1. The Canonicity of Esther 2. Its Authorship 3. Its Date 4. Its Contents 5. The Greek Additions 6. The Attacks upon the Book 7. Some of the Objections 8. Confirmations of the Book
This book completes the historical books of the. The conjunction "w" (waw = and), with which it begins, is significant. It shows that the book was designed for a place in a series, the waw linking it on to a book immediately preceding, and that the present arrangement of the Hebrew Bible differs widely from what must have been the original order. At present Esther follows Ecclesiastes, with which it has no connection whatever; and this tell-tale "and," like a body- mark on a lost child, proves that the book has been wrenched away from its original connection. There is no reason to doubt that the order in the Septuagint follows that of the Hebrew Bible of the 3rd or the 4th century BC, and this is the order of the Vulgate, of the English Bible, and other VSS: The initial waw is absent from Genesis, Deuteronomy, 1 Chronicles and Nehemiah. The historical books are consequently arranged, by the insertion and the omission of waw, into these four divisions: Genesis to Numbers; Deuteronomy to 2 Kings; 1 Chronicles to Ezra; Nehemiah and Esther.
1. The Canonicity of Esther:
Of the canonicity of the book there is no question. That there was a distinct guardianship of the Canon by the Jewish priesthood has figured less in recent discussions than it should. Josephus shows that there was a Temple copy which was carried among the Temple spoils in the triumph of Vespasian. The peculiarities of the Hebrew text also prove that all our manuscripts are representatives of one standard copy. In the Jewish Canon Esther had not only a recognized, but also a distinguished, place. The statement of Junilius in the 6th century AD that the canonicity of Esther was doubted by some in his time has no bearing on the question. The high estimation of the book current among the ancient Jews is evident from its titles. It is usually headed "Megillath Esther" (the volume of Esther), and sometimes "Megillah" (the volume). Maimonides says that the wise men among the Jews affirm that the book was dictated by the, and adds: "All the books of the Prophets, and all the Hagiographa shall cease in the days of the Messiah, except the volume of Esther; and, lo, that shall be as stable as the Pentateuch, and as the constitutions of the oral law which shall never cease."
2. Its Authorship:
By whom was the book written? This is a point in regard to which no help is afforded us either by the contents of the book or by any reliable tradition. Mordecai, whose claims have been strongly urged by some, is excluded by the closing words (
3. Its Date:
Light is thrown upon the date of the book by the closing references to Ahasuerus (
4. Its Contents:
The book is characterized by supreme dramatic power. The scene is "Shushan the palace," that portion of the ancient Elamitic capital which formed the fortified residence of the Persian kings. The book opens with the description of a high festival. All the notabilities of the kingdom are present, together with their retainers, both small and great. To grace the occasion, Vashti is summoned to appear before the king’s guests; and, to the dismay of the great assembly, the queen refuses to obey. A council is immediately summoned. Vashti is degraded; and a decree is issued that every man bear rule in his own house (
(1) the coronation of Hadassah (now and henceforth named "Esther") as queen;
(2) Mordecai’s discovery of a palace plot to assassinate the king.
Chapter 3 introduces another leading personage, Haman, the son of Hammedatha, whose seat the king had set "above all the princes that were with him." All the king’s servants who are at the king’s gates prostrate themselves before the powerful favorite. Mordecai, who is not a trained courtier but a God-fearing Jew, refrains. Though expostulated with, he will not conform. The matter is brought to Haman’s notice for whose offended dignity Mordecai is too small a sacrifice. The whole Jewish people must perish. Lots are cast to find a lucky day for their extermination. The king’s consent is obtained, and the royal decree is sent into all the provinces fixing the slaughter for the 13th day of the 12th month.
The publication of the decree is followed by universal mourning among the Jews (
5. The Greek Additions:
The Septuagint, as we now have it, makes large additions to the original text. Jerome, keeping to the Hebrew text in his own translation, has added these at the end. They amount to nearly seven chapters. There is nothing in them to reward perusal. Their age has been assigned to 100 BC, and their only value consists in the indication they afford of the antiquity of the book. That had been long enough in existence to perplex the Hebrew mind with the absence of the name of God and the omissions of any reference to Divine worship. Full amends are made in the additions.
6. The Attacks upon the Book:
The opponents of themay undoubtedly boast that headed the attack. In his Table-Talk he declared that he was so hostile "to the Book of Esther that I would it did not exist; for it Judaizes too much, and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness." His remark in his reply to Erasmus shows that this was his deliberate judgment. Referring to Esther, he says that, though the Jews have it in their Canon, "it is more worthy than all" the apocryphal books "of being excluded from the Canon." That repudiation was founded, however, on no historical or critical grounds. It rested solely upon an entirely mistaken judgment as to the tone and the intention of the book. Luther’s judgment has been carried farther by Ewald, who says: "We fall here as if from heaven to earth; and, looking among the new forms surrounding us, we seem to behold the Jews, or indeed the small men of the present day in general, acting just as they now do." Nothing of all this, however, touches the historicity of Esther.
The modern attack has quite another objective. Semler, who is its real fens et origo, believed Esther to be a work of pure imagination, and as establishing little more than the pride and arrogance of the Jews. DeWette says: "It violates all historical probability, and contains striking difficulties and many errors with regard to Persian manners, as well as just references to them." Dr. Driver modifies that judgment. "The writer," he says, "shows himself well informed on Persian manners and institutions; he does not commit anachronisms such as occur in Tobit or Judith; and the character of Xerxes as drawn by him is in agreement with history." The controversy shows, however, no sign of approaching settlement. Th. Noldeke (Encyclopaedia Biblica) is more violent than De Wette. "The story," he writes, "is in fact a tissue of improbabilities and impossibilities." We shall look first of all at the main objections urged by him and others and then at the recent confirmations of the historicity of Esther.
