You will find a new section on our website this
month: Bible Overview. It encompasses all
of our Bible-related articles into one location.
Bible Overview now includes what used to be Bible
Forum as well as Bible Characters, Questions and
Answers (formerly called I Want To Know), the
Bible Time-Line, and Bible Study information.
We expect this new organization to be a helpful
streamlining of all our Bible research materials
and hope it helps you navigate more easily.
Bible Forum is a wonderful resource for
anyone interested in Bible study. Each month a
book of the Bible (in order) is featured by Bible
scholar and lecturer, Mary Jane Chapin Chaignot.
One of this month's entries is Esther, which provides
the origin of the feast of Purim, how it is to
be celebrated, and authorization for its future
observance. If some of you want to read the history
previous to this event, you might want to check
our archives where you can find the previous books
as well as information on some of the main characters
of this time period. The Bible Time-Line is another quick reference for locating
individuals or specific books. We encourage readers
to share their Bible Study success stories on
this site. Email us at email@example.com
to be included on next month's site.
Perhaps the most oft-heard question relating
to the Book of Esther is why it is in the Bible.
It is the most secular of all the Books (the word,
God, never appears in its verses) with no mention
of the temple, the covenant, prayer, or Jewish
practices. Nor are any of its characters particularly
religious or pious. Still, it is part of the canon.
Most attribute its inclusion to the fact that
it provides the documentation for the celebration
of a new festival, Purim. The Book is careful
not to say God commanded this, and it clearly
indicates that this was not a revival of an existing
festival. Purim is not mentioned in the Torah.
Nonetheless, it was adopted for all times and,
indeed, opened the way for adding later holidays
(like Hanukkah) to commemorate special events
as the needs arose.
Though it is impossible to know the minds of
the ancient peoples who were determining the canon,
another feature of this book is that it relates
how the Jews were delivered from harm at a crucial
time in their history. Even though God is not
mentioned, His providential hand is always evident.
And this Book illustrates that His care extends
to Jews outside Judea.
This story takes place in the Diaspora, not in
Jerusalem. The Diaspora is a general term for
the settlement of Jews outside of Palestine. In
those areas, Jews were a distinct minority, living
in a society that was ignorant about and disinterested
in maintaining continuity for any of their Jewish
practices or customs. Yet, somehow these Jews
managed to continue the traditions of their fathers
and upheld their identity in the face of foreign
domination. The Book of Esther maintains that
these Jews, and thereafter Jews anywhere in the
Diaspora, were still included in God's care, held
in His hands, and were contiguous with His children
- regardless of where they lived.
This, of course, raises the question of historicity
of the events in the book. Was this story told
just to inspire and encourage peoples in far-off
lands? Or did it really happen? Scholars are quick
to point out the many historical difficulties
within its pages. The first is that there are
no extrabiblical sources that corroborate Vashti
or Esther as queens. The only known queen of Xerxes
was Amestris, who was not a Jew. From a practical
standpoint, kings were restricted to marrying
daughters of specified aristocratic families.
And more than one eyebrow has been raised at the
prospect that a Jewish woman willingly entered
into marriage with a Gentile. (Read Ezra-Nehemiah
for more on the problem of intermarriage.) It
is possible, of course, that Xerxes had more than
one wife and that not every wife was recorded
in historical documents, but arguments based on
silence can never be conclusive.
Another important red flag is that Xerxes was
purported to be the governor of 127 provinces,
when, in fact, it would have been more like 20-30.
Those who claim authenticity argue that perhaps
the number refers to subdivisions of each province.
An additional numeric problem has to do with having
a festival for 180 (!) days for everyone in the
administration and the "entire army."
It truly begs the question as to who was running
the country while everyone in charge was off partying.
Six months is a long time to celebrate. And does
anyone really need a 75-foot gallows?
Notwithstanding these difficulties, there are
several amazing narrative techniques that delight
the reader. Let's assume for a moment that Xerxes
did entertain the troops for six months, followed
by a ten-day party for the entire city. The expressed
purpose was to demonstrate his immense wealth
and all the glory of his majesty. On the seventh
day of his party, he sent seven eunuchs to fetch
the queen. She was to "wear her crown"
-- and probably nothing else. Despite his display
of wealth and glory, a simple "no" by
the queen turned his world upside down. Though
"burning with anger," he could not decide
what to do (six months of partying might have
had something to do with this), and resorted to
consulting with experts in the matters of law
and justice. In other words, the man who controlled
127 provinces, innumerable princes and nobles,
and an entire army was rendered incompetent by
the simple "no" of a woman. That's great
On a more somber note, many scholars are troubled
by the vengeful response of the Jews. After
the people had been delivered, Esther and Mordecai
(with the king's permission) wrote an order authorizing
the Jews throughout the provinces to slaughter
their enemies. The number of deaths is astronomically
high and furthermore, God did not direct these
measures. Yet there is no sanction for either
Mordecai or Esther regarding their actions. Some
have argued that the whole incident happened in
the first place because Mordecai's pride prevented
him from honoring Haman. It again raises the historical
question, which can never be adequately resolved.
The book itself is written with a "U-shaped"
plot, common in many ancient myths and conflict
stories. The plots revolve around banquets and
reversals, with the central event being the royal
procession of Mordecai, led by Haman. There is
no consensus about the authorship, or even the
date of the Book. Those who take seriously that
this occurred during the reign of Xerxes argue
for a time around 450-300 BCE. Others think it
was written much later, possibly around 175-100
BCE. Despite the fact that the feast of Purim
isn't mentioned in Jewish writings until the Maccabean
period (thought to be around 100BCE), most hold
for an earlier writing. If the story is essentially
a parody of the Persian court, it makes more sense
for it to have been written while that empire
still existed. Regardless of these unresolvable
questions, Esther stands for all time as a message
of hope for Jews outside the Land of Promise.
There are four main sections in Esther: 1:1-2:23
- Esther becomes Queen; 3:1-8:17 - The Feud between
Mordecai and Haman; 9:1-19 - The Day of Vengeance;
9:20-10:3 - Feast of Purim.