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Online Text for Esther

Online Resources for Esther

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Information on Esther

Demetrius R. Dumm writes: On this point [of literary form], scholarly opinion ranges from pure myth to strict history. Most critics, however, favor a middle course of historical elements with more or less generous literary embellishments (thus J. Schildenberger, H. Gunkel, O. Eissfeldt, A. Barucq). The Gk additions in particular appear to be essentially literary creations. That neither author intended to write strict history seems obvious from the historical inaccuracies, unusual coincidences, and other traits characteristic of folklore (all of which will be pointed out in the commentary). On the other hand, there is no compelling reason for denying the possibility of an undetermined historical nucleus, and the author's generally accurate picture of Persian life tends to support this possibility. Several details of Est suggest a fictitious story. The very fact of variations between the Hebrew and the deuterocanonical additions shows that the book was freely embellished in the course of its history. Then there are the many difficulties concerning Mordecai's age, and the wife of Xerxes (Amestris). Moreover, the artificial symmetry suggests fiction: Gentiles against Jews; Vashti as opposed to Esther; the hanging of Haman and the appointment of Mordecai as the vizier; the anti-Semitic pogrom and the slaying of the Gentiles. A law of contrasts is obviously at work. On the other hand, one cannot dispute the possibility of Jewish pogroms during the Persian period, and the story of Esther and Mordecai may have some basis in fact. As it stands, it has been developed very freely as the 'festal legend' of a Feast of Purim, which is itself otherwise unknown to us." (The Anchor Bible Commentary, vol. 1, pp. 628-629)

David J. A. Clines writes: "But the plausibility of the chronological framework and the accuracy of the local color do not amount to a demonstration of the book's historicity. It is more significant that the essential plot of the book hangs upon a considerable number of improbable coincidences—for example, that there should be a Jewish queen on the Persian throne at the very time when genocide of the Jews is being plotted; that Mordecai's service to the king (2:21-23) is not rewarded at the appropriate time but brought to the king's attention merely hours before Haman, the prime minister, arrives to ask for Mordecai's life (6:1-3); or that Haman, in begging for his life at Esther's feet, should be thought by the king to be attempting to rape the queen and for that reason be executed (7:8-10). The combination of coincidences, none perhaps entirely improbable in itself, brings the historical credibility of the work into question." (The Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 387)

Jay G. Williams writes: "Although conservative scholars through the ages have taken this to be a factual account of an historical event, it is clear that this is by no means the case. The story bears too many marks of a highly contrived melodrama to be considered historical. It is true that the author was fairly knowledgeable about the goings-on in a Persian court, but he also makes a good many mistakes. For instance, the Persian Empire never had 127 provinces as the story claims (1:1). Persian court records to not name either Vashti or Esther as the name of Ashasuerus' queen, nor is there any indication that Purim was ever celebrated in Jewry during the Persian period." (Understanding the Old Testament, p. 304)

James King West writes: "Whether or not this entertaining story rests upon some historical incident is impossible to say. The account is such as manifestly fictional, and its knowledge of Persian affairs sufficiently remote to make unlikely a date for the work ealier than the Greek period. Several considerations argue for a second-century date. No reference either to the feast of Purim appears elsewhere in Jewish literature before the first century B.C.; and the Qumran discoveries have thus far failed to produce a single fragment of the book. Had it circulated prior to the second century, moreover, the absence of the names of Esther and Mordecai from the exhausitve list of heros in Eccleasiasticus (c. 180 B.C.) would be difficult to explain." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 409)

Samuel Sandmel writes: "Major objections [to canonicity] can be cited from the religious standpoint of the Pentateuch. First, the story relates that Esther became a concubine to the King of Persia, before becoming the queen; and in becoming the queen, she was married to a Gentile. Secondly, the story contains incidents of bloodthirsty revenge, at variance with the Pentateuchal view that man must not be vengeful. Even more significant is the total absence of any mention of God. The modern commentators who stress this peculiarity are underlining a fact that also occurred to the ancient Greek translators. Esther in the Greek Bible has been expanded by the addition to the Scroll of some prayers which the Greek Jews felt Esther should have prayed." (The Hebrew Scriptures, p. 497)

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