7. Some of the Objections:
(1) "There is something fantastic, but not altogether unskillful," says Noldeke, "in the touch whereby Mordecai and Haman are made to inherit an ancient feud, the former being a member of the family of King Saul, the latter a descendant of Agag, king of Amalek." It is surely unworthy of a scholar to make the book responsible for a Jewish fable. There is absolutely no mention in it of either King Saul or Agag, king of Amalek, and not the most distant allusion to any inherited feud. "Kish, a Benjamite" is certainly mentioned (
(2) The statement that
(3) "Between the 7th and the 12th years of his reign, Xerxes’ queen was Amestris, a superstitious and cruel woman (Herod. vii.114; ix.112), who cannot be identified with Esther, and who leaves no place for Esther beside her" (Driver). Scaliger long ago identified Esther with Amestris, an identification which Prideaux rejected on account of the cruelty which Herodotus has attributed to that queen. Dr. Driver has failed to take full account of one thing--the striking fact that critics have leveled this very charge of cruelty against the heroine of our book. It is quite possible that Esther, moving in a world of merciless intrigue, may have had to take measures which would form a foundation for the tales recorded by the Greek historian.
(4) The aim of the book is said to be the glorification of the Jews. But, on the contrary, it is merely a record of their being saved from a skillfully planned extirpation.
(5) The description of the Jews (
(6) The Hebrew of the book is said to belong to a much later period than that of Xerxes. But it is admitted that it is earlier than the Hebrew of Chronicles; and recent discoveries have shown decisively that the book belongs to the pers period.
(7) The suggestion is made (Driver) "that the danger which threatened the Jews was a local one," and consequently, that the book, though possessed of a historical basis, is a romance. But against that are the facts that the observance of the feast has from the first been universal, and that it has not been observed more fully or more enthusiastically in any one place than in the others.
(8) There is no reference to it, it is urged, by Chronicles, Ezra or Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus). But Chronicles ends with the proclamation of Cyrus, granting permission to the Jews to return and to rebuild the Temple. There is little to be wondered at that it contains no reference to events which happened 60 years afterward. In Ezra, which certainly covers the period of Esther, reference to the events with which she was connected is excluded by the plan of the work. It gives the history of the return, the first part under Zerubbabel in 536 BC, the second under Ezra himself, 458 BC. The events in Esther (which were embraced within a period of a few months) fell in the interval and were connected with neither the first return nor the second. Here again the objector is singularly oblivious of the purpose of the book to which he refers. There is quite as little force in the citation of Ecclesiasticus. In dealing with this time Ben Sira’s eye is upon Jerusalem. He magnifies Zerubbabel, "Jesus the son of Josedek," and Nehemiah (49:11-13). Even Ezra, to whom Jerusalem and the new Jewish state owed so much, finds no mention. Why, then, should Esther and Mordecai be named who seem to have had no part whatever in rebuilding the sacred city?
(9) The book is said to display ignorance of the Persian empire in the statement that it was divided into 127 provinces, whereas Herodotus tells us that it was partitioned into 20 satrapies. But there was no such finality in the number, even of these great divisions of the empire. Darius in his Behistun inscriptions gives the number as 21, afterward as 23, and in a third enumeration as 29. Herodotus himself, quoting from a document of the time of Xerxes, shows that there were then about 60 nations under the dominion of Persia. The objector has also omitted to notice that the medhinah ("province") mentioned in Es (1:1) is not a satrapy but a subdivision of it. Judea is called a medhinah in
8. Confirmations of the Book:
These discoveries have removed the discussion to quite another plane--or rather they have ended it. Since Grotefend in 1802 read the name of Xerxes in a Persian inscription and found it to be, letter for letter, the Ahasuerus of Eat, research has heaped up confirmation of the historical character of the book. It has proved, to begin with that the late date suggested for the book cannot be maintained. The language belongs to the time of the Persian dominion. It is marked by the presence of old Persian words, the knowledge of which had passed away by the 2nd century BC, and has been recovered only through the decipherment of the Persian monuments. The Septuagint translators were unacquainted with them, and consequently made blunders which have been repeated in our own the
The utter absence of the Divine name in Esther has formed a difficulty even where it has not been urged as an objection. But that is plainly part of some Divine design. The same silence is strictly maintained throughout in regard to prayer, praise and every approach toward God. That silence was an offense to the early Jews; for, in the Septuagint additions to the book, there is profuse acknowledgment of God both in prayer and in praise. But it must have struck the Jews of the time and the official custodians of the canonical books quite as painfully; and we can only explain the admission of Esther by the latter on the ground that there was overwhelming evidence of its Divine origin and authority. Can this rigid suppression be explained? In the original arrangement of the Old Testament canonical books (the present Hebrew arrangement is post-Christian), Esther is joined to Nehemiah. In 1895 I made a suggestion which I still think worthy of consideration: More than 60 years had passed since Cyrus had given the Jews permission to return. The vast majority of the people remained, nevertheless, where they were. Some, like Nehemiah, were restrained by official and other ties. The rest were indifferent or declined to make the necessary sacrifices of property and of rest. With such as these last the history of God’s work in the earth can never be associated. In His providence He will watch over and deliver them: but their names and His will not be bound together in the record of the labor and the waiting for the earth’s salvation.