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Esther

Author: Unknown

Date Written: 460-150 BC

Date of Narrative: 483-474 BC

 

Esther's drama deals with power, money, intrigue, hatred and murder.  It includes a beauty pageant, a royal household and a deadly rivalry.  The author uses many writing techniques including humor, irony and parallelism.  The book contains some accurate historical details about the Persian empire, but a few exaggerations.  Ahasuerus, king of Persia, is better known as Xerxes I who reigned 486-465 BC.  Yet there is little extra-biblical evidence for the other characters in Esther.  Most scholars regard Esther as a fictional story that may have built up around an historical kernel.  The author was probably a Jew living in the Persian empire, most likely in the capital city of Susa.

 

Esther was originally written in Hebrew, which is represented by ch. 1-10.  The Greek Septuagint version includes ch. A-F, which most scholars regard as later additions to the book.  Catholic Bibles include both the Hebrew and Greek chapters.

 

The central drama of the story involves the fate of the Jewish people.  Haman, the king's highest official, has issued an irrevocable decree to kill the Jews because Mordecai refused to bow to him.  Esther, as queen, is the only Jew in a position high enough to intercede on their behalf.  But even she must risk her life to do so because of a Persian custom that awards with death everyone who makes an uninvited visit to the king's court.  In addition, the previous queen had been deposed and possibly killed (the book doesn't tell us) for disobeying the king.

 

Haman casts lots to determine the day he will destroy the Jews.  Yet through Esther's brave intercession and the shrewdness of Mordecai, the day brings the destruction of the Jews' enemies instead.  Mordecai and Esther enshrine the day in the feast of Purim (Heb. for "lots"), which is celebrated by Jews to this day.

 

The book is made up of a series of layers.  The outer layer includes Mordecai's dream and its fulfillment which are both apocalyptic in nature (A,F).  The inner layers are punctuated by a series of ten banquets.  Ahasuerus hosts two banquets at the beginning (1:3,5) which are matched by the two feasts of Purim at the end (9:17-19).  Esther hosts two banquets in the middle of the book (5,7), between which Mordecai is honored (6).  Vashti's banquet for the women (1:9) is paired with Esther's coronation banquet (2:18) and Haman's banquet with the king is the opposite of the Jews' feasting at the elevation of Mordecai, Haman's enemy (8:17).  The banquet scenes give structure to the book and highlight its festive nature.

 

Esther's characters teach us lessons.  Ahasuerus is a king, but weak and passive.  Haman's limitless pride leads to his humiliation and downfall.  Mordecai's faithfulness to God's law in the face of persecution leads to his exaltation.  Esther's willingness to risk her life for God's people is greatly rewarded with the sparing of the Jews and the vanquishing of their enemies.

 

As in Judith, irony plays a major role.  For example, it is hilariously ironic how Haman's advice to the king about how to reward a man is meticulously followed to honor Haman's worst enemy, Mordecai.  Also, Haman's "fall" before Mordecai (6:13) leads to his "fall" before Esther in supplication, which greatly incites the king's anger (7:8).

 

Esther is also a story to be enjoyed.  The characters and their struggles can teach us that God's mysterious hand is at work for those who love him even in life-threatening circumstances.

 

By Mark Giszczak

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August 21, 2014

Saint Pius X, Pope

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