretic text, from which the King James Bible is translated, by about 1, years. Their works date back to between and 70 B. Jewish scribes were known to have borrowed heavily from the Babylonian fables such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, considered the earliest surviving works of literature.

    They copied themes from the Epic of Gilgamesh, reinterpreted them, and included them in the Bible. In this manner, it is believed the Book of Esther found its way into the Bible. It is believed they changed the name of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar to Esther, recalibrated the story, and made it a part of the Hebrew Bible. Purim and other such holidays are therefore fashioned out of whole cloth. The conflicting versions of Esther and the controversy concerning its authenticity underscore his warning. Therefore, for Prime Minister Netanyahu to give the President of the United States a book whose authenticity is highly questionable and ask him to base his foreign policy decisions on such a document is risky and dangerous.


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